Post Rock Post // May 2020

Hey folks, it’s me, Eden. I was going to include my usual “haha it’s Nick” joke but I’m going to be honest with you: I’m really tired. I’m tired from some personal stuff but I’m also really tired of having to watch my friends and loved ones being assaulted by police. I’m tired of having to scroll through social media and come across people actively calling for the oppression of others. I’m tired of being hit with a deluge of conservative rhetoric from basically every single person who is supposed to be doing something about, oh, I don’t know, the entire planet not going belly up and burning us? Most of all, I’m tired of living in a system which constantly tells me I should commodify everything, this blog included, and that, if I don’t, it doesn’t matter.

Thank god for post-rock then, huh? The more we spiral into our uncertain future, the more I find myself clinging not just to music in general but specifically to post-rock. Sure, there are massive bands out there in the genre making a lot of money from it (and that’s fine. Hate the game, not the player). But post-rock is one of the last beacon not only of the DIY spirit but also of the ambition of art to break free from its nature as a commodity. Don’t get me wrong, it has that nature intrinsically as something that is exchanged between two people. I’m the last person to call for “pure” art, whatever that means, or laud something just for being inaccessible or unmarketable.

But what I do laud is music which recognizes that and then tries to work around it, tries to connect with something bigger just than the tropes which sell it and goes deeper into the tropes which make it be. That’s right, what I just hinted at is my belief that music doesn’t have to be original to be profound. You can make music that follows a formula and not have it be cliche, and not have “sell out”, if you do it from your heart and from your heart, if you do it out of love. How do you tell? You can’t, at least not when you listen to the music itself. There’s just something about, something extra, something that sets it apart from the rest of this gray, washed out, broken world, some twinkle in the guitars or drums or bass or vocals or synths that makes you see in color again.

OK. Enough words. Let’s listen to music. Let’s remember that color exists.

Post-Topper: Aesthesys– Alignments (electronic post-rock)

The broad umbrella term “electronic post-rock” has seen an explosion in productivity over the last few years. From a time where 65daysofstatic ruled this genre pretty much alone, we find ourselves in a place where a great release from this sub-genre comes along every year or so. And that’s great new for me because I simply adore the combination of post-rock’s dreamy guitars and soundscapes and the technological punchiness of electronic samples and synths. The end result of this combo drives down to the core of what makes both genres great, invoking and evoking the emotional nuance and lushness that pulses within them.

This is exactly what Aesthesys are about. Last time we spoke about them it was around the release of their 2018 Achromata, an ambitious and scintillating sort of electronic album. But now, the band are back with a deeper, more nuanced, more fleshed out version of their already excellent sound in the form of Alignments and it might just be one of my favorite albums in the sub-genre of all time. As I am often want to do, I want to display this album’s kind of richness by pointing you to a duo of track. The first is “01101001” (which translates to “I” when you decode the binary) and the second is “Transcendants” and they lie smack in the middle of this expansive album.

“01101001” is best characterized with the main line of synths which run through it, a line which, when paired with a deep bass sound, is best described as “oceanic”. There’s something about that deep pulse that works so well in setting the tone and atmosphere for the track. There’s a lot of clever interplay between this main line and the rest of the track, creating an emotional slow-burner that only flirts with a crescendo (and thus, with catharsis) near its end but never really does the post-rock thing of taking off. That take off is reserved for the track immediately after it.

“Transcendants” wastes absolutely zero time in blowing up, utilizing every second of its three and a half minute mark to serve as the climax to the previous track. Guitars, drums, and beautiful violins all intermingle into one giant, long crescendo, a thrilling ride through more aerial and whirling spaces than the track which preceded it. The combo is obvious and effective; “01101001” is the layup, while “Transcendants” is the slam dunk. The first is the electronic side of “electronic post-rock”, undulating with the genre’s subtlety while the latter is the post-rock side, bursting forth with the emotional range which the genre is best known for.

Put together, and then augmented with the rest of this fantastic album, the duo exemplify the powerful potential inherent in the marriage of the genre. Aesthesys are masters in wielding that potential and bringing it to potential, channeling the kind of powerful, sweeping expression that comes with it. Alignments is like peering into the waters and feeling something ancient and potent writhe beneath. The swirling liquid is beautiful and enchanting while the cavernous, pelagic pulse that runs beneath lures you with its promise of power.

 

The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)

Mountaineer – Bloodletting (post-metal, doomgaze)

Despite originally being introduced to post-rock through post-black metal such as early Agalloch and Alcest, I have frequently struggled with getting into post-metal itself. Many of the major players in the genre long eluded me, yet I obsessed over bands on each side of the genre. It’s possible it was the more hardcore leaning vocal style employed by some of these bands which can come off more aggro than I want to feel when listening to this genre. Outwardly aggressive post-metal certainly has its place and merit, but I have a lot of time for bands that can be raw and heavy from an inward direction. This is something Mountaineer have really nailed on their new album Bloodletting.

Mountaineer’s previous effort Passages (2018) was well received, however since then the band underwent some significant lineup changes. With the addition of two new guitarists the band is now not only prepped to play live (whenever that becomes feasible) but added new song-writing voices into the fold. Where the previous material was written entirely by guitarist Clayton and their vocalist Miguel, these new faces have created a new dynamic for the band that to me has added well, more dynamics. While Passages involved a similar mix of shoegaze and post-metal/doom, it was often one or the other. Here that seam is less identifiable and the result is a more fluid and creative product that breaks the mold of what post-metal and doomgaze can accomplish.

The vocal performance plays a big role on Bloodletting. From the first track we’re instantly hit with harmonizing ahhs in acapella which the guitars join. Across “Blood of the Book” we’re treated with much of what we’re to hear from him across the album in both ferocity and sorrow. Miguel’s main singing timbre and range isn’t too unlike the majority of shoegaze vocals, powerful in its melancholy but relatively restrained in range and fluctuation. What makes him stand out is the ability to nail this variety of styles that all work so well with their music. It allows him to switch from sullen and plaintive to visceral, both conjuring up your feelings and releasing them. Towards the tail end of the album “Ghost Story” provides an extremely cathartic experience in its raw acceptance of pain that echoes that general theme of Bloodletting: letting go.

From some tantalizing drum work on the end of “Shot Through With Sunlight” to the delightful little psych/prog rock guitar lick on the title track, each member is allowed to shine. “South To Infinity” brings some of the heaviest riffage on the album, with some heavy grooves that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Pelican album. These twists and turns create a cinematic journey that’s well worth the travel. Bloodletting should appeal to fans across the board of post, doom and shoegaze with an emotive edge. 

Trent Bos

 

O’Brother – You and I (generally post-aligned)

The fourth full-length from these now well-established veterans of post-adjacent heavy alt-rock finds itself emerging at a crowded junction of transitional movements and social unrest, which I think even the band would admit isn’t the most ideal scenario imaginable. You and I is their first self-released record after joining forces for their last three outings with indie-rock champion label Triple Crown. I’m not sure what the story is there, as Triple Crown presents as a label you’d imagine most bands would want to stay with once they’ve been signed, judging by the strength of their roster and the visibility of their brand. However, it seems this is actually old news, despite there not being any public address about it that I can find. O’Brother’s last direct reference to Triple Crown on social media comes from back on March 25th, 2016, the release date of Endless Light. Triple Crown mentions them in a post from October of last year regarding a show on their The Death of the Day tour, but that gig also featured new label signee Holy Fawn, so it could have more to do with their presence on the bill than O’Bro’s. I’m not suggesting there’s anything negative afoot; sometimes bands just reach a point where they want to strike out on their own with 100% ownership of their materials, which is a totally understandable position, especially when you’ve built the cache O’Brother has over the past decade-plus. 

Either way, You and I was clearly planned for a 100% in-house rollout, which compounds the difficulty of promotion when you consider that it was released once COVID19 was in full-swing and taking up most of our attention. Just as we were starting to really process COVID, George Floyd was murdered by police on camera, jump starting an entire separate layer of social unrest. All of this puts the band and their new record in what is essentially an impossible situation. There’s no way to overstate the importance of what is happening in the world and in America right now, and no one can claim that music carries the same weight in our daily lives as it did several months ago. The band even changed the first single from the more rocking “Halogen Eye” to the subdued “Killing Spree” because the social climate undeniably favored a softer touch in that moment, so there’s no question that the overall approach to PR was firmly challenged by everything that was happening in the world. 

The May 1st release date was doubly tough: in one regard, it’s hard for people to take new releases into as much account as they normally would, but on the other hand there is the reality that anyone who is listening to new music right now is doing so through the considerable fog of the pandemic and social unrest that seems to become more and more enveloping as each day passes. So you have the dual problem of potentially losing out on some of the attention your record would normally get, and the attention you do garner is coming from a place colored by the darkness of our times. So, again, not ideal, but also impossible to place blame for. It ultimately just is what it is, but I’m very interested to look back in a few years time and compare the initial reception against the eventual position that You and I inhabits within their catalog.

Enough preamble, what of the record itself? Coming more than four years after the release of Endless Light, there was obviously a great deal of anticipation for what would emerge from a band with a strong reputation for always evolving from album to album. They are a band that I love and respect greatly, but as with any artist that is always pushing their boundaries and exploring new avenues, the resulting work isn’t without its challenging moments. Admittedly, there are some elements of their output that I haven’t connected with, but those are more than made up for by the ones that land perfectly, and of course you have to value their creative energy and refusal to settle. At the time of this writing I would place You and I somewhere around the middle in terms of where I’d rank their albums. Garden Window and The Death Of The Day are both masterpieces, and the former is one of my five or ten favorite records of the 2010’s. Endless Light was sort of like their “pop” record; with tighter song structures and more traditional hook-centric writing, it presents as an album written with a goal of courting a broader audience. Which is not to say I don’t care for that album. It largely rips, though it lacks some of the fertile artistic scope and the seemingly effortless parade of inspired ideas that make their earlier works so essential. The one album I really struggle with is Disillusion, which, to me, suffers from an overload of atmospherics and a shortage of hooks to grab hold of you. For now, You and I hovers somewhere around Endless Light – well-wrought and certainly enjoyable, but not in possession of the immediacy and flourish that make Garden Window and The Death of The Day so memorable and easy to return to again and again. 

The album puts a strong foot forward in its first quarter; the title track intro features the dreamy, haunting melodies that have become a staple of O’Brother’s music, delicate and emotional in a way that effectively sets the stage for a heightened impact once their heavier inclinations take hold. It’s obvious why “Halogen Eye” was the original lead single, and why it was used to preview You and I during the band’s Fall tour. It’s classic O’Brother, and one would imagine a shoe-in for regular rotation at live performances. As good as the proper opener “Soma” is, it does somewhat foreshadow issues that manifest later in the album, namely how the band seems to be overreaching in regard to the importance of restraint. What “Soma” needs is one final crash of guitars, one last impassioned chorus reprise, to really cement its impact. Instead, what could have potentially become an incredibly memorable statement at the front of the album gives way to a subdued denouement in which the track fades off with a whisper as opposed to a roar. That example highlights the predominant theme that causes the album to fall down a bit during its middle third. So often the band pushes themselves to the brink of greatness, but chooses to pull back instead of indulge in what they clearly still have the ability to achieve. 

In an interview with Metal Injection in October of last year, the brothers Dang discussed how the use of empty space and the manipulation and mastery of restraint strengthens the power of the heavier sections. Johnny Dang even jokes that there were songs on the album where he didn’t even pick up an instrument. I get what they’re going for, and I would say that O’Brother is one of the bands that has made the best use of soft-loud dynamics over the past decade, but I can’t help but feel like they went a bit too far in that direction. “Slipping” does well enough building its atmosphere and creating a sense of impending dread, but then there’s no payoff. It’s a song that should build and build until finally unleashing one of those trademark stinkface alt-doom riffs that O’Brother has absolutely thrived on in the past. In subverting that expectation, the band leaves the track feeling somewhat unfinished, and one has to wonder if maybe it should have been all hands on deck as opposed to giving certain players a breather and instead focusing so heavily on exploring the spaces between the notes. As the Dangs themselves say, the calm ultimately serves the storm, except here, and on a few other songs throughout the album, the storm never comes. 

Pacing and ordering is also a bit weird at times. The song that immediately follows “Slipping,” “Locus,” does in fact feature that huge impact-moment after a lengthy atmospheric passage, but by the time you get there you’ve essentially spent one and two-thirds songs continually anticipating something and wondering if it’s ever going to come. Had these tracks been split up – for instance, had “Halogen Eye” been placed between them, I believe the overall pacing of the record would have been greatly improved. Instead, you have these stretches here and there where You and I sags a bit, forcing the listener to really dig in so as not to lose focus. I can appreciate the band’s desire to explore softer textures and more delicate songwriting, especially after having been at it as long as they have. The undeniable reality is that it’s not as exciting to bang your head nonstop when you’re in your mid-thirties as it is when you’re twenty. But because of the sequencing of songs “Halogen Eye” sits in the third slot, then there is an extended period of the more subdued approach, and by the time they finally switch gears back to the next banger, “Black Tide,” you’re already on to 8th track. Now that I’ve listened through a few times I can appreciate each song individually more so than I did initially, but I hold that the middle of the album does a disservice to the whole, and I may have been grabbed more immediately by You and I had those tracks been spread out further.

Thankfully the back half of the record is very solid. The three songs following “Black Tide” probably best represent what it seems like O’Brother was going for one You and I, which is essentially “the O’Brother you’ve always loved, except prettier.” The one thing that detracts slightly is the structural similarities between all three, but ultimately they are engaging and effective, particularly “What We’ve Lost,” which has a more sparse arrangement than what fans are used to, but has an alluring confidence and conviction about it that reminds you why O’Brother is one of the most accomplished alt-rock bands currently working. One side note that may be a bit out of left field, but is something I’d love to see: if the split title track that bookends You and I was combined and further fleshed out in a live setting – especially if that melody was allowed to build from a whisper into something thunderous –  it could be really fantastic. The band is known for re-thinking and re-arranging songs for live performances as time goes on, so it’s not unimaginable. 

At the present moment You and I sits as a mid-tier O’Brother record for me. However, part of the band’s brilliance lies in how their albums always seem to reveal something new with each listen, and assume a different life on stage. Come back to me after I’ve seen them on their next tour cycle, or a couple of years from now, and I’m certain I’ll have a fresh perspective. That fact, for me, makes their average efforts still more valuable than good albums by bands that make a living doing the same thing every time out.

          –David Zeidler

 

Postvorta – Siderael Pt 1 (electronic post-rock/darkwave)

Fresh off of already releasing one of our favourite post-metal releases of the year back in February, Postvorta are back again with a *checks notes* trip-hop/darkwave album? And to no huge surprise, they’ve done it again. The ominous dark they can summon is no less present, but this time in a synth fueled trance-like hypnosis. With nods to Massive Attack, Dead Can Dance and Ulver, this quarantine bred experiment shows the breadth of their songwriting and production talent. Yet I wouldn’t be writing about this for this column if it didn’t retain some of that post- finish. The band set out to capture a snapshot of the strange and sad times we’ve lived through following the covid-19 outbreak. With no ability to record in studio, it was all recorded at home individually. They questioned whether to keep Postvorta’s name attached to this, but I’m glad they did. It’s a powerful expression of this time of our lives that resonates with the same emotions post-rock often strives for.

The album kicks off with what could be viewed as a 7 minute intro track, in the sense that it sets the stage for what to come. Don’t let that term intro persuade you from skipping it though, it’s a brilliant track on its own. The synth melodies bounce and arpeggiate dramatically along as we’re introduced to Andrea’s stunningly ethereal vocal melodies. There’s a definite jazziness to the very layered instrumentation that takes on a wide pallet of synth tones and neo-classical strings. Yet, It’s ultimately structured in this ambient, slowly progressing post-rock type build up. This specific formula turns out to not be the specific norm for most of the album, but it’s a really refreshing and enticing start to an album that I had no idea what to expect from.

It’s on “Viper” where the dominant sound of Siderael Pt. One really kicks off though, including the first call backs to the heaviness of their previous material. That’s not to say on a sludgy post-metal level of heaviness, but there’s a density to the mix of synths and distorted guitars and vocals that envelops you. Carried along by trip-hop or downtempo style drumming and the synthesized and eerie echoed vocals, you find yourself being hypnotized as the passage and concept of time seems to wither away. It feels like being alone in a dimly lit room filling with thick fog as strobe lights ricochet around, yet you can’t help but to close your eyes and get lost in the moment.

Ambient and ethereal wave sections evoke the more insular moments of our isolation, but it really excels when their post-rock roots take hold to fuse with this electronic based approach. On “Lunar” this is very evident with the frequently guitar lead verses and bridges that match the brooding despair of Andrea’s vocals. Her enchanting vocal style is something I’m always looking for more of in post- music. The floaty etherealness is such a perfect fit with the cinematically swooshing and swaying of melodies. I’m thankful Postvorta dedicated their isolation to capturing this time of our lives with such nuance and yes, I’m definitely hoping for a Pt. Two. Stream or purchase Siderael Pt. One on bandcamp today, with all proceeds being donated to the red cross.

Trent Bos

 

still motions – Mirrors (post-rock) [DAVID]

Apologies right off the bat to still motions guitarist Thomas Brenneman and the guys at Post. Recordings. I’ve been getting sneak peeks at this album for what seems like a couple of years now, witnessed its birth and growth, and patiently awaited its release because I’ve been well aware of how strong it is. I had every intention of giving it the deluxe treatment for this month’s PRP. But alas…. I have just now finished writing 1850 words on O’Brother, which is about twice as many as I had planned (admittedly on-brand for me), so I’ll need to scale back the scope of my dive into the band’s debut album Mirrors. That being said, it’s well worth a full exploration, and fans of post-rock that utilizes some pace and volume to add muscle to the usual lush-soundscape approach would be well served to come along for the ride. 

We primarily cover a few different realms of post-genres here in our monthly column. Eden and Nick in particular have an ear for groove-heavy, upbeat, and electronic-leaning post-rock. Trent dabbles more than the rest of us in math rock-influenced material, and has been known to cover a smattering of darker, moodier albums that display a healthy dose of Godspeed You! Black Emperor influence. Of course, we also feature more traditional, contemporary post-rock, what is often (and sometimes mockingly) referred to as crescendocore by fans, or labelled as “cinematic” by PR types (a group to whom I also belong, so I’m not immune to criticism). The caveat with this last iteration of the form is that we try to make it a point to really only feature the cream of the crop. There is so much to dig through that it’s easy to find yourself at the point of exhaustion, and for listeners and readers I imagine there is an inherent, or at least growing skepticism that comes along with seeing yet another contemporary traditional post-rock band being marched out. Trust me, there are only so many times you can write or read words and phrases like “expansive,” or “carefully measured build and release,” or “emotional climactic outpouring” before those descriptors begin to the ring hollow. So I’m going to try to avoid using them here, while at the same time encouraging you to check out Mirrors.

still motions clearly understand exactly what they’re doing. Records like this don’t emerge from songwriters that aren’t well-familiar with post-rock. Whether that is a benefit or a burden is up to the individual artist. Many focus their energies too much in one place, become overly obsessed with the formula, or simply don’t have a knack for writing a killer hook, and the compositions fall flat. But some have a natural sense for the balance needed, they understand the structure enough to play it up in certain moments and subvert it in others, they’re able to intellectualize the genre’s tendencies and as a result can best articulate it. Sometimes it’s just as simple as “these guys have good chemistry,” or “they do the thing you expect them to do, except they do it better.” There is no fancy terminology I can bring to the table in an attempt to convince readers that still motions are delivering something we aren’t already familiar with. But here’s the thing: the writing is strong, the production is stronger, the conviction is there, the love is palpable, and the result is engaging. If you like post-rock, this is an album you should like. It’s possible that a couple years of PR under my belt has made me more reluctant to bring out the big guns every time out, maybe I feel the need to reserve my best descriptors for the seven different album texts I need to write over the next few weeks. Whatever it is, I’m inclined to keep it simple here. still motions’ Mirrors is a very good post-rock record, well-worth spending some time with if you’re a fan of the genre. It’s also a pretty fantastic debut, and a promising sign for the future of a band who has come out the gate strong, aligned themselves with the right folks, and appear to be plenty invested in doing this genre justice.

David Zeidler

 

OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:

Amouth – Amouth (post-metal, stoner doom)

Antethic – Mythographer (electronic post-rock, IDM)

Felperc – Reflect (cinematic post-rock) Flies Are Spies From Hell – Final Quiet (post-rock/piano rock/cinematic)

Kojika – hugs (japanese math rock, post rock)

Lights & Motion – The Great Wide Open (ambient/cinematic post-rock)

Mouse On the Keys – Arche (nu-jazz, post-math)

Of The Vine – Left Alone (post-rock/slowcore/doomgaze)

Overrider – cyc|er (electronic post-rock)

Rhubiqs – Migratory (post-rock/cinematic/ambient)

This Will Destroy You – Variations and Rarities 2004-2019, Vol. 1 (post-rock/ambient)

Comments

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.