I’m gonna level with you all. I am too damn tired emotionally to write a proper intro this month. October was really fantastic when it came to post- releases, and we’ve got a whole lot of good content to get through, so I’m not going to delay it much this time around. Tiny housekeeping note. Given the collaborative and team nature of this column these days, we’ve finally decided to do away with our “post-topper” feature that singles out one album. Instead we will have a format more similar to Editors’ Picks, with one section featuring our own top picks of the month, another section highlighting some other albums we really enjoyed, and then a roundup section listing out the other notable albums that dropped in the past month.
Please give yourselves a break, listen to some good music, hug a loved one, and read on. See you next month.
Take Me Somewhere Nice: Coastlands
For the second month in a row, our featured artist also wound up putting out one of our favorite albums of the past month. We’re not looking to make a habit out of this, but given how much Portland, OR’s Coastlands took a sonic leap with their latest record Death, we really wanted to reach out to them to learn about how all of it came together.
David was fortunate enough to chat with Coastlands guitarist Jason Sissoyev about Death, the trajectory of the band, and more.
Heavy Blog Is Heavy: In some ways, Death represents something of a re-birth. One of those ways is simply the sound of the music. If you played To Be Found and Death back-to-back for someone who’d never heard Coastlands before, it’s not likely they’d assume that both albums came from the same band. Talk a bit about the development of your sound over the past ten years.
Jason Sissoyev: Coastlands has always been a band defined by progress. If we’re not moving forward then we can’t justify our existence, and the progression from 2016’s To be found to Death is the best example of our philosophy. While, yes, we’ve been creating music for a number of years, the “band” itself has only existed for nearly four years. ‘To be found’ was the first record we wrote as a multiple member band and fully tracked live in a studio. Everything prior to that was a solo bedroom project, meant to be used as a way to freely express ideas outside of the band dynamic. While the transition from 2016-2020 may appear to be shocking, within the band we feel closer to our goals than ever before. The plan was never to get to a point and stay stagnant, the goal was to continually stay curious about the level art we’re capable of and push ourselves [to that point].
It’s easy to spot the differences between our first album as a full band and our most recent, however, the story comes when you put all three in order (To be found, The Further Still, Death). It goes from a 90 degree angle to much more of an arc. ‘To be found’ had a profound influence on how we wrote and recorded everything for ‘The Further Still’, and in the same way, both records influenced our approach to creating Death. We knew what we wanted and most importantly had found what we did not want.
Another huge factor in the album sounding the way it does is due to Kurt Ballou (Converge) and Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna) being involved in production. They both understood our vision for the album and brilliantly pushed us sonically. Kurt helped us scheme how we would record the album, from microphone choices, placement and ideal practices to giving honest feedback on what to trim and what to highlight.
HBIH: The second re-birth comes in the form of the band itself. You’ve added Trent McIntyre on drums, and Andy Ramirez on bass . How have the new members impacted the songwriting and the energy that went into Death?
JS: Andy and Trent were the catalyst to our reforming, Trent stepped in two weeks before our first European tour , while Andy joined the band halfway through the writing process for Death.
Both guys offered a fresh perspective, as well as a matched stamina and drive to push themselves creatively and not give up when things inevitably became challenging. We’re lucky to have them both as creative partners and friends. Magic happens when all members are creating at full output, rather than one member holding the weight of the full band.
HBIH: Speaking of new wrinkles, there are vocals on one of the new tracks, “Dead Friends,” which feature Dustin Coffman from Glassing. How did you get hooked up with him, and what are your thoughts about folding a vocalist into the mix? Is this something you’d like to explore more as the band evolves?
JS: We met Dustin and the Glassing boys on our first full US tour in 2017, when we were looking for rad Texas bands for a show and stumbled upon them online. That tour we played two shows together and clicked. Since then, they’ve been our go to for friends to see whenever we’re in Texas, regardless if we play together or not. Dustin, Comacho and Cory are the three best dudes you could ever ask for.
In regard to “Dead Friends”, we had completed multiple demos and felt as if the song was missing a certain element. Trent had sent a demo version of the song where he was yelling into the overheads while he drummed and when we all heard it, we knew that was the right sound for ‘Dead Friends’. We called Dustin up the week the album was due to be sent to mixing and he graciously agreed to write some lyrics and record vocals that week. When we all heard the demo with his vocals, we knew the song was complete. ‘Dead Friends’ is a great example of a song that represents the spirit of the band; we pushed ourselves and remained curious about the song and what it could be. Without that sense of “What-if”, Death would cease to exist.
As far as the future is concerned, who knows? We never rule anything out. Does it serve the song or the album? Then yes, we’ll absolutely include lyrics and vocals, if not then we’ll continue to push ourselves to create something new to us.
HBIH: 2020 has obviously been a rough year for musicians, and I imagine you’ve felt the weight of that as a band that had spent a good deal of time on the road during the preceding few years. How have you been approaching the temporary loss of live performance? Have you thought about any creative alternatives, or taken more time for writing? What’s been your way of dealing with the many bummers attached to COVID?
JS: While not touring and playing live has been a mega bummer, we all recognized early on that we had better just begin adjusting to this new level of “normalcy”. When we first got word of the shutdown, we began writing again. Death was completed in December so by March/April we were already antsy to start writing new ideas and conceptualize whatever it is we do next. The majority of quarantine has been spent planning the release of Death and writing new ideas apart. Death was written primarily long distance due to Trent being in Seattle and the rest of us being in Portland, so we actually spent most of 2019 writing the same way we’re writing in 2020. We definitely can’t wait to get back to playing live though; having to cancel multiple tours this year was very discouraging.
HBIH: You’ve maintained a long-running series of ambient works and more recently remixes of other artists’ songs. What is it about this aspect of the creative process that draws you in, and do you anticipate seeing a bump in future output due to the restrictions on your touring abilities due to COVID?
JS: We love to work on projects that are outside the norm for us, it helps us focus our ideas and remain creatively curious. Our Milieu EPs stemmed from wanting to step outside the box and challenge our writing, typically putting little pressure on ourselves or sticking to a set time frame to complete the writing. It also was an outlet for us to play around with experimental ideas that we wanted to try out, the same goes for remixes we have done, as you know our remixes go from ethereal ambient (Hotel Neon) all the way to industrial electronic like the remix for Pillars. We’re pretty much always creating, pandemic or not.
HBIH: Looking forward, do you have any predictions on what the industry is going to look like for smaller independent artists on the other side of the pandemic? Any writing on the wall you’ve seen both leading up to and during this period that you believe has foreshadowed inevitable changes to how bands approach the process of releasing and touring?
JS: We believe that, above all, this pandemic has helped highlight the importance of artists. When you’re stressed, celebrating, trying to wind down, depressed or happy, you turn to art. From TV to streaming music and video, art fills the void and allows space for you to process. The music industry has been heading towards an inevitable collapse for years and has been flying by the seat of its pants, and the pandemic will hopefully be the nudge we all needed to usher in a new era. We would love to see more artists empowered to do what they truly feel is right and to follow their creative ideas without feeling judged or pressured to create something disingenuous. I hope that when we get to the other side of this we can be a better community of artists and we can support and challenge each other to be better and to continually evolve.
HBIH: You’ve built a number of strong relationships with other artists and played gigs with a lot of bands. Is there anyone flying under the radar right now that absolutely needs to be heard?
JS: We’ve been fortunate enough to have met so many incredible bands and artists in the almost four years we’ve been a full band who tours. The kindness and hospitality of those you meet while on the road is unparalleled. Bands that aren’t necessarily flying under the radar but, we still want everyone to check out are as follows: Sól, Luna Vista, All the Animals in the world, Brother Saturn.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
Bound – Haunts (post-rock/metal, shoegaze, dream pop)
The difference between a band that swims by me without making a wave and one that forces itself into my consciousness is sometimes difficult to near impossible to explain. I was vaguely aware of Washington, DC’s Bound and their debut album No Beyond from 2018. Prior to a month or so ago I probably couldn’t tell you much about the band or that album. It was very much in character with the recent ascendance of shoegaze and post-rock/metal fusing. It possessed some lighter, dream pop elements to it. It was pleasant. It did not stick with me, however. That’s not a knock on the band or the album, per se. Like I said, there’s a certain alchemy to grabbing my attention that I can’t really formulate beyond a few musical elements that people close to me know for sure is my shit.
Maybe this time around it was largely a matter of timing, but when Bound’s sophomore LP Haunts hit my speakers for the first time I was fully ready and willing to love it immediately. Fall was arriving in full force, the election season had warped my mind into a morass of anxiety and black goop, and craved something to transport me and not tell me everything was going to be okay, but at least make the anxiety and discomfort tolerable. True to its name, Haunts is an album of musical specters. It presents a far darker and bleaker world than the one No Beyond established. Synths play a much larger role in the background, a near-constant pulsing or atmospheric wash that hangs over the entire assembly. Bryan Buchanan’s vocals are more confident and attention-grabbing than before, but true to shoegaze form, still wind in and out of the mix like a ghost phasing between worlds.
Haunts is certainly heavier and meatier than the band has gone before, as the opening swells of “The Bellows” makes clear. Many of the album’s standout moments, especially the knotty “The Divide,” manage to effortlessly weave in between heavy doom, mysterious chord progressions, and transcendent refrains. As is often the case, darker and heavier music presents greater opportunities to paint in bold shades that draw contrast and build on cycles of tension and release. It’s what allows those moments of relative levity and light, like the wistful tenderness of “The Last Time We Were All Together,” to ascend and shine bright. And it’s what allows the explosion of guitar at the album’s climax “The Lines” to be unforgettable.
In many ways Haunts feels like a dreamier counterpart to the emotional deluge of Latitudes and their recent work on Part Island. It’s dreary and full of ghosts, but it’s not hopeless. Haunts is like walking into an ancient house full of centuries of history and experiencing all of that fear and loss but also love and tenderness that took place there. It’s a full body experience, and belying its shoegaze roots, it grabs at and demands your attention. It is also one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve come across this year.
Coastlands – Death (post-metal)
In the world of music, so often the discussion of a band’s sound changing over time is tied to fan negativity about that change. Few and far between are the Radioheads of the world, where the stylistic shift is widely praised as bold and brilliant. In mainstream heavy music we can point to Metallica’s gradual shift post-Justice, or the fallout from Mastodon’s The Hunter. Alt-punk is littered with examples like AFI and Fall Out Boy that “used to be good before they got big.” Post-rock has its own artists that have fallen victim to fan blowback directed at adjusted approaches, most notably Explosions in the Sky, who compounded their drastically different sound on The Wilderness by making fans wait a half-decade after its predecessor Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. This month, I’d like to reverse this narrative and instead praise a band that has turned their songwriting on its head and absolutely nailed it.
What Portland, Oregon’s Coastlands have accomplished over the past few years is nothing short of remarkable. When I first saw that they’d made the dunk!usa lineup they were one of the bands I had mixed feelings about. Their most recent record at that point, To Be Found, wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t something I found incredibly inspiring. We got a glimpse of what they would become during that weekend, though, as they went from a band I could have taken or left to one of the best of the festival, with a performance that thrust their energy and potential for heaviness directly into the spotlight. Apparently, it seemed, Coastlands was a band best suited for the live experience. Then in 2018 they turned heads by translating that power to their new record The Further Still. This past month they cemented their complete script-flip with the absolute beast that is Death. In just a few years, they’ve gone from a subdued, ambient-leaning post-rock band to something that almost can’t be examined under the post-rock label at all. This is a metal album through and through, with the added benefit of coming from the minds of musicians that cut their teeth carefully crafting moving melodies. As such, Death comes to us as the best of both worlds — an emotionally compelling and thoroughly, uncompromisingly brutal record.
There’s no easing the listener into this. From the opening seconds of lead track “Abandoner” it’s clear that this is a band with no interest whatsoever in fucking around. If you turned this on blind without knowing who it was, I can guarantee you’d never guess. This is dark, snarling, crushing stuff, far from the gentle, contemplative dreaminess of traditional post-rock. Even a more melodic track like the subsequent “Feverwind” is imbued with floor-rattling bass, relentless drumming, and guitars that are consistently on the attack; this approach is accented by the recently oft-paired duo of Kurt Ballou and Magnus Lindberg, taking mixing and mastering duties, respectively. I’ve seen this combination quite a lot in the past year or two, but this album in particular is an example that really makes a ton of sense, giving a ferocious collection of songs the heft and clarity needed to bring it all together.
Of many inspired components on Death, the most intriguing may be the addition of vocals for the first time in a Coastlands song, provided by Dustin Coffman of the rising-star Austin band Glassing. His contribution on “Dead Friends” lends a viciousness to what is otherwise the most restrained track on the album, and gives Coastlands another dimension to their sound that serves to strengthen the overall impact. I could wax poetic about this album all day, but it would be far better for readers to go experience it than to continue simply hearing about it from me.
Scaphoid – Absent Passages (prog-metal/post-rock)
As I mentioned when we premiered a track from the album, my relationship with Scaphoid is a new one. But like all early romances, it has fiercely grabbed my attention. It feels like I’ve been looking for Absent Passages for a while now but couldn’t quite find it. To be sure, there are many amazing bands that are working in this sort of space today, namely the stitching grounds between post-metal, progressive, and post-rock. Like Town Portal or Poly-math, to name only two. But those bands, though I love them to death, deal with a more intricate, complex, and layered sort of music. In doing that, for me, they move away from this melancholy and ambient place which I love.
And that’s where Absent Passages comes in. Somehow, Scaphoid manage to get across many of those same heavier, more complex vibes while retaining a core that is inherently ambient and atmospheric at the same time. “Melpomene”, the fourth track on the album, is a great example of this. Its first half is possessed of this lilting beat, a slowly rising and following crest of sound. Its other half is heavier and more intricate, containing winding riffs and constantly moving drums. But both passages are able to channel the same feeling, the same sort of moody tone that, now that I come to think of it, is mirrored perfectly by the album’s cover art: expansive, filled with details, abstract and yet, oddly moving.
It also helps that this album has some of the best, most precise drums I’ve heard in the style. By “precise” I don’t mean technically proficient. Rather, the drums are always appropriate. Where they need to be present and verbose, like on the transitory period between halves on the aforementioned “Melpomene”, you find them speaking a lungs’ full of ideas, flows, and rhythm. But when they need to take a step back, or just provide a “simpler” supporting role, they can do that equally well. By “precise” I mean “accurate” or “fitting” or, perhaps, “economic”. Whatever the adjective, the drums take the already excellent music on Absent Passages and elevate it to true heights, creating some of the best ponderous and sneakily heavy post-rock around.
Wang Wen – 100,000 Whys (post-rock, electronic, psych)
Back in our September of 2018 Post-Rock Post I covered Wang Wen 惘闻’s previous album Invisible City. Since then, obviously a lot has changed in the world, but quality and consistent output from one of China’s leading post-rock groups is not one of them. Now onto their incredibly impressive 11th album cycle, Wang Wen have covered a very broad range of human emotions with their instrumental music. Like Invisible City, the new album 100,000 Whys continues their trend of writing comforting, lush post-rock. While written and recorded pre-pandemic, this album feels both meditative and re-assuring. It was them looking inward at the moods they were in, with music seeing to be their only way of fighting against the troubles in their lives. It’s as if they knew the world would need a steadying hand reached out to it by the time it would be released. Like the beams of light in the whimsical forest depicted on the beautiful cover, there’s a vibrant cordiality throughout.
The album title is derived from a verse from poem Six Honest Serving Men, from the English poet Kipling. “One million Hows, two million Wheres, and seven million Whys!” the verse goes. It seems up to interpretation what the 100,000 number itself is derived from or referring to, but “why” is certainly a fitting statement in itself. However, they see this less as a rhetorical distraught plea, but the necessity to stay inquisitive and curious.
One thing that did catch me off guard about this album is the unexpectedly adventurous, bordering on psychedelic nature of it. Part of this has to do with the liberal use of vibrant synths, occasional rhythmic soft spoken vocals like in “A Beach Bum” and other traditional Chinese non-rock instrumentation. Yet, a lot of it is just that story-telling like nature of their song-writing. You can feel their ideas develop, enfold, and grow in front of you. These stories are pensive, but inspirational. Near the end of the album, “Shut Up and Play” shifts gears into a classic crescendo that slowly builds in what feels like the climax of the album. The relatively up-beat and surprisingly bass-driven outro is an effective blend of hope-filled tension. Finally, as the album comes to a close, soothing synth pads, piano and soft guitar tones are like that proverbial blanket tucking you in for a night’s rest. The jovial final minutes make you forget all 100,000 Whys. You are here, we have each other, we can make it through this together.
Enjoy Eternal Bliss (Best of the Rest)
B R I Q U E V I L L E – Quelle (post-metal, drone, experimental)
The music of B R I Q U E V I L L E is intentionally unsettling. If you feel a knot in your stomach as you listen to Quelle, you’re not alone. The Belgian 5-piece, making their debut on Pelagic, have crafted compositions that are stripped down to their barest essence and yet possess an undeniable energy. The closest musical analogy I can think of is to take the experimental post-metal of the likes of EX EYE with more guitar and minus Colin Stetson’s sax. It’s a viscerally sludgy and grimy affair that often pushes right up against the limit of what a single note or riff can reasonably accomplish, only to pull the rug out suddenly and wallop you over the head with crushing heaviness.
I Am Waiting For You Last Summer – Self-Defense (post-rock, electronic)
Every once in a while I need my post-rock injected with intensely cinematic futurism. Something that hearkens to that neo-noir bleakness of Blade Runner, but impels a curiosity that guitar-driven post-rock can visualize so well. I Am Waiting For You Last Summer are arguably at the forefront of a growing armada of electronic-tinged post-rock groups coming out of Russia, with Break My Fucking Sky and Aesthesys dazzling us with new releases just this summer. With their fourth album Self-Defense, IAWFYLS are at their strongest and most consistent. A well-varied affair, the blend of big guitar leads, occasional trip-hop like drum beats and both dark and textural synthesizers paint a shifting and evolving tale that keeps you engaged start to finish.
The Sun Burns Bright – In Death We Rest (post-rock)
As someone well invested in sports, and increasingly player development and scouting – I find it difficult not to find some similarities in how people assess and rate players and how music is reviewed. That cliché “well-rounded” but not necessarily standing out in one attribute is how I would describe In Death We Rest. It’s what you could call a safe bet of a post-rock album, delivering on everything you want and expect it to, while not trying to be more than what it is. The pacific-northwest four-piece write sprawling instrumental post-rock that paints the sky with emotion. I don’t consider myself to have synesthesia, the phenomenon where people can “see music” as colours, yet it’s outstanding how well the artwork seems to visually represent how it feels to listen to this album. The swooping bluish haze over a solemn grey backdrop is so befitting of the melancholic passages with a hint of optimism herein.
The Endless Shimmering (Other Notable Releases)
Deathcrash – People thought my windows were stars (slowcore, post-rock)
Jonathan Fraser – Heaven is at a Distance (blackgaze, post-metal)
Novalisi – Lotus (post-rock, uplifting)
Slowly Building Weapons – Echos (doomgaze, post-rock)
Tare – A Little Less Than Last Time (math rock, post-rock)