Post rock has to be special, doesn’t it? The genre pretty much relies on this rarefied and unique aesthetic; some people hate it, throwing the entire genre into the trash because of how it presents itself. And, I’ll be honest with you, I can’t blame them. However, looking past exteriors is also a good approach and, behind the endless covers of forest covered mountains, there’s plenty of good music to be had. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be writing this column, would be? One of the other eccentric qualities that post rock seems to obey is its weird release cycles; usually, plenty of stuff is released in the beginning of the year but a lot of the heavy hitters are saved for Spring and Summer.
But lo and behold, here we face the Post Rock Post for May and there’s not a lot of meat on them bones. Previous months have been pretty stacked, so what’s to explain this sudden scarcity? Perhaps it’s a desire by introspective bands to hit peoples’ ears when they know they crave “inside music”, when Winter is in full force and keeping you aside. Maybe it’s just coincidence and I’m reading way too much into this. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because Nick has been away doing Life Things™ and I’m flying solo again. Who knows? What a mystery.
In any case, the lack of quantity should by no means imply a lack of quality; the albums listed below are as excellent as they are varied. And varied they are: running from a type of dark post rock that flirts constantly with post metal, through forest dreams and ambient sojourns in pastel lands, all the way to nu-prog influenced guitar lines and the saccharine joy they bring with them, this months’s post rock post brings with it a mood to suit all colors. So, read on below for another installment in a series covering a dead genre that’s not dead at all, a genre that constantly fights against its name while embracing everyone’s least favorable opinions of it. Welcome, once again, to the weird annals of post rock.
Post Topper: Spurv – Myra
Further down in the post, you’ll find me talking of the “dark” variety of post rock that seems to be coming out of the Northern and Central parts of Europe. I think that idea deserves close attention; it’s without a doubt that we’ve seen many bands operate within this sound in the last few years. Basically the entire roster of Pelagic Records and A Thousand Arms can be attributed to this movement in one way or another. Bands like Mountain (Switzerland), Labirinto (Brazil), Cranial (Germany), Telepathy (UK), Lethvm (Belgium) and many more are all taking post rock in a darker direction. The basic elements are all there, your guitar leads, your thundering drums, your crescendos. But everything has more bass, more presence and more fuzz. The end result is a sort of “gloom and doom” approach that, while obviously present in the forerunners of the genres, now takes center stage.
Spurv‘s (Norway) Myra is a welcome and excellent addition to this movement. The entire album is steeped in the kind of melancholy that we’re talking about here. It’s more than just the usual morosity that post rock is famous for; it seeps into the music, creating something a lot more oppressive. This should be evident from the first moments of the album. On “og ny skog bæres frem” (“and a new forest is brought forward”), the first proper track, it’s all over the brass instruments that play as the track reaches its outro moments. It’s also all over the way the guitars play around the groove section, creating a sort of negative space which lures the listener in.
Nor does this feeling of darkness relent; the following track, “fra dypet under stenen” (“from the depths under the stone”), amplifies this sensation with its ultra fast tremolo picking and the prominent role the drums play. This latter seem to be another defining attribute of this style of post rock. The drums are even louder than usual and focus less on just crashing cymbals and strong kick drums but also on impressive hand play and rhythmic structures. They possess a kind of urgent dexterity here, a burning need to drive the track ever forward. As a result, not a lot of places on the album are truly empty, inhabited instead by small ghost notes, clever hi-hats and all around excellent work on the drum-kit.
As the album progresses, you’ll find yourself more and more sucked into the shaded world that Spurv are creating. It’s all to do with nature, another recurring theme both in post rock in general and, specifically, in the kind of nascent sub-genre we’re exploring today. Regardless of the chronological analysis, Spurv stand on their own even when compared to the excellent bands cited above. They seem to have their own take on this kind of sound, a sort of energy that’s hard to quantify and replicate. And we might not want to do that; after all, isn’t a lot of this about letting go of direct understanding and immersing ourselves in the great unknown? When Spurv are playing, it feels as if that unknown, the unknown of nature, is a just a bit closer. And that’s a great feeling, perhaps the feeling that this strain of dark post rock aims to communicate.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA The Best of the Rest)
Astodan – Ameretat
Sometimes, you just need some dark noise. There’s something soothing about the endless crash of chords and groove sections, as if being in the presence of something overwhelming that we have no control over is comforting. Perhaps it’s because it’s better than the opposite, the overwhelming things in our lives we imagine we’re responsible for. In any case, Astodan have that release in droves; their Ameretat, is a wild ride through emotive post rock verging on post metal, all momentum and groove. Thus, they join an increasingly large roster of bands operating in the north west/center of Europe (Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and the like) which inject their post rock with plenty of heavy. The result here is just as sumptuous as ever, introspective piano (seriously, check out the piano on “Sagdid”) blending with crashing chords, cool electronics and delayed leads to create a heady and evocative mix.
Black Hill & Silent Island – Tales of the night forest
This is probably the further we’ll drift from the core of post rock on this post. We’re wandering in the direction of neo-folk, a direction which shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, both genres are guitar centered, inwardly focused and ethereally charged. Black Hill is a project which is only one part of another, namely Silent Island. Black Hill and, indeed, this entire album, are the guitar parts for future Silent Island tracks. When they stand alone, they’re beautiful daydreams on the guitar, channeling themes of nature, dreams and introspection to create an album that’s very melancholic but also imbued with the kind of wonder and innocence that I’m a sucker for. If you’re looking for an album to softly sing you to a different world where all is dew and fog with its guitar, then look no further; Tales of the night forest is all sweet strumming and compositions which evoke an aspect of stargazing within us.
Distant Dream – Your Own Story
Moving further once again from the core of post rock, albeit in a wholly different direction, we find ourselves in the sweet planes of nu-prog. Here, the younger brother of djent blends with the type of mountain-topping crescendos we’re used to from post rock to create something like a more expansive version of Plini. While that luminary of the guitar has his share of dreamy moments, Distant Dream take that vibe and amplify it even further. This creates an odd and pleasing tension; you’ll hear plenty of delayed leads but they’ll almost always turn into virtuoso solos, thick riffs or other tricks of the trade which come from a much different style of guitar oriented music. However, this contrast is what gives the album its strength. Often times, nu-prog and djent overstay their welcome by a long shot, furiously clinging to their progressions and structures. Here, the post rock segments do much to break this tenacity, adding a lot of interest and coherence to the music.