Few “programming” notes to kick things off here. First, apologies in general for this coming out later than it should. Life and stuff and stuff and life and more life and more stuff etc. Second concerns our friends at Post. Festival, which we hear was a resounding success! We plan on sharing some additional content from the event soon, including photos from Kyle and some thoughts about the whole weekend from David. All indications are though that the fans and bands in attendance all had a wonderful time and enjoyed the opportunity to play in a more intimate setting and mingle with one another as an actual community. The community aspect is what stands out to us the most as we feel strongly that this music will continue to live and thrive in the US only with a strong and tightly-knit community (or group of communities). We look forward to continuing to work with Post. Festival in the future and hope that more of us will be able to actually attend next time around!
Third thing is that you have likely noticed that we are barreling towards the end of the year. It seems to come faster and faster each time, and no matter how many times I go through it it somehow still is a surprise. This is more of a general site-wide note than one specific to PRP, but I just wanted to put out there as a reminder that we do feel strongly that the year in music does not “end” on October 31 or even November 31. We will still be giving November releases their due at the beginning of December before moving onto our end-of-year content (and December will get its recognition after all of that beginning of January).
Last thing before we move onto new music is a bit of recognition of old music. You may recall earlier this year I wrote up a pretty long and detailed post on the 20th anniversary of Tortoise‘s TNT. I have a close connection to that album and that band and thus spent a lot of time discussing it. There was another pretty big post-rock milestone being celebrated this past week though that I feel is necessary to recognize even as I’m not entirely sure how best to do so. 15 years ago Explosions in the Sky‘s seminal The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place was released, the band’s third and most widely embraced album within the post-rock community and beyond. When people describe or refer to the EitS sound, they are really referring to TEINACDP, with its lengthy tracks, emphasis on tremolo’d guitar lead melodies, mixture of foreboding atmosphere, wistful nostalgia, and hopeful triumph, and its classic reliance on slowly building up compositions to multiple crashing crescendos.
It’s undeniably an important, emotional, and well-crafted album. I just wish I personally had much more to say about it beyond that as I’ve never shared that emotional connection to it. By the time I found myself falling in love with post-rock and its history, I was too obsessed with the likes of Tortoise, GY!BE, and Mogwai as well as later second or third wave bands like Do Make Say Think, Red Sparowes and Russian Circles to ever really give EitS the due they perhaps deserved. I didn’t dislike them, but they never really were elevated beyond unobtrusive background study music for me, the musical equivalent of white noise. Moreover, that feeling of general ambivalence has carried itself with me towards the leagues of bands who have followed in EitS’s steps since in the cinematic post-rock game. The shadow that the band has cast over post-rock, especially American post-rock, in the years since has been incredibly long and one that can still be seen all over the place, including many of the bands we celebrate in this column.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing per se, and it would be hypocritical of me to overly chide people who continue to bask in crescendo-core’s continued proliferation while getting giddy whenever I can describe a band’s sound as “Tortoise-esque.” And yet it is important to examine our collective relationships with the forebears of any artistic medium or style and how it colors our biases and interpretations of what comes after. We have made it a mission in this column to highlight bands that are not only executing sounds and languages we already understand well, but ones that are tinkering with the formula, putting their own unique spin on it, or straight-up doing things we just haven’t really heard much of before. And though there will always be a place for bands who follow in the footsteps of bands like EitS and others, we cannot allow ourselves to be content with the familiar and the known. Instrumental rock and metal is limitless, as are the more narrowly-defined common definitions of post-rock and metal.
I think perhaps the most interesting thing about The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place is in its timing. By 2003 post-rock had pretty much already hit its peak (and was perhaps already just past it) in the broader cultural consciousness. GY!BE had already released the most peak of peak post-rock albums in Lift Your Skinny Wrists several years prior when EitS were just making their debut. Mogwai were already moving away from what had made them popular with the more subdued and measured Happy Songs For Happy People. So even by then, TEINACDP wasn’t as much a revelation or big step forward as it was a refinement and culmination. But it continues to serve as an ideal to model off of. Not that it doesn’t deserve to be placed alongside the other great albums of the era, but the context is important, especially as there continues to be a more popularized sense that the music never quite evolved past that point. As this music continues to exist and push ahead, we have to be willing to let go of our nostalgia and notions of what things should sound like and keep our eyes and ears tuned towards the things we didn’t even know we wanted in the first place. Frankly, EitS no longer sounds like EitS, which I’ve argued is actually a good thing, despite it not being one of my most popular opinions. We don’t need more Explosions or another TEINACDP. But we can continue to appreciate it for what it is as a moment representative of its time before moving on.
And moving on we shall right now!
Post-Topper: Bear the Mammoth – Years Under Glass
Years Under Glass is a difficult album to write about because it is inherently mercurial. It does a lot of things during its runtime but also manages to never lose sight of the foundations lied down when it starts, with the brilliant “Eyes Still”. I really can’t stress enough how much I love the opening track; it’s just a great declaration of intent that starts off the album with making you intimately familiar with what’s about to happen. But from there, the album picks up on the different elements contained within that opener and takes them to all sorts of interesting and unexpected places.
“Noumenon” for example places the emphasis on the fragile and dreamy tremolo picking/delayed guitars and places them in the center, creating an ethereal and enchanting track. “Known Unknown” is all about the drums and their interaction with the bass, focusing on a sly groove that never fails to keep you hooked and moving with the track’s beat. “Sank” right before it closes off with the only moment on the album that comes close to “Eyes Still” relentless heaviness, before breaking apart into moaning guitars and haphazard drums.
But whichever aspect of Bear the Mammoth’s sound the album focuses on, it’s always done as a unit. That’s perhaps the main thing that makes Years Under Glass one of the best albums I’ve heard this year; its cohesion is unparalleled. In a genre that often tends to favor guitars and bass, Bear the Mammoth are a complete package and, as such, are able to effortlessly shift focus from one part of their assemblage to another and hit with the same impact as any other. It means that nothing on the album “stands out” but only because everything on it is equally excellent; the power of the release is in the interactions, in the spaces between, in the unique ways in which every instrument glints off of another and sets the whole thing alight.
The Endless Shimmering (aka Best of the Rest)
Celestial Wolves – Call of the Void
There’s some shit going on in Belgium right now. Having become more tuned in to the heavy music scene there in my involvement with dunk!, it has become impossible to ignore the influx of very worthy bands emerging from this country at the moment. Most everyone tuned in to metal knows Amenra at this point, but bands like Briqueville, Astodan, Stories From the Lost, Turpentine Valley, Haester, Lethvm, All We Expected, and more are working some real magic within a similar template – crushing post-metal riffs and rhythm sections lifted by post-rock tinged melodics. A good number of these bands are now signed to dunk!records, one of them being Celestial Wolves, who just released their best record to date, Call of the Void.
Like their regional contemporaries, Celestial Wolves are all about turning up the volume and tackling big ideas with big riffs, evidenced by the power out of the gate put on display in “Batur Hvarf,” a song exploring the Bermuda triangle with voluminous, stoner-tinged guitars and chunky grooves. As much as their more muscular compositions are viewed as their clear bread and butter, a track like “-128.6 F” shows how capable the are of traversing dreamy, reverb-tinged soundscapes with deftness and grace. While the album continues forward on heavier tunes like “Bangui” and “Karoshi” with full effectiveness, “128.6 F” is truly a show-stopping standout, a gorgeous and transfixing tune that begs to be experienced in a live setting, maybe even drawn out for further effectiveness. “Stuart & The Marree Man” has a similar initial effect, but eventually builds out of its quiet and mesmerizing opening into a brawny finale that hits like a ton of bricks. Overall it’s a very strong album that is careful to deliver the goods and never wastes the listeners time with needless noodling or sidetracks.
As an aside, Celestial Wolves is the kind of band you want to root for as well. Beyond being one of the guitarists, Joris de Bolle is the primary artist manager for dunk!festival, helps tons of bands book and navigate the EU landscape for tours, is a true friend of artists and one of the most genuine and effortlessly nice guys I have met over the last few years. It’s always nice to see the good guys do well, and with Call of the Void it is clear that Celestial Wolves are doing just that.
In-Dreamview – In-Dreamview
Due to the nature of constantly being bombarded with new music and having to perpetually ingest new amazing material from all walks of life (I know, boohoo, woe is me), I simply don’t get to go back and listen to anything before the current year nearly as often as I’d like to. But if there’s one album that has been a surprising exception, it’s Reverie by jazzy/math-y/post-y dream machine In-Dreamview. The “band” – ostensibly a one-man project from an individual I can only find identified as Matt – hit an absolute sweet spot of music to relax to that is equal parts laid-back/pretty/bright and exploratory/intricate. Thus whenever I’ve been in need of something to mellow me out or appropriate group/family music that doesn’t demand too much attention but is still plenty interesting, I’ve very often reached for In-Dreamview.
It should be of no surprise then that the band’s self-titled follow-up hits all of those same sonic sweet spots while managing to keep the formula from growing stale. On the one hand, In-Dreamview is perhaps a bit more focused and less varied on a track-by-track basis. Whereas Reverie had a bit more diversity in splitting up guitar-heavy tracks and more piano-centric and sparse ones, In-Dreamview is more consistently lush and filled with more elaborate arrangements of guitar, piano, vibes, and more. Straight from the gate on opener “Steppe” you hear pretty much everything you need to know about In-Dreamview and whether they’ll be a band for you. With a breezy jazz foundation underneath, it glides along as bright punches of guitar so vivid you might as well have synesthesia produce an almost infinite sense of upward motion and lift. Most of the album follows this general template and pattern even as it explores a multitude of moods and tones within that framework. “October,” “Waterspout,” and the appropriately-named “Antarctic” take a somewhat chillier tack, and “Tarn” throws in some interesting world-music flavors.
And that’s nothing to say of the most standout track of the bunch in “Line In the Sky,” which is probably the closest the project has come to something resembling a “pop” song and structure. With an immediately catchy melody and theme mixed in with a perfect mixture of psychedelic dreaminess to contrast its optimistic momentum, it’s a perfect package of In-Dreamview’s ability to craft tangible moods with an additional layer of immediacy and groundedness that can sometimes get lost in the sheer intricacy of their compositions. Not that it presents much of an issue the rest of the time if what you’re looking for is space and music to zone out to and contemplate the bigger questions in life. Regardless, In-Dreamview is another gorgeous piece of post-y fusion from the project, one that deserves your full attention but is just as effective without it.
The Living – Drinking From The Trough of a Tyrant’s Piss
Many people turn to post-rock for music to put on in the background while they’re doing something else, be it reading, writing, working, etc. I’ll admit it is often my go-to for this as well as it is often built on mood and atmosphere more than anything else, and usually doesn’t have ear-worms that can distract or overwhelm. If you’re looking for that from an album, The Living’s Drinking from the Trough of a Tyrant’s Piss is not it. Not often in this genre do you find catchy vocal hooks that stick with you for days, but this exactly what vocalist/guitarist Derek Barnes manages to do. While his vocal style is not entirely different from what other post-rock/metal groups like Junius or Crippled Black Phoenix incorporate, the importance and prominence of them in the music was one of the first things that stuck out about this album to me.
San Francisco’s The Living perform a creative blend of atmospheric rock, drawing from kraut rock, post-rock/metal, prog metal and even pop. These influences come together to create an emotive, cerebral and dynamic listen from start to finish. Instrumentally, the talented lead guitarist Julian and bassist Jeremy play off and compliment each other very well, and Jack Shirley’s (Deafheaven, Wolves in the Throne Room) production allows each instrument to be discernible. Repeating galloping riffs with a bit of a desert rock or krautrock feel reminiscent of some of Long Distance Calling’s later material, while the up-tempo arpeggiated chords bring me back to those of a great electronic-post-rock group from Canada, Faunts.
Lyrically the album is quite varied, from the very on-the-nose sexual context of “Dirty Dream”, to cults, manipulation, and oppression. Doing what it takes to survive the many constant struggles of existence seems to be an overarching theme of the album that reflects the very poignant album title. This is brought out in the music through distorted aggression, yet also signs of optimism. The title track is perhaps the heaviest and darkest, having a grungy, gritty blues feel with half-shouted distorted slightly Zeal & Ardor-esque vocals and pacing. The prominence of the vocals and use of choruses unfortunately lends itself to my only complaint about this album, as I found those in the track “Mask” to be a bit lacking and distracting from the great instrumentation. The final track “Stab” has this delightfully catchy little riff and melody – that wouldn’t feel out of place on an indie-pop/rock radio station – repeated throughout that resolves the album beautifully. Being able to maintain consistent quality with enough variety make this a very listenable album start to finish with no filler, and the relatively short length (24 mins) is perfectly adequate for what I get a sense that they were trying to capture.
Pjin – Loss
To be honest, we’ve kind of given Pijn an unfair shake; while we’ve mentioned the band in the past, we haven’t yet written anything about Loss. That’s really on us as the album is not only excellent but represents a real step forward for the band. Don’t get me wrong, their previous works are also pretty good. They’ve always dealt in the kind of emotional and deafening post metal that I like best but previous tracks lacked a certain…contrast. It was big and it was experimental but it didn’t quite reach into my heart and twist it in the kind of way that I want my post metal to do.
Imagine my surprise then when Loss had me quivering in my seat and weeping with emotion several times. Pijn have really expanded their palette with this release, adding a bunch of droning, violin driven tracks that set the mood perfectly for the rest of the album. A good example is the initial build up on the over eighteen minutes long (!) track, “Unspoken”. Listen as the bass and droning guitars build up underneath the violin’s auspices, creating a bleak, lost, melancholic, and oppressive atmosphere. Naturally, this all explodes later on into fury and fire but the violin never quite goes away and the thick nature of the redolent bass accompanies the track, as it does the album as a whole, into a triumphant crescendo filled with power and verve.
This contrast between quiet, like the second, moody track “Detach”, and heavy, like the following “Distress” with all its swagger, is what makes Loss such an excellent release. It just works on every level to deliver the message home, as Pijn paint a unique, rich, and grayscale landscape of modern betrayal and dejection.
Set and Setting – Tabula Rasa
Florida’s Set and Setting seem to be on a mission to make me eat my words at this point. After criticizing their sophomore album A Vivid Memory for playing a bit too close to the post-rock crescendo-core median, they made a pretty dramatic turnaround towards heavier (though still plenty atmospheric and at times psychedelic) post-metal on Reflectionless. At the time I said that album was reason enough to potentially launch the band into the top tier of active post-metal bands today as it was easily one of the finest examples in the genre of last year. As if just to make the point very damn clear, somehow the band have returned for the second year in a row (technically closer to 2 years, but even so quite a feat) to confirm that yes, Set and Setting are now one of the best post-metal bands in the scene.
Tabula Rasa builds off of the framework of that previous album both sonically and structurally – like Reflectionless, the track listing of Tabula Rasa features multiple pairs of tracks broken up by trailing ellipses that are intended to flow seamlessly into one another – while adding some new flavors and energy into the mix. It continues the trend towards ungodly heaviness that the band decisively took, but this time around we’re treated to some more black metal influence on tracks like “Revisions Through…,” “Desolate Waves Confine…,” and the absolutely mammoth “Ecdysis” with their sudden breaks into furious blastbeat patterns and brittle and dissonant chugs. That mixed with the Neurosis-like sludginess they’ve beautifully been incorporating for a bit provides a really compelling foil to the more serene and pretty moments they’ve managed to wring out for years and continue to do on “Circling Doldrums,” “Circuital Tension Among…,” and of course the beautifully mournful trumpet-led ballad “Elucidation.”
Most importantly, the music just feels loose. It bobs and weaves; it’s constantly shifting what it’s doing without feeling forced. This is leagues beyond the passages I previously found to be stiff and overly beholden to the most common post-rock tropes. There’s nothing too straightforward, nothing repetitive, and nothing that doesn’t constantly feel like a rush of wild wind straight to the face. Simply put, it’s a goddamn fine album, one that shows that Reflectionless was hardly a fluke and that the band are rapidly exploring, growing, and ascending. Set and Setting have quietly (though not literally) managed to sneak up on everyone to become one of the bands to watch in instrumental metal. It’s well past time that we pay attention and listen.
Shipwreck Karpathos – Deviations
This is a different one. You see, in July of 2016 Portland based Shipwreck Karpathos released an expansive and cinematic post-rock album titled Bring Down the Sky. But now, in October of this year, they’ve released something called Deviations and it’s a remix of the aforementioned release by prominent names from the post-rock scene and from other places (like Coastlands, Metavari, Pillars, Ranges and more). And you know what, when I first read about the concept I was more than ready to dismiss it because I don’t usually like or “get” the idea behind remixes.
But let me tell you, I was wrong. Deviations is like Bring Down the Sky through a mirror darkly. First of all, goddamn Coastlands took “Installation” from the original release and turned it into the slouching-towards-Bethlehem beast that is “Installation 1138”, a dark, looped, sinister version of the much brighter and hopeful original. Then Yea Big said “hey, what would happen if we took the sleepmakeswaves sounding ‘Create, Destroy, Build, Repeat’, add ‘;Destroy-and-don’t-Repeat-Capitalism-Create-Anarchism-and-Build-Peace-and-Love-Remix!’ and then also tortured it into this off-kilter, insanely infections version of itself, driven by thunderous drums and crystalline electronics?
It only gets weirder from there let me tell you, even as Ranges arrive at the end to give us a more true to source “The Sound So Loud It Becomes Silence” which we can’t nonetheless help but compare to its origins and hear all the subtle differences. Thus, this remix album is really a work of its volition, using the original album as a starting point only, somewhere to launch its lewd and lurid ideas from. If it sounds like I’m a bit pissed, that’s no accident; there’s something that really sets your teeth on edge, hearing all these tracks in different and wildly new settings. But that’s also what makes this album so good; it really challenges what you thought you knew about the original tracks and does something wholly new with them.
This Will Destroy You – New Others Part Two
Leading up to New Others Part One I had been experiencing something I can’t quite explain. I’m not sure if other people share this sixth sense, or if it’s something that comes with paying very close attention to music for a long time, but I just knew I wasn’t going to like it. On the surface this doesn’t make much sense; I am one of the few TWDY fans who counts Another Language as my favorite from their discography. I think it was a combination of things – the departure of core members, their difficulty in keeping new members around, behind the scenes stories I’d heard from a number of sources about the remaining members feeling cornered and frustrated by their niche post-rock fame, and first hand experience seeing them in New Hampshire in late 2017 and witnessing an onstage demeanor that seemed tired at best, if not downright prickly. I had this sinking feeling that TWDY had a hit a wall.
When New Others Part One dropped, everything I had worried about seemed to come to light. My experience with it was like a through-the-looking glass moment of familiar difference akin to how I felt about Explosion in the Sky’s The Wilderness. Whereas EITS went in a totally different direction with results felt like incomplete sketches, New Others Part One felt like a collection of unfinished compositions, except rooted in the kind of sameness that the band had ironically been lauded for smashing with their release of the once-polarizing and now-beloved Tunnel Blanket. Not everyone was happy with Another Language, but I thought it took the finest elements from all of their previous works and blended them in spellbinding fashion. New Others Part One conjured thoughts of the band saying “shit, we need to release something soon,” trotting out their C+ game and saying “eh, this is fine” when they demoed the results.
So imagine my surprise and delight when, three weeks later, the band that I has assumed was now phoning it in suddenly pulled the rug out from under all of us by releasing New Others Part Two with zero announcements, PR or fanfare. And isn’t it the damndest thing: it’s a fantastic record. It kicks the doors open with the kind of liveliness and rock spirit that Part One seriously lacked in the furious opener “Sound of Your Death.” It’s not just the sheer vigor that re-asserts TWDY as a powerhouse, it’s the precise attention to melody and mood that’s made their name for the past several years since Tunnel Blanket, the kind of hard-won heartswell that doesn’t take the easy route to post-rock majesty. As good as their first two albums are, some of their hits from those records feature the kinds of bright, ultimately predictable passages that won post-rock much love in the early years but also more criticism recently as the genre has sometimes fallen into repetitive patterns. The best tracks from Another Language were the ones that could take a seemingly downbeat, somber guitar line or synth pattern and turn it into something that could bring a tear to your eye. I’m grateful to hear TWDY return to this glorious, almost noble melancholy on tracks like “Sound of Your Death,” “Cascade,” “Provoke” and particularly “Clubs,” which is a career standout for them.
If I could levy a criticism it would be one similar to what I have previously said about At the Drive In’s in * ter * a * li * a – it’s all about being able to edit yourself. If ATDI would have cut that record down to its 6 best tracks, released it as a killer EP and built momentum towards their next release then we’d be having a much different conversation about them right now. If TWDY could have cut the fat off of both of the New Others albums, the result would have been top notch. That being said, the high points of Part Two are much, much higher than those of Part One and I am much more willing to look forward with strong expectations now than I was on September 28th.