We have failed as a country. Fundamentally and totally. Somehow this fact was easy enough to ignore when the tragedy was confined mostly to a select few hotspots in major coastal metropolitan areas. Images of bodies being loaded into freezer trucks because the morgues were over capacity in NYC back in April did not do enough to shake the majority of national and state leaders to their core. It was still too distant and abstract for most to comprehend. It’s a problem for them, not us. We’re different. We don’t need to shut down. We don’t need to require people to wear masks. We need to ensure that businesses can stay open. We need to prioritize maintaining a sense of “normalcy.” These so-called “experts” are overreacting.
Here are the statistics as of Thursday, July 16.
This is not the picture of a country that has things under control. This is the picture of a country that wasted three months instating a wholly inadequate network of inconsistent lockdown measures while still not doing enough to increase availability of testing and doing absolutely nothing to enact widespread contact tracing. So now instead of being able to say that we made the hard decisions to contain the virus through the spring months so by summer when people want to do otherwise reasonable things like spend time outside at beaches, pools, and more, and by late summer into fall when we would be sending our children and teachers back to schools, we have this. We are in worse shape than ever.
Predictably the calls to reopen schools have been coming fast and furious. And for most people, I cannot blame them. You don’t have to search long to find hard evidence that virtual/distance learning in the spring presented a whole suite of hugely significant issues. Most students will enter the new school year at reading and math levels well below their peers one year ago. And that doesn’t necessarily account for the many who could not be reached at all due to lack of access to the technology needed, or the children with learning disorders who require individual education plans (IEPs) with specialized teachers in highly-controlled environments.
And then there’s the parents, for whom the burdens of virtual learning cannot be overstated. Painting parents who are advocating for the return to in-person schooling as simply people who want “free babysitting” is hugely reductive and unfair. Juggling full-time jobs and childcare at once is difficult even if you are of the more fortunate group who is still employed and can work safely from home. Doing so if you cannot work from home is nigh impossible.
But the cruel facts of this virus are simply that, facts. It may be true that COVID-19 transmission among children is lower overall than adults, particularly adults with major pre-existing health issues (though the science on that is still very early and very much not conclusive). And it may be true that the death rate of the virus has fallen greatly since its first spikes in March and April likely in correlation with the average age of individuals infected dropping. Are those good enough reasons though to stick millions of our kids and their teachers in small, confined spaces for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week while the virus is still spreading at a completely uncontrolled pace?
I unequivocally believe they are not. If we take the most optimistic estimates on potential infection and death rates for children in these scenarios, we still arrive at harrowing numbers. A recent study published in Nature posited that children and teens under the age of 20 are about half as likely to contract COVID-19 as their older counterparts. The current infection rate across the US according to the CDC is just a hair over 1%, so let’s cut that in half to .5% for our school-age population. In 2019 there were 56.6 million children enrolled in K-12 schools. So according to math, that would leave approximately 283,000 children potentially infected with coronavirus across the country over the next school year. The current hospitalization rate for COVID across the country is around .1%, which would lead to potentially 56,600 children hospitalized for experiencing severe symptoms from COVID. And of those who have been infected, roughly 5.5% of them have died. This means that, given current rates, we are possibly looking at over 15,500 children dead nationwide. Once again, the numbers and rates on all of these are changing rapidly, as well as our overall knowledge of how the virus works overall, but these numbers are all using up-to-date and conservative estimates/rates where possible.
I dare you to look at those numbers and say that they do not bother you in the least. And then think about the 3.7 million teachers that will be in those schools, and the additional millions of non-teaching staff (custodial, food service, administrative, etc.) who keep schools running and clean. Even if it turns out that fewer kids wind up infected than we thought, what will happen if there is an outbreak at a school that mostly affects teachers and other staff? What will happen when a large percentage are either infected or exposed to infection? Will current benefits cover those teachers’ leave of absences, or will they be pressured to return earlier than they should? Who will cover for these teachers?
These are all questions that have yet to be addressed satisfactorily pretty much nationwide. The only consolation is that some places are already taking that as a sign that it is not safe or wise to open up schools either at all or full-time. NYC was the first major city to announce that they would not be opening schools full-time through the fall, and just this week LA and San Diego announced that they would not be opening at all for the remainder of the calendar year. Of course this has not stopped the threats from Trump and Betsy DeVos, who have repeatedly stated they will withhold federal funding for schools that are not fully open and in-person in the coming months.
But I want to make this point extra clear: literally none of this had to happen this way. We would not be in this position if we had taken the virus seriously from the beginning and enacted a strong nationwide plan that prioritized lives and schools. Instead, we prioritized huge businesses with billions of dollars in slush funds, meat-packing plants that continued to focus on exporting to China, and reopening indoor dining at restaurants and bars as quickly as possible. We are still not taking wearing masks seriously nationwide. We are letting the funding that has actually been helpful these past few months in the way of stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance expire at the end of this month with absolutely no inclination from the Republican-led Senate or White House that they will take up a fourth stimulus bill, let alone a version of the HEROES Act that the House passed all the way back in May.
These are all choices that we have made as individuals, and more importantly, choices we have not made at all but have been forced upon us by our leaders. And because of these choices we are in a position where we are materially no better off than we were several months ago, and in many ways we are faring worse. As soon as expanded UI dries up, combined with the ends of eviction moratoriums in cities and states, we will see a humongous spike in rent strikes, evictions, and homelessness. We will also see more people being forced into working dangerous jobs in-person, which is clearly the goal for many politicians and cynical leaders right now even though it will only increase the spread. We could have used the past three months to truly contain the virus, drastically ramp up testing availability and use so positivity rates would plummet rather than skyrocket, and develop effective contact tracing.
We could have done all of these things and more, but we didn’t. We didn’t take it seriously. We didn’t act fast or strongly enough. And now we’re here, basically having given up and accepting that hundreds of thousands of people will die from this virus. Worse, we have an administration that is now actively trying to suppress data on the spread and effect of the virus from being made public. We’re banned from traveling to almost every country. We’re trapped in this petri dish. What an utter embarrassment. What an absolute waste of human lives. What a goddamn mockery of the social contract we have with our governments. We have no leadership. We only have a death cult and its acolytes.
Are you fucking angry? Good. Hold onto that and never forget it. Once again, get involved. Find campaigns and movements you believe in to bring about the change you want to see. Here’s one I will offer from my own congressional district that has an open seat due to Joe Kennedy running for Senate. There are 9 candidates running, and the only one who has captured my anger, spirit, imagination, and hope is a 35-year old Moroccan immigrant and former Wall Street regulator named Ihssane Leckey. I encourage you to read up on her and donate or even volunteer if her ideas speak to you. Or find your own version of that in your own backyard or state. We cannot let this stand. We must all work towards something better.
. . .
To our non-American readers, I apologize for taking up so much space on this, but once again I felt the need to say something, and this is the platform I’ve got. As a reward, here are some excellent post- releases from the month of June, and in addition – because we have passed the halfway point of 2020 – you will get top 10 lists from myself, Eden, David, and Trent!
Be safe, be well, be angry, be resolute. I love you all.
. . .
Post-Topper: Gazelle(s) – True Meridian (post-math rock, cinematic post-rock)
I am not about to rehash all the lurid and aggravating details of This Patch of Sky’s demise in this blurb. Suffice it to say that in the wake of their downfall, a huge hole was opened in my heart. It took the place of a pulsing, organic place that lived in there and was reserved solely for the kind of massive, sweeping, and beautifully sad/hopeful type of post-rock that TPOS played and which I thought was lost forever to me. But then, oh then, I discovered Gazelle(s) and their wonderful True Meridian. The group, which even includes past TPOS collaborators, make exactly the kind of post-rock that I’ve been craving, namely a majestic, sadness-tinged, string-heavy version of New Wave of American post-rock. That’s a genre, remember?
In any case, it would have been great enough if that’s “all” that Gazelle(s) did but that’s really not the case. Instead, the band insist on taking this sound and blending it with unexpected influences like doom metal and drone. The end result is a sort of down-tuned, decidedly unravelling sound that clashes up against the more solid, energetic, and fully formed part of the band’s sound to create a contrast that’s incredibly alluring. “Death Hilarious”, which we premiered on the blog, is probably the best place to hear this contrast. The first two thirds of the track are like sleepmakeswaves meet TPOS, with its energetic piano and heart-searing strings, soaring into the heights of expression that post-rock is so good for. But the last third is like the sinister flipside of this sound, perhaps channeling the desert to the mythical bird filled with light which graces the cover of the album. The guitars and strings unspool, sending out hazy, dust-cloud, shimmering notes across our ears, channeling vast, degenerating spaces and a certain sinister rot that is hard to shake. Perhaps it is not the desert but rather the “death” part of “Death Hilarious”. In any case, it is pretty damn effective.
Other high points on the album include the ponderous “Clemency for the Heathen”, a track led by its nose by the deep, thrumming bass which underscores the rest of this album. Here, on this track, it is dominant in its sonorous, storytelling voice, steady as the track plunges along to its off-kilter outro on top of it. It also takes the time to stop and create an insanely infectious groove and heavy as all hell riff during its middle, once again returning to those doom metal influences we mentioned above. Here too the strings seems to unspool, to cut their earthly ties and sail into some messed up land that only they can see and occupy. They channel that same weirdness that their role on “Death Hilarious” has and which makes this album intensely interesting not “just” for the beauty of the strings and the tone of the guitars but also for its unique, personal composition and expression. It definitely sounds of the New Wave of American post-rock but it also breaks away from it, striding confidently along its own smoky, theatrical, deep-thinking past. It’s honestly an album I’ve been obsessed with unravelling over the last few months but which keeps pulling a fast one on me and unravelling me instead. As all good music should.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
Break My Fucking Sky – BLIND (cinematic piano post-rock, progressive post-metal)
Break My Fucking Sky are one of those bands whose entire aesthetic just fucking screams “post-rock”. From the name obviously, to the continual space related imagery of their album covers, song titles like “The Letters We’ll Never Send” and “It Was Forever. Until it Ended.”, being from Russia… I somewhat jest, but I appreciate their dedication to that aesthetic. BMFS have been around for almost a decade now, but have stayed relatively in the underground of the post rock scene. Russian bands in general tend to have trouble breaking in over seas, with many not having dedicated PR outside of Russia or even a facebook presence. The new album Blind is their first full-length since 2014’s Eviscerate Soul, with 6 singles spread out over the years since then. Fortunately, this is an album of entirely new material and not just a case of lumping together those spread out singles into a package.
Fans of those previous works will certainly not be disappointed, as they’ve retained that hugely atmospheric sound mixed with piano, synths and prog metal influences. The album at times leans more heavily into one approach than the others. I was a little disappointed that the piano has been put more on the backburner this time around, replaced more with soft synth pad tones similar to Lights & Motion. I’m just a diehard fan of piano-driven post-rock like old 65daysofstatic and Maybeshewill, that for some reason so few bands emulate, so when one of the bands who was doing that decides to stray from it, it’s hard to swallow. Yet, that doesn’t take away from the quality of the music comprising Blind in a vacuum.
There are quite a few bands (and a ton of solo artists) who blend modern atmospheric progressive metal with post-rock, such as Widek, Gru, Cloudkicker, Outrun the Sunlight etc. But for the majority of these, the “metal” side is the dominant genre and the post- side is more of a modifier. With BMFS it refreshingly takes on the opposite approach. This is above anything else, a post-rock album, yet we get these delectable metal riffs and occasional chugs that break up some of the monotony of your guitar driven post-rock stereotypes. “Murphy’s Law” for instance has the tremolo picked guitars suddenly burst into a short guitar solo that augments that soaring sound they’ve got nailed down. “Before We Meet in the Dark” is another great example of this, the post-rock atmosphere builds up into a prolonged tapping riffs that wouldn’t be out of place in a prog metalcore track, but their use of tones makes it fit in perfectly with the cinematic chord progressions. The drumming follows a similar concept, fluctuating between more typical marching build-up patterns to heavier double-kick driven sections when the song calls for it. However, I would have liked the drums to have a bit more punch and loudness behind the dense synths and respectably audible bass guitar.
Blind is a huge sink in your feelings sort of introspective post-rock album that is full of stretched out melancholic moods. This album is admittedly quite long, spanning 100 minutes. Yet it’s still something you can get lost in and have that extended length feel less noticeable. Each synth tone and chord progression feels delicately chosen and placed to bring out as much emotion as possible.
covet – technicolor (math rock)
It’s a really good sign that I feel guilty for not talking enough about excellent bands on the blog. It means two things: one, there is still a stupendous amount of great music being made out there, so much so that I can’t possibly hope to write about it all. And, two, that the blog is doing well and that our staff members are on top of things, shining that piercing light at the music which most deserves. And by god, does covet’s technicolor deserve it! To take a page from the band’s own aesthetic and iconography, watching covet develop over the years (from a band loved by a very specific subset of the Internet metal fan base to a genre-crossing sensation) has been like seeing a wonderful flower unfurl. It’s not one of those flowers that’s ugly when closed, all veins and fit-for-purpose structure, that later down the line becomes a dazzling, undulating thing. Rather it’s a flower that had its own, compact, “small” beauty, something intimate from the get-go, but then spreads its petals to encompass much more of your field of vision, suddenly flowering into a wild and heady bloom.
To drop the metaphor, covet have simply been more and more ambitious with each release. While effloresce was them refining their style and bringing it to perfection, technicolor is them stepping outside the bounds of their earlier sound and experimenting with what they, as a band, can do. Just listen to “atreyu” for example; sure the, the licks and turns that are associated with Covet’s brand of math-rock are all over this track. But listen to those open, louders chords being played, to how much more intricate the drums are, and to the overall vibe of the track and you can hear the growth taking place. While the middle part contains such a passage, the totality of the track is far less fragile and airy than previous sounds for the band. It’s more meaty and punchy, infusing the covet sound with a directness that is almost entirely new for them.
The end result of this new approach to their sound is an album that is much more impactful and emotionally varied than previous releases. Previous covet albums engendered a sort of hopeful melancholy (like much of math-rock does) and a rarified emotional delicateness. In contrast, technicolor makes you want to dance and scream out loud with the joy of life, with the sheer technicolor (get it?) madness of being here, of experiencing anything at all, of being the weird, fucked up, messy thing that being a person is. I mean, just listen to the opening riff on “nero” and tell me it doesn’t make you want to get out of your chair and scream about being alive! That’s it, that’s the end of the blurb, get out there, listen to covet, go hug someone, tell them you love them, drive a car, see nature, live your life!
Hidden Bakery – Morningtops (post-math rock, prog, psych)
Listen, give me some quirky, mathy post- with an unexpected range of influences and 99.9% of the time I’m going to be here for it. This was certainly the case last year with Alarmist‘s Sequesterer, which wound up being my favorite album of the year in total, and with the debut album from Brooklyn’s Hidden Bakery, I think I may have found this year’s version of that album. Morningtops is a wonderfully dense, quirky, and unpredictably fun record that blends elements of traditional instrumental math rock, southwestern-tinged spaghetti sounds, some more blues and psych-oriented grooves, and other tasty bits. There is a clear proggy jazz through-line that most definitely informs the playing and composition style of the group and brings to mind a collision of the likes of Do Make Say Think and classic Tortoise.
But even when you think you have a handle on things as the deep synth-led theme of lead track “You Know What I Realised This Morning” leads into the more laidback and bright licks of “With A Nod And Yawn,” you get the backbeat desert groove of “Souvenirs (Gift Shop at the Border)” that completely throw you for a loop. “Backscatter” similarly leans heavy into country western tropes while still utterly subverting them and avoiding all pastiche. Even tracks like “Pathfinding” that start with an unabashedly positive and breezy tone can quickly be tinted with incredible shades of mystery as complex chord progressions and synth bring in an incredible level of depth. The songs of Morningtops are shape-shifting beasts, never content to stay in one mood or theme for too long but never straying far enough that they can’t return easily to remind you what they once were.
What I’m left with mostly from listening to the album is an overwhelming sense of exploration and fun while doing so. And, frankly, I could always use more of that, especially given how much of the music I listen to otherwise is contemplative, serious, a downer, or a combination thereof. Even something like “Suddenly Snake,” with its outwardly cheesy guitar riff at the beginning somehow transforms and elevates itself into a wonderfully pleasant and killer jam by the end while still remaining cheeky. Simply put, Morningtops is a joy to listen to in every sense and an album I anticipate coming back to frequently throughout the year when I need a reliable pick-me-up.
Hope The Flowers – Sonorous Faith Pt. 1 (post-rock, prog post-metal)
I have to admit that I’ve kind of been losing focus with the more traditional post-rock offerings that we come across via Post Rock Post and otherwise. I think it has something to do with the shifting social tones associated with COVID blues, as well as the way that an unsettling percentage of Americans seem to view very humanist causes such as black lives mattering and the intelligent and mature handling of a pandemic as political issues above all else. Everyday I wake up and check the news on my phone: oh, so Trump is now directing pandemic data to the administration ahead of the CDC? Cool cool cool. Umm… at least a quarter of the country seems to be pretty alright with overtly fascist principles as long as there’s a poorly made $30 MAGA hat attached to them? Awesome. People spitting jaw-dropping amounts of venom over a football team finally changing their name from a racial slur? Sick. And that’s just like one half of one day’s worth of examples. It’s fucking exhausting. To borrow a line from Theoden, King of Rohan (who, appropriately, was for a time reduced to a weary, broken shell of himself by a wildly corrupt, power-hungry asshole who owned his own tower): “What can men do against such reckless hate?” Indeed, it feels like hopeless times.
As such, I have been having some problems getting myself in tune with slower-building, methodical, emotionally dramatic music lately. I have instead been craving lighter, more upbeat and irresistibly rhythmic offerings. Some artists with new releases that have emerged as favorites this year are VASA, sleepmakeswaves, Aiming For Enrike, mouse on the keys, Vasudeva, Barrens, hubris., and wthAura. Although maybe not what you would describe as “upbeat,” the new Whale Fall has been taking me to good places as well. To reach back to last year and beyond, I have been spending a lot of time with Often the Thinker’s albums over the past couple of months as well. I’ve also been really digging on this new Antethic album, which is more of an electronic extravaganza, so maybe I have just been craving something different in general, who knows?
So, point being is that right now it takes something really ear-catching and consistently engaging to keep me grounded in the traditional post-rock realm. Which brings us to this new album from Thailand’s Hope the Flowers, Sonorous Faith Pt. 1. It’s not terribly lengthy (see the Break My Fucking Sky album Trent talked about this month and its beastly 100 minute running time), with six songs and two interludes, but man, it flies by, which at this stage is the real hallmark of a album’s power for me. As a writer for this column/blog, an operator of a PR company largely focused on post-rock, and a copy writer for multiple labels, I get a lot of material coming across my desk. In order to get through everything without going insane, you have to make some less than ideal choices sometimes. If an album hasn’t grabbed me by the end of track 2, there’s a good chance I’ll be moving on some time during track 3. If I sit through an entire album and find that I sort of glazed over and didn’t even realize when new songs were starting, it’s probably the last time I’ll listen to that one. But if I stop whatever else I’m doing and find myself enthralled by what I’m listening to, you know that you’ve got a winner. Sonorous Faith, Pt. 1 is that album, one of the best pure post-rock offerings I’ve heard this year. I don’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to put in my top 10 (I just listened to it for the first time this afternoon), but if I had come across this when it came out a few weeks ago it would certainly be in contention.
I mentioned last month in my review of still motions’ Mirrors that some bands just seem to have a natural feel for the genre. Hope the Flowers are one of those bands. They’ve obviously done their homework. But more so than the still motions album, Sonorous Faith Pt. 1 has left me feeling genuinely inspired. There are enough strong melodies and riffs as well as a nice grasp on pacing to pull you in, particularly once it gets to its inspired finale, but what I love about this album is that it doesn’t frontload all the good stuff like a lot of post rock bands have a tendency to do. I suppose you could say that bands in general do that when they know they have a couple of great songs in their pocket along with some others that are fine, but not necessarily bangers. I appreciate Hope the Flowers’ confidence to hold back some of their best stuff until later on in the album.
The first half could be described as really, really good crescendocore with some well-placed shifts in tempo to keep things interesting. If that was the entire album I would still recommend it. But they wait until the second half to pull out the horns and the mallet percussion (I would call it a xylophone but I’m not sure that’s the exact instrument used). This is when Sonorous Faith Pt. 1 really opens up and shows you everything it’s got. And it’s got a lot. “Shout out for the Sea” is beautiful and delicate and touching, but it’s also got some grit and weight still to balance and really round it out. The final track, “Rewind Nature,” is my favorite of all, a lush, gorgeous, inspiring piece that’s exactly what you want to usher you out of the album. The horns on this track remind me of bands like Do Make Say Think, Whale Fall, and Often the Thinker in the best of ways. It finds a way to be dreamy in a horizon-gazing sort of way while retaining the steady hand needed to keep the listener intently focused. It’s a fantastic eight minutes well-deserving of any post-rock fan’s ear. The description on their Bandcamp page initially calls Hope the Flowers a solo project of Narongrit Ittipolnavakul, but the band is pictured with seven members. On Sonorous Faith Pt. 1 they sound every bit as massive as you’d expect a seven-person band to, with bass, drums, keyboards, violin, trumpet and aforementioned mallet percussion joining with the three-guitar attack. They say that Sonorous Faith Pt. 2 will explore their softer side, which apparently is the direction taken on previous releases, so I wonder if that will showcase Ittipolnakavul’s more solo-focused material, much like what Uddipan Sarmah did over the past year with aswekeepsearching’s Rooh and Sleep albums. Either way, make sure you give this some play, it’s the kind of record that can rouse your soul during even the most trying of times.
– David Zeidler
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
Align In Time – On A Spiral (cinematic post-rock)
Asian Death Crustacean – Baikal (prog post-metal, jazz fusion)
Jardin de la Croix – Letargo (prog post-rock, math rock)
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want to Live? (traditional post-rock/metal)
OHHMS – Close (post-metal, sludge)
PILLARS – Cavum Re-imagined (post-rock, remix)
Plight Radio – When Everything Burns Within (post-rock/post-metal)
TAV – Tav (post-metal, doomgaze)
Wren – Groundswells (post-metal, sludge, noise)
Zealand the North – Brightness of an Endless Light (post-rock)
THE POST- SQUAD’S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2020 SO FAR
- Whale Fall – It Will Become Itself
- Barrens – Penumbra
- Caspian – On Circles
- withAura – Grocery
- VASA – Heroics
- Telepathy – Burn Embrace
- Gazelle(s) – True Meridian
- Hidden Bakery – Morningtops
- Yojo – The Stepson
- The Kraken Quartet + Adobo – Backdrop
- Caspian – On Circles
- Of The Vine – Left Alone
- Envy – The Fallen Crimson
- hubris. – Metempsychosis
- VASA – Heroics
- Aiming For Enrike – Music To Work Out To
- Holy Fawn – The Black Moon
- Antethic – Mythographer
- Sleeping Bear – Vorokhtak
- Glories – The Distant After
- wthAura – Grocery
- Gazelle(s) – True Meridian
- Aesthesys – Alignments
- Telepathy – Burn Embrace
- VASA – Heroics
- Whale Fall – It Will Become Itself
- Covet – Technicolor
- If Anything Happens to the Cat – Kingdom of Roots
- darius – Voir
- All shall be well (and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well) – ZWARTGROEN
- Envy – The Fallen Crimson
- Aesthesys – Alignments
- Viva Belgrado – Bellavista
- Caspian – On Circles
- VASA – Heroics
- Mountaineer – Bloodletting
- Barrens – Penumbra
- Telepathy – Burn Notice
- wthAura – Grocery
- Képzelt Város — Samizdat