Earlier this year, Montréal’s Atsuko Chiba released three-track EP Figure & Ground, a perfectly enchanting follow-up to their 2013 endeavor in Jinn, which we sang the praises for when we discovered them a little over a year ago. To say we were anything but delighted with Figure & Ground as well would be fallacy, surely.
A little more than half a year later, Atsuko Chiba have released The Memory Empire, which works both as a differentiation in tone from Figure & Ground and a perfectly-segued sequel. As the slow, rap-centric verse of “Tidings” come to a close, the similar hip-hop sensibilities of “Wasabi Hands” come to the forefront with a thick, funky baseline driving the song as eerie guitars and keyboards provide the atmosphere. “That’s why I’m here,” sometimes-vocalist Karim Lakhdar states and, boy, is the band here. The infused pop sentiments underlaid by the inherent post-rock values elevate both of these elements to clever heights. Even when the song briefly decelerates to crescendo later on, the compelling bass by bassist David Palumbo just never, ever quits.
Enter “Panopticon,” a song that begins with a familiar post-rock vibe only to transform into something reminiscent of a punk anthem that’s ready to ramp up with its shouted vocals and guitar/drums shuffle only to once again transition to a mid-tempo progressive jam to once again change into a keyboard-driven monument of post-rock, though much different than when the track began. The subtle and not-so-subtle shifts throughout The Memory Empire keep the record fresh and interesting, forcing listeners to actively take part in the music instead of adhering to a backseat that post-rock so often affords.
The final track, “Damonsta Titillates,” is a slow burn. The spacey keyboards give way to another droning, chunky bass riff to the rest of the song. Unlike “Wasabi Hands,” the groove is forgone for the sake of a more traditional post-rock track that is only later mildly accentuated by the now-familiar hip-hop allures that Atsuko Chiba established with the two previous jams. “Damonsta Titillates” is reminiscent of traversing a great distance, perhaps an expanse desert of ice or even floating aimlessly through an extraterrestrial void with no clear end in sight. Whatever the journey, the track ends with a pair of lengthy distorted notes that secure a fate uncertain.
The Memory Empire is quite different from Atsuko Chiba’s previous work, but solidifies their intent as an evolving post-rock act. While retaining important elements that brought them to this point, Atsuko Chiba have seen fit to incorporate vastly different aspects in their music to great effect. The Memory Empire is a strong win for the Montréal fivesome and, more than anything, should leave us in anticipation for what else they can do for post-rock and rock music in general.