I’m at a bit of a loss what to write exactly for this month’s intro. Not because I don’t have plenty I could write about, but because I’m not sure into how much detail I should go into these things lest I detract from the things I want to write more formally later. Basically, I went to Post. Festival 2019 a couple of weeks ago and had an incredible time. I met tons of people, saw tons of bands I had wanted to see for a while and several I had no idea about prior, and overall just enjoyed myself mightily. There was a palpable sense of positivity and love flowing throughout the entire event as everyone was simply happy to be there and support the scene and community. I also put in a bunch of work, interviewing nearly a dozen individuals and bands in a single day and taking over 2,000 photos (don’t ask me what the ratio of those photos that were actually usable was). This will all be part of a much larger feature to come down the line, though hopefully not too far.
David will be offering his own very detailed recounting of the weekend soon, so I won’t step on his words too much, but I can offer a few personal highlights from my experience. First off, seeing well over a dozen bands perform over the span of two days was inevitably going to be exhausting, doubly so when most come from a similar part of the musical family tree. But to organizers Nason and Derek’s credit, the lineup was put together incredibly well with more than enough diversity in sound and style to keep things constantly fresh. For me personally, of the bands I was already familiar with, the sets that impressed me the most were from Pray For Sound, Ranges (more on that below), Circus Trees, and Holy Fawn. I also deeply enjoyed seeing Shy, Low, Girih, Driving Slow Motion, and Spotlights. I’ll also give credit to O’Brother for sticking it out for their very late closing set due to less than airtight scheduling throughout the day. It was clear they weren’t at the very top of their game for a 1am set playing to a quickly diminishing audience, but who could blame them.
There were two bands though who I was not at all familiar with prior to that weekend who promptly blew me away completely and won me over instantly with their sets. First was Dayton, Ohio’s Moira and their extremely cool spin on electronic-tinged and percussive-heavy shoegaze. They don’t have a ton of recorded material out currently (and EP and single), but definitely listen to what there is and follow them because they’ve got something very promising going. The second band is whose name I’ve almost certainly seen popping up here and there and simply hadn’t given time to: Wander. Indeed, David wrote about them in this very column earlier this year with the release of their latest LP March, and I just glossed over it. But man, in a way I’m enormously grateful that I was introduced to them through their live set because it is something else. In some ways like a sleeker, more powerful Mono or Explosions in the Sky, and in other ways something else entirely, Wander are just a ridiculously talented package who manage to marry what made post-rock great in its early years with an energy and modern sensibility that defines so much of the best in this crop of younger bands in the genre. If you are not already familiar with them, please change that immediately.
Now see? Without even trying I still managed to write way more about Post. Fest in the intro than I intended to. I could go on for much longer, but I won’t, for now at least. Instead let’s talk about all of the music from September that you should be listening to. Frankly, it was a month so stacked that even our further listening section this time would be more than worthy of full write-ups in other months (Cult of Luna is there simply by virtue of the fact that I already wrote about them in our most recent Editors’ Picks). So make sure to check every single one of these out. And with that, music!
. . .
Post-Topper: Tides From Nebula – From Voodoo To Zen
Some albums are growers. For whatever reason, whether your own mindset, something about the weather, or the music itself, they don’t catch you the first time around. Then there’s a choice: you can either keep on listening and wait for that hook to come out and grab you (or not) or you can let them lie and wait for the stars to align and for you and the album to meet down the line, in some as-yet obscured corner of your mind. I’ll be honest with you: the latter usually creates deeper connections. Something about the ability of album’s to surprise you means that the connection formed once that surprise arrives is that much stronger. The album feels potent, capable of speaking to you across the gap between artist and listener.
That’s what happened to me with Tides From Nebula‘s From Voodoo to Zen. I knew the band. I knew they were good. And yet, something about their electronic brand of energetic post-rock just didn’t resonate with me originally. Maybe it was because I was still recovering from reviewing 65daysofstatic’s replicr? Maybe it was because I was still recuperation from ArcTanGent and its deluge of great music? Maybe it was just my mood; I’ve been listening to heavier, more abrasive recently, firmly entrenched in the darker, more aggressive side of my musical pendulum (interesting aside: I tend to swing on that scale every few months, oscillating between melodic and abrasive. I should write something about that at some point).
Whatever it was, it left me feeling a bit chilly towards From Voodoo to Zen. But then, there was a Friday and the sun was shining just so and the breeze from the ocean was just so and I put on the album and everything just clicked. The synth-forward melodies of opener “Ghost Horses” exploded in my heart, setting it to beat just a little faster (what a title for an opening track by the way). The thick, fuzzy bass of “The New Delta” caressed my every pore, washing over me like so many undulating waves from the mother ocean. Everything just seemed to sing emotion and expression and I was totally hooked, completely swept off my feet by the wondrous surprise that was this album which I had overlooked.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve gone back to From Voodoo to Zen to try and assuage whether that initial spark was more than just an infatuation and I can wholly respond with the positive here. This album is a marvelous exploration of the power of good composition and production and their marriage with the sub-genre of “electronic post-rock”. The drums kick when they should kick, pummeling forward with punch. The synths are varied, rich, and clever. The guitars are large, energetic, and momentous. The bass…oh the glorious bass on this album! It’s like an ocean of movement just waiting to seep in between the cracks and overwhelm you, instead buoying up the rest of the music just right.
Do me a favor: let this album in. If you’re a fan of well articulated, well made, and moving post-rock of any kind, give this album a chance. Wait for the right moment or spin it tirelessly, leave it for a while and come back to it or never stop for a second, whatever you do, whatever way you need to approach it, let this album in. It’ll you do a world of good.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
65daysofstatic – replicr, 2019
65daysofstatic are done pretending things are okay. Their career has been a long arc from high octane instrumental rock mixed with frosty electronic flourishes to nostalgia-washed dance-math-prog to algorithmically-generated puzzle jams. Following that last one, the band decided they were essentially done with the whole band thing. From then on they dove head-first into the deep end of composing using various methods of algorithms and all sorts of synths and sampling. The enigmatic and anonymous-sounding replicr, 2019 is 65dos’s first full album foray into this brave new world, and the best way I can describe it is that it sounds like a transmission of doom from the future. It’s 65dos taking the digital atmospheric fingerprint of a Clark or Aphex Twin album and feeding it through another layer of dystopian brittleness. Frankly, it makes writing about the actual music of the album enormously difficult, which is perhaps one reason why Eden wound up turning his review of it into one long polemic on climate change-related existential dread.
For all that replicr, 2019 does musically, in the end it’s an album that feels like it has more to say behind the music than through the music itself. It is a textural sound collage of blips, squiggles, clicks, and static that manage to arrange themselves in ways that are just far enough from the comfortable and familiar while still registering as a coherent musical composition to elicit a kind of aural uncanny valley effect. It is a daring statement from a band whose anthems were once stadium-worthy, and it’s fitting for a time for the world that feels so particularly fraught and uncertain. In that sense, replicr is both a reflection of our modern decay and a warning of how far we can still fall if we don’t take collective action to prevent the bad from turning into the worst, whether it comes from the continued rise of authoritarianism, income inequality, migrant crises, and, of course, climate change. If this proves to be the blueprint for what’s to come for 65dos as a whole, then we will certainly be losing one of the most thrilling post/math rock bands of the past two decades. But what we gain might prove to be something even more fascinating, and perhaps far more vital.
Hashshashin – Badahkshan
Here’s a little secret: the post where I got to premiere “The Sun of Badakhshan” is one of my favorite things on this blog. It’s a moving piece, the video coupled with the amazing music found on it making it something seriously special. Born out of Lachlan R Dale passion for Central Asia, its peoples and its culture, the track is an homage both to the place and to the sounds of the place which make it so unique. It is not coincidence that it shares a place-name with Hashshashin’s new album; Lachlan is one-third of the fascinating group, where he contributes a host of instruments like Irish bouzouki, Persian setar, Pamiri setor and Afghan rabab. Merging these instruments and compositional styles that he picked up from the cultures he has encountered and studied under with progressive metal and drone, Hashshashin create music which I can safely say you’ve probably never heard before.
That’s a big claim but, especially on Badahkshan, it rings true. On one hand, this album could easily be cataloged as “a guitar album”. It certainly has enough twisting guitars melodies and leads, intricate parts referencing each other and displaying both a high degree of technicality and a heavy punch. On the other hand, the drums and the bass on this album call to mind groups like Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, their suffusing, overwhelming tone setting a kind of post metal vibe to everything. And yet, neither of these definitions capture the whole thing. Interspersed with these sounds are compositions which directly call to and call forth sounds which just don’t belong to any of the established musical schools of “the west”. Instead, they speak directly to the Asian lineages of their progressions, rhythm schemes and, indeed, the instrumentation used.
Listen, “the east” is a very complicated subject and none of us here in “the west” (as much as someone like me, an Israeli, can even be said to be living in “the west”) are free of our biases. But the fact remains that Hashshashin have managed to do something unique on this album and that’s look at these influences as something more than just an anecdote or a cool feature. Drawing deep on their musical pedigrees, they’ve baked in a different sound in the core levels of their music and how it behaves. The end result is a bewildering, fascinating, engrossing album that will probably take you a while to “figure out”. And that’s fine; its droning layers, progressive twists, and excellent tones are built for contemplation. The best way to start your journey into it is just to play it for the first time, no preconceptions and expectations. Just let it wash over you; it’s built for that.
Immanu El – Structures
Immanu El have gained a strong following in their home of Sweden and beyond since their debut album was released back in 2008 with consistent releases in sound and quality. Eleven years on they’re back with Structures which continues their unique and very identifiable blend of emotional post-rock with catchy dream-pop. Soft yet warm vocals full of ear-worms, lush and non-threatening synth and guitar tones. If you’re a fan of any of their previous releases, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting with this release has they’ve established a formula that works for them and there’s frankly no reason to stray from it.
One thing this record has sort of helped shine a light to is a generalized theory of sorts I’ve developed, where European and Scandinavian heavily vocalized post-rock (Jeniferever, Kyte, Her Name is Calla etc.) seems to be more frequently influenced by genres like pop, folk and early prog rock, where the North American counterparts (The Appleseed Cast, Moving Mountains, Athletics etc.) are more frequently influenced by the classic American emo sound. Another one of many interesting regional dichotomies that can exist within genres.
Structures is a fitting name for the album, which despite the very relaxing nature of it, has a distinctly urban feel. One of a moving, breathing city on a warm, humid night. Blurred city lights, rain on a windshield, couples embracing on a sidewalk. It feels made to be listened in this atmosphere while driving, and it’s fortunate it was released before the temperatures in the northern hemisphere at least have cooled too much. That warmth is carried by the soft, welcoming synth tones and blanketing guitar reverb. This doubles as a nice escape from the fast-paced stresses of city life.
“Levels” is one track I’ll single in on here, undoubtedly the most ‘post-rock’ track on the album and one of my favourites of the year. Lots of ‘feel-good’ energy. It opens with a medley of spoken word audio clips of various motivating speeches in classic p-r style over a single synth pad note and marching drum beat that builds with staccato arpeggiated riffs into a swelling, empowering climax with a catchy chorus. “Chasing other levels…” gets stuck in your head for a while. The blend of pop and post-rock here is masterful in execution and Structures is a must-listen for fans of post-rock that can appreciate atypical outside influences playing a strong role.
Lo, the Loyal Conscripts – In the Shell of the Old
It’s always nice when you discover a new band that comes from out of nowhere with a record that delivers genuine impact. It happened earlier this year when I stumbled across Terms x Conditions’ debut EP Excuse My Colors, and it’s happened again recently thanks in large part to RANGES’ tour leading up to Post. Festival. After the Cincinnati show, RANGES guitarist CJ Blessum messaged me a link to this album and recommended I check them out. I’d like to now extend that same invite to readers. In the Shell of the Old actually bears some surface level similarities with Excuse My Colors; both are four-song albums that begin with a longer and more measured cut before launching into a series of compositions with increased energy, and both reveal a tendency toward post-hardcore stylings, sharing as much with The Fall of Troy as they do Caspian.
In the Shell of the Old begins with its most overtly post-rock track, the ten minute opus “Arriving At Dawn,” which builds slowly through an atmospheric opening into an uplifting, reverb-drenched guitar melody that sets the stage in pleasingly familiar fashion for what promises to be a rousing journey toward a big crescendo. However, it doesn’t exactly play out the way you might expect, and you do see some subtle hints of what waits beyond on the rest of the EP. A twitchy, energetic chord progression blends seamlessly in with the more subdued and dreamy refrains around the midpoint, and the band never really enters that crescendocore territory, allowing their soft-loud dynamics to blend more evenly throughout the song.
The following track, “Cornelius,” quickly launches the band into a different kind of soundscape, surveying the math-adjacent, sometimes-chaotic post-hardcore style that played a large role in the mid-to-late 2000’s. While that influence is much clearer here and during the remainder of the album, it’s deftly blended with the post-rock elements, and never scrolls so far off the script that it isn’t recognizably post-adjacent. This and the following songs are also much more concise affairs, clocking in between three and a half and five minutes. Few bands in recent memory have been able to pull of the sprawling post-rock epic and the post-hardcore banger with such success while keeping the balance of styles consistent enough that the record comes off as a cohesive experience. A perfect example comes between the second and third minute of “Keep Closed,” which layers a guitar melody with mathier leanings and a traditional tremolo-picked post-rock lead in the same space without either stepping on the other’s toes. The track reminds me a bit of I/O, who also blends some fairly technical guitar work with more straightforward but dramatic and emotionally-gripping lead parts.
If you’re someone who feels the need for something with a different kind of energy and approach but don’t want to relinquish the post-rock feels, Lo, the Loyal Conscripts is definitely a band that should be on your radar, yet another recent American instrumental band stepping up and delivering in a big way.
Oddarang – Hypermetros
Oddarrang is well, a bit odd. Unintentionally the second Scandinavian act I’m covering this month, this Finnish Quintet really embraces the beauty in subtlety. Part of Hypermetros’ charm is that it really does not sound as a whole much like anything else I’ve ever heard in the genre. It ranges from spirited, uplifting yndi halda-esque peaks to these expansive, spacey 65daysofstatic type synth tracks. From extensive brass use, to guitar licks and synthesizers this album covers a foray of a lot of things I like to here in this genre, all with creative and unique songwriting. I can’t say I’ve heard many post-rock songs driven predominantly by trombone and cello. Tracks like “Amber” share a similar style to some violin driven post-rock, but the trombone taking its place adds a refreshing and unique dynamic.
The songs often form the structure of traditional post rock, with building chord progressions and rhythms, but there’s a very free-flowing and improvisational take to the lead instrument, be it guitar or trombone, that brings in jazz influence. A healthy mix of piano and various keyboard/synth tones adds a warming additional dimension to their very layered, but not necessarily dense sound. Despite being a five piece, things never get too noisy or seem like they’re fighting for space. Hypermetros moves along at exactly the pace and tempo that it wants to. At times this can be slow and methodical, but it can build into a more driving pace when the moment calls for it such as on “Ohlop”, which keeps things from ever getting repetitive.
The middle of the album is split into a 3-part track called “Trichordon (I-III)” which are the only tracks composed by the bass/synth player and written as an ode to the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. That influence is certainly palpable, and this is a worthy homage to his name. These tracks are highlighted by smothering ambient walls of synths and cello with a sort of neoclassical composition. Part II has this hauntingly beautiful cello and trombone melody over the synth that makes your heart sink. The percussion is employed very minimally with the first two parts being completely void of it, allowing for when the drums do show up in part III to have a lot more punch and power behind them.Hypermetros is a special album and one of the best I’ve heard in the genre this year. The melodies are extremely memorable, being both delightful and empowering and sombre and introspective. It really covers everything I like about this genre and I hope more can succumb to the enchantment that Oddarrang have casted here.
Ranges – Babel
Going to start this off by talking even more about Post. Fest. Montana’s Ranges have, in large part by virtue of being inextricably tied to A Thousand Arms, become somewhat synonymous with the new American post-rock wave. It’s fairly easy to trace their own development and growth throughout this past decade with the parallel development and growth of countless other bands that have knitted themselves together into this larger community. So it’s not entirely surprising then that the band found themselves in the headlining position for night one of this year’s Post. Fest. But here’s the thing. Regardless of what your feelings might be about the band and their music — their brand of soaring, cinematic post-rock is not for everyone — it is pretty undeniable that they possess an energy to them that translates extremely well live. Check out their live album from dunk!fest 2018 or these videos that excellent human Austin Peters (of Outrun the Sunlight and Audiotree) captured from their Post. Fest set as proof of that.
Their Post. Fest appearance was the second time I’ve been able to see them, and hearing the material from their latest album Babel live only deepened my appreciation for what the band have been able to accomplish. Ranges are neither the flashiest nor the heaviest of this strain of the post-y genres, but there is an incredible coherence and emotional power behind their music that elevates it. Tracks like “Decadence,” “Idolator,” and “Avarice” possess a keen sense of melody, pacing, and pure composition that allows it to draw a ton of power from the same palette and formulas that many lesser bands have struggled to stand out in using. And when the band do truly go in for the kill like on the thundering “Demagogue,” it shines through even more in contrast. Babel is peak dark post-rock “mood,” and as it explores the infamous relic of human folly and arrogance, it further cements Ranges’s own position as one of the leaders of the current American post-rock scene.
PSOTY – Sunless
I can’t think of too many bands in the post-metal scene that have been more underrated for longer than London’s PSOTY. Since the departure of Isis, which left a very specific itch unscratched in their wake, PSOTY is the kind of band capable of beginning to fill that massive hole. However, despite being around for a decade, you don’t hear people talk about them that much. They have under 2,000 followers on Facebook, yet they possess a huge sound that you would expect to have spread much further than it apparently has. This could have something to do with the fact that, after a relatively prolific stretch from 2009 to 2014, they hadn’t released any material until dropping Sunless in September. Maybe their gradual transition from instrumental band to a band with vocals (they didn’t begin to include vocals until the back half of their last release, Fragments of Uniforms) left them in a weird limbo of fan expectations. It could be that the perplexing and frankly inadvisable name Pet Slimmers of the Year caused potential listeners to balk (thankfully they seem to have decided to stick with the acronym at this point). I’m not sure of the reason, but the reality is that this band has been releasing consistently fantastic music for ten years now and deserve acknowledgement and praise.
Sunless brings even more vocals into the mix than its predecessor, putting them much more to the forefront, and the results feel naturally integrated and are impressively confident. Unlike the previous album, where the vocals seemed like more of a textural element, they burst through with a full sense of purpose here. Utilizing both clean and screamed delivery, they play an integral role, giving PSOTY yet another tool in their impressive arsenal.
PSOTY doesn’t abandon the instrumental compositions entirely, and Sunless features some pretty exquisite voiceless cuts. “The Yawning Void” showcases their primary strengths, namely that incredibly muscular low end that lays a thick foundation on which the guitars can do their thing. The interplay of melody and rhythm in the guitarwork is consistently impressive, creating a sound that is equally crushing and seductively groove-heavy as it is melodically engaging. The bass is certainly reminiscent of Jeff Caxide’s work with Isis and early Red Sparowes, but if you ask me we could use a few more players exploring those tones and textures, and at the moment the only other that comes to mind is Dumbsaint’s James Thomas.
As with the best post-metal, Sunless’ strength is largely constructed around build-and-release, restraint giving way to intensity and patience rewarded with fierce impact. Standout tracks like “Queen of Hades” and “King of Ephyra” move methodically, wringing out every bit of atmosphere possible before delivering a series of explosive payoffs. “Watcher of the Abyss” and “Obscura” are both hypnotic, almost dreamy slow-burners that are still dynamic and energetic enough to grab listeners and guide them into their massive finales. Even the shorter instrumental pieces “Acheron” and “Charon” carry enough emotional impact to make them more than just mere transitional pieces. If this is your first experience with PSOTY I would highly recommend digging through their back catalog as well. They have been one of the finest post-metal acts working for quite some time now, albeit working with a much lower profile than many of their contemporaries.