Several readers of this column have drawn my attention to the fact that, usually, the elements that I usually critique are some of the basic foundations of post rock. Crescendos, tremolo build ups, monotonous blastbeats and the like are all the bedrock on which post rock relies. And, to be honest, they’re correct. I don’t deny that these structures are what made post rock but the emphasis here is on made, that is, in the past tense. A genre needs to go somewhere, needs to do things with the primordial juices which spawned it that invigorates it and keeps it going. Especially if you’re a young band, just getting started. Do you think you’re going to be anything more than a footnote to Godspeed You! Black Emperor when you record album after album of static and crescendo? Do you imagine that will people will adore you as they do Mono if you incorporate strings in that specific way on each and every track?
But then there’s Yndi Halda who put to shame everything I just said. Ten years after their somewhat self titled release and they’re a legend. Having flared briefly, they burned that much brighter, releasing an album which, for many, was a turning point in the history of post rock, a bold and concise statement of what the genre was about. Honestly, when I picked up their Under Summer, released just last week, I was scared. Ten years of anticipation (more like seven, for me) is a long time and I was unsure what, if anything, the band would be able to innovate. There’s nothing quite more depressing than a legendary band, come back to discover that the genre has moved on without it. However, Yndi Halda have made a fool of me and everything that I thought that I wanted from post rock today. Under Summer is nothing more than an ode to the fundamentals of post rock, a brilliant, effortless, small, grand, personal, collective, majestic and humble rendition of the basics of the genre.
Those terms might seem contradictory to you and that’s fine. All you need to do is press play on the second track, “Golden Threads From the Sun” in order to understand what I’m talking about. Listen as the intro gently introduces you into the themes of the track, the vocals so light and enchanting that you won’t even notice by the time the moving crescendo hits. And the crescendo is only the middle of track and not placed in the end like most bands today are obsessed with. It serves a thematic purpose, namely to raise you up on high, your emotions soaring with the drums, only to bring you low again. But not to shame you, not to hurt you. It brings you low immediately after with strings, lightly plucked and bowed, as if drawing your gaze from the clouds to the grass below. The contrast is not here to break you but rather to shed light on two different places: the mountain peak and the low meadow.
Oh, and yes, I did mention vocals. This album has plenty of them and they’re amazing, utilized to utter perfection. Going back to the first track, “Together Those Leaves”, we discover how integral the vocals are to the picture I painted above. In some way, they manage to be both fragile and inviting, serving as both a harmony and counterpoint to the gentle guitars that usher in the album. This is not the last time this sort of cooperation will be seen on the album. In general, the guitars seem to be written for the vocals, or maybe the vocals to the guitars. In any case, it’s a unique collaboration and one which lends a personal, close and yet somehow magisterial vibe to the whole thing.
There’s plenty more that can be said about this album (the strings, for one, the bass for another, the cohesion, as a summary) but honestly, I’m just taking time from you which could be spent listening to it. Even if you’re not a fan of post rock, this is an album you need to hear. And if you are a fan, just close your eyes and listen to all the basic, familiar elements being played to absolute perfection. This is a band which innovates by their very quality of performance and writing rather than by being experimental or avantgarde. They are simple so in tune to the genre they are playing in that they are able to rarefy it, distill it, concoct a perfect elixir, smooth and wonderful to the throat. Or ears.