Got a couple of housekeeping items to kick things off here before I dive into the depths of post-dom. First off, Post. Festival is coming next week! If for some reason you are just hearing about this for the first time now or have been sitting on the fence this whole time, GO GRAB YOUR TICKET ALREADY YA DINGUS. Tragically I will not be in attendance as multiple life events have conspired against me being able to do so, but Heavy Blog representatives will be there! We will have a couple of people on the ground taking photos and generally having a great time. If you see one of us, be sure to say hi! You will also be able to show your Heavy Blog love by buying one of our beautifully-designed shirts through festival organizers/sponsors A Thousand Arms!
On that note, I am happy to announce that the Post Rock Post family of contributors is growing. This column will still be written primarily by myself and Eden, but you can now expect additional contributions from two new excellent people who have impeccable taste. First is longtime friend of the blog and all around excellent Canuck Trent Bos. Trent is already hugely responsible for Eden and myself listening to many of the bands we feature in this column and elsewhere on the site, and we finally convinced him to allow us to cut out the middlemen and deliver you all great recommendations straight from the source. Second is someone you might already be familiar with if you read this website and follow the post-rock scenes and communities in the US in general. David Zeidler – who recently wrote a superb review of the new Holy Fawn record Death Spells (more on that shortly) for us, is a longtime contributor for one of our favorite music blogs anywhere Arctic Drones, manages his own post-centric PR outlet Young Epoch, and also is an organizer for the aforementioned Post. Festival – has very kindly decided to join Heavy Blog as a full-on contributor. Expect more great recommendations, reviews, premieres, and more across the post-whatever spectrum to come through here and across the website thanks to him (though unfortunately you all will have to wait until next month for him to lend his ear to this particular column). Many good things happening for Post Rock Post and Heavy Blog in general!
Before we move onto the best of the month though, just want to quickly dive into a bit of, if not full-on negativity, at least not total positivity. You likely will notice a high-profile album (at least for the post-y world) that is not included in our list for the past month. Post-rock veterans This Will Destroy You released their latest studio album, New Others Part One, right at the end of the month, and though it certainly has some moments that are interesting, none of us here really felt particularly strongly about it, with at least a couple of us (myself being one of them) being straight-up underwhelmed. It’s definitely not a bad album, but at least to my ears it feels…tired? Not sure how to describe it exactly. I noted in my review of their previous album Another Language (which I did overall like but also had some major issues with) that it felt like the band were still confident in pushing their sound beyond what they accomplished on Tunnel Blanket but also seemed unable to match the quality and emotional investment of that album. There was exploration, particularly in their heavy use of retro-synth, but no clear direction. New Others Part One is all of those issues magnified. It often sounds like it wants to be a continuation of parts of all of their previous work, but it rarely adds anything that feels particularly new or interesting to those sounds. It feels disjointed, never really building up any sense of internal momentum, and at times feels like the band are substituting production experimentation for compelling composition, particularly on more amorphous tracks like “Allegiance” and “Like This.” Overall it offers the somewhat paradoxical sense of a band simultaneously exploring with no clear direction and of a band treading in place and reverting to too many of their own tricks when in doubt.
It’s also unclear at this time if the album is named Part One because it is intended as the first half of a double album, which would make sense given its relatively brief runtime. If that’s the case perhaps this half will make more sense in context. As it stands though New Others Part One is too slight and doesn’t leave far enough of an impression to warrant spending a ton of time on, which is a shame as a general fan of the band, but less so when there are so many other great albums coming out from newer bands breathing far more life into this kind of music. And with that bit of downer-ism, let’s get to the exaltations!
Post-Topper: Holy Fawn – Death Spells
Oxymorons, like the cliches they often are, are useful tools in the right hands and in the right time. They help us put our fingers on places which we can’t really communicate, emotional states that are too conflicting, too subtly disturbing to be put into normal words. They refer to and attempt to elucidate things which, by definition, break down their own referents and their own clarity. Thus, they are attempts without hope of success, inherent contradictions which, through the glory of our fuzzy minds, somehow manage to bear across meaning, a meaning of mood, of perspective, of intention. Two such useful oxymorons are delicate aggression and quiet noise, especially when we discuss music and even more so when we discuss heavy music, which often draws strength from the contrast between large and small, loud and quiet, transposing the one on top of the other.
This is what Holy Fawn and, indeed, post-rock combined with shoegaze or emo or metal or indie have always done; they create an air of delicate aggression, of important, painful, internal things being shouted out into the night, not expecting a response but receiving it nonetheless. Think of Circle Takes the Square. Think of An Albatross. Think of, indeed, the first three tracks of Holy Fawn’s Death Spells. “Dark Stone”, with its immensely noise-y beginning and its more muscular and present guitar chords, ushers in this exploration of weakness and strength with a bang. It’s all about delivery, about size; the vocals reach for heights even as they unravel more and more of the pain that will walk with us through the album. The beat is almost mechanical, bearing down on the listener at the onset of the album. It ends on even more noise and aggression, abrasive vocals screaming themselves bloody while the guitars fall in on themselves before the entire track collapses into “Arrows”.
“Arrows” is a more dark pop influenced creature, with a sleek main guitar line that runs throughout pretty much through the entire track, accompanied by elegant drums and bass that draw delicate circles around it. It’s very much more a creature of the European post-rock scene, reminding us of bands like Mountain or Sleeping Bear in its somber subtlety. But the aggression is still there, albeit for a short time; the track is speared through its end by not so much a crescendo as an abrasive explosion, as the guitars return to churn the mountains and the harsh vocals break through the quiet of the track in resplendent violence.
Straight into “Drag Me Into the Woods”‘s ethereal beginning, the vocals more a dream glimpsed between the woods than the stalking, bleeding, shrieking beast of the passage which just came before it. The mood by then is already well set; Death Spells is an album of contrast, an album about how fragility thrives in the face of violence, of how pain lives in the shadow of hope, how strength is to be found in the most unexpected of places. On the way, it’s also a wildly successful marriage of several musical styles, ticking off boxes from emo, indie, and post-rock. It’s quiet noise; it’s delicate aggression, it’s quite indescribable. And yet, I have attempted to describe it. What pathetic glory words are.
The Endless Shimmering (aka Best of the Rest)
Antorchas – Aphelion
Much like Old Faith (down below), Antorchas deal with a kind of darker tone for post-rock, channeling a cold atmosphere. But, unlike the aforementioned Americans, Antorchas (who hail from Buenos Aires) overlay a more jagged and electrical type of guitars over these more somber sounds. They also turn up the pacing a notch, resulting in guitar lines that almost beg for us to call them progressive.
These “feisty” guitar lines benefit from deep and present bass which serves like a rockbed for their machinations. On opening track “Desde Aphelion”, from these deeper vibes expand more traditionally ethereal passages which echo, in their harsh and barren guitar tones, the more hectic proceedings. The contrast is achieved perfectly, giving what so much of the dreamier sides of post-rock lack: context.
This context, of the heavier parts and their blend with more “out there” excursions, echoes throughout the entire album and makes it a hard beast to peg down. It’s aggressive at times but melancholic in others, carrying a certain edge and chill to anything it does. Its mystery draws you back towards it and there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into in your search of what it is, exactly, that this album makes you feel.
Future Usses – The Existential Haunting
It seems only fitting that a driving force of one of the most consistently interesting and forward-thinking progressive/modern/whatever you want to call it metal acts of the past decade and change, Intronaut, would be able to bring that same kind of boundary-smashing mentality to post-metal. Guitarist Sacha Dunable’s Future Usses – featuring Josh Newell (Intronaut, Cynic) and Derek Donley (Intronaut, Bereft) on drums, and Jon Nunez (Torche) on bass – certainly fits the bill in terms of most of the things one would expect from a heavy instrumental record. The Existential Haunting is a pendulous, sludgy behemoth of an album, borrowing heavily from the books of Pelican and ISIS in constructing towering walls of sound elevated by dense harmonies and compositions. But The Existential Haunting is so much more than that.
Dunable breathes life and pure fire into these songs through an experimental mentality that squeezes out the most immediately compelling parts of this type of sludgy post-metal and expands it through a psychedelic lens, refracting in all sorts of unexpected directions. Even seemingly simple things like the bright and reverb-laden guitar tones on opener “What Is Anything” manage to sound completely fresh in this context. Then you have sonic experimentations like the processed vocal loops that form the backbone of the viciously heavy “Make Flowers,” something I’ve never quite heard done before like this, but that quickly moves beyond novelty into something far more exciting and enjoyable. The album is filled with moments like these, full of depth and complexity but backed up with plenty of immediacy and thundering visceral foundations. Most importantly, it’s an album that has Dunable’s thumbprints all over it, and thank god for that. Anyone who is a fan of Intronaut should obviously give this a spin, but more importantly, anyone looking for an interesting twist on this brand of mammoth post-metal needs to hear this.
Old Faith – Old Faith
I’ll be honest with you; when we premiered Old Faith’s “Switchbacks” a few weeks ago, I already liked the album but I hadn’t quite fallen fully for it. It was decent enough post-rock but in a year (years, really) with so much great stuff from the genre, it had not yet broken through the pack. But then, inexplicably, I kept coming back to it. Something about the way the guitars “rested” on top of the rest of the compositions or the exquisite “woodiness” of the drum tones just kept playing in my mind, haunting me.
Finally, I gave in; it was one of the first days around here which started to feel not like an oven, with a cool breeze blowing. I turned on my stereo and let Old Faith wash over me and, suddenly, everything clicked. Their brand of elegant, patient post-rock, sans crescendos, sans almost all of the cliches of the genre, hooked it was solidly into my heart.
This is post-rock for those who would like to muse rather than have their hearts burst asunder; this post-rock for the contemplative listener, more interested in clever and pleasing interactions between instruments rather than impossibly grandiose moments. The build ups are there but the overall vibe of the album is warmer, more intimate; like a close friend who always has the right word for you rather than that boisterous acquaintance who never shuts up.
The Clouds Will Clear – Recollection of What Never Was
By now you all should know that I love me some groove when it comes to my instrumental rock and metal. Give me a killer bass groove that interlocks beautifully with drums and guitar, and I’m pretty much gonna be sold. Therefore from the opening seconds of “In Cycles” on Recollection of What Never Was from Frankfurt’s The Clouds Will Clear, I was 100% into it. Just listen to that bouncy and precise bass and the ensuing groove it locks into with the rest of the band before dissolving into a beautifully cinematic conclusion, and tell me you are not entertained. Lest you get complacent and think you have the band figured out though, they throw a curve on the next track, “Recollection,” which starts with a more serene piano theme and gradually builds into a lumbering beast of a song. “Before the Tempest” and “Attack Warning” throws in another curve as even more serene songs balanced nicely with the use of fretless bass and expertly-executed grooves. And closing track “Deep Sea Mining” has one more trick up its sleeve with its use of analog synth sounds mixed in with some lovely jazzy progressions and sludgy underpinnings before tying it back to the beginning motif from “In Cycles.” All-in-all Recollection of What Never Was is yet another strikingly confident and interesting debut LP at a time when I feel I come across at least one of these types of surprises every month these days. Post-rock ain’t dead, folks, and The Clouds Will Clear are just one of the latest of many examples of that.
Wang Wen – Invisible City
While all the members of Wang Wen are from northern China, the release of Invisible City, impressively their 10th full length album, was truly an international affair. The six-piece travelled all the way to Iceland this past January to record the album, and in September it was released on the Berlin-based label formed by members of The Ocean – Pelagic Records.
Wang Wen’s acclaimed 2016 release occupied a bleak, melancholic space, influenced perhaps by the grim “depressive environment” of their hometown, as cited by guitarist Xie Yugang in an interview with their label. “We are a group of people who are always affected by the surrounding environment.” Iceland is certainly not known for it’s warm climate, but the change of scenery and trickling glacier streams outside the studio may have been the ingredient that really gives Invisible City a much greater sense of warmth, and optimism than most of their previous works.
The first thing that really jumped out to me about this release is the sheer variety of sounds employed on this album; from typical rock instrumentation, numerous and prominent keyboard tones, trumpet, and cello. All six members are given proper time and space to shine in what is a very diverse, yet cohesive eight track album coming in a little short of an hour. If you’re looking for tremolo-filled, crescendo driven, aggressive post-rock this probably isn’t the record for you. The album maintains a relatively down-to-mid-tempo pace, built on repeating reverb-filled riffs, audible groovy bass (!) and textures and ambience accented by those strings, horns and keys reminiscent of some of Mogwai’s less depressing material, and The Samuel Jackson Five. Vocals and some audio samples are used very sparingly but effectively to augment a few of the atmospheric sections. Listened in a proper set and setting, Invisible City can provide a sense of hope and inspiration that few bands can truly conjure.