It continues. Another month goes by and another Missive comes around and there’s more exciting and excellent music, outside and inside of post-rock to tell you all about. However, I’ve been feeling like, in the fields of post-rock at least, some sort of watershed has been crossed with August: the number of releases is climbing, everyone gearing up for the sweet spot between the summer and the holidays (yes, end of year is getting closer, whether you’d like to admit it or not). When we looked back on the first half of the year last month, we were forced to admit that there was an odd silence from post-rock, perhaps one akin to the build up in a song by one of the many bands famous in the genre for their crescendos.
So is the crescendo here? Almost, my good friends, almost. We could describe August as a sort of bridge, a little build up before the full thing comes crashing down on us. There are some releases we missed from earlier in the year and some truly excellent releases that came to us in July itself and there’s also a taut, tantalizing thrill of anticipation for everything that’s about to come our way. I am here, with this intro, to ask you to savor this moment as well; just like with a great post-rock track (as opposed to “just” a good one), the moment before the crescendo crashes is just as good as the hit itself. So, look around you; there’s plenty of good music to take in. The flood is coming but, for now, may I suggest we enjoy the quickening river?
Take Me Somewhere Nice: Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters
Heavy Blog Is Heavy: You’ve been around for several years now but it seems more recently that the band has been in the conversation with post-rock fans. Can you tell us a bit about your origins, and the road to where you are right now?
Dan Ibarra (bass, synth, production): Because we’ve been steadily putting stuff out for several years, I suppose it was almost inevitable that over time a few more people would take notice of us and our name would get out there by word-of-mouth. But it’s been thanks to notable publications, channels, and blogs (such as HBIH), that our name has started to creep into the broader post-rock audience. Since we really don’t invest much money on promotion, it’s been very exciting and encouraging to see other people pick up on and share our stuff. So, thank you to anyone out there that has discovered us and supported and shared our work.
As far as our origin and current path, it’s always been and hopefully will continue to be, an endeavour of finding joy in the journey. I’ve been lucky to find people that have a similar vision and are willing to put up with me as we all try to develop this band together as a group of friends. I haven’t always been so lucky, even just recently I was in a different band that became toxic. Those kinds of experiences make me better appreciate my current bandmates beyond what they realize.
Sam DuMont (drums): I joined a little over two years ago. I had been busy with other bands and projects, but had been friends with BFNF since they put their first lineup and live shows together. My old band had actually played with them on a few bills. I knew BFNF was great. They had asked me years prior if I’d join them but felt it was a little too much with everything else I had going on. Fast forward a few years and the stars aligned. They had an opening, I had separated from my other projects and made the leap. Being able to start with a band that is established, has music out, it was easy for me to practice to their songs and when it came time to step in and play we hit the ground running. There have been various changes to the lineup previously, but what we have now is strong and it shows in the new album. We all care about each other, we listen, we compromise, and allow a great deal of freedom to each other.
HBIH: As tends to be the case with post-rock bands, you’ve got a unique name that some might find mildly perplexing. But I understand there’s a pretty specific story/concept behind that. Can you elaborate on this?
Dan: It comes directly from a line in ‘The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner’, a short poem by a former WW2 ball turret gunner, Randall Jarrell. The descriptive imagery from his personal experiences which he uses to allude to a provoking commentary regarding “the state” sounded perfect for our debut concept album. Both the poem, and our concept had multiple layers of expressing issues related to human struggle. A lot of thought went into the music, samples, and titles to try and encapsulate the challenges that too often play out on the world stage through war, but germinate within individuals. We felt the band name also should be multi-layered in meaning and imagery. I could elaborate further, but I feel it might spoil the path of discovery some listeners can have as they dive into our discography. Our works are connected in concept and progression. Some of us really like to nerd out on this form of storytelling, even if only a few others nerd out with us.
Sam: As previously mentioned, I wasn’t there in the beginning. But when I first saw the name, I loved it. It’s a mouthful for sure. Try saying it 5x fast. After my first practice with BFNF I got the whole story and meaning behind it. It actually made me want to work harder and play better for this band, as both of my grandfathers were veterans of WWII.
HBIH: Plenty of musicians in this genre (really, most genres) have a day job when they aren’t writing and performing, but I know that Dan probably has quite a few tales to tell, having served in both the military and in healthcare. Any interesting stories about your “other” life/lives?
Sam: I’ll speak a little to that. Everyone in the band admires Dan immensely. I believe that it’s his experience, the work he has and does put into making the world a better place, that’s a big part of our success. We’re all a little younger than him, but somehow he pulls the most weight and does the most to make us sound good and feel good.
Dan: I suppose I’ve always had a bit of an adventurous spirit, continually looking for the next adventure. In college I found time to play in a couple of bands and discovered the fun of playing live and collaborating with others through the creative process, but I falsely assumed it was just a hobby and that I had to grow up. So I tried my hand at teaching/coaching high school, but not 1 month into that gig 9/11 happened and changed my priorities on what I wanted to do, so I joined the Army. I wanted to go extreme, so I joined the Special Forces and spent 10 years in the service. I’ve also spent time with charitable organizations that help rescue children from trafficking. There were certainly a lot of ups and downs and I’ve seen a lot of really ugly things in this world, but on the flip side, I’ve also seen a lot of beauty and met a lot of wonderful and inspiring people.
Because I was trained as a medic, I was able to get my foot in the door to pursue medicine after I got out of the military. And now as a PA I can provide for my family and have some time and means to pursue other passions, which for the last 5 years has been mostly BFNF :)
My friends here work just as hard in different capacities, some in the service industry and one works helping young people with severe mental health issues. I have found that regardless of career choices, everyone can contribute in meaningful ways to make society better, and can impact the world around them for good when they do what they do with kindness.
HBIH: Dan, you’ve become increasingly involved in the fan end of the spectrum these last years within the post-rock scene (full disclosure: both Dan and myself are part of an extensive FB messenger chat involving some other fixtures in the festival/live music realm). What are some of your favorite things about being a part of this scene?
Dan: The post-rock scene has been so very welcoming and friendly. That includes the fans and the bands. I believe the music and the people are simply reflections of each other, both are beautiful and profound. I’ve made lovely friends so far and hope to continue to meet and make more for many years to come.
HBIH: Ad Meliora is your first album on a label, the recently-very-busy POST. Recordings. What drew you to a collaboration with them?
Dan: The same reasons as above, because of the welcoming and friendly people involved. The individuals that are cranking the wheels at Post. Recordings are some of the most caring and passionate people I’ve met. They’re pushing hard to help so many wonderful and talented bands gain traction and get their music out to the world. We couldn’t be more excited and humbled to be listed alongside such great bands and promoters.
Sam: Post. Recordings are composed of really good people. They are massive fans of post rock and really have a love for the music. What I really love about it is the low pressure, the encouragement and that they are willing to take a ton of the heavy lifting out of the process. We talk almost every day with these guys and they really do care.
HBIH: Ad Meliora introduces vocals to the mix, courtesy of Kate Hoffmeister. In recent years we’ve seen bands like Caspian, Outlander, Seeress, Staghorn, and Long Distance Calling incorporate vocals to varying degrees, and over the past decade bands like Foxing, Moving Mountains, Prawn, Deer Leap, and Palms have released vocal-driven records with considerable post-rock influence. What made you want to expand your sound in this manner, and do you think that vocals are a necessary evolution for post-rock after years as a traditionally instrumental genre? I think a lot of fans find themselves torn – there’s something magical about an impactfully composed instrumental rock song, but it’s an idea that’s easy to get wrong, and quick to get stale in the wrong hands. Do you have any thoughts on this topic?
Sam: This was a direction, years ago, that I never thought I would want to take. Being a classical post rock fan, I seemed to hold a bit of a grudge against vocals in the genre. Just over a year ago we all spoke and decided it was time to mix it up. Kate and I had been friends for years before. I knew how she could sing, so when we asked her to come have a look, come to a practice and give our music a listen it was a perfect match. The moment she wrote some melody and lyrics and we heard it made me correct my past views of vocals. It inspired us and gave us a new outlook on what we could be capable of. In regards to vocals, this new album “Ad Meliora” almost teases you with the vocals. There are several songs that Kate really rips into it, but there are other songs where you just get a little vocal taste or none of them. Kate was very understanding and supportive of us wanting to keep a few solely instrumental but I think that may change in the future as we work on the next release.
Dan: It was a natural place for us to explore. Each band, and each musician for that matter, needs to explore and do what they enjoy in order to feel fulfilled with their work. I would hate writing and recording for the sole purpose of pleasing others. My main motivation is to create stuff I enjoy. If I like it, that’s fulfilling enough for me to keep moving forward, and if others happen to like it too, well then we can smile and enjoy it together. The process of finding Kate was nothing more than fate intervening and putting us all in the same room. For any fans of instrumental music that might be turned off by vocals, well, that’s ok, they have a gazillion other things to listen to out there. But as for me, I listen to her singing and it’s just as critical of a layer in these songs as is Sam’s driving beat, McKay and Kyson’s counterpoint guitars talking through a riff, or my low end filling out the depth of the pulse. When all the layers come together just right, it’s a beautiful tapestry. Not every song needs everything all the time, the dynamics are a critical component of the overall music. Parts of the story-telling only need a few elements, others need new elements. The way the message is expressed needs to be adaptable to best relay the ideas and emotions. Anyone that takes a dive into Kate’s lyrics and melodies, will find that she’s wise beyond her years, and talented beyond expression. And she’s just getting started.
HBIH: What are some creative influences on the band (musical or otherwise)?
Sam: I grew up a total hardcore kid. Poison the Well, Botch, Converge, Big loud, etc. Heavy and angry was what I loved. When I found post-rock it gave me new insight into what music can do when it comes to emotion. Post-rock has all the vibes of metal or heavier music, but also provides room to calm down and contemplate.
Dan: In talking with the band members over the years, I’m always surprised at how different our musical tastes can be, and we are each influenced by some very different stuff. Because of that variety I’m not sure I can speak specifically as to what influences the band as a whole. But as for myself, my early days of music discovery and appreciation included The Cure, Depeche Mode, Oingo Boingo, OMD, Duran Duran. Once I started playing guitar in my teens, I was then carried away by the wave of 90s alt rock, mostly Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alanis Morissette. I still feel some influence from those developmental years when I sit to write, but fast forward to the 2010s when I decided to get back into music, and I was gifted with an introduction to post-rock which blew me away, and I fell in love straight away with bands like Red Sparowes, Daturah, TWDY, Caspian. I couldn’t get enough of all those wonderful “I’ve-never-heard-of-them-before” bands. I’m still continually discovering new bands that inspire and influence me thanks to friends in the scene that are constantly recommending great stuff.
HBIH: What are some new bands or albums you’ve been digging lately? How about some older records that have found their way into heavy rotation?
Dan: I’ve got a bunch of random stuff on my current rotations, most of which I don’t remember whether someone introduced it to me, or if it was a random discovery by an algorithm, but I’ve been digging De Osos, Crippled Black Phoenix, Leech, I/O, Tall Ships, Eyer Llew, Phoebe Bridgers.
Whenever a bandmate pulls something up to share, it’s usually someone I’ve never heard of and I get an introduction to even more great stuff to explore.
HBIH: What’s the next year look like for Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters now that we seem to be somewhat emerging (hopefully) from the lost COVID year? What are some of your hopes and goals for the band going forward?
Sam: Working and writing a new album. Growing together. We’ve been talking about a possible tour this fall. We have great people in our corner with P.R., and many friends around the US in the post rock scene. We hope to make it happen.
Dan: I’d love to keep creating, writing, exploring new avenues of expression. And I’d love a road trip with my friends to visit cities together and share our music with people. Our previously scheduled 2020 road trip was nixed just like so many other people’s hopes and dreams, so we’re hoping those plans were just paused and that we can put together another road trip as soon as it makes sense to do so. Now, this might be controversial to bring up, but what I’m seeing as of these last few weeks is that our country is in trouble of ending 2021 much like 2020 started. I’m worried we might be moving towards a “Shutdown v2.0”. I work in a major hospital and am seeing it first hand, the COVID floors are full again, protocols from the height of the pandemic are being re-implemented, and just today our hospital had to go on divert. Meaning, less-sick patients are getting turned away or transferred to smaller community hospitals to make room for the sickest COVID patients. It’s really disheartening to know there is so much misinformation, fear, and division out there that is leading to people being so distrusting of their healthcare professionals, scientists, and all manner of experts in their field. It’s all become so politicized and divisive that common sense is anything but.
Sorry, tangent. I guess to better answer the questions, if v2.0 happens because of this COVID resurgance, we’ll probably write some sad music about how life sucks and people are stupid. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
HBIH: Finally, is there anything else at all you’d like to touch upon? Consider this a free space for whatever comes to mind.
Sam: I think that post rock is spreading to a wider range. I feel like a lot of the ways current popular music is going it’s sounding the same and people are looking for something else. I’ve had friends and strangers alike listen to us or other post rock bands and they’ve said “I’ve never heard anything like this before!” The world is waking up to the genre and it’s gaining more and more ground. Also the whole scene is full of kind hearted people and they have made their voices heard by speaking on racial and social equality and justice. I think this music and community stands for good things.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters – Ad Meliora
Take one look at the third LP from this Salt Lake City band and the first word that comes to mind is “ambitious.” Tracks arranged in a prologue/chapters/epilogue structure, an hour-plus running time, the addition of a new member, and the revelation that the new member is a singer: this could have easily proven too tall a task for a band to properly execute. Thankfully that’s not at all the case with Ad Meliora. The album title is taken from a Latin phrase meaning “to better things,” and it seems that’s where BFNF are heading, and confidently at that. They’ve released good material before, in particular their 2019 LP It’s Only Permanent, which marked the moment at which the band began dancing around on the lips of post-rock fans around the world. They were at that point certainly still a minor player in the genre, but they look to be climbing the ladder quickly with an album that will likely find its way onto a number of fans’ list of favorites by the end of the year.
I’ve been on record before saying that the gradually increasing presence of vocals in the modern post-rock landscape is an essential element in its continuing intrigue, and those feelings don’t dissipate one bit with the release of Ad Meliora. Kate Hoffmeister’s rich, full-toned voice adds depth and resonance in a manner which brings a heightened sense of grandeur to the tracks on which she appears. It’s important to note those last few words, because this isn’t a case of a band deciding to bring in vocals and then forcing them into every song whether or not they make sense. There are still instrumental songs here, and they stand perfectly fine on their own. In fact, the songs without Hoffmeister allow the band to open up a bit more – see “Chapter 3: Fall Before You Wake,” where they’re clearly having a blast during the unabashedly-rocking middle section. That’s the trick to the success of Ad Meliora: the band approaches each composition as its own individual entity and the arrangement reflects what’s appropriate for that specific song, as opposed to what the band has pre-determined to be their “thing” now. The tracks that are more musically dynamic tend to remain instrumental, while those that take a more contemplative approach usually feature Hoffmeister.
For me this is kind of the ideal setup. After two decades listening to post-rock I admit I’ve grown a bit grumpy, and more and more often take the “get to the fucking point” stance on bands that utilize the crescendo-core method of spending 6 minutes building slowly and quietly to a dramatic climax that is ultimately the only interesting thing about the song. BFNF’s songwriting abilities are certainly far above the more generic and forgettable acts that have come and gone over the past ten years, but there’s something to be said for filling those quieter spaces with something more to grab ahold of. Take Hoffmeister out of these songs and they might become the points on the album where my focus starts drifting. But with Hoffmeister’s contributions they remain engaging, which I think dramatically affects the probability that listeners are going to consistently stick with the album, front to back. Now, this isn’t merely a strategic point – if the songs sucked, or the vocals sucked, this discussion would cease to be of any relevance. The quality of the songwriting and performance is obviously a key element, but I’m just saying, once again — vocals can make a big difference.
ANYWAYS, this is an album well-worth exploring. It’s nothing like the other album I’ve written about this month (sonhos tomam conta’s hypnagogia), but in a way it achieves its ultimate goals in much the same way — it’s all about balance. There are a lot of ideas in play here, but none of them are overplayed to the detriment of the others, and as a result the record consistently feels fresh and engaging. When it all comes together like it does on tracks like “I’ve Grown, I’m Growing, I’m Still Unknowing,” and “Let’s Not Waste New Tears On Yesterday,” it’s really quite something to behold. It’s safe to say that BFNF have arrived with Ad Meliora, and after a quiet few months on the post-rock scene, its release kicks off what’s promising to be a great second half of the year.
sonhos tomam conta – hypnagogia
This was a completely random discovery for me, but it’s quickly become my most listened-to album of the past two weeks. The work of a single individual hailing from Sao Paulo, Brazil, hypnagogia is one of those rare examples where several somewhat contrasting influences converge to produce a near-perfect singular vision. Everything about this record clicks with me. It has elements of black metal, shoegaze, post-rock, screamo, and doom, and I know we’ve all heard that string of genres rattled off before in describing bands’ sounds, but this goes beyond simple pastiche.
It feels completely authentic and lived-in, and it’s also exceptionally well-balanced, never leaning too far in one direction but rather maintaining an unwavering sonic core that allows all of the components to swirl in orbit around it without ever losing focus. It’s heavy, it’s melodic, at times it’s unrestrained and cacophonous, at others gentle and soothing. It’s highly dramatic, yet not overwrought, and almost never ceases to be emotionally impactful. I can see almost no way that this album doesn’t end up on my Best of 2021 list at the end of the year. But there’s something far more important that I feel must be addressed with hypnagogia.
Take a moment to click through to the Bandcamp page for the album, and read the album text written by the artist. It’s concerning to say the least. It talks very frankly of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, personality disorder, and suicidal ideations. Be aware, it’s a difficult read. After a year and a half that for many people has been the most difficult they’ve ever faced, it’s now more important than ever to acknowledge mental health issues rather than pushing them to the side because they’re uncomfortable to talk about. Most of us know someone who is struggling, and it’s crucial to be available to them.
In the case of sonhos tomam conta, I would urge anyone who listens to this album and enjoys it to head over to their Bandcamp page and spend a few bucks on the album (it’s name-your-price currently). Hopefully we can send a message to this individual, make them aware that their music means something and has had an impact. It seems like they could benefit from a warm embrace, even if from afar, and considering how incredible this album is I can’t think of a better instance in which we should make it a point to support the artist.
Chassm – Falling Forever
It’s been quite the few years for fans of progressive, complicated, and darker post-metal. I mean, all of post-metal is dark; the genre is basically known as the shadowy counterpart to post-rock. But there’s a subset of bands that work within it that are just a tinge deeper into the bottomless abyss of bass, drums, and echoing riffs that make the genre tick and, for some reason, they also tend to be progressive and eclectic. Take Telepathy or Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, two blog favorites, as an example. They make music so complex and intricate that i would break the ankles of most post-rock and metal bands, looking wide and far for the influences on their compositions.
Late last month, we premiered another worthy entry into this cadre: Chassm’s Falling Forever (yes, I’m technically cheating as this album came out in June, but hey, who’s going to stop me?) Ever since we got to premiere that album, I’ve been diving deeper and deeper into it and it has paid me back tenfold for the time I’ve spent with it. Back then, I pointed out some of the more intricate passages on the album, highlighting how satisfyingly complex they were. But I missed something and that’s just how crushing this album can truly be, hinting at the band’s name and the subgenre’s predilection for drawing track, album, and band names from the sea.
I mean, just throw on “Dolores 2.0”, the album’s third track and listen to the absolutely relentless blast-beats that usher in the track. When the music relents from your jugular, it doesn’t exactly become later, instead attacking the heaviness from a bluesier, jazzier perspective. Further down the line, this all culminates in a riff which manages to be monstrously groovy and oppressive as all hell, especially when the harsh vocals kick in. Chassm have this disturbing ability to just “ride” whatever music they’re playing into the cavernous, oppressive place their music strives to, constantly drawing you down even when they’re playing things which are “lighter” in comparison.
And that’s the genius of the album and, indeed, of the sub-genre; it recognizes that heavy doesn’t mean simple and it doesn’t mean obvious. Heaviness is a state of mind or an aesthetic gesture and Chassm express it beautiful on Falling Forever. We’ve mentioned names a few times during this entry so let’s do so one more time: the album is perfectly named. It really does feel as if you’re falling down a spiral of post-metal, constantly meeting new bottoms and depths to Chassm’s work. It’s a bewildering ride and there’s a lot going on but it’s OK to just let go and let the waves wash over you as you sink deeper and deeper.
Hereafter – In The End, We’ll All Become Stories
One of the things that has contributed to the consistent outpouring of new post-rock in the world is the evolution of home recording technology. These developments have allowed for the solo-artist to be able write, record and master entire albums of multi-layered instruments all in one location. As a result, about every month there seems to be a worthwhile new release from a solo artist claiming a spot in our Post-Rock-Post. This month, one of those artists is PA based Hereafter, with their sophomore full-length In the End, We’ll All Become Stories.
One of my favourite things about this genre is its ability to conjure images in your head, of scenery, cities, or even certain climates or weather events. In the End excels at this, and I think Hereafter is aware of that in their song-title choices with names like “Snowy Nights in December” and “Seeing Through the Fog.” The nature of these cinematic soundscapes lends itself to introspection when there’s no vocals present, but it’s up to the artist to be able to be that source of fuel. The latter of the above spends the first half of the song in an ephemeral cloud-like world with a pastel haze, before that powerful distortion and low-end kick in to compliment and contrast from the dreaminess of those softer clean tones. Hereafter do an interesting job of being that conduit into your own mind, but also having the aptitude to snap you out of it at will. To bring that back to a more literal description of the music, they’ll ease you in with expansive reverb-laden melodies, and then punch you in the face with a groovy breakdown. It makes for an engaging melding of the often well-aligned melancholy and heaviness, and the drumming especially does a great job of accentuating those moments.
That style of building up atmospheric progressions towards a climax with the occasional punchy metal section is generally the structure of most of the songs on this album. Like many solo-artists in this genre, you at times can feel that notion that each song is a little bit derivative from the last and lacking outside influence. In the way that many songwriters will typically take all the water that goes into an album from the same well, so to speak. This isn’t necessarily a problem with this album, as that water all tastes pretty good, but it’s at least noticeable. Overall however, In the End, We’ll All Become Stories is revisitable in its versatility. The consistently ambient and atmospheric sides of it make for great background music while engaged in other activities, but it’s shifting moods and heavier moments make it engaging enough for more focused listens, with a few tracks like “The Runaround” being suitable for a cardio-workout playlist. I’ll definitely be looking out for where Hereafter can take us in the future.
Enjoy Eternal Bliss (Best of the Rest)
RWYR – Distance
Speaking of albums from June that I just feel like writing up now, I simply have to dedicate some time to RWYR and their endlessly shimmering Distance. It’s an album which embraces the electronic post-rock moniker completely, creating bright, scintillating soundscapes with little effort. The secret is in the synth tones and how rich and varied they are; this means that the album never falls into “background listening” territory, offering up enough complexity to keep you engaged. Throw in some thicker riffs to contrast thing and keep the palette varied as well and you’ve get an album that draws strength from its core sound without being afraid to dance some odd little dances around it. At the end of the day though, Distance is a work of joy and uses the genre of electronic post-rock brilliantly to express that joy through music.