When you look the past all the pontificating, the tens of thousands of words we’ve written about post-rock on the blog, beyond all the iterations and perspectives, the bottom line for many of us is that post-rock just moves us. Good post-rock, the kind which looks past more qualifications and strikes deep into the heart of what makes the genre and its associated satellites work, is post-rock which moves you. The list this month is a true testament to that fact, crossing multiple sub-genres to bring together a disparate list of bands and styles under one banner, the banner of making your heart hurt good.
Take our post-topper for example and compare it to, let’s say, Lions After Slumber. On the surface of it, there’s nothing much beyond technicality that connects them to SEIMS. But when you look deeper, when you feel the outro of “Freefall” hit from the latter’s release or the rising brass instruments and drums on the beginning of the former’s album, something there is the same, yes? It’s the bated breath, the rush of blood to your core, the sudden elation which grips you by the throat and says “this, this is music!”, that prickles your eyes with tears born of excitement.
Or maybe that’s just me? I’m totally fine with that just being me, to be honest, because it gives me the fuel I need to tell you about this special genre and all the powerful twists and turns it can lead you on. This month’s list has so many of these moments as it seems to have focused on post-rock that’s more emotionally explosive and readily dominant than usual. Or maybe not, maybe this is a trend that’s been going on for months, now that I look back at some of our previous choices. Whatever happens to be the case, I can tell you that this month’s list is another excellent example of why I love post-rock and what makes it so special. No other genre screams to me “you are alive!” than well executed post-rock does. Let’s get into it.
Post-Topper: SEIMS – 3.1
When we premiered a track off of the newest EP from Sydney’s SEIMS, I could barely contain my excitement in describing the whole thing despite the fact that I was only supposed to talk about the track at hand. But now that the whole thing is out and I can finally speak freely about the entirety of 3.1, I almost feel at a loss for words at how to properly encapsulate just how damn good this thing is. First off, I am pretty certain that this is the first time that a 3-song EP clocking in at a mere 15 minutes has garnered the top spot in this column. Given the unrelenting pace at which 2019 has been pumping out monster albums in the post-rock/metal sphere, it is not for a lack of other worthy material that we find ourselves in this position. 3.1 is really just that good.
For those who are familiar with the band’s previous LP, 3, this new EP doesn’t stray too far from the blueprint set forth by that release. The same mixture of loud, punchy, and anthemic riffs, off-kilter time shifts and mathy grooves, offset by the occasional passage of beautifully moody ambience is still present. Whereas 3 set a more deliberate pace that came in fits and starts though, 3.1 is just a straight-up sprint. Jumping off from the final track of the LP in “Imperfect Black,” the EP launches straight into “Absolute Black,” bringing with it a maelstrom of jagged rhythmic edges, horns, and strings. While 3 explored the visible color spectrum, 3.1 deals in luminance, and thus we logically start with the densest and heaviest place we’ve seen the band go. Barely offering a space to take a breath, “Absolute Black” gets in your face and simply refuses to let up, possibly offering the first time a math rock track has made me want to primally rip my shirt off and scream at the top of my lungs (the less you imagine what that would look like the better).
As I mentioned in my writeup of the premiere, “Translusense” offers the one fleeting opportunity in the EP to slow down, pause, and reflect. The bouncy, string-laden motif proves to be highly satisfying and serves as the perfect springboard to launch right back into the thick of it midway through, at which point the remainder of the EP never lets up again. “Clarity” has h y p e written all over it, and for those last 4 minutes of the EP the incessant drum hits and aggro guitars make it nearly impossible not to simply bounce in excitement. If the more high-octane work of And So I Watch You From Afar had more strings, it would probably sound a lot like “Clarity.” And just like that, the EP is over. But there is so much packed into those 15 minutes that it feels like far more. By its brief nature 3.1 may not wind up being the most impressive post-y release of 2019, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t end up being one of the most fun and immediately satisfying.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
The Best Pessimist – Part.II FUTURE
One of the things that attracts me repeatedly to more electronic-tinged post is the expansive array of tones and sounds they can employ beyond your more typical rock instrumentation. The Best Pessimist are excellent at creating these cascading textural landscapes of soft colours. I’ve probably said it before, but I’m a huge fan of piano in post-rock and I’m continually looking for more artists akin to Maybeshewill. The Best Pessimist nail that contrasting vibe between guitar and piano that they did so well. The mashup of more traditional post-rock with ambient electronic and IDM elements, takes two fairly straightforward sounds and augments them to something more. Their song structures at times are built somewhere between post-rock and more dance oriented electronic music, with building layers of guitar/keyboards/drums before one takes centre stage in a climatic way. These bright arpeggiated piano riffs collide with exploding and relatively heavy guitar riffs as we hear on the second song “Black Alert” that in context of the song title could correlate with a high-intensity sci-fi scene to excellent cinematic effect.
As suggested by the title, this five-track, 30-minute EP is the continuation of their 2017 release, Part.I – Ruins. With Future we see this one-man project telling a story of growth and progress from the desolation they left behind. The electronic drum tones and synth pads are effective at giving this album the feeling of existing in a time and place we’ve yet to experience. It’s not quite a Hans Zimmer crushing dystopian future, but one more of optimism and curiosity. The sort of light-hearted synth tones in “You Are My Best Friend” wouldn’t be out of place in a 00s indie-pop song, harkening some feelings of nostalgia. The Best Pessimist aren’t breaking any new ground for the genre with this release, but if you’re a fan of minimal piano and looking for something more whimsical and carefree than the more emotionally taxing counterparts in the genre, I would recommend giving this a listen.
The Pirate Ship Quintet – Emitter
Emitter is another great entry into the emotionally devastating and diversely instrumental side of post-rock that when pulled off well is almost always among the best the genre has to offer. She Sees surprised me earlier this year with their eclectic foray into this sound and now The Pirate Ship Quintet is back to bless us with their third release, and first in seven years. For fans familiar with the band, let me know you the wait was worth it. They pull off a massive, dark and dynamic sound that can be both reminiscent of early Godspeed, yet at the same time more modern bands like Caspian. It’s an excellent balance of these two sides of the genre that all really comes down to each individual member being able to excel at what they do. Having a cellist who spends time as part of the London Symphony Orchestra also definitely hurts, as this has some of the most hauntingly beautiful cello I’ve heard in some time. The way the cello, guitar and bass play off each other is masterful, with the guitar often delivering slow moody riffing build ups, and the cello acting as the atmospheric back-drop, sort of mimicking the tremolo-picking of more traditional post-rock.
The Pirate Ship Quintet has never been afraid of using guest vocalists to elevate their music when needed and this album is no different, but the beauty is in the subtlety of it. While their older material took a more daring approach but incorporating screamed vocals, here they emerge as a classically composed curated choir on one of the strongest tracks of the album, the 17-minute “Companion”, and “Wreath”. Crescendo climaxes are sort of the trope of this genre, but the emotional depth to them on this track and throughout the album is staggering. Adding to that is how contrastingly heavy they can get.
The title track “Emitter” features a wondrous guest feature from acclaimed saxophonist Andrew Hayes (Run Logan Run), adding some very fitting jazz touches that takes the dynamics of this album even further. The drums are at times very reserved or outright absent depending on the mood they’re going for, but I feel like every time they need to shine they REALLY shine, with fantastic drum fills that caught me by surprise which are really the icing on top of this already stellar release. Emitter is out now and available on vinyl, via Denovali Records.
Lions After Slumber – Now That We’re Up Here…
One of the things that often keep me from spinning math rock albums more than a few times is how samey the genre can get in its timbre. There’s no doubt that there’s a wealth of talent in the genre; the technical demands of playing it tend to draw seriously gifted musicians to practice it. But due to its aesthetics, math rock tends to create a very distinct timbre, one which focuses on the bright, the happy, the ecstatic. This leads many albums to lack contrast and thus, depth. Thus, I am always on the lookout for math rock albums that can do more, that use the genre’s tropes to tell different stories and paint images with a bit more contrast to them. Enter Lions After Slumber.
To say that their most recent release, Now That We’re Up Here… is sad would be to miss its nuance and depth. Rather, we can say that it’s melancholy, channeling post-rock influences to create that kind of hope-tinged longing that the genre is famous for. Add to that some of the more playful approaches and compositions which give math rock its name and you get an album that’s able to hit on multiple fronts, instead of channeling one vibe or feeling. “Save Yourself Mammal”, the second track, is a great example of that. Sure, the tones are overall more stuffy and somber than a math rock album would usually have but listen to the synths and the way the drums play around them on the second half of the track or the light guitar touches near the end of the track and a spring in your step will suddenly appear.
The next track, “Volcano”, is also a really good example; listen to the contrast drawn between the bass tracks and the constantly repeating guitar notes. The guitars sound very math rock but the overall tone is more muted and contemplative. Not to mention the outro, which throws everything into the wind and erupts in joyous dance. This kind of refusal to fall in line, to bring something different and unique to both their post-rock and their math rock sides makes Lions After Slumber a really interesting band and their latest release one which I can revisit often. And, indeed, I have; I’ve found the album to be troubling my playlist incessantly over the past few weeks, as I slowly unravel the different approaches and sounds on it.
Minor Movements – Bloom
Talk about a band that took a major leap this year. Previous releases from Minor Movements were mostly the landing spot for guitarist Nic Brant’s solo compositions, but in 2018 the project turned into a full-band affair and the advancements are frankly staggering. In the course of only several months they went from a name I was unaware of to the opening act for the inaugural Post. Festival, to an on-stage revelation, and now to this, which is one of the best post-rock releases of the year thus far.
In many ways it reminds me of the most recent Coastlands release. Coastlands were also a band that had shown potential in the past but were somewhat holding themselves back in my mind, trying to play too much to the atmospheric and not enough to the visceral. Then something just clicked and they just discovered the approach that made them special, and now anyone who has seen them perform live in the past year and half knows that they are at the top of their game.
Same goes for Minor Movements. At some point in the last year they took a real turn into gutsy, riff-heavy territory and it’s been a revelation. They are definitely a band you could categorize as modern traditionalist post-rock, and they embrace that role lovingly. The record strikes a near-perfect balance of pretty passages and textural atmospherics with fist-clenching, fiery rock dramatics and soaring crescendos. Check the second half of “Where You’re Looking From” if you need proof. By the end of the song it’s almost as if the speakers themselves can’t even handle what’s happening, as the intensity reaches peaks that threaten to cause the song to collapse in on itself. It ends suddenly and you’re left with just enough time to recover before “Hamatreya” begins and you find yourself scaling your way to another towering crest. There really isn’t a ton of let up on this one, it’s emotionally exhausting in the absolute best of ways.
Terms x Conditions – Excuse My Colors
Greensboro, North Carolina’s Terms x Conditions are a shining example of why all of the blind research into random Bandcamp artists is totally worth the effort. I’m not sure if I ever would have come across this band otherwise, and my month was 100% better for it. They self-describe as a math-rock band that was born as a tribute to the DIY scene in their hometown, which feels like it sells them short for a couple of reasons. First, to simply call this math-rock doesn’t really encompass everything that’s happening on Excuse My Colors. Yes, there are clearly math elements, but this rocks in a way that feels very specifically like the raucous early aughts, when independent bands who grew out of punk and hardcore were moving into more lawless and exciting territories. Also, to simply label this as a tribute to Greensboro – while an admirable nod – is to suggest that this doesn’t need to spread to ears across the globe. But it does. There is a looseness, a joyous freedom to this EP that is ripe with intangibles; I understand this is entirely subjective, but for whatever reason it’s one of those albums that makes feel young and wide-eyed again. I’ve connected with it in a way that feels raw and electrifying.
You may find yourself listening to the first track “Contrasting Vibrations” and thinking “am I listening to the same album this guy is?” That’s fair. I probably would have recommended placing that track in the third slot, but at the same time I don’t think you could just lead with “Sunday In Mexico.” That song rules in such a real and pure way that you can’t just come out of the gate with it. But once you arrive there, believe me, this EP becomes a no-doubter. The pacing is breakneck, the guitars are snarling, the sax and trumpet are bold but inviting. It’s an unimpeachable track, for sure the best I heard all month.
The final two tracks run a glorious gamut from jazzy math experimentation to early Fall of Troy-esque heroics, with plenty of grin-inducing stops in between. You can tell that this is a record that was made as a tribute; casting off the weight of expectations and making music purely out of love is often the exact path upon which you arrive where Terms x Conditions have. They currently have 192 likes on Facebook, and I can’t tell exactly how seriously they’re taking it in terms of being a full-time project, but if they decided to go for it completely I would be one of their staunchest supporters.
Wander – March
Oakland, CA’s Wander has been something to behold over the past few years, an indie success story that you don’t get to watch unfold in this manner very often. They are still essentially DIY (Headless Queen Records is operated by guitarist Christian Francisco), but they have been getting press coverage from massive outlets like The Alternative Press and Kerrang!, they played two showcases at South by Southwest this year, and they’ve appeared on tour dates with major up-and-comer and recent Triple Crown signee Holy Fawn. They’re a band that’s just going for it all out and it seems to be totally working out for them, which is especially heartening to see in this genre of perpetually underappreciated bands.
It might have something to do with the fact that they have, in relatively short order, pumped out three legitimately impressive albums in the past four years, and then toured hard on them. Their most recent record March is the newest in a string of successes. It features their signature style of evocative melodies matched with an atypically upbeat forward propulsion. It’s highly engaging and uplifting stuff, with so many of the feelings you want out of post-rock without having to “wait for it.” March was recorded live (a strategy that has worked incredibly well for Heron also) and produced by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Oathbreaker, Loma Prieta), and features a sound so crisp and present you feel like you could reach out to touch it.
Standout songs include the opening title track as well as “Parade,” but the one that really gets me is the closer “Eveleth.” As post-rock ballads are wont to do, it’s a bit of a slow-burner to start, but once it digs in I have to find the nearest hand-fan to shake off the vapors. It’s a real heartwrencher, with a climax that just keeps going. It’s also a nice showcase for primary songwriter Ryan Francisco, whose drumming plays a central role in the dramatic force of this track. If there’s anything we’ve learned about Wander in the past four years it’s that they won’t be sitting on their laurels just because they released a great record; typically we’ve only had about a year to admire their work before they’re back at it with another high-quality release. So best to get your reps in on March now.