Friends, I’m gonna be real with you. It’s been a busy week, and I’m writing this late at night, so this month’s intro will be brief. A couple of housekeeping items in case you missed it. First, though it’s officially out today if you haven’t listened to the new album from CAVALLO that we premiered earlier this week, you should absolutely do so. More importantly, if you haven’t seen the official lineup and info for this year’s Post. Festival, you will absolutely want to have a look at that and purchase your ticket. It’s shaping up to be an amazing event that you are not going to want to miss if you are a fan of this column and in North America.
One other thing. If you have been following us for a while, then you will likely know Scottish post-math band VASA, and you will know that we think highly of them. Well, the band are currently prepping their second full-length, and they need your help! If you’ve liked what you’ve heard from them, you should strongly consider donating to their Indiegogo campaign. As always, we encourage supporting the music you want to see more of.
And with that, music.
Post-Topper: Her Name Is Calla – Animal Choir
Over the past decade or so, post-rock has become known for – amongst other things – huge crescendos, and bands that end up grouped in the genre because they don’t quite fit anywhere else. So it’s fitting that this past month saw a band that may have never really been post-rock in the first place deliver one of the grandest exits we’re likely to see. For those readers unaware of the circumstances surrounding Animal Choir, here is a quick(ish) recap.
For nearly a decade, Her Name Is Calla built a considerable cult following. They’ve never been a band receiving mainstream recognition, but they’re close to as well-regarded as a niche rock band can get. Their 2010 record The Quiet Lamb, with the 17-minute opus “Condor and River,” is likely what landed them on the radar of so many post-rock listeners. Their overall sound is more like a blend of alternative rock and folk, but it’s the diversity of their output and approach to composition that has kept them firmly entrenched in post-rock circles. Fast forward to 2017-2018: as they were working on Animal Choir it became clear that the band, already spread around the UK and now finding themselves with more and more family responsibilities, were unable to continue making the proper commitment to Calla. So they agreed that this would be their last album and continued through what ultimately would become a two year process of writing and recording. It was decided that the album would be released on dunk!records, and a final tour was arranged. Animal Choir was set to be released on May 31st, and the following day they would give their farewell performance at dunk!festival, closing the already-legendary Forest Stage on the last night of the event.
Frankly, you couldn’t write a better script to complete a decade-plus journey. I was lucky enough to be several yards from the stage during their set, but I’ll save that story for the dunk! recap. All of this would have been very special regardless of how the album turned out, but the real kicker that drives home the high drama of this story is that Animal Choir may be the band’s finest work. It’s a special record, one that deserves a place high upon the end-of-year lists, even in a year like 2019 that has already been wildly over-performing.
Featuring fifteen tracks clocking in at around 80 minutes, Animal Choir is a double album of striking diversity and consistent power. There are albums spread through my timeline as a music fan that possess a rare quality, ones that can traverse wide swaths of compositional styles with ease, records that seem to strike just the right chord no matter what direction they head. It’s not often we get to witness artists truly clicking on all cylinders, where you can feel how locked in they are. This is a very specific realm that’s not just about how good the music is, but how the artists seem to be wholly capable of doing anything they set their minds to, no matter how far flung the ideas are. I’m thinking about albums like Faith No More’s Angel Dust, The Dear Hunter’s Act II, Blind Melon’s Soup. Animal Choir fits right in with them, where you have to just sit back and say “damn, these folks were just on their game for this one.”
The first two tracks alone are enough to cement a top-tier reputation for the record; the weighty, almost doom-adjacent march of “Swan” reveals an entire side of HNIC rarely explored in previous works, while “The Dead Rift” unleashes a breathtaking second half that is unlikely to be challenged for the most inspiring vocal hook of 2019. I haven’t been able to pry that “let me spin through the ground like a drill” refrain out of my head since I first heard it. It doesn’t stop there, though. The gentle dreaminess of “Kaleidoscoping,” the mid-career Radiohead-esque fuzz-rock of “Bleach” and pulsing electro-anthemics of “A Modern Vesper,” the stunning dramatic build of “A Moment of Clarity,” the sheer emotional resonance of “Frontier,” every stroke they apply to their canvas brings something new and wholly engaging. By the way, we’ve only now covered the first record. By the time Animal Choir comes upon the “it’s who we are now” refrain in “Robert and Gerda” and the “I don’t want to be a stranger in a strange land anymore” line from “Bloodline” the listener has poured so much of themselves into the experience of this record, the fairest and most welcome trade-off for a piece of work that represents a collective of artists giving absolutely everything to craft a worthy final statement.
I’ve listened to this album so many times at this point, as I was tasked with writing the album copy as well as conducting an interview with the band for the guide booklet passed out at dunk!festival. It’s currently 12:40 am, I worked all day and night, I have to wake up to go back to work in the morning, and going into this I honestly just wanted to bang the text out so I could go to bed. But now I’m listening to the final 4 minutes of “Robert and Gerda” with tears streaming down my cheeks and I don’t ever want it to end. There are moments like this everywhere on the record that are just so pure, so genuine, so achingly beautiful and so capable of unlocking all the things we bury down deep. This is why we listen to music, it’s why we play music, it’s why we share music with each other. It’s everything. It’s who we are now, and forever.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
Battle of Britain Memorial – We crave for our holy outsides
I’ve covered quite a few artists in our Post Rock Post segment that mix screamo (or skramz if you want to sound cool) and post-rock, and Battle Of Britain Memorial are the next on that list, and one of many from the extremely stacked French screamo scene. We Crave For Our Holy Outsides stands out for me among this scene due to it really putting the heavy, doomy post-rock side of their sound first, and screamed vocals operating as another instrument to augment the visceral nature of the end product. This EP employs a fair bit of clean-sung vocals as well, which I’m not sure if it’s just the French accent coming through heavily, but they take on this sort of haunting creepiness.
The second half of “Samsara” is full-stop one of the music highlights of 2019 for me. It’s a classic repeated, hypnotic building post-rock riff with some intricate grooviness to it, that’s layered with dense, atmospheric reverb from the other guitar track and the alternating blackened screaming and more shouted-to-clean vocals create a powerful connection with the listener that I’d kill to experience live. A lot of this track is comparable to modern post-black metal with less of the shimmering of shoegaze, but I could definitely see it being labeled that and appealing to fans of that genre.
The production and mix on this EP are top notch and impressive for an independent band. The bass is audible and booming which gives it more of a post-metal and doom influenced sound, and the prominent use of vocals doesn’t drown anything out. The drums also sound great, especially when guitar eases up and the drums come through almost on their own with these intense tom-fills.
My only complaint with We Crave Our Holy Outsides is that I crave more. The EP spans 26 minutes over three tracks, and fortunately does end on a good note, but doesn’t fully leave me satisfied. Especially considering this is their first real release other than a single and an A Silver Mt. Zion cover since their debut in 2011. Hopefully this is a sign of the band being back together and more focused because there’s certainly a wealth of talent here that’s just barely been tapped.
Goodbye, Kings – A Moon Daguerreotype
This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned Goodbye, Kings on Heavy Blog. These elusive Italian post-rock mysterios make the kind of music that makes you think of foggy nights, empty streets, and long vanished cities. Their tones have always been cloaked by a dalliance with ambience and drone and on their most recent release, A Moon Daguerreotype, this intimate relationship flowers into a beautiful, heart touching, and marvellous release.
At the core of this album lies the balance between quiet and loud. The duo of second and third track, “Méliés, The Magician” (a reference to one of the first films ever made, in 1898) and “Drawing With Light” respectively, is a great example of how this works. Building up on the intro track, “Méliés, The Magician” starts with a drone-like noise but quickly segues into smooth bass notes and tintillating guitar lines, evoking a soft sense of mystery when the soft cymbals are laid over everything like an argentine blanket. But near its end, the track revisits its louder parts, the heavier chords emerging not from a crescendo per se but rather from the nooks and crannies of the track which came before them.
“Drawing With Light” reaches back beyond these heavy chords and, with heart-piercingly accurate piano and a saxophone feature, it re-processes those heavier influences into an even thinner thread running through it. If you listen very hard, you can hear hints of the notes which opened the previous track as almost background noise, while the minarets of beauty unfold as the track swims between the pianos and wind instruments before they too fall apart into their own little weird section of ambience and improvisation.
These little moments, callbacks, and leitmotifs, fed through the band’s unique perspective on silence and sound, create a fascinating and intricate album that keeps calling the heart back towards its center. It’s honestly one of the most subtly disarming albums I’ve heard; it creeps up on you with its slight touches and, once you’ve let it wash over you a few times, creates emotional spaces out of nothing. It’s a unique release and one which solidifies Goodbye, Kings as one of the most accomplished post-rock acts out there today.
The Physics House Band – Death Sequence
Another month, another spectacular EP release from an energetic instrumental band blending post-rock, math rock, prog, and jazz. Like SEIMS’s impressive 3.1 from March, the latest from the Brighton quartet is, by necessity of the format, a sleeker and more immediately propulsive set of songs than their previous LP. Death Sequence takes all of the mania of Mercury Fountain, throws in plenty of existential dread, and spits it back out into 16 minutes of hard-edged beauty. “Death Sequence I” plants its flag immediately with a sax-led melody, which carries throughout the EP as Miles Spillbury’s playing is a true sonic touchpoint. That opening track is everything good and great about the band in a single track. It’s dense, it’s punchy as hell, it grooves like a motherfucker, and it just oozes the kind of effortless complex cool that The Physics House Band have become known for.
“Death Sequence II” turns into a chaos sandwich with a chilly center as an immediate freakout transitions itself into a slinky 13/8 sequence that swells magnificently until it bursts with one of my all-time favorite instrumental pairings: guitar and sax. Seriously, it’s such a great combination of timbres to play in unison or harmony. By the end, it’s just an all-out melee, which is what makes “Death Sequence III” all that more surprising. Seemingly taking a page directly out of fellow Brits Portico Quartet’s book, “DS III” is a lushly-constructed crystalline structure punctuated by an unexpected spoken word performance from Stewart Lee and elevated by dreamy soprano sax and twinkly acoustic piano. The track succeeds in its masterful grasp of atmosphere and balancing all of its many layers and sonic ideas. And, of course, the hammer comes crashing down in the final minute as distortion kicks back in and Lee’s bitterly slurred monologue explodes into an incoherent series of yelps.
Just to cap things off, “‽” serves as a nice little coda for the entire thing, one little delicious jammy freakout for the road. Taken as a whole, Death Sequence is an all-too-brief offering from one of the most exciting instrumental groups out there right now, but it will more than satiate my appetite for a time.
Pillars – Cavum
We’re not even fully midway through 2019, and I can already tell that one of the biggest themes of this year will be the incredible explosion of the new wave of American post-rock/metal acts seemingly all reaching their fullest potential and looking to one-up each other. Indianapolis’s Pillars is just the latest to enter the fray this year, and their sophomore album Cavum easily matches the consistently great quality seen by this cohort. Playing within the familiar confines of crescendo-core, on Cavum Pillars manage to blend the rich and gut-wrenching emotion of Caspian, the expert sense of tension and build of Explosions In the Sky and This Will Destroy You, and some of the crushing weight of Russian Circles to craft a deeply affecting piece of post-rock and metal.
The one-two punch of “Escape” and “Dissolution” really sets the pace for the entire album, with the former opening in classic post-rock cinemascope only to turn midway into the best kind of fist-pumping heavy ecstasy. The latter, meanwhile, goes for broke from the start with fierce drumming and an aural assault of punctuated riffs and soaring melodies. Meanwhile, slow burning tracks like “Dying Light” and “Solace” take the more traditional bright crescendo-core route and execute them to their fullest effect, drawing light and emotion out of musical elation. For my money though, “Black Prayer” is the highlight of the entire thing, the track most worthy of the album’s title and all that it implies. It’s a deeply vast, dark, and thunderous song that turns a mysterious theme and chord progression and turns it into a pressure cooker ready to explode at any given moment.
Regardless of what flavor of this sort of music you prefer, Cavum has the whole package for fans of cinematic post-rock, and you can easily place this near the top of the pack in the running for best albums in this category so far this year.
Stone From The Sky – Break a Leg
As chance would have it, I’m wearing the band’s t-shirt as I sit down to write this. I honestly didn’t plan it but it must have crept into my mind, as I knew that I had this album on my docket. That’s honestly fitting, since the album itself has been creeping in and out of my mind during the months in which I’ve had it. It hasn’t been featured heavily on my rotation since my review came out but it hasn’t been absent from it either; every few days, a riff, chord progression, or groove from it will just bubble up from my subconscious and haunt me until I play this album loud enough to exorcise it.
Break A Leg is an album like that. In its expansive and sheer amount of musical distance travelled, it seems to ingrain itself on to your soul. In its meditative fuzz and larger than life leads, there are ideas upon ideas of what the marriage between stoner, psychedelic and post rock can do. I honestly think, the more time I spend with it, that a lot of it lies in the bass. Listen to the opening track, “Vena Cava” from example, and notice the bass murmuring beneath the rest of the instrumentation. Whenever it intersects the main guitar chords it adds so much more expression to it; when the heavier “chorus” hits, it does so much to maintain the groove essential to it.
These little “intersections” between instruments echo throughout the release, as the trio dives and weaves between valley and hill, contoured by their own perfect and uncompromising tone. Break A Leg is one of those albums, an album you don’t listen to everyday but that, if you give it a chance, will worm its way deep into your listening habits, cropping up every now and again. I can’t wait to have spent years with it, exploring its every crevice.
VAR – The Never-Ending Year
VAR is a four-piece post-rock band from Iceland with vocals, that perhaps lazily but justifiably is easily compared to Sigur Ros. Some of that of course just comes from them also being a post-rock band from Iceland but is carried more by the fact that VAR vocalist Júlíus has an obviously similar accent, and similar tone and range as Sigur’s vocalist Jonsi – though lyrically he does stick to english. It’s possible some Icelandic listeners or people more invested in that scene would disagree, but I think vocally they do have a fairly unique sound in both post-rock and music as a whole that I really enjoy. Those comparisons don’t necessarily stop at just the vocals either, both bands know how to utilize and write to their vocalists sound well and create dynamic ebb and flows of energy and ambiance using textures and knowing how to use silence in the song-writing. On VAR’s new album The Never-Ending Year however they show that they’re more than just the sum of their influences and we see them stepping into their own.
One criticism I have is that VAR have a lot of ideas about what they want to sound like, from ambient electronic, indie rock, to groovy traditional post-rock, but I think they’re at their best where they work a bit of all of that together well and it takes on a very meditative and tranquil yet engaging feeling. It comes together in tracks like “Highlands” very well, which climaxes satisfyingly at the end with big crescendo. The first track “Moments” does this as well, with swelling backing synths that give it an uplifting feeling. These definitely take on a Sigur Ros sound in more than just the vocals, and as a fan personally, the sound is familiar yet welcome. The keyboard use in general is one of the strongest points of The Never-Ending Year for me, which does a great job at setting the mood and adding depth throughout the album.
I thought their previous release Vetur went underappreciated and was one of my favourites in the genre for 2017, so I’m hoping this follow up catches them a bit more attention. While not a perfect album, this is a great progression for the band which sees them further exploring, experimenting and mastering their own sound. I’m confident there’s something here that will appeal to any kind of post-rock fan.