STM 254 - Grails

Grails music mix podcast

Photo from artists' personal archive.

Emil Amos and Alex Hall of Grails weave a wondrous and smooth collage-like mix of oldschool leftfield ambient, rock, electro, and much more.


Grails is originally from Portland, Oregon. To define their music is to mischaracterize, which is probably why it’s best to stick to the umbrella term ‘instrumental rock’, lest readers from 2025 call us out on our bullshit. Active for nearly two decades, Grails have had a long-standing love affair with the psychedelic sound, as well as with patient composition. Occasionally their works would take you out to bask in the rays of the sun, while at other points they would guide you into dark halls lined with curved mirrors - whatever the case, one thing Grails doesn’t do much is chaos. However bleak it gets, their music will still feel deeply calming, and perhaps this, along with the stunning musicality, melodicism, and attention to detail, is a thread that goes throughout their catalogue. This is just as true for their latest creation, Chalice Hymnal, released by Temporary Residence Limited in 2017. Probably more than any other Grails release, this one sees a band that’s truly gotten over not just what ‘rock’, but also what ‘post-rock’ can reasonably imply. It’s not a cool-sounding record - instead, it takes a lot from prog, from the ambitious, symphonic film scores of days long gone, and, according to drummer Emil Amos, from Italian and British library music. The result is a treasure as much for the deep-listener as it is for the daydreamer who uses music as brick and mortar for his worlds of the mind.

Secret Thirteen Mix 254, compiled by Emil Amos and Alex Hall of Grails, is a beautiful collage of old and new outsider sounds. Many of these tracks are well-known, others less so, but it would be a mistake to refer to this mix in pieces, because it is all interwoven and seems almost inseparable. This is a decidedly retro-sounding creation that includes many rediscovered ambient, art rock, and other jewels from the ‘80s, occasionally tied together using contemporary sounds, such as those by Huerco S. or Nuel. There is a strong feel of wonder and a softness to most of the music on here, which can partly be explained by referring to the period and the significant presence of works born out of the romanticization of space. Grails have, however, mentioned in the past how much inspiration they get from the works of others, and so it seems obvious to compare this compilation to their own work and to see what comes from where. The subtleties and the plasticity, as well as the oldschool feel of this compilation, remind the soft, TV-like bluish ripples of Alberto Biasi’s Palla cangiante n.2. A lot of love and time has gone into sculpting this collage, come revel in it!

Emil Amos on the mix:

“New music is currently surging forward into killer, open-ended territories and everyone can find something to be excited about down in any fractured sub-crevice. Instead of pointing towards current movements, we tried to collage older, lesser-known music alongside some newer things to find a thru-line between them. It's comforting to know there's always been people trapped out on the outside of the music industry who had a total, unwavering confidence in being themselves at whatever risk. This is a satisfying place to lurk and find a continual family within the sound of the unrewarded.”


01. Bugskull - Concave Life - [Road Cone, 1994]
02. Shinichi Atobe - Free Access Zone 7 [DDS, 2014]
03. Solid Space - The Guests [In Phaze Records, 1982]
04. Smog - Guitar Innovator [Drag City, 1992]
05. Charles Hornemann & Rudy Redl - Himalaya [COLOURSOUND LIBRARY, 1988]
06. Jorge Reyes & Antonio Zepeda - El Hacedor de Lluvia [Philips, 1986]
07. Huerco S. - Skug Kommune [Software, 2013]
08. Dimples D. - Sucker D.J.'s (I Will Survive) (Suckapella) [Party Time Records, 1983]
09. Smog - 97th Street [Drag City, 1992]
10. R. Stevie Moore - Delicate Tension [HP Music, 1979]
11. Rezzett - Hala [The Trilogy Tapes, 2018]
12. The Egyptian Lover - I Want Cha (Pyra Mix) [NuBeat Records, 1988]
13. Kraftwerk - Techno Pop [Kling Klang, 1986]
14. Solid Space - Destination Moon [In Phaze Records, 1982]
15. David Borden - Enfield In Winter [Red Music, 1981]
16. ['On Hold Music' while paying bills]
17. Darkside - A1 [Clown And Sunset, 2011]
18. Iverson & Walters - Fox Tales [Eagle Records, 1984]
19. Nuel - Mentalism [Further Records 2011]
20. Sven Grünberg - Hingus [Melodiya, 1980]
21. Steve Elliott - Next Time [Satin Records, 1982]
22. Yuri Morozov- Inexplicable 4 [Melodiya, 1978]
23. Eloy - Horizons [Harvest 1980]
24. Shoc Corridor - Sargasso Sea [Shout, 1982]
25. Eric Lou Root - Don't Worry [Wortel Production 1987]
26. Kuniyuki Takahashi - Day Dreams [Music From Memory, 2018]
27. Smog - Your Dress [Drag City, 1992]
28. Country - Killer [Clean Records, 1971]
29. Lino Capra Vaccina - Metafisica Del Suono [Dark Companion, 2017]
30. Sonae - Dream Sequence [Monika Enterprise, 2018]

About Author

Tadas Švenčionis is a Secret Thirteen editor and journalist. He organizes the occasional event in Lithuania and is obsessed with the harsh, the sad, the delirious, and the political.

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