It being officially the start of 2021, I naturally want to talk about the previous year in a retrospective way, but that’s what our upcoming 2020 In Review issue is for. Normally, I wouldn’t have all that much to say about December as a month for releases though. Maybe it’s how Covid screwed around with release schedules this year. Maybe it’s just luck. But December 2020 ended up being an absolutely gonzo month for post- releases, if not in sheer volume and quantity then certainly in quality. Never before have I had multiple albums released in the final month of the year ultimately land highly on my top albums list.
In this case three of the albums written about below made a very strong showing despite having very little time to have them marinate and sink into my brain. Not a bad little parting gift from this unprecedented and overall very challenging year.
So this column is going to be a little shorter than some of our previous ones due to said reduced volume of albums of note and also because we need to immediately turn our attention to the 2020 entry once this is published. But the albums written up are some of the best of last year and deserve every ounce of your attention.
I also have a fun little treat in our interview feature at the top that should be familiar to most of you who are part of the greater post-rock community on the web. See you after the jump!
Take Me Somewhere Nice: WherePostRockDwells
Over the past 5 years, the nexus of the post-rock internet community has not been found on any single site-bound blog like ours, but in a social media collective known as WherePostRockDwells. Started by Supratik “Ronnie” Sarthak as a YouTube channel uploading more obscure post-rock records he couldn’t find elsewhere on the platform, WPRD is now a thriving internet presence across social media, providing a platform for reviews, premieres, and community for fans across the globe.
They are also comprised of some of the nicest people who I consider both peers and friends in this space. So I thought it’d be nice to wrap up 2020 with a brief conversation with Supratik to talk about some broader and more genre-wide topics, as well as some cool projects he and his team have been up to.
Heavy Blog: 2020 has been…an interesting year to say the least. Obviously the pandemic has hit the entire global music industry hard, and post- bands have been no exception. Is there anything from this year in the wake of all that has transpired that has surprised you in either a good or bad way?
Supratik (WPRD): 2020 has tested the music industry like never before. The industry has suffered a massive blow due to the shutting down of shops and it’s going to be really challenging to come back from that trauma. Many venues have somehow weathered the storm and are looking to get back in business by 2021 yet it’s still too soon to say so. The lack of live shows was obviously the biggest bummer of the year for people like me but we got ample livestreams to keep our sanity in check.
I was not very confident about the quality of livestreams we’d get when we started the Post-Poned series but the bands proved me so very wrong in this record. Almost all bands ensured that the setup and production was top notch despite the challenging circumstances and worldwide lockdowns. Some even went to crazy lengths to ensure we all got a concert-like experience and that’s something really surprising and heartwarming to see.
The release wagon hardly took a hit due to the pandemic. In fact, I saw a surge of one man bands throughout the year and a majority of them have kicked it up a notch in terms of compositional and production values. I guess the pandemic and lockdown really motivated the artists to keep making music from the comfort of their bedroom.
Heavy Blog: Do you think we’ll see a return to live music in 2021 and some bounceback in the industry for both musicians and people working at venues?
Supratik (WPRD): It’s too early to say for Europe and USA but things are looking a bit good for some Asian countries like India, Thailand, China and of course, Australia and New Zealand have weathered the storm and are doing live gigs, albeit on a relatively small scale. The biggest thing that worries me is the blatant disregard of rules and social distancing protocols by the audience despite best efforts by the venues which leads to a vicious cycle of endless lockdowns. I guess a vaccine will solve a lot of problems but even that is going to take time and I am not very hopeful for the first 6 months of 2021.
Heavy Blog: Despite everything going on, it seems like 2020 has been a very good year for WherePostRockDwells, especially in launching your Post-Pedia project. Can you talk a bit about how that all came together and what you see the future of it being?
Supratik (WPRD): I am so relieved that I was finally able to launch the website since I have been working on the database for almost 4 years. I spent a lot of time on Bandcamp, YouTube and Last FM to discover new artists and just made a simple spreadsheet to keep track of all the discoveries I made. The post-rock universe is one huge rabbit hole and I was utterly lost in it. I also found it very bothersome that a lot of artists didn’t have their social media and other streaming platform links in one single place and so I started gathering all the data manually and adding them to the spreadsheet. Nearly a year ago and after almost 5000 hours of data collection, I realised that I have over 4000 artists in the database and that’s when I started working on it a bit more seriously and released the spreadsheets online. However, not a lot of people are comfortable with navigating Google spreadsheets and there was a great need for a user friendly website. Krzyzstof Rutka (Transmission Zero, In2Elements) believed in the project and offered to lend a hand in building the website. He did a pretty fantastic job with the Post-Pedia website and it’s heartwarming to see that it’s well received by the community.
We are constantly looking to improve the website and adding more features and data, I am currently working on two parallel databases, namely, Record Labels and Service Providers (Audio/Video Productiion, Graphic designers, PR, Promoters and Booking Agencies etc) and we are planning to integrate them on the website next year. We hope this database is useful for both artists and audience alike and further strengthens our already amazing community.
Heavy Blog: From one blog manager to another, what has the experience of seeing a small idea bloom and grow into something much larger with a whole roster of staff writers and a high level of esteem within the greater post- community?
Supratik (WPRD): I am constantly surprised and amazed by the support we have been receiving from the community. When I started WherePostRockDwells back in 2015, it was all about me trying to upload new tracks by relatively unknown yet amazing post-rock artists so that I could come back and listen to them myself and invite some of my friends to listen to them. I never imagined that there’d be such a huge following for a niche genre like post-rock and things kind of blew out of proportion after ‘In Silence We Yearn’ by Oh Hiroshima gained over a million views. That gave me a lot of impetus to work harder and promote as many artists as possible.
I am very grateful to have such an awesome team and they have helped me greatly to sustain the channel and help me with the artist promotion on social media as well.
As a fan of the synthwave/retrowave style, I am very excited to see what unfolds in this realm of Post-Rock in the next decade.
Heavy Blog: Are there any trends or sub-strains within post- right now that you think we should be keeping an eye on to become more dominant within the genre? For example, it seems pretty undeniable at this point that screamo/hardcore are a pivotal part of the genre’s makeup that seems unlikely to diminish anytime soon.
Supratik (WPRD): Screamo/Hardcore has been one of my favourite sub-strains of Post-Music; bands like The Appleseed Cast, Rosetta and Holy Fawn are constantly in my playlist.
I’ve noticed a subtle upward trend of incorporating synthwave/electronica in Post-Rock, even though it’s hardly a new concept and 65DOS and Maybeshewill have been the torchbearers of this style for the past two decades. Bands like Tides from Nebula and Lost in Kiev have started experimenting with more electronica infused post-rock and have been incredibly well received by audiences. Many more artists, most notably, Violet Cold, Aesthesys, Antethic, Barrens, Maserati, pg.lost and Volkor X have followed this trend and have created really amazing albums this year. As a fan of the synthwave/retrowave style, I am very excited to see what unfolds in this realm of Post-Rock in the next decade.
Heavy Blog: Coming from India, you almost certainly have a different perspective on this music than someone like myself in the States, where this music has been far more visible and widespread since its start. What is the audience for post- like there from your experience, and has it changed much in the time that you’ve been closely following the genre?
Supratik (WPRD): Post-Rock has been slow on the uptake in the Indian underground music scene. There was almost little to no recognition for the genre back in 2012 with only a handful number of artists operating in the scene. Aswekeepsearching did a great job in bolstering Post-Rock genre and it was accentuated by bands like Tides from Nebula, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, 65daysofstatic, Alcest, Mono, sleepmakeswaves and God Is An Astronaut who did tours in India and generated a strong interest among the fans. I got to see the following first hand when I organised the 5-city tour of Hubris in 2019. People poured in numbers and we had three sold out shows. That’s when I realised that the number of post-music fans in India is a lot more than I had anticipated.
Even the number of artists has increased manifold over the decade and we now have close to 100 artists in the scene and more pouring in frequently. I’d say that the future of Post-Rock in India is looking quite bright.
Heavy Blog: Any releases or events you’re especially looking forward to in 2021 at the moment?
Supratik (WPRD): There are a lot of releases that I have been waiting for but the most notable ones would be Ghost Tapes #10 (God Is An Astronaut), The Raging River (Cult of Luna), As The Love Continues (Mogwai), MARTIAL HEARTS (Spoiwo) and the new albums by Baulta and Lehnen.
Heavy Blog: Lastly, I know how you feel about AOTY lists in general and aren’t publishing a personal one this year. What are a few albums from 2020 that took you by surprise or particularly pleased you though?
Supratik (WPRD): AOTY lists are a lot of work and I never seem to be satisfied with myself while compiling one. However, there are some discoveries that were totally off the charts for me, most notably ‘This is our Planet now’ by Volkor X, ‘Ancient Homies’ by lespecial, ‘Binary Sunset Massacre’ by Bantha Rider, ‘Murur Al Kiram’ by Kinematik, ‘PENUMBRA’ by Barrens and ‘Where The Flowers Grant You Wishes’ by Black Narcissus. And of course, some classic post-rock records like ‘Mirrors’ by still motions, ‘Bathala’ by Astodan and ‘Metempsychosis’ by hubris. definitely helped me get through 2020.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
Alpha Male Tea Party – Infinity Stare (post-math rock)
Timing is of the essence to be sure, but don’t trust anyone who tells you that timing means just one thing. That is, timing is not just about striking at the right moment; sometimes, it’s about striking at the wrong moment, correctly. By all accounts, December is the wrong time to release music. The year is winding down, people are deep in holidays stress and, in general, there’s a lethargic air about; the old year is dying while the new year struggles to be born. What better timing then to release a groovy, uplifting, incredibly powerful in the form of Infinity Stare then?
You know how when you were a kid, you used to lean back in your chair in spite of all the admonishments from your teachers and parents? “One day you’ll fall”, they said. And then someone would walk behind you, some rascal of a kid, and pull back your chair just for an instant, giving you that sensation of falling, startling you? That kid is Alpha Male Tea Party. They see you lounging in that chair there, content in your end of year stupor, and they just reach out and jerk you around a little, startle you for a second, shake you from your ill-earned discontent.
They do it with massive riffs, even bigger hooks, and their formula perfected. This is melodic, groovy, rhythmic post-rock that’s not pulling any punches. The result is an album, as instrumental as it is, that sweeps you off your feet, brightening any day. But it’s not the saccharine, unhealthy sweetness of sugar. It is the sweetness of your blood pumping through your vein, winter retreating before your beaming smile, a spirit of fun, and all the large, swashbuckling post-rock you could want.
Grayceon – Mothers Weavers Vultures (post-metal, weirdo prog)
I’ve noticed a trend as I’ve been compiling my list of favorite 2020 records: women are leading the charge, and it feels… different than in previous years. Svalbard, Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, Sharptooth, NO MAN, Glacier Veins, Unleash the Archers, Mrs. Piss, War on Women — all of these artists released incredible albums that surpass most of what I’ve heard this year. Because of the historical male-dominance of heavy music, women suffer the misfortune of being separated from their art and dragged into a topical spotlight. As heavy music is historically male-dominated, so is heavy music journalism, and there has been a wildly unfair tendency to view women in this realm as if they were gimmicks. So often, instead of it being “wow, this album is amazing!,” it becomes “isn’t it so groundbreaking that a woman did this? Let’s celebrate this!”
There’s an obvious desire to applaud the art, but it also feels like there’s been an emphasis placed on specifically lauding the breaking of the gender barrier that ultimately and unfairly relegates the art itself to the role of second fiddle. Women are transformed into narrative tools as opposed to artists. But in 2020 we’ve been forced out of this mold. It took me until I began compiling my Albums of the Year list to realize the number of women present. It seems that instead of well-reviewed female artists being the exception to the rule, in 2020 they *were* the rule. I know, I know, I’m a male writer specifically discussing gender in heavy music, admittedly doing the exact thing I was happy not to see this year, but my goal is ultimately to make the point that I see 2020 as a watershed year, a turning point where we may finally begin to move beyond a narrative of idiosyncrasy into a world where, one day, heavy music is a truly unisex landscape. It’s sad that we’re still having this discussion at all, but it does remain important to point out landmarks as we pass them, and I think that 2020 is the year where we can stop pointing things like this out and instead understand them as an indispensable part of the basic fabric.
All of which brings us to the Bay Area trio Grayceon. Led by Jackie Perez Gratz, their Mothers Weavers Vultures ended up at #2 on my AOTY list, just behind Svalbard’s When I Die, Will It Get Better? As the cellist for the underrated Giant Squid, Perez Gratz’s contributions were amongst the most important in establishing the band’s distinct sound and creative brilliance. In that context, she was part of a collective. Whereas with Grayceon, she is able to spread her wings entirely and explore her own concepts to their fullest. That being said, when I initially read that the cello would be the front-and-center focus of a post-metal band, there was a degree of skepticism. But that notion is quickly dispelled on the opening track “Diablo Wind,” where Perez Gratz’s deep, hypnotic vocals and lively cello performance meld expertly with Max Doyle’s guitar work and Zack Farwell’s drumming. The key is that they don’t defer to the cello as a central focus; their contributions are muscular, confident, and direct, resulting in a final product on paper that should stick out like a sore thumb in the post-metal realm, except that’s not what happens at all. In fact, a lot of bands in the genre could take a lesson from how Grayceon manages to navigate sprawling compositions without sacrificing immediacy.
“The Lucky Ones” is the track to look to for the strongest proof of this. Perez Gratz notes that the inspiration for the song was Ronny James Dio, which raised my eyebrows at first, but it’s a completely apt comparison, combining unabashed mysticism with an incredibly sincere dedication to kicking as much ass as humanly possible. Just try to keep your hands from curling into a trembling clutch. See if you can keep your feet on the ground and resist the urge to ride on the wings of rock. I guarantee you can’t do it. There are enough nasty riffs in this song alone to make Tommy Iommi blush. It’s definitely one of the greatest songs of the year, and it’s made even more impressive by not sacrificing the art-rock weirdness of its Giant Squid-leaning tendencies in the interest of chasing the ghosts of metal lore.
I kind of love that they chose “The Bed” as a single for the album, since it’s the most traditionally paced post-metal track on an album that is much more than that tag suggests. When I first heard it I was impressed – it’s a great track that highlights much of what the band does well while surveying all of the aspects that are likely to draw in fans of the genre. What makes it a brilliant move, however, is how it tells you what you need to know without actually revealing the album’s most intriguing characteristics: its passages of breathtaking pace and stinkface-inducing riffage. Subsequent track “And Shine On” demonstrates this, displaying Grayceon’s ability to deftly navigate concise, traditional single-length songwriting.
At this point, you’ve read a thousand and one blog writers comment about how this year sucked, and how music did this, that, and the other things while we languished in solitude. But fuck that, that kind of narrative-building diminishes the majesty of the music released in 2020, music that would have had just as much impact had the year been the most normal on record. It was a year where potential and promise became reality. It was a year where Bartees Strange blended genres so seamlessly that it made us question the very concept of genre as a construct. It was a year where Svalbard altered the dusty narrative of male-dominated genres as they simultaneously created something that laughed at the boxes genres force bands into. It was a year where post-rock bands like Caspian, Coastlands, and sleepmakeswaves answered the age-old question “when do the vocals start?” It was a year when young bands like Dogleg and Stay Inside proved that the early 2000’s aren’t just a fond memory, but a distinct historical imprint that continues to evolve and inspire. It was a year where Hum returned after 20+ years of absently influencing bands like Deftones and Spotlights with a record that approached the sound forged by *those* bands, and somehow upped the ante. It was a year where Grayceon proved that a post-metal band could revolve around a cello with incredible proficiency. It was a year where what we were gifted by the music industry far surpassed what we could expect in most years.
Respire – Black Line (post-black, post-etc.)
On their previous releases, Toronto’s Respire dangled a tantalizing blend of screamo, post-hardcore, post-rock, and black metal that checked a ton of boxes for fans of modern heavy, emotional music. But there was a nagging element of potential overriding reality, mostly due in part to questionable production value. The elements were all there, but it proved difficult to move past the mix and enjoy it to the fullest.
That issue has been thoroughly resolved on Black Line. In a story that is appropriate for the year that was, many of us were excited to see that the band had signed to the previously-lauded Holy Roar Records, only to have the rug pulled out from us almost instantaneously when it was revealed not long after the album’s announcement that label head Alex Fitzpatrick had been accused of sexual assault by multiple individuals, and the label was quickly dissolved. However, they were quickly picked up by Church Road Records, and we were able to end the year on a thankful note when Black Line was released in a timely fashion not long thereafter.
There’s a general sense that December is a dead period in terms of quality album releases, but 2020 seriously contradicted that concept; Black Line is one of the year’s best, landing in my Top 25 along with fellow holiday-season drops from Show Me A Dinosaur and Grayceon. You can dig deeper into this album in Trent’s feature from last month’s Post Rock Post.
Show Me A Dinosaur – Plantgazer (blackgaze, post-black)
This is a band where I have to put aside my affection for good band names. Sure, post-rock has never been a genre known to stick to naming conventions of the norm, but it’s certainly an eyebrow raiser. On top of that, with their third full-length released in early December Show Me A Dinosaur went with an album title of which my first reaction was to smirk, “are blackgaze bands even trying even more?” Plantgazer. Anyway, I’ll give these Russians a pass because this is genuinely some of the best blackgaze/post-black/post-metal released this year. Cliche aside, the act of staring at plants evokes a certain humid stillness that resonates here
SMAD first broke out in relative popularity among the blackgaze scene in 2016 with their sophomore self-titled album to much acclaim. It certainly took a lot from the Sunbather approach to the genre, but with enough of its own identity and creative touches to not feel like a forgettable clone. For me, that self-titled has remained one of the standout releases in the genre, in the same tier as the best of Alcest and Deafheaven to boot, so this was undoubtedly one of my most anticipated releases this month – and it did not disappoint.
Plantgazer shows a pretty natural evolution and growth from the self-titled, with equally strong production with a welcome warm bass tone for a bit of a classic shoegaze sound, combined with a light airiness on the higher end. One of the bigger additions from their past work is an uptick in the use of clean vocals. They first kick in on the second track “Marsh” which brings another dimension to the music that feels natural and welcoming. They have sort of a choral, almost gang-vocal like nature to them that adds to that. The 10-minute instrumental “Red River” is where this album is the most decidedly post-rock, playing with build-and-release structures and really explosive, triumphant climaxes that you can feel in your chest. When the ferocious double-kick bass drum bursts through it reminds me of the feeling I had when I first heard God Is An Astronaut’s “Suicide By Star” all those years ago and makes me yearn for more of its subtle use in post-rock. There’s a few heavier leaning riffs throughout, such as the first half of “Selva” where it takes a bit of a post-metal or blackened hardcore turn. The vocals have a certain desperation leaning toward a classic screamo or post-hardcore styling.
The first single from the album, “Hum” comes towards the end of the album and is definitely one of the standouts. It starts with an almost Touche Amore opening riff and drumwork that quickly turns very Alcest as the soft clean vocals and heavier reverb-laden guitar is layered on. This interesting combination of sounds and influences is utilized for most of the album, but really shines on this track. Plantgazer is simply an incredibly listenable and well-rounded mix of blackgaze and post-metal with virtually no weaknesses.
TROMB – I/O (experimental post-rock, jazz fusion)
Luck and coincidence are such weird things. I had been slacking on doing my own Bandcamp searching for new post- releases the past few months because I’ve been quite busy and the rest of the team had done such a great job on their own populating our shared doc. Given that December is generally a much quieter month than most for new releases though, it seemed like a perfect time for me to dive back into the Bandcamp mines to potentially stumble upon some hidden gold. It’s at this point that I saw an album from Swedish band TROMB pop up. The name sounded hugely familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I clicked through and saw that in fact I was already following them on the platform. Then I recalled that I stumbled upon them a couple of years ago when they put out standalone single “Evocation” and immediately wanted to hear more. It seems it took close to 3 years to make it happen, but the post-jazz quartet have finally released a full LP in I/O, and if you didn’t make it a part of your 2020, please do yourself a favor and start your 2021 off right with this killer set.
Featuring guitar, bass, drums, and soprano/tenor sax, TROMB are a tricky group to pin down sonically. They’re not quite as aggressive and heavy as other recent post-y heavy fusion groups I’ve written about recently like Arcing Wires, but they absolutely pack a punch. Their compositions are a bit more stripped down and jagged, focused predominantly on building around insanely cool riffs from saxophonist Tom Gabrielsson and guitarist Terje Lundén, often in tandem. I’ve said it probably dozens of times on this site already, but I’ll say it again: GIVE ME MORE SAX/GUITAR TANDEM RIFFS. ALWAYS. It is just such an undeniably cool and pleasing combination of sounds.
For the most part I/O jumps somewhere in between the hard-edged jazz metal fusion of the likes of Stimpy Lockjaw and more ambient groove-based fusion similar to Portico Quartet. The title track is an exquisite example of the latter, a slow-burner featuring Gabrielsson’s ethereal sax lines on top, Karl Boson’s bass and Svante Burman’s drums interlocking into an intoxicating groove that very gradually ratchets up the complexity and intensity beneath, and Terje’s guitar providing the perfect amount of mysterious atmosphere in the middle. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of improvisation built around a single idea that unfolds and blossoms into a stunning climax. Meanwhile, tracks like “Breach,” “Thoughts and Deeds,” and especially closer “Stampede” kick things into high gear with a mixture of chunky tones and riffs, explosive drumming, and siren sax. “Stampede,” like its namesake, comes tearing out of the gate with a maelstrom of percussion and what sounds like a distorted-as-hell theremin, with sax tying it all together. It’s just a ridiculously cool sound and style that I always wish I could hear more of.
You might follow this column and think you don’t really like or “get” jazz, but let me tell you, any fan of post-rock and instrumental music in general should absolutely love what TROMB are doing here with I/O. Its energy is undeniable, the riffs are on-point, and it possesses such a clear musical identity and sense of place that should be appreciated by anyone who follows post- of any stripe.
The Endless Shimmering (Other Notable Releases)
Golden Hymns Sing “Hurrah!” – The Great Dystopian Songbook I: Songs For The Rising & Setting Sun (post-rock, art-rock, Godspeed-core)
Lai delle Nubi – Dione (build-and-release post-rock)
This Wave Looks Like a Wolf – Taïga (dark cinematic post-rock)