No long rant from me this month. For one thing, the things I’ve been saying these past few months are really just as relevant then as they are now – including an entire intro from May’s column on the BLM protests that never actually saw the light of day due to a miscommunication between myself and Eden that I will include a portion of below – so if you haven’t read what I’ve had to say about COVID, depression during the pandemic, our culpability and accountability for having to make terrible decisions now, and more, go have a read.
Things continue to be an utter mess here, and there will be no hope for any sort of change at all until Trump is taken out of office and elected Republicans in Congress are placed in a complete minority. Doing those things is the very first step to actually improving basic things like the pandemic and economic catastrophe from it, not the final or middle step. If that happens I’ll have plenty more to say about next steps, though probably not in this specific column for reasons that will be made apparent soon.
Onto actual post-rock matters! In case you missed it, we published a really cool feature and premiere of one of our very favorite young bands Circus Trees last week. I simply had a blast getting to see and talk with the entire Five by Two Records family, and the band in particular just give me life in a way that is difficult to describe in total. My hope at least is that the article sheds light on why they have become so beloved so quickly within the greater post- community. Their album is out officially the day after this posts, so be sure to grab it and support them!
Another great thing from this past month was the release of yet another incredible and incredibly free Bandcamp comp from our buddies at A Thousand Arms. This is the fifth volume of their Open Language series, which splits sides by American and non-American bands. Listing all of the amazing groups included who we’ve talked about here would be almost redundant, so suffice it to say, if we’ve talked them up in the past year, they are very likely on this comp!
And here is that portion of my piece from May referenced earlier. Feel free to scroll past if all you want is the music, but it is directly relevant to post- and the music we consume.
See you on the other side.
. . .
I think it’s easy to take for granted how powerful a tool of resistance and solidarity post-rock can be simply because it is frequently entirely instrumental. But any of us who know much of anything about the music should also know how false a sentiment that is.
Obviously the grandaddies of this are in Godspeed You! Black Emperor and their use of spoken word and haunting instrumentals to produce a dystopian hellscape ravaged by corrupt government and greedy capitalists. And many bands have sought to continue that legacy of leftist and anti-fascist critiques of the state, some with use of spoken word and some entirely through instrumentals. A couple of recent examples that come to mind are Staghorn and Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters.
Staghorn in particular has always been good on the activism front, and right now is no different, with them offering special tees whose money will go directly to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and Black Lives Matter.
I would like to point out two things though where I feel the genre could stand to reflect some more and improve. First off, post- is undeniably still a very white-centric field of music. We have seen some developments in the way of POC-inclusive bands here in the US in recent years like SOM and Wander, but it still falls way short of where it should be to exist as a truly inclusive space and scene. We (and this goes for myself as well) need to do a better job in seeking out those bands offering different perspectives and life experiences and who are not just coming from the same safe, white suburban or urban spaces.
Second, as much as there is a natural inclination in times like these to gravitate towards using music to express the bleak and worst aspects of ourselves and our reality, we cannot forget how critical it is to also provide the opposite: hope. We should not only produce music with critiquing the police and military state in mind, but also by offering a vision of what alternative models could look like, ones where we take care of each other without constant fear or where only some people live to their fullest while others are forced to fall. We must expand ourselves beyond our current realities and dream not of what could go wrong, but what could go right. yndi halda‘s Under Summer isn’t a political piece by any means, but it at least embodies that spirit of warmth and love without fear.
As always, we can all do better, and we must do better. Do what you can and are able of, but never stop believing that there is more that can be done.
Please stay safe. Please take care of each other. Please fight for justice in the fullest sense and equality in totality. We must do more.
. . .
Post-Topper: sleepmakeswaves – these are not your dreams (upbeat post-rock, electronic, prog, shoegaze)
Here I am, writing about sleepmakeswaves yet again. I’ve honestly lost count of how many times this makes it. It’s not just the album reviews, which I’ve been handling for a while now. It’s also the numerous entries in lists like these, posts made outside of the blog, and rants directed at whoever would listen to me explaining why this band is my favorite post-rock band of all time. And it is. It really is. The competition is certainly rough, don’t get me wrong. There has been so much amazing post-rock released these last few years. So much amazing music and tracks and concepts. But only a few of them have felt crucial to my future, to the way in which I perceive the world, to how I feel about what it means to live during these times we find ourselves in. And sleepmakeswaves are responsible for two albums out of that shortlist.
Yes, this is another one of those entries where I don’t really talk about the music all that much. At this point, I’m sure that if you’re reading this column, you know who these guys are. Their name has been one of the most cited in post-rock circles these past few years. What I want to talk about it instead is how much growth these guys have shown. Don’t get me wrong; Love of Cartography remains one of my all time favorite albums. Probably because of its subtlety and emotional impact, because of the variety between tracks like “Great Northern” and “How We Built the Ocean”. But these are not your dreams is on a whole different level. This album is sleepmakeswaves as their most varied, and most subtle. At their most emotionally captivating.
Love of Cartography, for me, captures the complex feeling of an urban environment, its magic and ugliness and beauty and sadness. But these are not your dreams, with its vocals, and blast-beats, and upbeat tracks, and ambience, captures the complex feeling of being alive while the world is dying. The complex feeling of wanting the future so much that your heart bursts with hope but also fearing it and all the pain that it surely brings you and your loved ones. By melding even more genres onto the basic frame of their sound, the band have been able to channel a host of even more crushingly poignant ideas and feelings. Is this album better than Love of Cartography? I don’t understand the question. Is light better than a breeze? Is a mountain better than a valley? Is laughing better than crying?
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
A.A. Williams – Forever Blue (cinematic post-rock, chamber folk, dream pop)
When it comes to gloomy female songstresses in the greater post-/folk pantheon, the names that generally come immediately to mind are Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle. With her first full-length album Forever Blue, though, London’s A.A. Williams makes a more than convincing case for her name to be included up there. Forever Blue is an absolute stunner through and through, conveying a chilling tenderness wrapped around an agonizing pain that reveals itself in electrifying bursts of power.
Opener “All I Asked For (Was To End It All)” is a tour de force of all of this, creating a melancholic and emotion-drenched soundscape that consistently builds towards something greater, rivalling the likes of similarly-minded sad post- compositions from Mono – who, not coincidentally, Williams collaborated with for a two-song EP late last year. With “Dirt” she shows a deftness at taking a far dreamier and wistful tone, transforming a simply descending chord progression into a tearjerking trip. Then, of course, there’s “Fearless,” which starts with a stripped-down menacing theme calling to mind the likes of O’Brother and explodes into an incredible bout of post-metal power akin to Cult of Luna. “Love and Pain” likewise turns on a dime to transform into a dynamo of string and distortion-fueled passion.
From the most delicate lines like “I wasn’t meant to see the sun” off of “Glimmer” to the most soaring sections of energy, Forever Blue succeeds in capturing the full spectrum and potential that modern post- has to offer. In the end it’s all about the deep feelings you can take away from the music and the winding journeys the artist takes along the way to convey them. Never content to simply do one thing, Williams is crafting a model for herself that resists pigeonholing and is sure to only continue to expand as time goes on. Forever Blue is a wonderful announcement to the world that she is here to stay and demands your attention.
Fall Of Messiah – Senicarne (post-rock, screamo)
Oh screamo fused post-rock, you continue to be my go to catharsis during these Trying Times™. In a year that’s already given us brilliant new releases in this vein from envy, Infant Island, Viva Belgrado, and recently Bagdadski Vor, the world’s pain continues to be channelled into this passionately moody genre, now taking the form of Fall Of Messiah’s Senicarne. I wasn’t too familiar with this band before, but I was immediately interested when I saw it was being released via one of my favourite active labels, Holy Roar. Home to the likes of Rolo Tomassi, Svalbard, and We Lost The Sea (among many others), Holy Roar are no strangers to bands that blend nuanced atmospheric introspection with passionate energy, and Fall of Messiah are no exception to that.
The French five-piece are often labelled as a screamo band more than anything due to their earlier work dating back to 2008, but with their previous release and even further realized this year on Senicarne, they have embraced a song-writing style of post-rock. The vocals are that somewhat typical screamo/skramz style, a desperate middle-ground of raspy black metal and shouted hardcore that works so well at conveying human emotion. However, they are carefully reserved on this album, with the strong majority of the 37 minute run-time being instrumental. As the tracks grow they stretch that elastic back and just as it’s snapping the vocals will hit, in what feels like pure release of everything weighing inside you. It’s the sort of thing I sometimes do in the car listening to instrumental post-rock and having a time.
Instrumentally this album covers a lot of ground, from the immediately Rolo Tomassi sounding dissonant riffs and chugs of the intro to the second track “Contreforts”, which itself builds into some really interesting multi-layered distorted post-rock melodies which make up the body of the album. “Sequoia” kicks off with aggressive post-black metal fervor, with blast beats really shining their face before the track slows down for some deeply contemplative downtempo post-rock guitar work. A layered guitar track builds over this, exponentially teasing that the track being is about to burst open again at any minute in a way that wonderfully captures a feeling of tension.
They work in a lot of tasteful rhythmic aspects, like the very prog-post-metal groove in the fantastic album closer “The Loneliest Whale In The World.” This track in general is just a monolith of heavy instrumental rock until the vocals burst in in the last minute in triumphant closure. Easily one of the best album closers I’ve heard in some time, in what is one of the best albums of the summer.
A Sudden Burst Of Color – Forever/Captivator (ambient rock, space rock, chill post-rock)
I’ll preface this by explaining my current surroundings, since there’s a distinct possibility it’s influencing my overall reading of this new EP from the UK quartet. I’m writing this sitting on the patio of a vacation home in Cape Cod, basking in a warm ocean breeze and enjoying some time away from the COVID grind (which, I’ll admit, isn’t much of a grind for me to begin with since I live in Vermont). If that sounds too cliche to be true, I assure you, I’m almost as skeptical as you are, but here I am. So, context certainly matters here, because Forever/Captivator is absolutely built for this exact moment.
That being said, isn’t most post-rock largely context-driven? The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place holds infinitely more power set against a colorful Fall backdrop; All Is Wild, All Is Silent is paramount to kicking off that first beautiful day of Spring; Tunnel Blanket seems to become even more enveloping during the dead of winter. And so it is with Forever/Captivator, and album that builds the legend of carefree summer moments. I can’t conjure a more perfect soundtrack for the free-flowing, easy-living nature of a New England summer that rewards us for trudging through the winter/early spring doldrums once again.
My only critique of this release is that it’s over far too soon – with only two new tracks accompanied by two remixes, it’s not enough to carry me on a breathtaking afternoon breeze into the quietly inviting embrace of evening. But what it offers is well-worth diving into, even at an abbreviated length. The remix tracks are actually very solid, but it’s the first half of the EP that contains the real meat of the experience. A Sudden Burst of Color has managed to establish a pretty solid name for themselves over a 7+ year career on what really amounts to a handful of singles and short EP’s. But you can see why they’ve been able to stick the moment you press play. They have an uncanny ability to balance two of the skills that most successful post-rock bands are built on – a strong grasp of guitar melodies and an impactful rhythm section that always keeps things moving. Their music is punchy without ever being aggressive; it’s an endlessly listenable blend of prettiness and pace.
It’s hard to explain, but listen to the last two minutes of “Forever” — you’ve heard bands try to pull off that type of guitar melody at a more languorous plod and it almost always falls flat. But the drums and bass really move things along here, and it makes all the difference, allowing the guitars to do their job without bearing the burden of carrying the entire composition. What you end up with is that kind of enjoyably upbeat, danceable post-rock reminiscent of bands like Vasudeva and Totorro. Can you imagine something more perfectly paired with a summer breeze blowing off of the ocean? If you can, please email me, I’ll be on vacation for another week. Thanks.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
And So I Watch You From Afar – Successors (post-math)
Did you enjoy Heirs? If so, you’ll enjoy this. There’s no iteration of ASIWYFA that I dislike, but I would say the All Hail Bright Futures/Heirs stretch is not my favorite version of the band. I’m much more of a S/T/Gangs/The Endless Shimmering-type guy, but the band’s mid-career period is still better than 85% of everything else coming out. This is certainly a “holdover” release, but you could do way worse. It may be a for-fans-only type offering, not certain to draw in any new listeners, but it’s solid work that’s characteristically energetic and endlessly listenable.
Animatist – Inverted (jazz fusion/post-math)
Oh look, it’s Nick again with some weird combination of post-math rock, jazz, prog, and whatever else. You actually have Trent to thank for putting this one on my radar, but nevertheless, yes, obviously I love this. Toronto’s Animatist dazzle with equal measures of deft instrumentality and quirky weirdness on Inverted, with more than enough proggy goodness to get your mind racing.
Arms of Tripoli – One Way Plastic (post-math)
Once again, I can only tell you to listen to this band so many times. Do you like your post-rock infused with playful mathiness, tongue-in-cheek song names, ridiculously addictive licks and melodies, and more? Then LA band Arms of Tripoli’s third full-length One Way Plastic is a fantastic place to start before diving into the rest of the band’s spotless catalog.
Bagdadski Vor – Колхида (post rock, screamogaze, math rock)
Mentioned in my write up for Fall Of Messiah, Bagdadski Vor are another band (this time from Russia) bringing the fury of post-hardcore and screamo to post-rock, and more surprisingly, math-rock. The instrumentation shifts between a dramatically explosive guitar driven post-rock sound and what is closest to a mid-west emo/math rock hybrid. This is even complete with entertainingly fitting gang vocals sung in Russian along to some dazzling math-rock chords. It all comes together for a great up-beat engaging experience and a surprising favourite this month.
CHNNLR – Chrysalis (post-metal, shoegaze, holy fawncore)
Chrysalis breaks into some lesser-explored territory, mixing shoegazey dream pop with post-metal and blackgaze. I would say there is room to grow with both the clean and harsh vocals on this being their debut, but they work really well the final two tracks, with a lot of Astronoid to it. The approach isn’t too unlike at times to what Holy Fawn have also really nailed lately, and I’m excited to see what CHNLLR can do with this sound moving forward.
El Ten Eleven – Tautology II (post-punk, groove post-)
El Ten Eleven are gearing up for three releases this year and this second one is some of their best material yet. Refining their “only one guitar and drums” approach, Tautology II is a lot more post-punk adjacent and, as a result, feels more essential, direct and powerful.
Moonlogue – Sail Under Nadir (post-math, electro-psych)
Honestly, we’re way overdue for some sort of deep dive into the music scene of Turin, Italy. This is yet another excellent band from that overlooked but crucial city to global music. This time around, we have Moonlogue who weave math and post-rock together with a Pink Floyd kind of psychedelic music that belies their geographical location and its fascination with the theatrical and the odd.
Sleep Dealer – Destruction (post-metal)
Russia’s Sleep Dealer caught my eye with their previous 2018 LP Memories for its sinisterly dark take on instrumental post-metal. Their new 3-song EP Destruction very much follows in the same vein except with perhaps an even more dramatic and heavier touch that would feel right in place with Russian Circles’ discography.
Under Old Trees – Kelo (upbeat post-rock)
This is probably the album which goes the hardest on this list. The drums are super forward in the mix, the composition is all fangs and no fluff, and the grooves are just unstoppable. Energetic post-rock doesn’t even begin to describe it; this is post-rock that’s mean, lean, and is piloting a fighting machine.
Ephilexia – Pink Elephant (feel-good post-rock, twinkly math rock)
The Gateless Gate – The Voiceless Voice (post-rock)
Noswal – Pangaea (prog post-metal)
Waxamilion – Hidden Realms (nu-prog, math rock, jazz fusion)