I am not one to beat a dead horse, generally-speaking. I don’t like seizing on a particular argument and continually pointing out the ways in which it is dead wrong once I’ve clearly established its wrongness. In the case of the popular opinion that “post-rock is dead,” this is doubly true as the entire existence of this column is essentially visual and aural proof of that – our version of showing vs. telling. HOWEVER, in this one case I feel the need to ignore all of that. Because, friends, what the fuck is even going on with post-rock so far this year?
I mean that in the best possible way. Normally, January is a relative dead zone for new releases across the musical spectrum. Sure, it’s better than December, but usually it’s more of a warm-up phase, a chance to stretch out the limbs again a little bit, shake things out, and see if anything worthwhile sticks. When I started this monthly iteration of the column one year ago, I specifically commented on the paucity of high-profile releases early on. On the one hand this forced me to dig extra deep through Bandcamp to find smaller and newer bands who were putting out interesting stuff, but on the other it took a long time and a lot more effort to find much that really struck me hard and would stick with me long past listening to it.
2019 though….man, what? How is it possible that I already feel like I’m drowning in incredible releases and have heard several that I am almost certain will find their way into, if not my top 10, certainly my top 25 of the year? How is it possible that so many big names in the scene have already dropped albums this year, and not all of them are even going to fall on this month’s list? And it’s not just January. If anything I’m even more excited for the next few months when we can talk about a group of albums I’ve had the privilege to hear that are just as good, if not better, than the group below.
I can’t tell you what the cause of this is for sure. Much of it certainly is just coincidence. But also, what should not be understated are the forces in play that we’ve talked about extensively here in the past year and change. The labels that are taking off, the scenes that are feeling more closely-knit and influential on an almost daily basis, and the people working tirelessly to make sure that as many people get to listen to and enjoy this music as possible, these are all crucial pieces that have been building up these new foundations for the genre behind-the-scenes and appear to be exploding now and paying dividends in spectacular fashion.
As if all of that isn’t enough, we also have had the good fortune to receive another one of A Thousand Arms‘s brilliant compilations in the form of Hemispheres: Volume III. As has been the case with previous editions, the comp comes in two “sides,” each featuring artists from either the western or eastern hemisphere. And as has been the case with many of A1KA’s previous comps, the lineup is basically a who’s who of post-rock bands we have fervently told you to listen to.
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Just to name a few standouts, we’ve got Seeress, Coastlands, Talons, Erupter, set and setting, Isles, Old Solar, Kaschalot, Locomotora, Bear the Mammoth, Astodon, and Winter Dust. That doesn’t even come close to the full roster of bands we already know and love, so if you’re looking for a singular compilation that encapsulates Post Rock Post and everything we stand for, this is it. Go listen and support these wonderful groups along with A Thousand Arms.
And with that, have a look at some of our most toppest of picks from the past month, all more than worthy of your time. But post-rock is dead, so what do we know?
Post-Topper: We Are Impala – Visions
A note for aspiring bands posting their work on Bandcamp and hoping people take notice: album art matters. A lot. I realize that in the age of digital-only and streaming that sounds counterintuitive to many, but I’m dead serious. As a part of this column I spend a fair amount of time on Bandcamp searching through new post-rock releases, and the first thing I look for are album covers that interest me in some way. This isn’t just a matter of aesthetics and whether the band knows any decent graphic artists. Your album art is an artistic statement in itself and the most immediate way in which you are presenting your identity as a band to your audience. If your cover art looks like it was assembled haphazardly in 5 minutes on Photoshop with a generic photo or image and some bland text in a lame font with zero thought seemingly placed into it, that is a creative decision you are making about how people should interpret what your music sounds like as well. It’s certainly not the case that every album with enticing or sleek-looking cover art is going to be a winner, but in my experience I have yet to come across an album with decidedly amateurish or bad cover art that I found to be worth my time.
All of which is to say that I likely would not be here right now telling you about one of my favorite albums of this young year if it weren’t for some amazing cover art. Have a look at Spain’s We Are Impala and their album Visions, and you likely have a pretty good idea of what sorts of sounds you are in store for. The technicolor, dynamic landscape evokes a kind of psychedelic sci-fi aesthetic that lends itself well to adventurous stoner, psych, and prog. More so than that though, doesn’t it look fun? It’s something you can look at and viscerally be excited by the possibility of it.
And Visions 100% delivers on that promise with a group of songs packed to the gills with big energy, big riffs, and an atmosphere of exploration and adventure that is simply impossible to resist. Combining plenty of classic prog and stoner influence (much of “Echoes of Blue” is about as close to a Pink Floyd homage as you can get without directly ripping them off) with a timeless sense of taut and exciting songwriting and composition, this has got the “full package,” so to speak, for this kind of music. As Eden mentioned in his first writeup of the album, there’s plenty of similarities shared with the kind of riff-slinging stoner metal that Elder specializes in, minus the vocals. There’s also hints of the kind of post-y instrumental prog that The Physics House Band excel at, especially on the raucous and sax-laden closer “Valleys of Entropy.”
Perhaps the most impressive feat We Are Impala have pulled off here is the trick of being a post-rock band that actually manages to leave you wanting more. Visions is a slick 29 minutes and change, and though it serves as a clear and complete package on its own, every time I get through it I think about how I could easily listen to another half hour of it. Hopefully the band will be able to grant that wish soon enough as Visions should bring them far more acclaim than they currently have.
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The Endless Shimmering (aka Best of the Rest)
Endless Dive – Falltime
It’s been a rough winter up here in Vermont. It’s always cold this time of year, but 2018-2019 has felt particularly relentless, with snow seemingly every day since November, subzero temperatures and little to no reprieve. This week, however, we’re seeing the mercury climb into to the forties, and this winter has us all convinced that this is the most amazing thing possible. It is currently 46 degrees and I have the windows open in my apartment as if it were May. So maybe it’s just hitting me right at the perfect moment, but man am I falling over myself for this new Endless Dive record. Yet another strong post- band from Belgium, but differing in tone and texture from the darkness and weighty heaviness that we’ve become accustomed to from many of the country’s other bands.
Falltime is honestly exactly what I needed at this juncture; it’s upbeat and full of triumphant emotional swells, warm melodies, big crescendos. It’s familiar, but in an entirely inviting fashion. The album is ushered in with the airy, hushed tones of intro track “Surface,” but quickly shifts into “Wading Pool,” which properly sets the pace for the remainder of the record. Bursting with vibrant energy and an uplifting buoyancy, this is one of those songs that screams “better times are not far off!,” leaving the listener with a feeling not unlike the one brilliantly translated a couple of years ago in the song “New Horizons” by the from-out-of-left-field Belarusian band The Last Sighs of the Wind (who I strongly recommend checking out). This is dynamic post-rock at its finest, ripe with passionate optimism. This theme continues into “Misadventures,” which features a truly inspiring build-and-release climax, as well as through further standouts like “Outgrown (Parts I and II)” and “Stoky 335”
This time of year a little warmth is always welcome in my neck of the woods, and Endless Dive provide the kind of enveloping comfort that should never be undervalued. Falltime is definitely a record that is shaping up to be in heavy rotation as Spring draws nearer and the unforgiving darkness of winter fades further into memory.
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Land Wars – Land Wars
The aesthetic connection of the music behind post-rock and its album artwork has always intrigued me. Countless bands have incorporated fantastic artwork that somehow captures the feel of the album in one square image. Yet I would argue post-rock’s step-sister math-rock excels at this even further, and Land Wars is another strong entry towards that argument. The illustrated spiralling chaotic planetoid of colour, flora, mysterious alien like creatures and snakes entangled by roots is the sheer ridiculous essence of math rock – something that Land Wars has mentioned to seize through their musical output as well.
My favourite part of unapologetic math rock like Land Wars new self-titled album is that behind all the highly intricate guitarwork, drum fills and complex rhythmic patterns is pure and simple ‘fun’. Like their contemporaries in Floral and standards among others, Land Wars know that at the heart of a good math rock album it needs to contain that element of playfulness. That’s not to say that there’s no depth or emotion to this release (because there certainly is), but what I tend to take away from this brand of the genre is just the smile it puts on my face. The balance this album manages to find between being hyper-technical yet easy and amusing to listen to is perhaps it’s strongest feature. The pacing on the album really fortifies that strength, it’s not overly relentless or fast, but also never seems to drag on unnecessarily. There are grooves when it needs to be a bit dancey, and dazzling fretwork when you want to just close your eyes and make ‘that face’. The fact that this is all accomplished by just two people is even more impressive and hard to believe.
I’m surprised they waited until the last song “Kiids” on the album to throw in those darn gang vocals. The shouted ‘Yes’ is exactly what I was thinking when they popped up, and the icing on this colourful cake. This is also perhaps the most ‘post-rock’ song on the album as it has a delightful build up through a growing repeated riff and subdued drums that explodes back into the main riff with some backing gang shouts of joy reminiscent of ASIWYFA. I’m not sure how much they tour given one of them lives in Sweden and the other in Italy, but if you get the chance to see them live I would not miss it as this is the type of music that screams to be experienced live among friends.
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Long Hallways – Close Your Eyes To Travel
Oh boy, this album is an absolute joy. It’s one of those rarities which starts by hinting at one direction it might go in but then isn’t afraid to take detours along the way, exploring the full breadth of options its basic sounds gives it. Close Your Eyes to Travel by Long Hallways begins with “The Only Way Out Is Through”, a moody piece relying heavily on brass, bass, and strings to get its vibe across. Said vibe is like a softer This Patch of Sky, a melancholy piece which nonetheless holds much hope and joy in its delayed guitars and careful arrangements of instruments.
From here, a direction for the entire album is woven in our minds only to be cast away by the band in favor of a more nuanced approach. While “January” which follows it is somewhat a continuation of “The Only Way Out Is Through”, the third track, “Under the Fall”, is already something different; it’s more sleepmakeswaves, both in its classic intro but also in the harsher guitar tones and a greater emphasis on kick rather than caress. It’s harsher tones feed right into “Under A Dark Planet”, which performs an interesting maneuver; it reintroduces the brass but twists them all up, revisiting the first track through a mirror darkly. Now the melancholy has given way to strangeness, the bass lines only accentuating the whirls of the brass, creating a noir like, dream-like state, like a dark city being walked by a drunkard, as the buildings and stars whirl around him.
The rest of the album has plenty more surprises in store but I’ll leave you to figuring them out. Close Your Eyes to Travel is a unique sounding album which does much more with its basic components than you might expect; it showcases a band that’s not complacent with their obviously impressive skills, rather looking to dig deeper into what their music means and where it can go. In the process, they’ve made an intriguing post-rock album which channels its influences into interesting, diverse, and beguiling directions. It’s well worth a dive into it and a dive is what it’ll take; there are little moments of pleasure in here but there’s no clear cut formula for you to find them. Happy hunting.
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Loro – Crown Lane
Post-rock is inherently an introspective genre. The typical lack of vocals combined with often emotion stirring instrumentation that takes you somewhere else, to something you long for, or somewhere you’ve never been. It can take whatever emotions you’re actively feeling and magnify them, or act as a catalyst to set you off down a path you maybe weren’t ready for. There’s something about well executed post-rock that makes this almost an effortless endeavour. The genre can beam with optimism, hope and strength in memorable ways, yet more often through the simple absence of major chords we see it go the other way. Crown Lane, the mysterious debut album from the UK outfit Loro definitely goes that other way, into a short but sweet trip through sheer melancholy.
I often find bands that incorporate more orchestral elements and the addition of other stringed instruments like violins and cellos often excel at the moodier brand of post-rock, but sometimes a pure rock-based outfit of guitars and drums can combine the right notes to really do the trick as we’ve seen the likes of Mogwai do on many occasions. The twangy and sometimes playful lead guitar riffs bounce around like the intricate lonesome thoughts in one’s head while the rhythm, bass and drums carry each song forward keeping you connected yet still adrift. The guitar doesn’t rely on predictable crescendos to get the point across and accomplishes this more through creative riffing. Yet the playoff between the lead and rhythm at times comes together strongly in “Crux” and “Au”. I dropped the word ‘mysterious’ before, because I simply cannot find any information about this band anywhere other than their bandcamp, which doesn’t provide any details of the band themselves or it’s members and they seem to be void of any social media. Whether it’s a full band or a one-man bedroom project I’m not sure, but what I am certain is that this album has connected with me enough that I feel the need to share it with others.
Unlike most post-rock this album really seems to pride itself on brevity; over the 9 tracks, only 2 are longer than 3 minutes. While a bit peculiar and maybe off-putting for the genre, it works in this case. These tracks aren’t GY!BE art-school epics, they’re simple loopy riff driven snapshots of emotions laid out against each other in a succinct yet complete package. Sometimes you want to just cut to the chase of what melancholic post-rock stirs inside you and for me this album does a very adequate job at that.
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Old Solar – SEE
When Old Solar debuted with SPEAK back in 2016 it was clear that this was a project unafraid of tackling big ideas. “Celestial Beings” was one of my favorite post-rock tracks of that year, featuring an absolutely knockout climactic swell that lived up to the song’s lofty title. I was somewhat shocked to learn that the record was the brainchild of a single author, Travis Brooks, who was composing and recording Old Solar tracks as a solo artist at the time. The music had a richly textured depth that you don’t typically find outside of a full-band context.
Since then Brooks has released an album of ambient tracks, and also had at least one stalled attempt at creating a full lineup (originally teaming with members of Bombardier, who eventually re-grouped and released a record as Old Faith in September of 2018). He also released an early version of SEE’s second track, “Summer Solstice” as a standalone single for inclusion on A Thousand Arms’ “Hemispheres, Vol. 1” compilation. Now Brooks has found a consistent lineup for the band, as well as a home with dunk!records and the label arm of A Thousand Arms, and has positioned them to be one of 2019’s most relevant post-rock groups working outside of the first-tier realm. The response to the first two singles was overwhelmingly positive and now that the record is available in full it is poised for success, having already sold out its first pressing with dunk!. Another notable partnership is the one with Brian Morgante’s Flesh and Bone Design. Morgante designed the stunning artwork for Old Faith’s record as well, and his work here is equally if not more breathtaking, an early contender for one of the best-looking vinyl releases of 2019.
So, it stands to be said that, while there are more high-profile post-rock releases on the slate for this year, that SEE may very well be one of the most relevant collaborations between multiple entities currently laying the important foundations for the genre globally. But all of that would be rendered unimportant if the quality of the material wasn’t at the top of its game. Thankfully this release reaches and exceeds all of the potential put forth on SPEAK. SEE is an absolute beast of a record, each track exceeding the 7 and a half minute mark and featuring lush builds that journey seamlessly into stunningly rewarding climaxes. These are songs that need careful attention and a patient ear, but the riffs are so big, the melodies so pure, the payoff so consistent that the experience of giving yourself over to this record is ultimately pretty effortless once you’ve got yourself locked in. This isn’t one of those albums that builds itself around a single amazing track or a few great moments, it’s a fully immersive 45 minutes that really never stops being highly impressive. If it’s high drama and grandeur you seek, this is your top of the line model for 2019 at the moment. And it should be said that January was a great month, but at this moment in time Old Solar stands at the peak of the mountain.
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A Swarm of the Sun – The Woods
Just like its predecessor, The Rifts, The Woods is proving to be a very tenacious sort of album. It doesn’t dominate my rotation; I don’t necessarily spin it daily. But what it does still do is captivate my complete attention when I’m playing it. More than that, it seems to hang around me like a shroud; the previous album did the same, phrases and passages from it floating around my person at all times, emerging now and then to grab me in their frigid embrace. With The Woods, this embrace is all that much colder since the album feels less substantial to begin with. The Woods has an airy, ungrounded feel to it, a feeling of the spaces between trees as they pass you by, a feeling of the gaps between lights arrayed on some forgotten motorway.
The more I sink into this album, the more I understand how it creates these atmospheres. It’s more than “just” the way to it utilizes the build-up/crescendo expectation to deny us catharsis, although that certainly plays a big role in it, the extended silences catching us off guard. The elusive track rather lies in the way little moments from the quieter passages repeat during the crescendos and how they communicate across the album. It’s like seeing a shape almost emerge from a fog; because the touches on the guitar or piano or drums is so light, so ethereal, it feels like a lot of the musical ideas never quite coalesce. They hang around at the edges of your hearing, while the more dominant string sections or thundering crescendos ring around you.
But during those more prominent passages and alongside those more muscular notes, those hints of sound still sound, calling back to each other across the vast reaches of the build-ups which make up much of this album. This creates a kind of tapestry, an image slightly more than the sum of its parts but in a way which is hardly discernible. Like I mentioned in my review, the overall fascination is with liminality, with transitions, with things not quite whole and then suddenly, painfully, brilliantly whole. Like its predecessor, The Woods is a complex and nuanced album which uses little hints, sounds, and memories to play with what post-rock can achieve, emotionally. Like its predecessor, it will be a long time before I shake it and, for that, I am thankful.
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Other Notable Releases:
Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters – It’s Only Permanent [Editors’ Pick]
Clouds Arrived – Weightless
The End of the Ocean – -aire [Review]
Mono – Nowhere Now Here [Review]
Rosetta – Sower of Wind
Somn – The All Devouring