Hello, and welcome to PRP on Heavy Blog 3.0! We hope you are enjoying the new look and feel of the website. If you have wandered straight to here and are confused about what is going on and why everything suddenly looks different, please give our new flagship Monthly Missive post a read.
Along with the aesthetic changes to the site, we’re also changing some things about our columns, including this one. For instance, you may notice that this post is for “September” even though our last one from a few weeks ago says it was for “July” because it technically covered music released in that month. We’ve decided to change the naming a bit as all of these columns are being released in what we’re calling our September “issue.” Never fear though! We have not forgotten August, and releases from the previous month are covered here.
In addition, we’re adding a new section to this column called Take Me Somewhere Nice, named after the iconic Mogwai song. This will feature brief spotlights and interviews with artists and people involved in the global post- scenes we like and want to check in on. Sometimes it’ll be with folks who have new releases or events coming up. Most of the time we’re hoping it’s just a nice chat with people we admire and want to know what they’re up to. Our very first one features a Q&A with Timo Helmers, the head of VIVID. a post-rock festival, which took place virtually this past weekend. Hope you enjoy it and our selections for this month. Keep it post-!
Take Me Somewhere Nice: Timo Helmers of VIVID
For the last few years, Europe has had the benefit of multiple post-centric music festivals. Though dunk!festival is the longest-running and most well-known of them, VIVID, taking place annually has earned a reputation as another must-attend destination on the southern tip of Norway. With the global pandemic forcing most other festivals, including dunk!festival to shut down entirely this year, it would have been reasonable to expect that VIVID would go the same way.
Instead, they decided to go a route similar to other recent festivals like ArcTanGent and produce an entirely virtual festival lineup. They went one step further, however, and not only made the bands’ recorded sets more stylistically-produced with additional visual content, but they also had every band record in 360, offering viewers a more immersive VR option. The festival took place this past Friday and Saturday and featured such amazing and blog-approved acts as Kokomo, Glacier, Amenra, and more.
Festival chief Timo Helmers was expectedly as busy as one could be last week, but he graciously carved out a bit of time to answer a few questions I had.
Nick Cusworth: How did you come to the decision to restructure VIVID as an entirely virtual festival as opposed to postponing or cancelling as many other festivals this year have?
Timo Helmers: We weren’t sure what to do and how hard it would impact us as everything started in March. VIVID is quite an international festival
with about 1/3 of the crowd coming from abroad and international bands
so the decision then came really soon as we saw how the virus impacted
us. We got some crowd attending since the laws allowing that in Norway.
But you know, VIVID has always been a concept festival where we combine
visuals with music. An easy calculation is 180 degree music and 180
visuals = 360 all together.
NC: While there are many current examples of festivals and other large events going completely virtual this year, this is the first one I’ve seen attempt to go entirely VR with 360 video. Why 360 over traditional streaming video?
TH: I answered some of that question previously. It came quite natural
that we do that or nothing. But record in 360 and produce 3D visuals is
quite a big amount of costs so we needed to fix that first. Thanks to
some public ‘Corona funding’ we could manage that. And then – this is
completely out of our comfort zone which means that we had no idea to do
it technically. Thanks to good technical qualified persons we could
start the process.
NC: How did bands produce these 360 recordings? Did you set any guidelines on equipment to use and techniques/visuals for staging?
TH: The bands found some nice venues close to their home town to record
them there. We bought one camera ourselves (for testing too) but also
bands bought them where they were since we couldn’t rely on
international post-delivery these times. We then made three pages of how
to use the camera and what not to do so we could all have about the same
experience. One example is the height of the camera.
NC: How have fans taken to these changes?
TH: I think they were as surprised as we were, hehe. No, I think they are
really curious about what’s going to happen.
NC: What has been the response from the bands participating in this year’s festival?
TH: Those bands who are participating are all-in! They are really
curious and excited since many of them haven’t seen the result yet.
Every band want’s to play live but this is the best we can do at the
NC: What are you seeing are the greatest challenges to organizing this festival as opposed to the traditional format of years past? What have you learned through this process?
TH: Idunn and me were sitting down a couple of days ago and she spoke out
what I thought about it: It feels like we’re organizing a festival for
the first time. It’s so different! The greatest challenge is that we’re
doing things we’ve never done before. But I trust my stuff and we’re
going to make it just fine.
NC: Do you see this virtual format – 360 or no – as a sustainable model for festivals and bands moving forward, and do you see it continuing to develop even after the greatest threats from COVID-19 pass?
TH: This can happen. Take as an example that music and newspapers were
for free online a couple of years ago and now it’s quite usual to pay
for it. But the now-situation is that people don’t want to pay for it if
you force them too. It would be nice if people could use that what we’re
doing as an example on how to continue with online concerts. That will
also change the distribution of costs which is the main factor that you
either need a lot of funding or sponsor. One example would be that the
income in ticket sales are around 7-10% of what you normally get in.
This will also go out on selling food, drinks and merchandise.
But to be honest – personally I’m not the biggest fan of online
NC: Do you have any plans to make any of the festival’s sets available to watch in the future?
TH: Yeah, it will be out on youtube and facebook for a while. We haven’t
decided yet for how long it will be available.
Follow the latest from VIVID on their Facebook page, and if you missed the sets from this past weekend keep your eyes out for on-demand streams!
Post-Topper: Circus Trees – Delusions (slowcore, shoegaze)
I keep telling people around me that these are the good days. Yes, in spite of everything that’s happening around us, in spite of the news basically being a horror show, wherever you live, these are the good days. There are many reasons for me saying so: first, things are going to get much worse, much faster. But even more so, I dread the times when the things we’ve come to rely on to stay sane in this life (music, books, good food, the company of friends) are taken away from us. And not “just” for a lockdown but permanently, as the freedom and infrastructure that is needed to create these things disappears under the crushing weight of the future.
But, as these are the good days, it makes damn good sense to enjoy them. And, as listed above, music is one of those ways. For me, it is one of the best ways. Nothing beats a good album for me these days and when that album channels that same feeling of “things are on fire but we’ve still got each other”, that’s even better. This is very much the case with Circus Trees’ latest release. By now, this band requires no introduction to readers of this column. They, and their family, have become good friends of the blog, a fact which makes me insanely proud. But beyond “just” these connections, I would love Delusions to death anyway.
That’s because the music contained on it, in its slowcore tempo like an August day melting in the heat or the sun as it falls off of a building you’ve known for years as it sets, feels intimate and essential. More than their previous releases (excellent pieces of music in their own right) Delusions feels more present and arresting. “Wicked”, the second track, is a good example of this. The track is sprawling when you get down to each note; the feedback is plentiful and the sound echoes across your ears. But when taken in as a unit, when looked at from the macro level, the track is compact and direct. It lasts less than six minutes, focused on delivering the hefty emotional punch of the vocals deep into your heart.
This represents the album in a nutshell. Delusions meets you on your own turf, worming its way into your emotions, your memories, the little keepsakes of your life. It tells you “we are crumbling and we are fading but by god, we are doing it together and we’ll get through it”. In fifteen years, when I reminisce about the good days, I’ll be listing off albums that made it all worth it by existing, that I am proud to have listened to and to have written about. Delusions is one of those.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
Inthebackground – The Dash Between Years (post-math rock)
Inthebackground is an exciting young diversely influenced post-math band who have come blazing onto the scene with their new debut full-length The Dash Between Years. The band are not necessarily newcomers onto the scene, having performed alongside the likes of Kurt Travis, and Strawberry Girls, of which they share a lot with in both style, and talent. The band’s debut EP release, fittingly named Away With Words dropped way back in 2015, and since then the group has undergone some roster changes. But over that time I think it really allowed the band to nail down its identity, and that personality truly shines on this album. Their previous work relied a lot on acoustic guitar and fingerwork style picking. There’s still a bit of that here, but the expansion into mostly electric guitar and a bit of distortion here and there has added a lot more eclecticism and diversity into their writing that pans out well over the course of the album. Keeps things bouncing around a bit more with a lot of youthful energy, comparable to the excellent new Vasudeva album this year.
I have a lot of time for post-rock bands with enthusiasm. So much of the genre just basks in introspective melancholy, and that’s totally fine, but there’s a painful shortage of bands that aren’t afraid to be upbeat and fun with it. That comes across in a multitude of ways on The Dash Between Years. From a thematic point, this is a vividly colorful album which matches the excellent Mars Volta-esque album artwork. Volta themselves are a strong musical influence for the band, never more apparent than on one of the album highlights “DDLM”, with some very Spanish/latin guitar style take at up-beat post-rock meets prog.
“Between Two Suns” is another interesting track that brings in a bit of Americana flare and some interesting pedal work. There’s even some noticeable punk influence in the drumming across the album. You really get the sense these guys are having fun writing these tracks and just experimenting with all the tools they have at their disposal, and the diverse set of song-writing influences they have in their minds.
Jaga Jazzist – Pyramid (jazz fusion, synth rock, post-math rock)
Norway’s mecha-prog-jazz ensemble Jaga Jazzist have never put out anything resembling a dud in their 25+ year career. Each album they have released has acted like a musical puzzle box, requiring multiple listens to pull out the many details and intricacies of the complex mixture of jazz, post-rock, prog rock, electronica, and more that they present in each iteration. Their mass appeal though has come from their ability to effortlessly blend all of these things while never making it sound like a chore. Jaga’s music is often uplifting, catchy, and full of infectious energy.
In that sense, the band’s sixth proper studio album, Pyramid, is a success much like every Jaga album has been. Though standing at a relatively lean (for this band at least) 39 minutes spread across four tracks that act more like movements, there is plenty of dense composition to unpack and just as much great Jaga-esque musicality to enjoy. It’s not quite as frenetic and dense as their previous two albums, the insanely labyrinthine One-Armed Bandit and the electro-fusion urban daydream of Starfire. In many ways it most resembles the more subdued and post-rock-indebted sounds of What We Must, particularly on opener “Tomita.” The track slowly grows and swells over the course of nearly 10 minutes of brass-led melodies before briefly erupting into a staccato of guitar and ebbing back down. Pyramid, at least for most of its front half that also includes the swirling synth melodies of “Spiral Era,” is much more of a slow burning experience than an immediate attention grabber that most of the band’s work has been.
At the same time, the album is the band’s first on American label Brainfeeder, founded by the infamously eclectic producer Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus), and it sounds like it. This development is not a surprise given that Starfire, which Jaga frontman Lars Horntventh composed and produced mostly while living for a time in LA, was very clearly inspired by the work of FlyLo and in many ways sounded like an audition for the label. The music following “Tomita” is far more in-line with the neon synth and electronics madness of Starfire. Closing krautrock-indebted track “Apex,” particularly in its wild climax, has all the feeling of a spiritual successor to Starfire standout “Oban.” “The Shrine,” meanwhile, manages to pull off the cool feat of fusing that electro-rock vibe with an afro-beat undercurrent running throughout it. As Jaga always does, they manage to bring in a variety of sounds and influences and transform them into something that is undeniably them.
However, perhaps the only real downside to Pyramid is that it’s the first Jaga album to not feel like an entity unto itself. Each of their previous five albums have very distinctive sounds to them that the band excel at and then largely move on from with each successive album. Pyramid is the first album of theirs that feels more like a patchwork of previous albums stitched together. It’s not groundbreaking in the way that hearing “Stardust Hotel” and “Oslo Skyline” off of What We Must, the title track and “Toccata” off of One-Armed Bandit, and, honestly, the entirety of Starfire for the first time were. And, you know what? That’s fine. Six albums in, Jaga have every right to take a bit of a breather musically and just write some stuff featuring mostly things they’ve done over the course of their career that they like an awful lot. It doesn’t make Pyramid any less of a sheer joy to listen to. It just happens to make it a bit less essential.
Nug – Alter Ego (post-metal)
Post metal is a perfect example of what happens when a genre gets a bear hug from mainstream music journalism. The genre veritably exploded in the early 2010’s, reaching a fever pitch of coverage and attention around 2014. That’s when, of course, voices within the “hardcore” metal community got tired of constantly hearing about it and rightfully so, as if the sub-genre was the only iteration of metal worth anyone’s time. Cries of “post metal is dead!” were swift to follow, with the entire community (or, at least, the parts of it most vocal AKA journalists) rising up to declare the age of post metal over.
But those who would like to strike post metal from the record of metal’s history need to first contend with one fact: there’s a reason why it was, and remains, to a certain extent, an immensely popular genre. It feels as if at least part of that allure is that post metal seems to take the essential components of metal at large, its pomposity, its grandeur, its emotional depth, and writes them large, painting with them as a broad brush. This creates a musical landscape that is alluring and easy to latch on to, which is not, as elitist might tell you, a bad thing.
You can witness all of those things in motion by listening to Nug’s post metal masterpiece, Alter Ego. Hailing from the Ukraine, Nug take absolutely no prisoners and make zero apologies in their brand of post metal. From the very first explosion of riffs on “Beast / Звір”, Nug are in demolition mode. The odd lethargy of their riffs is an atmospheric slowness that should be familiar to any fans of the post metal genre. It stands in direct contrast to the viciousness of their tone. This viciousness creates large, forward-moving, and aggressive structures to the tracks.
Into these structures are poured vocals, both clean and abrasive, that do a masterful job of laying bare the emotional payload of the music. Like post metal stalwarts Latitudes, Nug use these vocals performances to subtly fill in the blanks of the music, adding weight and color to the crushing music that runs the main engine of the album. The result is a crystal reminder of the power and efficacy of post metal, the sheer potency of its paradoxically restrained and expansive expression. Nug are masters of these contradictions, creating a work that feels withdrawn and melancholy while it is also aggressive and far-reaching.
Spaceships – Pillars (post-gaze, dream metal)
Bear with me here for a second – there was a series of youtube videos going around 5-10 years ago, humorously titled “ruining post-rock with vocals”, where a guy would sarcastically add these over the top radio rock Scott Stapp type vocals over classic post-rock songs like “First Breath After Coma”. It was hilariously bad in all the best ways. Now I realize this isn’t the greatest way to lead into selling an album, but it kind of begs the question of, can that alt-rock/radio rock style of vocals actually work in post-rock? Spaceships are here to tell you that actually, yes, they can.
The obvious problem with those youtube videos is those songs aren’t written to have vocals. Post-rock has shown (still to some people’s chagrin) that this genre can certainly retain its genre “authenticity” and quality written with vocals being a central element. A lot of doomgazey post-metal already flutters around this alt-rock territory at times. What works here is the instrumental side of things isn’t too unlike what we usually hear with softer, more delicate vocals, usually of a shoegaze or emo influenced variety. A few tracks like the powerful “Joy/Pain” remind of the underrated and missed Athletics. Instead here they’re a bit deeper, grittier, and in what listeners could take a number of ways – familiar.
I want to bounce back to that track I mentioned, “Joy/Pain” as it’s probably a good feeler first-listen track for this album if you want to check it out. First off, that title is great and really representative of post-rock as a whole. That constant juxtaposition of those too emotions is so frequently and brilliantly displayed in this genre, and this track is no exception. The guitars are a constant swell of tremolo picked emotion that builds in triumphant joy, while carrying the most emotive vocal work of the album that is ripe with pain. Seven years into their existence I imagine Spaceships have endured their share of joy and pain, and though it took some time I’m glad Pillars seems to be finally reaching the hearts of those who need it.
Other Notable Releases
Dead Sun – A/B (slowcore/doomgaze)
Having released only a handful of songs over the past few years, Chicago’s Dead Sun probably isn’t a known quantity to most, but they really should be. They straddle about a half-dozen different subgenre tags, but ultimately they’re a heavy alt-rock band with a lot of post-leaning layers that bring added intrigue to the table. They should appeal to fans of artists we’ve covered in these posts previously like Lume and Emma Ruth Rundle, but there’s no reason to see why someone who just joyfully re-visited an old Alice in Chains or Hum record wouldn’t be able to then throw A/B on with great returns as well. The album was also recorded in chronological order of when each song was written, on the instruments and gear they were written on, bringing in a fascinating variation of sound, tone, mood, and concept. Despite the patchwork nature the album still feels incredibly cohesive, which is probably its greatest strength.
[Writer’s note: I ran the PR for this album. That being said, I’d been stoked for this one since long before I became involved, and it’s a rad album that deserves your attention]
Carved Into The Sun – Carved Into The Sun (post-rock, post-metal)
The work of multi-instrumentalist Eric Reifinger, Carved Into The Sun’s second release over the past year or so features a strong quartet of post-metal/post-rock crossbreed tracks that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of If These Trees Could Talk, as well as people who love Mouth of the Architect’s more subdued work. It acquits itself well as a one-man project, with an impressively full sound that has the ability to pass as a full-band affair. It doesn’t necessarily establish a fresh template for this style, but it’s worth digging into if you dig that blend of contemplative melodies and towering riffs. The back half of the track “Across A Paper Skyline” is proof enough that this is a name to keep an eye on.
In:tides – Silent Dusk (ambient/cinematic post-rock)
My best advice with the new album from this Glasgow quartet — give it time to bloom. Most of the tracks on Silent Dusk start in a way that demonstrates a pretty well-tread familiarity, but if you give them the space to grow they’ll bring you where you want to go. I know that the fashionable criticism of post-rock is “enjoy this 9-minute build up to this 45 second climax!,” but here at least the build-up is typically only about two or three minutes, with each climax revealing itself to be very engaging, and also comprising a healthy bulk of the running time. It’s pretty traditional post-rock, but it packs a nice punch; think The End Of The Ocean, pg.lost, et al. It’s all about balance and execution. In:tides can definitely execute, if they can improve their balance by maybe 20% then I can see myself falling in love with whatever comes next.
Luminance – self-titled (post-metal/math-rock)
Let’s just address the elephant in the room here, since the band also makes a tongue-in-cheek point to do so as well. This duo from Philadelphia definitely takes a lot of inspiration from old Tool records. That being said, what they’ve released a few days ago is a whole lot more engaging and enjoyable than what Tool gave us last year. So I’ll chalk that up as a win. There’s a lot of similarity in tone, especially with the bass and drums, and I’ll at least give them credit for nailing it down to a science. But beyond that, their self-titled debut features a whole hell of a lot of awesome moments and pummelling heaviness. You may pretty well know what you’re getting yourself into before you even press play, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable a ride.
Juan Pablo Calvo – Vertical (post-rock)
The American Dollar – Lofi Dimensions 2 (ambient, chillout, post-rock)
Winter Isle – Nothing But Whispers and White Horizons (dramatic post-rock)
Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge – Blitz Sessions