“You can go home again, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been” – Ursula K. LeGuin.
Have you ever stood on the cusp of a valley and felt hollow? The good kind of hollow; the hollow that leaves room for so much air that you could breathe in the scene around you? Or have you ever cuddled up under a blanket with a thunderstorm tearing across a plain, your mind expanding into the spaces left by the rolling echo? If you’ve done either of those things, or countless other experiences which leave you strangely large and yet perfectly at home, then you’ve already heard The Khost‘s Stella Maris. It is of the intimate school of the post-rock, filled with small moments of shared togetherness. Take a deep breath and then say “warm” really slow, let the Rs roll off your tongue into the Ms. That’s this album, a sustained moment of expression that’s filled with ease and evocation.
The main musical instrument which creates this sensation of homecoming are the vocals. They are almost never comprised of one line, instead constantly benefiting from a choir approach. The main line is firm in the center but it’s always surrounded by two, three and sometimes even four other vocal tracks, singing behind, above, and beneath it. This creates not only that warm sensation we mentioned but also a feeling of size which should be well known to listeners of post-rock. It is all important; it magnifies the gentle and wise lyrics into new places, giving you the sensation that the music is all around you. It’s such a simple tool but The Khost use it in a complex way; in post-rock, it is usually reserved for the moments after the crescendo, where the instruments go silent and the vocals guide the track to its closing.
But here, it is the track. The very first vocal moments on the album, the hopeful openings of “Sunsets”, are made from this powerful unguent. This sets the tone for the whole album; this is not your parents’ post-rock, with fierce tremolo pickings and crashing crescendos. This is beauty of a different sort, a more subtle sort. The guitars are no different; hailing from the yndi halda school of post-rock, the touches on the strings are light and composite. By “composite”, I mean that they only make sense together, when all guitar leads fit together into a grander whole. So too the strummed chords but these couple with the bass, which takes over as the main motivator of most tracks. This can best be heard on the lovely “Lucid Dreams”, where the bass speaks the main line while the guitar lightly accentuates certain moments.
The last fragment that makes this album so good is the album itself. The structure is superb; instead of relying on the rise-fall-rise structure so common in post-rock, or collpasing into a monolithic, single track structure, Stella Maris just flows. It’s easy to let your mind go and suddenly find yourself at the end of the album. So much has passed but any attempt to parse it into separate tracks or moments is futile. This is why you might feel me struggling to describe this album as I write. There are are really no words for how calm, silent and full I feel when it ends. Like yndi halda’s Under Summer, it is post-rock at what I’ve always felt was its best. Instead of pretenses to grandeur, instead of a mimicry of emotions produced by tried and true musical tools, it simply is.
What is it like, to come home? No one really knows. But I bet it feels a whole lot like this.