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Song Premiere: The Calm Blue Sea, 'Mary Ann Nichols'

The Calm Blue Sea.
Courtesy of the artist
The Calm Blue Sea.

The Calm Blue Sea's bold, stormy, mostly instrumental rock doesn't stay in one spot for long: The Austin band's songs are liable to drift from a whispered lilt to a pummeling attack and back again, working through a handful of hypnotic phases along the way. Over the course of six minutes, "Mary Ann Nichols" — one of many enthralling epics on the group's excellent second album, Arrivals & Departures, out Oct. 9 — packs in several songs' worth of drama, as torrents of blustery guitars, atmospheric interludes and inscrutable vocals are fed into a single glorious swirl.

After an uneasy launch to its career — the band disappeared after self-releasing its 2008 debut in its hometown, only to reissue the record on a national label three years later — The Calm Blue Sea finally appears poised to take its rightful place alongside the likeminded likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky, for whom delicate grace and blistering aggression are never far apart.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)