So we’ve entered the doldrums of summer. Not a whole lot going on in the way of news in the post-rock world. Furthermore, half of our PRP team (Eden and Trent, among other Heavy Blog staff) are currently in Bristol, UK for the ungodly behemoth that is ArcTanGent (you can read our preview of what to expect if you’re also attending here). To say I’m a bit envious is an understatement.
If there’s anything to help ease the pain of extreme FOMO I’m experiencing this week though, it’s the knowledge that Post. Festival is coming up rapidly. We’ll have a preview post for that coming sometime soon as well with our thoughts on bands we’re most looking forward to seeing. More importantly though, if you read this column and haven’t bought your ticket yet, what are you waiting for??? Go get on that asap. We’ll have a contingent of Heavy Blog staff hanging about, including yours truly, and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is getting to see so much of the community and meet a ton of new people within it. I sincerely hope to see many of you there.
In other good news, the summer slowdown may be upon us, but that hasn’t stopped the torrent of impressive post-y releases that’s been ongoing this entire year. Got some real good ones for you this month, so read on!
. . .
Post-Topper: Alarmist – Sequesterer
There’s a lot of intricacies on this month’s Post Rock Post. Whether it comes in the form of math-rock dexterity, noise-inspired dirt, or some other realm of musical expression, it certainly doesn’t compete with Alarmist’s Sequester. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an album this intricate, and, to be honest, it makes it incredibly hard to write about. Sequester is like if Jaga Jazzist got hit on the head with Aiming for Enrike play-book and got it into their mind to start really experimenting with their synth tones. It’s like if a big band smashed into a bunch of nerds doing statistics with Python by way of learning how to play John Coltrane, like if a bunch of robots from the future got into a car accident while heading to see Three Trapped Tigers play their last live show ever.
It’s freaking out there, OK? But here’s the thing, the secret sauce, the raison d’etre, herein lies the rub: it all somehow comes together. Wielding their odd meters, odder tones, and oddest track structures, Alarmist weave the entire thing into something which sounds like an album rather than a disparate bunch of cool ideas. Take the ending of the first track “District of Baddies”; there’s no way those synth sounds near the end, cutting through the rest of the break-neck compositions, should make any sense. But in the context of the rest of the track, and what comes after, on “Boyfriend in the Sky” (what a track9s name by the way), it somehow works. The little touches of weirdness everywhere, the way everything progresses towards a common end while still feeling energetic and about-to-break-loose, this impossible tension is what makes Sequesterer so good.
It’s going to take you a while. I’ll be honest, it still hasn’t fully clicked with me. There’s just so much going on on every level, from the selection of sounds, through their execution and, finally, to the way the whole thing unfolds like a beautiful, psychedelic, multi-colored flower. But if you spend some time with it, first by letting it wash over you and then later, slowly, piecing it together, you’ll find one of the most wonderful and intriguing releases within the post-rock spaces in a while now. It’s one of those pieces you know you’ll visit down the line, in coming years, and that always, always, some part of it will leave you scratching your head and saying “wait, what?”
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
Francisco Sonur – International Border
Ambient music certainly has a strong following within post-rock fandom, but I can say for myself that I have never been overly interested in that sector. I love a great, emotionally wrought melody, but I typically also want there to be a full complement of instrumentation assembled around it. If you asked me last week what the probability was that I’d be writing about an ambient album for this month’s post, I would have put that chances at somewhere between 0 and 1%. Then I received a message from Fran Sonur, who I have become acquainted with through my work on the A Thousand Arms comps, as well as my South American post-rock feature from earlier this year. His band blien vesne has been one of the more exciting groups in the South American scene for a while, despite not having released new material in the past few years. The reason for this is that some of the members have moved to Australia, which obviously makes the coordination of musical efforts more difficult. Following completion of work on another musical project, Fran says he found himself with a sudden burst of inspiration flowing from within, which has manifested itself as this 5-song ambient work entitled International Border.
The line at the bottom of the Bandcamp page says simply that this “is the first time in a long time I’m not feeling suffocated,” and I have to say I haven’t read something that more perfectly and succinctly describes an album as that in quite some time. The effectiveness of a given piece of music, of course, is often about the way in which it hits you at just the right moment. This is certainly the right moment for me. I had a pretty dark first half of the year for a lot of reasons. It was the first time I’ve ever had to face certain mental wellness issues that I had ignored for some time, the first time I’d ever felt like the vice had been tightened more than I could handle. The past couple of months have been a steady process of self-awareness and self-discovery, and this is the perfect record for that experience.
There is no darkness on International Border, only a warm, enveloping light. Each note feels as if it was painstakingly chosen and precisely executed for maximum emotional impact; for instance, the feelings I get from “You Are Not One Of Them” are of reflection and release, with the slowly unfolding piano melody acting as the former while the intermittently swelling synth plays the latter role. It’s one thing to conceive of this, it’s another to perform it, and Sonur executes so naturally. As he says, this music sort of just started flowing from within him unexpectedly, and there is a very organic, intuitive, comfortable feeling about it, like it was meant to be and never could have been anything else.
From the gently reassuring layered piano melodies on “Healing Process,” to the deeply affecting guest vocal performance from Migret on “Shelley St,” to the tenderly plucked acoustic guitar on the album-closer “M,” there is so much about International Border that sits right in the most wide open and vulnerable spots in your heart and your gut, but where as a lot of music (including music I very much enjoy) will enter those places and join you in sadness, Sonur offers a reaching hand to lift you up along with him. I haven’t heard anything in a while that has made me feel so effortlessly good. If you’ve reached that place in your heart and mind, or if you’re still striving daily to find it, this album is a great accompaniment. It’s like the sound of the quietest and most personal triumph, but yet it’s a triumph that feels the most resounding.
Glacier – No Light Ever
Being from the Northeast myself, there’s a part of me that kind of takes for granted that Boston’s Glacier has been around for awhile now and is pretty widely known. But as I am working through No Light Ever another time, I realize that for many outside of New England this record is going to be their proper introduction to the band. Their first 3 releases all appeared between 2013 and 2014 and flew mostly under the radar, then their 2017 EP Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, They Shall Be White As Snow; Though They Be Red Like Crimson, They Shall Be As Wool. saw them enter seriously into the conversation, but No Light Ever is in many ways their coming out party. And what a party it is.
For the uninitiated, let me put it simply. Glacier are LOUD. I book a lot of shows in my area in Vermont, and a lot of the bands involved get pretty heavy-handed with the volume (I’m looking at you Au Revoir, A Film In Color and HarborLights), but when I had Glacier at my go-to venue back in May with Pray For Sound and Girih (yet another powerfully loud live band), it was the first time I’ve ever seen the bartenders look to each other at a complete loss. No one was ready for what they brought to the stage. Dave Mahan from the local band Wolfhand (well worth your time if you dig the idea of Red Sparowes executing a post-metal soundtrack for a spaghetti western) was an instant fan and said they might have been the loudest band he’s ever seen. Glacier is best described as a band that takes the best and heaviest elements of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and jacks them up to Swans-level volume (and for the record, Swans is the loudest thing I’ve ever seen in person – thing, not band, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything louder up close, but Glacier is 100% in the arena with them), and they pull it off with striking effectiveness. Point being, if you get a chance to see them live, take it. But bring good earplugs.
It’s funny because the songs on No Light Ever are certainly not easy on the ears, but even still they feel almost gentle compared to seeing them performed in person. During the first half of the album closer “And We Are Damned Amid Noble Sound.” at the show back in May I genuinely wasn’t sure if I could endure it. The nonstop intensity and sheer cacophony of that first half build was enveloping in a way that can’t be accurately described. You just have to experience it. That being said, the ability to hear these tracks in their studio incarnation on record gives them an opportunity to shine in a different way than what you would get in the live setting. What stands out consistently on No Light Ever is just how great the songwriting is. This is a band that delivers you exactly what they promise; their music is slow, unrelenting and all-consuming, filled with doom and dread, but it’s not exactly unfolding at a Bell Witch-esque speed. Glacier knows when to bring some pace into the mix, and some of the greatest moments on the record happen when they pick it up to a midtempo after several minutes of grinding your face into the sludge, which ends up feeling like an absolute gallop by comparison.
Yes, it’s a slow and deliberate record, but it still manages to retain a sense of pacing that makes it much easier to work through than you might suggest, which is a testament to solid songcraft and arrangement. Take “O World! I Remain No Longer Here,” for instance. To me this may be the best song in the band’s catalog to date, and it’s certainly the one that most thoroughly covers what Glacier is, from the crashing, ringing chords in the beginning, to the brooding atmospherics of its middle section, to the almost unbearably intense final build and release. It’s a stellar track that should be held up as a shining example of how exactly to do this style of music justice.
It can’t be easy to make music that thrives on being challenging yet still achieves accessibility, but that’s what they’ve managed to accomplish on No Light Ever. Obviously, take that last statement with a grain of salt. It’s not like someone is going to be listening to “Old Town Road” tomorrow and suddenly decide “I can’t get that new Glacier track out of my head, I need to put that on.” But it’s accessible for genre fans in a way that sometimes their forefather bands are not, punting the droning weirdness and highlighting the crushing riffs. We’re still primarily working with track lengths spanning between 11 and 13 minutes apiece, but they always feel like they’re over sooner than you’d expect, an uncommon experience when you’re dealing with doomy sludge-metal, and one that stands as possibly the highest endorsement I can bestow upon this record.
Heron – Sun Release
Heron make the type of post-rock that takes awhile for me to get into. It’s probably because cinematic post-rock, that often maligned genre of music, relies so much on mindset, mood, and feel. Communicating the emotions it usually does, namely hope, loss, perseverance, faith, and wanderlust, assumes the listener is prone to listen. It assumes their mind and heart are open to these emotions, that they are receptive to what the music is trying to get across. Without that, it’s often hard for these albums to reach in and really latch on and they end up feeling scattered and impactless.
But when they hit, oh when they hit! When your day has been going a certain way, or when the sun slants through the window just so, when suddenly you find yourself on a vast emotional plain, with the future stretching out before you, and the right album is playing? There’s no feeling quite like that, especially when the album has been lying in wait for you, crouching in the shrubs of your perception and wait for the right moment to pounce. The second your guard is down, it springs from its hiding place and sets its claws upon you, rending you to the bone, to the blood, to the heart.
Sun Release has me fully in its clutches. Like Heron’s previous release, You Are Here Now, the album channels everything I have come to love about the New Wave of American Post Rock. The compositions are large and evocative; the tones are warm and welcoming; the groove section is loud and dominant; the mood is hopeful yet tinged with an escapable sorrow and, more importantly, with the dogged acceptance of that sorrow. In short, it is a cinematic post-rock album through and through. If you’re not in the right place for that, it might flow by you and that’s totally fine; maybe it’ll catch you further down the line. But if your eyes are lifted towards the road ahead and you need a soundtrack to catch your breath, then look no further than Sun Release; it really is quite lovely.
jizue – Gallery
The Japanese nu-jazz/post rock/math rock hybrid jizue have been churning out albums at a pretty impressive and consistent pace lately, with a new release each year for the past 4 years. While I’ve been a fan of this band for a couple of years now, I found the last couple releases a bit taxing to get through due to some of the lack of variation in sound but especially pace. These previous three releases blended into each other too much and didn’t do much to stand out from some of their impressive back catalogue like the 2014 Shiori. They love that very up-tempo, slightly relentless nu-jazz/math sound comparable to mouse on the keys and do it very well, but it can start to feel repetitive.
To mix it up this year, jizue have taken the interesting conceptual composition strategy of having each band member compose two tracks each for the album. This idea really paid off for me to address that issue as it resulted in more variation in tempo, and generally having the sound be much more over the place. We first start to see that on the bassist’s two tracks. “River” which while mostly in that faster tempo, knows when to slow it down and groove out a bit. This is followed immediately by my favourite track on the album, “different Christmas”, which is surprisingly a piano driven track, but complimented by a chilled out ‘lo-fi hip-hop’ type drum beat and bass line. It’s both a very fun yet relaxing jam.
Towards the end of Gallery we get the pianists’ very adventurous ballad that could easily be out of an anime or children’s fantasy movie in “ariake”, which is immediately followed by the most peculiar and unique track in jizue’s discography, “rage against the music” composed by the drummer. Cheesy name aside, this track is awesome and I applaud them for including it on this album. It’s essentially just one complex breakdown rhythm played by the keyboard, guitar and drums simultaneously, that gradually has more backing layers added onto and while it slowly deconstructs into a wall of sound. If you want something a little different from this genre and adjacents, jizue have got you covered this month. They unfortunately don’t have a BC but the album is on streaming platforms and YouTube.
KYTARO – White Noise For Kids
Sometimes, I just want it punchy. There’s a time for delay laden guitars and atmospherics and there are times when you need your music to seize you by your neck, slam you against something hard and make you listen goddamnit. KYTARO’s White Noise for Kids does exactly that; it blends it’s more technical, math-rock influences with a punch usually reserved for noise rock groups and merges them into one heavy handed, agile fist. But, somehow, for all its directness and punch, it also manages to be intriguing. Shrugging off the obviousness and staleness which can often be the results of a head-first approach, White Noise for Kids remains an attractive and intriguing listen even after a few spins.
If you’ll excuse me a music-journalism cliche, I think the secret lies in the textures. Because KYTARO draw on this fascinating range of influences, post-rock, math-rock, noise, and electronica all blending together, this gives them a lot of space to work in. Listen to what those deep bass notes are doing on opener “Kryptogyros” for example; there’s a lot of subtleness in the tone and note selections which just enriches the whole background of the track, inviting us to focus on the interplay of drums and groove in extremely subtle and interesting ways.
The album is filled with these little choices, containing much more than its run-time might originally hint at. It has the true staple of good releases within the disparate genres it operates from, namely an ability to stick to the formula of things while also spicing it up, introducing variety where needed into the tropes the band rely on. And it’s their debut release, yeah? White Noise for Kids should definitely put KYTARO on the map as a group to watch; we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Often the Thinker – Greatest Possible Tenderness
Last week I was waxing philosophic about Tortoise and their clear influence (either directly or indirectly) on Alarmist’s Sequesterer (in case you can’t tell, we like that album a lot). This week I’ll do the same for another classic jazz-influenced post-rock group, Do Make Say Think. In spite of the band’s many successes and accolades over the years (up to and including 2017’s Stubborn Persistent Illusions), it’s tough to make out much of a distinct strain of modern post-rock whose sonic lineage you can draw back easily to them. Their combination of jazzy drumming, pastoral and bright folk rock vibes, contemplative and winding guitar-driven themes and melodies, and prominent use of sax and trumpet by-and-large still stands on its own as a unique oddity within the genre’s annals. So perhaps what struck me the most upon listening to Often the Thinker’s Greatest Possible Tenderness (admittedly my first introduction to the band despite them being around for over a decade) was how precisely it was able to hit the exact same notes and emotions that bring me to musical elation and tears.
I could spend the rest of this entry listing the ways in which the two bands share similarities in their songwriting, but that wouldn’t be particularly fair to either, especially when I don’t mean for it to be a criticism. Because when I listen to a track like “Choking, Warming, Stifling,” take in the layers of simplistically beautiful slide guitar and melodic clean electric, the understated but intricate drum patterns, and the eventual swell culminating in a triumphant fanfare of horns and organ, all I’m left with is the same warmth and feelings of nostalgia that draws me so heavily to this kind of music in the first place. It is a masterful composition that revels in the simplicity at its core and constructs a living, breathing sculpture around it. “Soderlund at Pelican” and “Such Rot Let Loose” take more pensive and circuitous routes but ultimately arrives at a similar place, allowing all of its pieces fall together into a miniature orchestra that hits all the right high points.
Mixed in are interludes and quiet mood setters that lean in hard on the budding musical worlds that Often the Thinker excel in. I love it when a post-rock band can execute sketches like “Unsound,” “Tenderness,” and “Lower Sort” effortlessly without feeling the need to build them into anything more than they need to be. So even at 35 minutes, Greatest Possible Tenderness doesn’t come off as slight. It is an album filled with pristine moments and punctuated by muscular joy. Befitting its name, it is an album built on all meanings of tenderness, in love, care, and execution.
Oh Hiroshima – Oscillation
To the joy of many, Sweden’s Oh Hiroshima are back with their 3rd full-length since their debut in 2011, and first in almost 5 years. For fans of those two previous albums, Oscillation will be well worth the wait as it carries on the distinguishable sound they’ve built for themselves, and builds on what they do best.
The Scandinavian scene has grown a bit of a reputation for moody post-rock with vocals that can really bring out the emotional weight of the genre, and here we see that perhaps better than ever. Beyond that though this is really a dense, full-band experience. Layered textures of powerful melancholy from each instrument encompass the listener from start to finish. This includes a range of clean and distorted guitar tones which harmonize perfectly and minimalist piano arpeggios that are just that nice ‘something more’ that this genre sometimes needs. I need to go back to the vocal performance sparsely spread across the album though, which is among the best I’ve heard in the genre in some time. He captures the mood and tension of the album with a similarly melancholic tone, a bit like Junius have excellently done in the past. Yet with also a dreamy Alcestian feel. Fits rainy weather quite well.
The drumming really gives this an aggressive edge at times such as in “Simulacra” which is a nice contrast from the more sombre vibes with hard hitting kick and snare tones and big soaring Toundra-esque guitars. These triumphant moments showcase the wide breadth of their songwriting ability and enforcing that this is more than a one dimensional post-rock album.
While not necessarily a “stoner” or “psychedelic” rock album, Oscillation does encapsulate a similar enthralling feel where time passes by outside of itself. This album was an interesting pickup for Napalm Records who seem to be really diversifying their roster. From looking at some of the YouTube comments they unfortunately don’t seem to be jelling with all of their fans, but hopefully this helps spread their name further outside of Scandinavia.
Sad Turtle – This Day In Age
A lot of the post-rock I’ve been listening to and writing about this year has been on the heavier and more depressive end of things, so it’s good to be reminded occasionally that this kind of music can be fun and more lighthearted without sacrificing quality. Vermont’s Sad Turtle and their sophomore album This Day In Age is exactly the kind of playful and sun-injected post-math rock that will paste a smile on your face in these late summer weeks. Mixing bright riffs shared by guitar and vibey Rhodes that set up plenty of pleasant and breezy spaces with knottier sections of technicality and mathy rhythms, Sad Turtle falls in the perfect melting pot of post-math rock that combines the best aspects of each. Similar to bands like Arms of Tripoli and In Each Hand a Cutlass, Sad Turtle possess a general levity about them that offers plenty of noodling but isn’t afraid to sweeten the whole thing with some contemplative atmosphere or driving grooves.
Frankly, you should listen to This Day In Age for the song names alone. I’m not going to list all of them out here, but “Ahab and the Whale Become Best Friends,” “Nautical by Nature,” and “He Is Risen and Appears on Toast” are a few choice favorites. And while the first two fall in the early stretch of the album marked by its generally bright themes and playing befitting the tongue-in-cheek humor of those titles, the latter opens of a stretch of moodier and more introspective music that puts a surprisingly complex spin on what could’ve easily been an album filled with typically light math rock. “The Mimbo” in particular rides its mysterious 5/4 theme throughout into deeply entrancing and cool territory. By the time we get to “Blips” and closer “Bunkerpunch!” though we’re solidly back in purely fun territory with over-the-top keys riffs and playful guitar. All-in-all it’s a deeply satisfying and well-rounded album that goes down easy and provides a perfect soundtrack to lazing around in the sun.