Look, no matter how hard I try and no matter the fact that a “proper” end of year post is coming up next week, I can’t not have an introspective/retrospective mood when writing this intro. We are, after all, already in December and the end of year looms large. However, I don’t want to repeat my intro from next week (which is already written) here; that would be silly. That intro celebrates post-rock’s exuberance and vitality in this day and age, calling attention to the mini-renaissance that seems to be happening within it, all over the world. So maybe this intro can mirror that one and we can celebrate Post Rock Post itself? I know it’s a bit self-congratulatory and maybe even narcissistic but hey, it’s my intro and I’ll cry if I want to!
In all seriousness, Nick and myself started Post Rock Post years ago and it used to be our pet project; before this column existed, I would mostly post solitary posts about bands that I found, without much further analysis. The only exception was my project on post-rock collectives, something I still want to go back to at some point and flesh out. That was maybe the first time when I started to feel like there was more potential here, that the post-rock community is alive and kicking and, more importantly, doing really interesting things with how they publish music and create it. Suddenly, I started seeing bands teaming up, forming close knit communities and asking tough questions about business models and the such.
Lo and behold, we now have four writers contributing to this column, we’ve sponsored a post-rock festival and attended it, and we’ve formed bonds with labels, bands, and even venues that host post-rock music. It’s limited to the United States for now but I don’t think that’ll last long; there’s too much amazing music being made in Europe and elsewhere. Regardless, I feel really good about how far we’ve come with Post Rock Post and the outpouring of support from the post-rock community at large and our readers specifically. As always, none of this works without you so thank you so much for reading; I can say with 100% certainty that without it, this column would never exist.
And now, music!
Post-Topper: Pj5 – I Told the Little Bird
It’s easy to see why post-rock wouldn’t have many concept albums; many times, these albums contain a large amount of lyrics to convey their story. Instruments convey feeling and mood but their messages are more elastic, less easily interpreted by listeners. With post-rock being a (mostly) instrumental genre, it makes sense that artists operating within it focus on sensation rather than storytelling. But there are exceptions to this rule and Pj5’s I Told the Little Bird is one of those and it is, pardon the pun, an exceptional one.
While it does utilize vocals, I Told the Little Bird tells the tale (from birth to death) of a bird with more than lyrics. It uses diverse instruments from the jazz-adjacent world (like horns, strings, and piano) alongside post-rock driven guitars and ethereal vocals to set the stage for its tale. It can often be weird; the unique vocal range of Swedish singer Isabel Sörling often creates ethereal landscapes, like on “The Nest, Part One”. But this strangeness, like in life, almost often gives way to wonder; can I direct you to the aforementioned track?
Start at the three minutes mark. Listen as Sörling’s voice explores those high ranges and blends with the ambient music to create those bizarre vibes we just mentioned. But then, listen as her voice explodes into percussive wonder while the music instantly lifts up and a crazy saxophone line appears in the background. As that line devolves into more and more improvisation, the optimistic energies of the passage’s beginnings turn to animated and animistic forces of life, echoing the sensation of leaving the nest for the confounding world outside.
The album contains many more such moments. It uses a beguiling number of instruments, modes, moods, themes, and ideas to convey a truly monumental life from birth to death. Besides that, it is musically amazing, running the gamut of interesting improvisations, soothing melodies, and moving crescendos. It is a must listen for fans of post-rock, jazz, and everything in between. It’s one of the most emotionally impactful albums I’ve heard all year.
The Endless Shimmering (aka Best of the Rest)
Coastlands – The Further Still [cinematic post-rock]
If you pay relatively close attention to post-rock it’s likely you’ve seen mention of the debut record of the one-man project The Sun Burns Bright, Through Dusk, Came The Light earlier this year. You also may have noticed that it’s not entirely a one-man band; while Chris Garr composes all of the material, three members of Portland, Oregon’s Coastlands contributed heavily to this album. Furthermore, you’ll find it reveals a somewhat more bombastic and energetic potential that isn’t thoroughly explored in Coastlands back catalog. I will be the first to admit that when we booked Coastlands for dunk!usa they weren’t that high on my list of bands I was excited for. But when they took the stage it was like hearing the band for the first time – their performance was loud and engaging and deeply emotional. Point being, if you were at dunk!usa, or are familiar with The Sun Burns Bright, or have seen Coastlands at any of their many tour stops over the past year and change, you know damn well they had something up their sleeve.
That something is The Further Still. What a record. In a year where the heavyweights of post-rock largely sat things out, the door was wide open in regard to contenders for the year’s best album. On most days of the week I would probably say that The Further Still takes that prize. It’s one of those rare beasts of a post-rock record that blends all of the elements perfectly, and simply attacks the genre exactly the way I want it to. Yes, it’s pretty and placid in spots, but unlike their previous material they don’t linger too long on the quiet, rather using it as an accent to serve the bigger moments. And if this album is long on anything it’s BIG moments. Sometimes people toss around the phrase crescendo-core to disparage post-rock, harping on tunes that spend 7 minutes building quietly to a 45 second climax that ultimately isn’t worth the amount of time you have to wait for it. But what Coastlands has done with The Further Still is provide listeners with a seemingly bottomless stockpile of these towering moments that genre fans long for. This is one of the heaviest records I’ve heard in a while that remains fastidiously post-rock, without moving into post-metal territory. There’s no mistaking the hallmarks of the genre all over these songs, but everything is just turned up in all the right places.
Check out the crushing second half of the single “Quiet Beneath the Yangtze River,” the desperate energy that opens “Bottomfeeder,” the triumphant uplift of “Earthless,” the sense of hope that rises from the melancholic ashes of the album closer “In Lieu of Dust,” or really any of a dozen other fantastic moments throughout The Further Still. You’ll see what I’m talking about and may agree with me that this is exactly the kick-in-the-ass kind of record that post-rock needed in 2018.
Wanderlust – Naufragio [math rock, post-rock]
From the often musically unappreciated South America, Peruvian three-piece Wanderlust play a unique blend of math and post-rock, with distinct influences from jazz, funk and pop – and great production to pull it all off. Clean lead-guitar driven math-rock has been rightfully receiving some of the same criticisms that modern post-rock receives around predictability and lack of creativity. Naufragio manages to take what those before them have accomplished and mold it into a refreshing sound with great songwriting and sheer talent. Much of this album carries an upbeat, lead driven, very confident feel that a lot of modern ‘nu prog’ bands are going for, but with a layer of atmosphere and purpose that many of them lack. Each song is a ride with various turns, but an overall sense of direction and destination. The overall product can feel fairly one dimensional in terms of mood, but if this mood is what you’re going or, it does a really good job of ticking that box.
While mostly instrumental, occasional vocals are sung and screamed in their native language, adding more depth, emotion and at times aggression. The vocals did take me off guard and felt a bit unnecessary on first listen, but that may stem from my unfamiliarity with the language, and I will admit their presence gives the whole album a more unique feel. “Dónde Está Mi Hogar” shows their ability to tackle a heavier sound, with ‘skramz’ styled harsh vocals and some of the first prominent use of distortion on the album. I’m also happily reminded of the guitar and bass work in the unfortunately short-lasted From Monument to Masses on several occasions on this album.
“Diluvio” was one of the notable stand out tracks, with very interesting riffage that reminded me at times of the fantastic new Night Verses album. The final track, “E.U.G.P.E.E.D.” is another highlight and maybe the most unlike the others. It follows a powerful and emotion stirring mid-tempo guitar melody, layered over strings and a hard to decipher spoken word audio clip that builds into a wall of sound with screamed vocals and eventual static. A brilliantly written album closer. Wanderlust on their sophomore album have really began to create something special, landing them spots in South American festivals, and opening for international touring acts. I would not be surprised to see whatever they come up with next begin to make serious waves.
Girih – Eigengrau [post-metal]
I’ve been sitting on the Manchester, NH post-metal trio Girih’s debut record for over a year now, having heard it way back when they were looking for label support (which ultimately came from dunk!records and A Thousand Arms), so writing these words has been a long time coming. I booked them to play a show here in Burlington with Au Revoir and local heroes Tyler Daniel Bean and Ghastly Sound, so I’ve been privy to their pro-level, hypnotizing stage show. This is no regular first album – these guys are all vets of the Boston-area scene and come to this band with a considerable amount of combined experience. It shows — the songs on Eigengrau and thoughtfully composed, polished and pack a ton of punch. In regard to the American post scene, this is a band that needs to be on everyone’s radar immediately.
The influences are worn pretty openly on the sleeve here – in both the song titles and the sonic construction, Russian Circles is likely the first band that will pop into most people’s minds. But, dare I say (wince! cringe!), Girih is less mechanical and injects the formula with more tangible emotion and engaging delivery. Russian Circles got to where they are with a ton of hard work and skill and songwriting ability and they were one of my earliest “post” obsessions, but if there is a band out there that needs to break away from the formula more than they do at this point, I can’t think of one.
Girih set themselves apart from that formula (or, maybe, re-energize it) by infusing both softer tones typical to post-rock and some math-y, looping melodies. Their approach brings a richness to a post-metal sound that can often feel too abrasive or impersonal. Eigengrau has a vibrant, beating heart running through all six of its songs that balances its heavier moments, ensuring its ability to please a wide range of listeners. But let me not distract from a major selling point either — this album rocks hard. It’s evident on the record, but if you have the opportunity to see them live don’t turn it down – they are LOUD. 2019 is shaping up to be a bit of a coming out party for the band as well, as they should be taking to the road in support of the album. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly start hearing Girih coming up a lot more in discussion, and don’t sleep on the opportunity to be early to the party.
Monobody – Raytracing [math rock, jazz fusion]
Seeing as Nick has already written so many words about this album, I thought it would be a good exercise to take over for this time and approach it from my own perspective. Nick has a much more “intuitive” connection with these guys (and jazz fusion in general) because he’s a jazz musician himself. This is especially important because we’re talking specifically about jazz, a genre infamous/famous for being written and made by musicians, for musicians.
But that’s not to say that a “pleb” like me can’t enjoy it; I love Monobody and Raytracing is no exception to that rule. But when I first approached the album, the thing that struck me above all is the feeling of futurism. Maybe it was just the album’s cover but I felt that Monobody (and other bands, like Jaga Jazzist and VIRTA) are somehow making music about an urban, futuristic cityscape. Maybe it has something to do with the synth tones, present and rich, on their albums or maybe something about the rambling, almost chaotic structure (but always with repetition and self-references baked in) that hints to me of a city.
Whichever is the case, Raytracing, even more so than Monobody’s previous work, is an album to get lost in; it’s filled with so many musical ideas, iterations, and interesting quirks that it was almost impossible for me to put it down when it first released. It has such a strong, unique voice that it almost feels like you’re talking to an old friend, after you’ve listened to it a few times. You’re walking through this futuristic landscape and talking about this and that, is the city murmurs around you. Or something. Listen to this album, would you? You won’t regret it.
Winter Dust – Sense By Erosion [cinematic post-rock, emo]
Winter Dust is something of a band without a home, although their work is thoroughly deserving of praise. They exist somewhere in a kind of genre-tag limbo between the soothing emotions of classic third-wave post-rock like Caspian and Explosions in the Sky and the desperate outpouring of screamo and post-hardcore acts such as Envy and Saetia. It’s kind of strange to me that they’re not more well-known, since those two genres have a lot of crossover in terms of fanbase. Personally, I came up with the latter genres through my high school and college years, and once I discovered post-rock in the early 2000’s everything kind of clicked. I know plenty of people, both fans and musicians, who own a similar timeline. It’s possible that Winter Dust is one of those bands that, to this point, has just been lost in the shuffle, but their 2015 EP Thresholds was truly one of the best releases of that year, encompassing all the potential for catharsis that exists within both genres. Their follow-up LP, Sense By Erosion, continues their intoxicating blend of lush soundscapes and rising, near-overwhelming emotion.
Listeners need not look far to get an idea of the powerful potential that exists within this band and their conceptual approach. After an extended intro, “Duration of Gloom” bursts forth with the signature blend of handsome melodies and dramatic crescendos with searing vocals that cut through the heart in the most desirable of fashions. The use of vocals is intermittent and meant to add additional accents, but they are an indispensable element, increasing the forcefulness of the emotional impact. See the louder moments in the following track “All My Friends Are Leaving Town” – the sustaining chords deliver emotional punch on their own, but the addition of tangible desperation provided by the screamed vocals establishes a greater sense of drama that is then further bolstered by the guitar lead that follows. The album continues on this way, wringing every last possible drop of sentiment from the listener, the kind of music that is emotionally exhausting in the best of ways. Lest one believe that Winter Dust is a one-trick pony though, it is revealed in the back half of the album on tracks like “Furnace” and “Stay” that the band is entirely adept with fully instrumental compositions as well, as these provide some of the most dramatic swells on the record. By the end of its running time, Sense By Erosion has provided more cathartic moments than most of the post-adjacent records released this year and deserves a great deal more recognition than it has thus far received.