As if reaching the end might be too much to ask, "Lonely Waves," the third track on Monomyth, the fourth album by Chapel Hill post-rock trio Fin Fang Foom, begins meekly: A thin guitar line trickles in with a soporific, back-and-forth pattern, while a piano plods up and down, repeating three notes blindly. The drums are listless, too, bedraggled by the rhythm they're charged with keeping, and a violin's long moans gild the feeling of desolation. But then there's the bass, played by multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Eddie Sanchez. Bulbous in tone, peppy in meter, the bass—the last piece to enter—pulls the song skyward. The drums quicken. The piano springs. Suddenly, a satisfying end doesn't seem out of reach.
Fin Fang Foom's backstory bears repeating. In 1996, Jacksonville, Fla., teenagers Sanchez and Michael Triplett formed Fin Fang Foom, eventually recruiting second drummer Peter Enriquez. Just as the band was building momentum, Enriquez was killed after a dead tree fell on top of his car. Drummer Mike Glass, an old friend, joined, and the band soon relocated north, to Chapel Hill. Just as the band's momentum was again building after the release of the presciently titled With the Gift Comes the Curse, Triplett contracted spinal meningitis and nearly died. After his recovery, the band released one EP as a quartet. They've since lost cellist Cynthia Main.
"We struggled on when most had lost their way," Sanchez sings after the bass lifts "Lonely Waves." Triplett's guitar circles around the violin, and Sanchez returns, dueting with Heather McEntire of Bellafea, another trio in which he plays bass. "Through all the lonely waves," they repeat nine times, singing the mantra bolder with each few iterations. Just as it grows loud, it fades away.
More testament than revelation, Monomyth thrives on such survivalist moments. "Exploding Coast" adds an Isis-like metallic tenacity to Fin Fang Foom's armor. On the sprinting opener "Magnetic North," Sanchez calmly relays the need for patience and persistence as the band races ahead. "Deathless," the seven-minute center here, builds into an instrumental midsection, chiming guitar notes and a circular rhythm section gradually creating a morass of distorted tone and saturated space. Just at the point of tedium, they leap from the mess, twice as heavy. Sanchez's singing, bordering on shouting, has rarely been so committed, so determined. Triplett unloads strings of razor-sharp high notes, and Glass swipes hard at his kit one last time. At the least, it's a happy ending. Hopefully, it's a surefooted restart.
Fin Fang Foom pairs with Ben Davis & the Jetts for a joint CD release party at Local 506 Saturday, Nov. 14, at 10 p.m. The show is free, and Maple Stave opens.