Well…it’s been quite a month/undefinable amount of time because the concept of time has lost all meaning, hasn’t it? Frankly, I’m kind of at a loss of meaningful things to say as relates to music on a wide scale these days. If you haven’t already checked out our post listing out COVID-19 resources and funds for musicians though, definitely do so.
Beyond that, the only other thing of importance I have to point out is that we are sponsoring a new livestream series being put on by a collection of basically all of the best people in the post- music game called Post-Poned. Combining the forces of Dunk!Festival, Post. Festival, Dome A Records, A Thousand Arms, wherepostrockdwells, Young Epoch, and ourselves, Post-Poned seeks to give the bands you love a platform to share their music in a live setting while offering direct ways for fans to show their appreciation and help them out through donations and more. The first installment already went up, and it was from none other than the wunderkinds in Circus Trees!
Hopefully there will be plenty more of this to come. Musicians still need your support, and we’ll do everything we can to provide that to them.
Okay, so….here’s the part where I deviate a bit from my usual intros. Because I’m fucking angry. It’s not uncommon for me to be upset and angry about something or other going on in the world, but especially right now in the US and elsewhere we are seeing the true effects of years of letting the absolute worst of us take control of the levers of power. The national government response to the coronavirus pandemic has been worse than negligent. It has been downright harmful and toxic. But that’s not what I want to focus on specifically right here, because I want to make clear that this isn’t just an issue with Trump or his administration. It’s not even an issue simply limited to conservative governments and parties (though I will have plenty to say about them in just a moment). We are witnessing the worst global crisis in generations (putting aside the even bigger global crisis of climate change that we’re really only just starting to feel the effects of), and there are virtually no leaders here who are rising to the moment.
People are suffering. They are losing their lives, and the ones who aren’t are losing their livelihoods and sources of income. And what is being done about it? At the federal level you have Trump and the executive branch continuing to refuse to take control of the situation and enact a nation-wide response. You have them literally changing information on government websites to retcon their own cynical ineptitude in providing protective equipment to hospitals and front-line healthcare workers. You have Trump almost on a daily basis oscillating between begrudgingly admitting that we need to keep stricter social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols in place and lamenting that we need to “reopen” the economy soon and start up sporting leagues like football on time. Almost more gobsmackingly, you have him shooting down any initiative to expand vote by mail for upcoming elections, including the upcoming presidential election, straight-up admitting that increased turnout would hurt both his and other Republicans’ chances.
Thankfully Trump doesn’t actually make the laws and legislation that can address this crisis. Congress has indeed passed a couple of bills that have been signed into law to address the health and economic concerns of its people, including the much publicized one-time $1,200 checks and expanded unemployment insurance that provides $600 per week to those who have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or have seen their pay cut to zero while maintaining benefits (more info here). But it’s not nearly enough, certainly not when millions of people still need to afford rent and mortgage payments, certainly not when so many still need to put their bodies on the line day in and day out to go to jobs deemed “essential” by states, and certainly not when millions either lack health insurance or are grossly underinsured and are terrified to see a doctor for a number of reasons.
So what else is being done? Republicans in the Senate seem content to do very little else additional at this point, and Democrats in the House – who should be leading the charge on all of this as it runs directly into the stated priorities of the party – are considering a patchwork of piecemeal, complicated, technocratic, and largely means-tested measures intended to provide additional assistance to individuals in “targeted” ways. These are, at best, band-aids, and when compared to less wealthy countries in Europe who are considering implementing universal basic income that would extend past this crisis, who are suspending all rent and mortgage payments and covering the payrolls of all businesses so the maximum number of people can safely stay at home without worrying if they’ll have a job when this is over, it’s laughable. As for elections protections between now and November? Don’t count on anything coming from the federal government beyond the paltry $400 million passed in the CARES Act that is intended to cover all 50 states in boosting and improving their individual elections systems and contingency plans.
Which brings me to the states themselves. The US system of federalism has always been a mixed bag and double-edged sword even in the best of times, and during this crisis we are seeing how truly abysmal the results are of having 50 separate and connected entities fight this each in their own ways. While states like California and Washington have been relative bright spots in terms of their management and have provided results in flattening their respective curves of new infections (thanks in large part to the decisive and early action taken by governors Gavin Newsom and Jay Inslee), many more states are still refusing to take any action to enforce stay at home measures and social distancing, or are taking half-measures with belated lockdown protocols while still making huge carve-outs for churches and other “””essential””” businesses.
In those states like Florida and Georgia that have been under Republican control for years and have systematically bled the states’ social safety net programs the entire time, you’re now seeing all of that work come to a head. State unemployment systems that have been designed specifically to discourage people from applying are crumbling now that they’re needed more than ever. This means that millions of people cannot access the money guaranteed to them by the federal law and will have to fight overwhelmed state offices to receive it, almost certainly far later than they need it at best, if at all. This isn’t even speaking about the proactive measures many states are taking to advance their own personal agendas, such as mandating ends to all abortions as “elective” procedures or enacting anti-trans laws (bonus points to the feds for taking away the land of indigenous peoples in the middle of this as well).
But here’s where I get to the big fucking shit-shaped cherry on top that has spurred me to write this entire thing to begin with. As I am writing this (Tuesday, April 7), the state of Wisconsin is holding a statewide election and primary, combining the presidential primary election as well as statewide races for judges (including a crucial race for state Supreme Court) and local elections. Wisconsin has gone ahead with this election in spite of numerous states postponing their own primary or local elections over the past month due to the many public health threats they present, as well as the affect on turnout the pandemic would have.
Why has this happened? It is because, despite Governor Tony Evers declaring multiple times that the election should be postponed, the Wisconsin state legislature is controlled by Republicans. In a special session over the weekend (called by Evers), they rebuffed and hand-waved away Evers’s pleas by closing the session immediately. On Monday Evers took the step to issue an executive order delaying the election, hoping that the courts would side with him given the extreme and dire circumstances. Late Monday night, voting along party lines (with the conservative justice up for election Tuesday recusing himself), the state Supreme Court overturned Evers’s order and mandated that the election go on as normal Tuesday. In addition, a late-breaking decision by the federal Supreme Court Monday night (also along party lines) mandated that the state cannot extend voting by mail/absentee ballot, all in spite of the fact that the increased demand for absentee ballots in the state has led to many not actually receiving theirs by election day. Place all of that on top of the fact that the state has already greatly cut the number of polling precincts in many of the state’s most populated areas due to the inevitable shortage of poll volunteers, and the message is loud and clear: either vote in person and put your life at risk, or don’t vote. Republicans are making the most blatantly cynical gamble here, betting that many people will opt not to vote and thus sway the elections in favor of their candidates.
Predictably, voting day-of has been an absolute shitshow. And we won’t know for weeks what the health repercussions are, how many people will die because of their insatiable lust for accruing power at all costs.
I am not writing all of this to overwhelm you. Nor am I writing all of this to convert or convince you of anything (if you’ve made it this far I think it’s a pretty safe bet you already agree with most of what I have to say). I am writing this because things are enormously difficult right now, and naturally a lot of us want to retreat into the things that comfort us, including music, as a welcome (and probably necessary) distraction from all of this. But I am telling you that we can’t ignore all of this. We simply don’t have that luxury, and it’s because too many of the people in power are trying to fuck you over. Worse, in many cases they’re actively trying to kill you. We cannot depend on our representatives to have our best interests in mind.
It is imperative that we see them and what they are doing. It is imperative that we organize and fight them in every way that we can. Find groups of people who are doing things, either nationally, state-wide, or in your own community, and learn about what they are doing to take action. Then follow them to keep up on what’s going on, and if you have the time and resources, either get involved yourself or donate. Look up mutual aid networks in your community if all you want to do is just help people right now who need it the most. Get involved with Senate or gubernatorial campaigns either in your state or a nearby state. Run for something! Or just stay informed. Not on everything. Certainly not on every dumb thing Trump says or tweets. But on what is actually being done. Make sure that these people who want you to ignore them as they destroy the world and your lives know that you see them.
Demand vote-by-mail in all 50 states. Demand a more equitable and just healthcare system (sidenote: I know a lot of you are crushed today about Bernie, but please remember that his work was never confined to the presidency and does not end here) so there’s not even a question of whether people will be able to afford treatment for this or any other ailment that is of no fault of their own. Demand guaranteed income of some sort in times good and bad. Demand that no person should be worried about losing their home or place they rent when times are tough. If this crisis has demonstrated anything, it is that so many of these things deemed “impossible” by so many cynics for so long for a more just and equitable world are more than possible. But none of it will simply be given to us. We will have to demand it. We will have to fight. Over and over again. We cannot wait until things are already broken beyond repair to do it. The failures to address this crisis and the criminal behavior we are witnessing all over the world are sadly proof of this.
We fight because we have to and because it is the only way anything has ever gotten done. Be angry or hopeful or depressed or all of the above while doing it. But don’t turn away. Don’t give them the satisfaction of that.
. . .
Post-Topper: Whale Fall – It Will Become Itself (jazzy post-rock)
What do I need? That’s a question we should be constantly asking ourselves, as the world around us does its best to make us ask “what do others need from me?” instead. This is especially true nowadays, where many of the social (and financial) structures which we’ve built to keep ourselves afloat are disrupted, at best, and completely gone, at worst. That question has two layers of complexity (well, many more actually but only two I’d like to focus on here): first, it’s hard to answer. That seems obvious, redundant even to write down, but it’s not; what we need, what concerns our well-being, should be close to our hearts and, therefore, accessible. But it’s not, whether because we’re built that way on purpose or because that’s just how things are (it’s the former).
The second complexity is even worse: even if you do manage to answer that question, and even though it’s difficult many of us do, the answer constantly changes. That’s right; even if you do get really good at figuring out what it is you need, that “thing” changes. It changes as you grow, it changes as the world shifts around you, it changes as the things you thought you wanted turn out to be either not what you wanted at all or possessed with certain prices which you’re actually not willing to pay after all. That’s especially true these days. What I need is to see my friends and my family but I’m not willing to pay the price of becoming a vector for the virus. What I thought I needed was peace and quiet but now that the city is silent with the deathly hum of the quarantine, it turns out I quite miss its noise.
All of this brings me to my final point: there’s this idea that staying indoors, to practice social distancing and do our part to curb the virus’s spread, is a passive action. You just stay inside, right? But that’s not true. This is an active thing composed of many little adjustments, skills, new learnings, and, most of all, new modes of being with yourself, of figuring out who you are and what you need. Not in theory. Not in five years. Right now. What do I need? Do I need to lie down? Do I need to drink? Do I need to be loved? Do I need to cry? Do I need to dream? Do I need to focus on the present? Do I need to talk to someone? Do I need to be alone? Do I need to stay informed? Do I need to be ignorant? Do I need to be quiet? Do I need to scream out loud?
Do I need to hear an album so rich that it evokes all of these self-introspective questions and more? Do I need to listen to music that’s both so far away and, somehow, still feels like home? Because the new Whale Fall album, It Will Become Itself, has all of that, and more. In its airy compositions, in its robust wind instruments, in its dedication to unravelling an inner landscape of thought and feeling, it does what post-rock can do best: give us what we need.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
Colin Phils – Trust/Fall (post-math, indie rock)
I had the pleasure of booking Colin Phils for a DIY show here in the Burlington area a couple of years back, and they were not only delightful folks but also had a very interesting backstory. All of the band members (two of whom are married to one another) have worked as English teachers in China, and actually met while working there and forged a bond that led to forming a band. They are also – despite being relatively unknown here in the States – apparently actually very well-regarded and well-followed in China. Talking to guitarist/vocalist Ben Tiner and keyboardist/vocalist Karyn Mauch, they talked about how they would play lengthy strings of shows in China to packed houses with 100+ people, then come home and play shows in Richmond that would draw less than ten people. I guess it’s all a matter of place and perspective, because while I got the sense that they were a fresh name to a lot of people once they started premiering singles from Trust/Fall earlier this year, they are in fact an impressively pro outfit with tons of road experience. It’s great to see them starting to break a bit in the States, with their signing to Post. Recordings for this new album, as well as in their inclusion on the third Post. Festival lineup this September.
Their compositional approach hits a real sweet spot in the post-aligned world right now, blending together elements of math rock, prog, loop-pedal wizardry, and American Football-reminiscent indie rock/emo, all of which have been consistently blending themselves into the post-rock landscape for the past few years. Trust/Fall is playing with a stacked deck, really highlighting the band’s full arsenal. There are strong lead vocal melodies, vocals used as textures, dual vocals between Tiner and Mauch, other points where one or the other takes over. You have flourishes of Tiner’s guitar aerobics, showcasing his impressive tapping and looping skills, and other times when he gets down and dirty with some heavier riffs that may have a lower degree of difficulty, but a very high impact.
One of the issues I have sometimes with math rock, as I’ve stated in this space before, is that too often you see guitarists doing impressive backflips with their instrument, but there’s so much noodling and attempting to wow listeners that the soul of the music gets lost, if it was ever there to begin with. There are certain bands that just seem to be a platform for their guitarists and drummers to go wild without anyone to edit or restrain them. Then there are bands like Delta Sleep and TTNG, true masters of the genre, who know how to hit you right in the heart without sacrificing their technical wizardry. Colin Phils fits more on that end of the spectrum. Their songs feel like actual songs, with ebb and flow, emotional highs and lows, and a keen understanding of both balance and restraint. In terms of drumming, Benjamin Mauch clearly demonstrates his high-level ability, but he is always in service of the song. I guess the best way to describe Colin Phils is that instead of being a bunch of incredibly skilled performers who happen to have started a band to facilitate their talents, they are a band with clear creative chemistry who also happen to be technically exceptional.
The single “Frenemies” is a great example of all Colin Phils is capable of. It has that kind of off-time rhythm, hard to pin down riffing, and skittering looping that are trademarks of math rock, but there are textures beyond that that really fill in the blanks, and a dedication to crafting melody to go alongside the cerebral nature of the composition. Vocal duties bounce back and forth from Tiner to Mauch, with both bringing their own distinct qualities to the song. It’s interesting and intellectual songwriting, but it’s also entirely engaging, possessing a strong emotional core. The following track, “La Fin,” has a kind of ‘90s-era Modest Mouse quality to it, a dreamy, artistically curious indie rock sensibility that is very important to the overall success of the record. The song’s finale has a lushness and visceral impact to it that touches upon elements of both shoegaze and slowcore, an inspired and moving transition into the album’s second half, which is a bit darker and more contemplative than what comes before it.
This is particularly evident in the two tracks that close the record. The delicate and vulnerable second single “I Love You,” a song written about Tiner’s late mother, features a chorus refrain in which Tiner addresses her with “I love you, I love you, I love you, despite what you’ve done to…,” followed by Mauch taking over to complete the line with “…push me out of your life.” It may just be how the song developed, but it seems as if Mauch is providing support and a caring presence to fall back on during the album’s most raw, honest moment. It shows how friends and creative companions can become like family, and can help you through moments where you feel like you might collapse if left on your own. By the end of the song Tiner is finally able to complete the line, an important moment that could pass you by without having this piece of context. “Myrsa” completes the record with a similar tone, in some regards a very pretty song, but also one with a swirling sense of disquiet that gathers momentum until it finally seems to find a crest in chaos before abruptly collapsing into silence. It’s a very fitting climax for an album that deftly balances light and dark, finesse and grit, tight performance and emotional outpouring.
Hubris. – Metempsychosis (post-rock/space-rock/groove-post)
As I’ve written in this column many times before, as time goes by I find myself gravitating more and more towards the kind of muscular, energetic, and, often, electronic kind of post-rock. You know the type, where the bass is loud, the synths punch hard and the guitars are like self-contained explosions. But there’s still a warm place in my heart for the kind of post-rock that can make me dream, that’s expansive and open, that evokes an open field on a sunny day with a chill wind blowing through your window. There’s still a warm place in my heart for an album like Hubris.’s Metempsychosis.
My relationship with Hubris. started when I was first becoming aware of the post-rock scene in Switzerland, off of the excellent Evolve by Swiss band, Mountain. One of the first albums that I heard from that scene was Hubris.’s Emersion. I was immediately struck by the band’s ability to combine both heavier, energetic passages and dream-like, ethereal ideas into one cohesive, heavy-hitting whole. This seems to be a hallmark of most of the Swiss scene but Hubris. have a sort of effortlessness to their sound that is hard to pin down. It’s almost as if they’re not even trying (which I know is false), as if the sound flows from their hands directly into your ears, as nothing feels too premeditated, too planned. Everything rings with an emotional depth to it.
On their latest release, Metempsychosis, the band have brought this aspect of their art to perfection. All you really need is to put on the opening track, “Hepius”, and listen to how well everything flows together. From the calm beginnings, through the louder middle passages, and then right back into the introspective quieter segments that lead up to the track’s end and its resolution, everything just feels incredibly right. The music bends and twists, swimming inside its own range of sounds, and you never quite see the next change coming but, when it comes, it feels obvious; it feels like it’s the only way the next passage could sound. Add into that some of the most evocative guitar tones I think I’ve ever heard, an amazing groove section which seems to blend in and out of the synths, and you have the art of post-rock perfected.
If Anything Happens To The Cat – Kingdom of Roots (post-rock, darkwave, prog)
It popped up on my feed today that three years ago today Ulver marked the fulfillment of their shift in sound with the release of their acclaimed album The Assassination of Julius Caesar. I imagine I speak for a few of my fellow writers, and a lot of metal fans as well, when I say that this release gave birth to a marked investment in the genre of Darkwave. Drawing from post-punk and new-wave, but with more of a darker and depressive feel, darkwave is a fascinating genre that also blends well with other styles. Kingdom of Roots, the new album from Belgian five-piece If Anything Happens To The Cat is perhaps the first I’ve heard of its fusion with post-rock. Throw in a bit of prog rock and alternative, and you have what to me is one of the more exceptional releases this year under the post-rock umbrella. You might wonder with all these influences how it still retains that post-rock sound. That answer in short would be: restraint. With creative song-writing they can pick and choose when these outside sounds really shine, but do so without it feeling unnatural or forced. This all makes for a relatively eclectic album-listening experience that rarely gets predictable or repetitive.
Tracks like “Origami Armies” put the darkwave on the backburner for more straightforward melodic post-rock offerings with soaring harmonized guitar riffs and minimal vocals. The vocals however are really what give a lot of this album character. His noticeable accent adds that distinctly European new-wave/post-punk sound for an underlying nostalgic feel. Some may find their sound comparable to another under-appreciated post-rock group with vocals who I will forever shout out, Sky Architects. While the vocals do carry some of the darkwave influence on their own, I think I’d like to hear them further explore that sound instrumentally.
A drawback of that eclecticism is a bit of a sense of unsureness of their direction in sound. Fortunately for us these intermingling but not totally separate approaches do all work on their own. The keyboard/synths especially add to the melodic aspects of their music for an uplifting Maybeshewill-type sound like on the opener “Intrinsic Gravity”. The lead guitar dances into prog territory with harmonizing solos over the rhythm section which for whatever reason seems to be a rarity in the post- genre. A lead guitar’s ability to dance between more solo-oriented playing and tremolo picked crescendos make for some of the most “fun” sort of post-rock to me. Continuing along the line of instruments, the bass guitar is really one of the standouts on Kingdom of Roots. The persistent grooves add an ever present energy and cohesion, and the clean tones add to that nostalgic 80s sound.
In all, IAHTTC have crafted a creative take at the genre and I’m really excited to see where they can take their sound next. While there are strong elements of solemness and yearning, you can tell the band earnestly had a lot of fun writing this.
LAC – Yolanda (post-math rock)
I’ve probably said this before, but there are few things I enjoy more than seeing a band I wrote about years ago in their infancy and obscurity completely rise and step up their game years later. I covered Lyon, France’s LAC in one of our first PRPs after the release of their debut album VOSTOK. I was immediately impressed by their blend of tasty post-rock atmosphere and mathy sensibilities for all of its rough edges production-wise. In two short years the band have returned and are as clear in their vision as ever while sounding a whole lot sharper overall. Yolanda is technically an EP at a few minutes short of a half hour, but what it manages to pack into its five songs is enough character and flair to elevate the band from a group with a good deal of promise to one who anyone that enjoys the mathier side of post-rock needs to be paying attention to.
Middle track “David Hass” is probably the best place to start, actually. Alternating between skittery, off-kilter riffs and deliciously groovy passages, it builds up to a comfortable place that feels like it could become predictable if taken too far. Just at that moment though, LAC dive down into a dreamy bridge, only to resurface more ferociously than ever, doubling down on tasty licks and jams. It’s a combination of elements that worked exceedingly well on VOSTOK, but on Yolanda the compositions sound more confident, and perhaps just as importantly, the production finally matches the intricate precision of the band itself. Each element of their sound comes through as intended, creating a shimmery, crystalline cavern. It’s the reason why “Dokutā Ierō” can so beautifully transition from aggressive, quasi-punky chords to a soaring kaleidoscope of beautiful guitar melodies and delay pedals mixed in with killer drum work, why “Mehamara” doesn’t turn into a muddy mess and instead propels itself throughout to its synthy end, and it’s why the darkly epic closer “Mirador” can pack in as many textures and sonic elements as it does while maintaining an incredible level of cohesion and excitement throughout. Yolanda is post-math at its finest and a sign that plenty more is yet to come. Welcome to the big leagues, boys.
NOIR|REVA – Continuance (cinematic post-rock)
Since I’m covering a couple of albums that fly toward the fringes of post-rock, presenting more as pieces from other genres that have some aligning elements, I figured I would cover a more traditional album as well just to strike the balance. Germany’s NOIR|REVA is just the band to fit nicely into that space. Their 2016 debut Nuance made a strong impression on me, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for them ever since. They were supposed to play dunk!festival this year, which unfortunately will have to wait until 2021, but the band was tangentially involved with last year’s event, as band member Robby Krings was also one of the main videographers of the 2019 festival. If you’ve seen the recap video for dunk!2019 then you’re familiar with Robby’s impressive work.
NOIR|REVA’s new LP Continuance should be firmly on the radar for listeners who appreciate well-wrought, straightforward modern post-rock. We’ve been covering quite a bit of post-adjacent material over the past few months, trying to highlight all the different shadings and possibilities that come with the genre, but of course it’s also great to dive into something straightforward and dependable, as long as it has some muscle and a memorable presentation. Continuance is that kind of record, not re-inventing anything, but understanding the conventions and the strengths of the genre, the value of strong production and an approach to composition that keeps things moving along with good pace and plenty of volume-pushing high points.
Interestingly, there is a nice bit of listener insight on the Bandcamp page that kind of broadly addresses the nebulous appeal of modern traditional post-rock. The commenter writes “I’ve been listening to the post-rock genre for about a half dozen years now, yet I still can’t figure out exactly what I like and how to seek out similar stuff. I can’t figure out the commonality that elicits my sheer joy. But when something clicks, it clicks. Continuance clicks in the best possible way from start to finish.”
This does bring up a very interesting and important phenomena that exists within post-rock. We’ve covered the criticism of sameish-ness plenty of times, and while we’ve largely discounted that theory by presenting a wide array of very different artists and albums, it can’t be denied that there are a collection of bands that sort of all occupy the same space right in the middle and share a very similar aesthetic and approach. NOIR|REVA is undoubtedly one of those bands; this isn’t an album you’re going to listen to and remark that you’ve never heard anything like it before. But post-rock is very visceral and very situational, and I’ve experienced this a number of times. I’ve listened to albums while hiking that have absolutely blown me away in harmony with everything surrounding me, then when I returned to them at home in front of my laptop, the result just isn’t the same. That may speak in part to how there is a lack of differentiation in the music, but at the same time it speaks to the powerful core that post-rock draws so much of its power from. It’s ability to act as the soundtrack to moments of profundity without taking full centerstage is important; it’s a genre that’s simultaneously humble and humbling, it plays an integral role in moments where you are soaking in the beauty and enormity of the world around you. It greatly accentuates these moments without ever overshadowing them, the perfect pairing in moments you don’t want to forget.
Continuance is one of those albums tailor-made for that kind of experience. I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s going to end up on any of my year-end lists. But it’s one of those admirable, workmanlike records that is going to find its context and its moment and it’s going to create an unforgettable moment at some point for plenty of listeners. It’s smartly written and precisely crafted, endlessly listenable, an album that hits all its marks. In some regards it’s admittedly difficult to pin down exactly why it works, but that’s because you need to find that space and time where it’s destined to flourish, suddenly and powerfully.
Solkyri – Mount Pleasant (groove post-rock)
The other two albums I wrote up for this week are very much of the airy, cloud-like type of post-rock. Sure, they have their punch (and they’re both amazing releases) but sometimes, your heart hungers for a bit more fury, a bit more angst, a bit more bass. Well, if your heart is under the same kind of hunger that mine is these days, look no further than Solkyri’s Mount Pleasant and its acrid, interweaving, and heavy-hitting riffs. Drawing comparisons to bands like Town Portal, Solkyri seem bent on delivering the maximum amount of groove and action as possible in their tracks and by God, they pull it off.
“Shambles”, smack in the middle of the album, is perhaps where you want to start if you want a taste of that. The double attack of the backing guitars and the bass work in tandem here for most of the track’s runtime, operating under the cover of the scintillating, delay-ridden main guitars. After the track’s middle, when everything goes quiet a bit, they return to deliver punch after punch, holding hands with the drums to deliver the kind of large basis that’s always a good starting point for a crescendo.
Of course, like all good albums of this sort, Mount Pleasant throws in plenty of more somber vibes to contrast all this fury and punch. In fact, the aforementioned “Shambles” is flanked by “Meet Me in the Meadow”, a brighter more playful track, and “Time Away”, which goes low and slow to paint the more melancholic shade of Solkyri’s music in starker colors. Put all of this together, turn up the feedback, and explore the potential between these sounds and you get Mount Pleasant, an energetic, groovy post-rock release if there ever was one.
Staghorn – Corvus IV (post-rock/post-metal/narrative)
I was first introduced to Staghorn back in early 2018 when I saw them opening for the wonderful Yndi Halda on their North American tour. What first grabbed me about them was their creative use of spoken-word narratives along to their moody take at post-rock. Sure bands in this genre have been integrating spoken-word clips into their songs for decades, but its rare to see a band compose their own narrative to apply to their soundscapes. With Corvus IV, Staghorn continue their empowering and urgent story of our self-induced downfall. Their albums can be viewed as much as political activism and protest as it is post-rock, giving a glimpse into a theoretical world born from unobstructed environmental and ecological collapse. Staghorn take a sonically darker turn with their fourth chapter, drawing further influence from post-metal, black metal and screamo. That darkness adds to the expanded post-apocalyptic fervor of both their sound and eventual outcome of their narrative. I should add that if you’re by chance turned off by spoken-wordism, their use here is controlled and purposeful.
For me, one of the standout moments of this release is the inclusion of guest vocals from Drew Speziale of the post-hardcore/screamo group Circle Takes The Square. Post-rock fans might also recognize him from his classic feature on an early 65daysofstatic track, as his grizzly yet soft singing voice and passionate screams match the atmosphere of this genre beautifully. On “Rahula” his own blend of spoken vocals slowly build over the harmonium before the distortion of the guitars kick in and he simultaneously switches to screams, even throwing some surprising death-growls in. They really add to the catharsis and burning intensity of the overall message.
The album closer “Samsara” spans 12-minutes, nearly half of this releases run time. It’s something of a slow-burn, with a very introspective first half applying more of their ambient percussion and piano. Like the album itself, this track has a clear trajectory and purposeful sense of direction. You can imagine yourself trudging along in their bleak and dimly lit world they’ve envisioned to the methodical marching drums and melancholy riffs. Behind all this, there is an undeniable sense of hope in their melodies and words. The track slowly climbs and cascades several times before truly exploding in climax with one of the heaviest post-rock crescendos I’ve heard lately, concluding with the final urgent direction from the narrator: a motion to band together with community and continue to fight. Something I think we all need to hear right now.
Telepathy – Burn Embrace (cinematic post-metal, sludge)
Remember what I said earlier about loving it when bands we covered early on go on to prove us right and turn into much bigger and better things? Essex’s Telepathy is pretty much in the unofficial Heavy Blog Hall of Fame in this regard at this point. Eden first identified and recognized their enormous potential back in 2014 following their debut album 12 Areas, going so far as to include them in our feature a year later examining the current state and future of post-metal as a band to watch. Now signed to the highly respected Svart Records and quickly becoming one of the pre-eminent post-metal acts in the UK, Telepathy have greatly exceeded even our high expectations and hopes for them. And their third album, Burn Embrace, is proof that the band can still surprise and continue to grow with each successive release.
Like all of Telepathy’s work, Burn Embrace is as much a singular experience as it is a collection of songs. The level of care they take in crafting albums that flow effortlessly from beginning to end and convey a full emotional arc is something that can be easily overlooked, but it’s critical to the band’s success. Somewhat embarrassingly, it’s something I discovered the importance of when somehow my early promo access to the album wound up getting tracks mixed up in order after adding them to my library. Those initial listens were still good, but something very much felt off about the album as a whole. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the error I made, and upon fixing it and listening again it was like hearing a completely different album. Suddenly everything just clicked. The ponderous and epic scope of opener “Eternal Silence” led perfectly into the pummeling aggression of “Pariah,” which itself led perfectly into the beautiful and more introspective tones of “The Void In Aimless Flight,” and so on.
Burn Embrace is Telepathy’s most emotionally-charged and varied album to date. With the benefit of years of experience and growing confidence in themselves, they’ve only managed to deepen and expand their compositional palettes over time. For every “Pariah” that features unrelenting sludgy grimness, there is a “The Void In Aimless Flight” or “Sorrow Surrenders Its Crown” that blends those punishing tones with a much broader range of tones and moods. The latter even concludes in a perfectly-executed injection of distant vocals that start in harmony and resolve in raspy screams, like the final death rattles of a man fading into the night. The eponymous closer picks up where “Sorrow Surrenders” left off and serves as a perfect coda to the entire album. Like the best examples in the “cinematic” strain of post-, Telepathy truly embraces the notion of their music as a collection of “movements” that need to stitch together into a greater whole, and Burn Embrace is the most successful and fully-realized product of that understanding and hard work. I think I can speak for all of us here when I say that we can’t wait to see how the band can surprise us next.
Violet Cold – Noir Kid (post-black metal/…EDM (?!?!))
Nick expressed a sentiment the other day that resonated with me, and also applies directly to the way in which I have previously approached the music of the Azerbaijan-based multi-instrumentalist/solo artist working under the moniker Violet Cold. For whatever reason, I carry an inherent skepticism regarding solo artists with seemingly unceasing release schedules in the age of Bandcamp. I don’t know what it is exactly, maybe it’s just a natural inability to accept that quantity can exist alongside quality. Maybe it’s that I’m inclined to believe that such a prolific nature requires a kind of self-indulgence and aversion to self-editing that I’m programmed to mistrust. Violet Cold has approximately eight thousand releases since debuting in 2015. Each one functions largely as a platform to fold various influences and inspirations into an ever-expanding canvas tethered to a black metal background. The first release is entitled Atheist’s Lullaby, and came three months after Envy put out Atheist’s Cornea. I admit, I think there is a part of me that until recently wasn’t willing to let go of the preconceived notion that Violet Cold was simply a podium for this musician to deliver an extensive series of glossy reproductions of things that had already been done by more substantial artists.
But after going back several times to sample new releases from Violet Cold, I’ve no choice but to draw the conclusion that I was wrong, that this is in fact a creatively and conceptually gifted artist who consistently presents a unique spin on his genres of choice. If you tried to sell me on an album blending black metal with elements of happy house techno, autotuned vocal anthemics and glossy pop sensibilities, I would undoubtedly laugh in your face. But that is exactly what Violet Cold manages to pull off with stunning proficiency on Noir Kid. This comes only a year after masterfully combining black metal and spacy post-rock on 2019’s kOsmik. I don’t know what to say, Violet Cold just brings the punch to the party. Noir Kid doesn’t always hit its mark, particularly in moments where the vocals cannot be described without being compared to Alvin and Chipmunks (bear with me here), but I’d be a liar if I said it doesn’t come across successfully at a much, much greater rate than could be reasonably expected, given the conceptual foundation it’s built on.
There is something that just works when Violet Cold begins with a repeated vocal melody that sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place in a Moby song circa 1999, and proceeds to surround it with a combination of black metal shredding and uplifting post-rock tones. I can’t even begin to explain how this succeeds, but it does. There is something infectious and deeply inspired about Noir Kid. It’s like someone smoked a bong to their face and spent two hours in their bedroom with their Spotify library on shuffle, becoming progressively more convinced that if someone would just make the leap to take the kind of dreamy house music melodies made glorious by Orbital and then fold that into Deafheaven’s already fusion-heavy approach to ethereal post-black metal, that it would come together into an undeniably striking new vision.
These are the kinds of thoughts that 99.99% of the time pass quietly into the night once their conceivers pass out on their couches, and then for some reason never seem as cool the next day. But somehow, by some miracle of conceptual clarity, musical chops, and artistic commitment, Violet Cold manages to make these fleeting dreams crystallize into something inspired. If you’ve been skeptical like I have, or simply haven’t given it a chance, spend some time with this. It’s the rare example of a wildly self-indulgent idea that actually comes off with an improbable amount of success and creative flourish. It absolutely exists and works within its own tight bubble, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t infectious, engaging, and in possession of genuine replay value. You’d expect the best case scenario to be that Noir Kid has a kind of passing intrigue that warrants a curious once-over, but against all odds this is actually really awesome, and is totally worth digging much deeper into.