We’re now over two months into 2018, and we still haven’t had much drop in the way of highly-anticipated or surprisingly great releases from post-rock veterans and labels. It’s not unusual for the year to start off slowly in the way of major albums, but usually release schedules start to kick into gear by February. This isn’t a complaint, per-se, and it’s entirely possible we’ve missed some stuff from labels we should know about (seriously, let us know!), but it’s certainly surprising given that we’ve rarely experienced a dearth of big releases in this arena over the past few years. As I mentioned last month though, the one upside to not having a ton of big releases come to us is that it provides extra incentive to go out there and discover great music on our own that either may have fallen under our radar otherwise or not come on it at all.
To that end, the fourth gargantuan (and free) post-rock compilation from our good friend Nordsee over at post-engineering couldn’t have come at a better time. With over 40 bands featured and nearly 5 hours of music, any post-rock enthusiast will have much more than their fill of great and diverse post-rock and metal to choose from. More so than usual, this one features very few bands I was already aware of. Outside of Lights & Motion, Man Mountain (who you’ll likely be reading more about in the next edition of this column for March), Thot, the dearly beloved Toundra, and A Light Within (who we’ve featured multiple times and you can read more about below) though, all of these bands are new to me, and the prospect of getting to add so much great material to my collection and new bands to my repertoire is hugely exciting. So get on that, and as always, go show post-engineering some love by following their blog and Facebook page.
To quickly return to my original point though, just because we didn’t have much fall in our immediate radars this past month does not mean that we have little to share with you that we felt was really good. To the contrary, through my Bandcamp searching the past few weeks I found more than enough really interesting and great material to fill this column and then some. These come from all over the place, and in a genre that often gets criticized for sounding very homogenous and same-y, none of these really sound anything like each other, which is refreshing, to say the least. So on that note, enjoy, and be sure to share anything you’ve come across that you think we might be interested in!
Post-Topper: ELBE – Sudety
I keep telling anyone who’ll listen: turn up the fucking bass when you’re making post rock. Honestly, there’s no better companion for delay-ridden guitars and shimmering vibes than a loud bass/drum duo. Lots of bands get the drum part right but are deathly afraid from the bass taking over and thus, keep it low. Don’t! Fear is the mind-killer. Give me that bass and plenty of it. Want a lesson on how? You could do worse than listening to ELBE, a post rock project hailing from the Czech Republic. It has bass that goes on for miles, serving as a firm backbone (when coupled with fantastic snare tones) for what is an engaging, beautiful and haunting post rock album.
“Ve směru řeky” is maybe the best example of this and, probably, the best track on the album. It has a great synth line running throughout which works really well with the guitars to lend the entire thing an epic sense of wonder and exploration; it reminds me at times of some of Alcest‘s work with creating a rich tapestry of sound. But in the belly of the beast there’s a rumbling groove, prominent drums and bass swirling into a dynamo which keeps the track moving ever-forward. The rest of the album is like that to; it’s going places. It doesn’t have time to dally with the umpteenth repetition of a lead; the songs have structure and vector, propelled forward by ELBE’s need to move and groove.
That’s honestly been the case with many of the great post rock releases we’ve covered in the past. The age of the sweeping crescendo might not be entirely over (since some bands exist which still do it very well) but there’s definitely a more vibrant and dynamic beast now slouching towards post-rock Bethlehem (Austin, Texas?) to be born. ELBE are at the forefront of this wave and should hopefully become a template for how to make this kind of energetic post-rock and do it well.
The Endless Shimmering (aka Best of the Rest)
A Light Within – Epilogue
Just in case you thought that intelligent post metal, made over several albums, and dealing with an occult/intellectual figure was only for Junius to make, A Light Within are here to prove you wrong. This month, they released the third and last EP in their trilogy, an amalgamation of aggressive post metal, dreamy ambience and concept album. The obvious comparisons to Junius aside, seeing as they are the masters of this genre, A Light Within stand in their own light. Epilogue is perhaps their strongest release so far, expertly polishing their formula down to near perfection. The vocals are especially improved, carrying power and impact which many other vocalists can only pray for. The composition has metamorphosed around them, turning the spotlight on their unique timbre as the prime mover and shaker for the album. Just listen to the opening track, “Page #9 (Shells)”, if you need any proof of the above; the crashing chords and cymbals are the backdrop against which the vocals climb to ever increasing heights before ending on a screeched and abrasive tone. The rest of the album builds up on this hackle-raising promise and delivers one of the finer post metal releases of the past few years.
Atlantica – There will be no miracles here
Here we’ve got some classically dark, cinematic post-rock at its finest. Atlantica appears to be the work primarily of composer Romain Renard of Bordeaux, France, and everything about this EP indicates that he is a fantastic student of the genre while having a bit of his own flair to add to the mix. With five tracks named solely as roman numerals, the EP plays out very much like one large idea broken up into five movements. Each piece contributes its own fascinating idea and really does the work to adequately develop it and let it grow naturally. Yes, it is certainly crescendo-core. It is certainly reminiscent of the likes of Mono, Caspian, We Lost The Sea, Explosions In the Sky, This Will Destroy You, and so much more. But it’s that style written and executed brilliantly, free of bloat, tedious intros, completely unnecessary interludes, and dumb anti-climaxes. It’s a very solid reminder of why this style of well-trodden instrumental rock is so appealing in the first place and only throws into starker relief those who have tried and failed to do the same (including, at times, some of the bands I just mentioned). There will be no miracles here is thoroughly consistent throughout its 25-minute runtime, but I think “IV” might best exemplify just how many tools Renard is able to pull out to craft a truly impactful piece of post-rock. The beautiful and not overwrought string-work, the beguiling chord changes, the soaring guitar melodies at the climax. It’s all there in plain sight, but the ride is so enjoyable that the tropes and beats you know are coming still hit just as hard. Just a truly great effort through and through. I hope there is more in store from Renard and this project, if only because it’s important to be reminded once in a while how the classics should be done.
Black Sonar – music for nocturnal images vol. 1
Trip-hop is not a sound you see frequently incorporated into the post-rock milieu, but somehow Italy’s Black Sonar manage to pull it off with surprising aplomb. From the opening sounds of “Kids are always right” you can pick out elements of a bunch of different styles of music, all sounding not too unfamiliar on their own but in concert creating a really entrancing concoction. There’s an ominous synth pattern entering underneath a sound sample of kids playing. Then a simple drumbeat so reminiscent of the trip-hop style. But then that bass groove kicks in, followed by twinkling guitars above it all, and the song suddenly takes on a dramatically different tenor. It’s a subtle twist that is hugely effective, especially for someone who is a great fan of both instrumental hip-hop and instrumental rock. Next track “You know I can’t sleep” finds success in the inverse pattern, opening with a reverb-laden guitar and bass melody that has been the calling card of so much post-rock and bringing in a delightfully cool and slightly glitchy drum beat underneath. It’s not exactly the most ingenious concept out there, but it works because the melodies and atmosphere are so spot-on and immediately immersive.
This becomes even more apparent in tracks like the string-laden “Exodus,” “Intermezzo,” and “Dark Light,” all of which are beautifully-composed and structured pieces that calls to mind the brilliantly menacing soundtrack-like work of Grails or even the jazzy spaghetti western sounds of some of classic Tortoise. They’re dripping with a sense of character and place and hit exactly upon why instrumental rock and music like this so often makes for such great soundtrack material. In general the closest thing I can compare Black Sonar to is the more chilled out work of Grails, but they are very much their own thing and deserve special attention for it. There’s even a great vocal feature in closing track “Collapsing memories” that pulls off a hypnotizing and ethereal finish to it all. It’s a surprisingly strong, well-written, and gorgeously-produced effort from a group that currently has seemingly very little visibility and social presence. music for nocturnal images vol. 1 deserves to change that.
Blurred City Lights – Volker
Straying probably the furthest from the rest of the field here this month, the music from the UK’s Blurred City Lights probably would not be first and foremost described as a post-rock record. As a side project of shoegaze/darkwave group SPC ECO featuring Jarek Leskiewicz and Dean Garcia, it shares a lot of the alt-rock and pop sentiments of that group. What Blurred City Lights does differently though is take much of that SPC ECO sound and throw it into a darker haze, allowing the instrumentals to take a front seat and vocals (when present) to provide more of an ambient backup role. The result is music that is looser compositionally and possesses all of the energy and feeling of electronically-tinged post-rock with a pop edge. It shares a lot of similarities with the work of other pop/shoegaze-leaning groups like Blueneck, as well as some of the more recent and poppier work of Mogwai. Volker is thick with amazing atmosphere throughout, providing a bold and colorful sonic palette deserving of the image that adorns its cover art. “For A Day” is a great example of this, as it turns on a dime from a chilly foundation to a bright and vibrant chorus utilizing some of the best tricks of the post-rock trade. The entire album really excels at enveloping you in a blanket of sound though and exploring the push and pull tensions of its cooler darkwave and electronic underpinnings (probably best exemplified in “Clusters”) combined with its post-rock energy/positivity and shoegaze-y levity (executed wonderfully in follow-up track “Starry Eyes”). This is an album that won’t grab you by the throat but lure you in and keep you immersed in its lovely flow over its near-hour runtime. For anyone who is a fan of complex and rich post-rock that functions just as well blasting on speakers, quietly in the background, or through headphones to shut out the rest of the world, this is an album that should be your go-to for a while.
light:weave – The Coming Of Spring
Sometimes, we give bands space on the blog not necessarily because of the quality of what they’re making now but because of the potential we see in what they might make in the future. This is the case with Berlin’s light:weave. Don’t get me wrong, The Coming Of Spring is a good album; it mixes math rock and post rock to create a refreshing and fun escapade in its namesake’s themes and colors. It often reminds one of Sleeping Bear‘s latest output, which also dealt with spring and regeneration. However, in both length and execution, there seems to be so much more that light:weave can do with their formula. The foundations are all there: the bass is intriguing and solid, the guitar leads are poignant and don’t overstay their welcome and the drums surround the entire thing in their calm and steady voice. If they can tighten up some of the compositions, double down on their sense of groove and flow, their future output can be much better this. Keep your eyes on these guys; they’re going places.
Macondø – Macondø
To my knowledge I have not listened to any post-rock originating from China before, but I guess I can include the country on my list now as Macondø hail from Beijing. The band lay somewhere in that murky and all-so-alluring space between heavy post-rock, math rock, and prog, utilizing some impressive technical chops and heavy use of a cosmic-sounding synth to throw some extra spice into the post-rock mix. In general it’s a sound that’s tricky to pin down, especially as the band seem perfectly comfortable exploring a whole range of styles throughout this self-titled debut. There’s the more serene table setter of opener “Die Begin,” the far more taught and heavily riff-based “Seek,” the jammier and dirtier “Nebula,” and more progressive-leaning epics that form the back half of the album starting with “City of Mirrors.” This is evidently partly by design as the album is somewhat a compilation of tracks written by the band over a period of a few years since their formation. In that time they claim that their sound has evolved pretty heavily, not least of which because of the inclusion of Gerald Van Wyk on synth, who brought his own compositional viewpoint into the group and appears to have influenced the general direction of the group. It certainly doesn’t make Macondø a scattered-sounding listen, but there is definitely a sense of gradual change from the start through the end of the album, all the while remaining interesting and engaging enough throughout to more than merit listening all the way through and then back again.
Mescaliner – Chapters of a decade
Having released two full-length albums since 2008 of massive post-rock with technical, proggy leanings, Dutch instrumental outfit Mescaliner decided to do something special to mark their 10th year together as a band. As they describe it, “Having good experiences with a live-show that took place earlier in a semi-acoustic setup, we set out on a course to record an EP using this setup.” The resulting EP, Chapters of a decade, is definitely a bit of a departure from the more focused and conventionally post-rock work of their LPs, but it is nevertheless a deeply satisfying listen into more acoustic and psychedelic territories. Taking a live jam approach to the recording of the EP, the music unsurprisingly has a much looser and spacious feel to it. It calls to mind both the more middle eastern-indebted sounds of Grails as well as the bright instrumental folk of City of the Sun, and even some shades of early Cerberus Shoal. While opening track “Crestgrinded Tidaldust” takes a somewhat more expected (albeit still thoroughly entertaining) approach to that sound, the rest of the EP provides plenty of surprises with zero repetition. “Mastodonian Mirage” is a cool, smoke-filled room cut through only by the soothing horn melodies that form its spine. “Gesture Bowed Zephyr” is a surprisingly complex and beguiling piece that only dives deeper into its own richness as the track progresses, taking ideas and layers and building, transforming, and evolving into variations that always feel fresh. And closer “Perpetual Drifter” is the loosest of the bunch, creating more of a general mood and sensation than any specific form. All in all it’s an interesting listen and acoustic experiment, one that certainly stands on its own but will hopefully also serve as a cool entry point into the rest of the band’s very worthy body of work.
yndi halda – A Sun-Coloured Shaker
yndi halda are my favorite post rock band and their new, one track EP is a perfect example of why. It’s short; just over twelve minutes of music. But like the rest of their career (with only two albums, years apart, under their belt) what yndi halda miss in quantity, they more than make up for in quality. No one even comes close to them as far as creating an intimate album goes. Their brand of post rock is large and small at the same time, epic crescendos somehow translated into a close conversation with a friend. “A Sun-Coloured Shaker”, with its emphasis on soft spoken vocals, is no different; the entire track feels like home, a place you’ve lived in for years and are now seeing for the first time. Listen to the light touches on everything; the cymbals whisper, the vocals caress, the guitars envelop, the strings softly cut deep. The entire track is played down and that’s exactly what lends it its strength. In that sense, it makes sense that this track was written in tandem with Under Summer, their previous release, which was all of these things and more. This is post rock at its best, heartfelt, honest, intimate and moving. Get your tissues.