Grand Ulena's debut album, Gateway to Dignity, packed as many notes as possible into as small a place as possible. Constructing airtight boxes of opaque, densely clustered music in thick brackets of time required ultimate concentration and preparation, both on the part of the band and the listener. But the effort was well-rewarded for both parties: Gateway to Dignity stands alone as the one true portrait of modern St. Louis life -- a gray-to-sepia kaleidoscope of broken glass, broken buildings and broken jaws, illuminated only by the brilliance of the trio's interplay.
On their new EP, Neosho, which was recorded on the last day of studio time during the Gateway sessions, Grand Ulena focus their might and attention on one scintilla of their kaleidoscope. Here, three longish tracks (the shortest being more than six minutes long) explore the spaces between the flurry of notes, providing microscopic views of the interior workings of their massive construct. Less claustrophobic but no less daunting, Neosho exposes the delicate underpinnings partially obscured by Gateway's brusque demeanor. On the title track, Grand Ulena are practically languid, at least by the frantic standards of their debut. Here, Danny McClain's drums breathe instead of bark; Chris Trull stretches his guitar's choppy chords into acres of sound; Darin Gray's bass expands in gelatinous waves, cushioning the fearsome Grand Ulena punch in swaths of heavy shadow and silence. None of their visceral impact is lessened or mitigated by Neosho's expansive nature. Indeed, Grand Ulena have become slightly more ominous now that you can actually make out the fist that is rocketing towards your face. It's bigger than you thought, and it's actually heading right for your brain.