More than any other post, I think, we’ve used the word “family” to describe what Post Rock Post means to us. The reception to this column, from the earliest days of its existence, has been exactly what you might expect from a genre like post-rock. Namely, it has been one huge, warm embrace, as members from the scene from all over the world (literally) have reached out to us and have become fast friends, collaborators, well-wishers, contact points, distributors, business partners, and more. All around this endeavor called post-rock, this oft-maligned, moving, emotional, grandiose, self-indulgent genre of music we all love so much. Honestly, it has been one of the best experiences of my life and something which I will treasure for ever.
This entry of Post Rock Post has as very good example of this: an interview with Simeon Bartholomew of SEIMS. If you’ve been following this column, or the blog in general, you know we love SEIMS. Their brand of off-kilter, energetic, and unrestrained jazz-fusion is one of my favorite things on this planet and I await each of their releases eagerly. But, even more than that, I’ve had the pleasure of calling Simeon a friend for a few years now. Even if that friendship manifests “only” online, I feel like I know Simeon quite well. On Instagram, through the Heavy Blog Facebook group, and through collaboration around his music, I’ve had the chance to see many sides of Simeon’s life, passion for music, his form of expression and also his hardships, challenges, and opportunities to rise above.
And now, at last, we have an interview with him running here, ahead of SEIMS’ release of their excellent FOUR which is, unsurprisingly, their fourth full album. Simeon responded to my questions as I imagined he would: with a personal voice. But even more than, he made especially sure to bring the front the communal and familial aspect of making music: how SEIMS is a group of musicians coming together to make something bigger than themselves but also how the birth of his daughter has changed his life and his approach to music and the many different events which make up a life. A life which, in turn, makes music. And is that not the most post-rock thing ever? How the small becomes the large and the large the small, how the world is written on our heart and in the world we find our heart’s writing?
Yeah. God, I love post-rock. After the interview, there’s also some amazing music, as is our habit. Please enjoy and do me a favor (or two): go hug the people you love. And go and listen to music which makes you cry. Thanks, I owe you one.
Take Me Somewhere Nice: SEIMS
Hello there Simeon!
Hi Heavy B!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. First things first: what the hell even is SEIMS? Where does the name come from?
A weird origin no doubt. Long story short I was in rehab for a knee injury for a really long period, and the receptionist who worked the front counter wasn’t great at pronouncing my name. To be fair, most people aren’t (cheers, mum and dad) and I’m normally quite forgiving with it. However, for roughly six months she’d pronounce it as “semen”.
“You know you can just call me Sim”, hoping that it would end this scenario. She looked at me and said, “OK SIMS.”
“There’s just one of me. It’s Sim.”
She wrote down “MERRY XMAS SEIMS!” on my Christmas card. I found the long-tail of this hilarious, but also kind of an apt way to describe the nature of this band!
When we premiered “The Mountain’s Scream”, your quote mentioned the birth of your daughter (congratulations by the way) and how it changed your perspective on life. Can you share a bit more about how that influenced the way you see and interact with music?
I’d come up with this concept in 2018 on the back off 3, and the music was written during 2019-2020, where a lot of my life goals were being ticked. We’d started 2019 with our mainstage appearance at Progfest, then released 3.1, toured Australia and played 8 shows in Japan…
Chris (drummer) and I headed to the US with one of our other bands to play a gig with Bad Religion for Tony Hawk (yes, you read that sentence correctly).
We came back home and recorded a couple of albums with some of our other bands, and then toured Australia with some of the other other bands I’m a part of. I married my bff5eva in a dinosaur museum, recorded yet another album with yet another band I’m in, and to round out the year, SEIMS were announced to play the mainstage at ArcTanGent 2020, and subsequently spent my summer attempting to book a EU tour.
2020 comes round, and we find out we’re expecting a girl.
Mind you, up until about 5 years ago – I never wanted to have children of my own. I was set to be perma-fun-uncle. My initial worry (besides the classic “how do I raise a family? Do I make enough to put bread on the table? Do I have to enroll her into high school already? Am I remotely qualified to raise a functioning human being who can contribute to society?”) was losing focus on what makes me happy, and what keeps me grounded; and if substituting my passion and career with parenthood would be as emotionally fulfilling as the Steve Martin films make it out to be.
The little legend bursts out of my wife, and as it turns out – parenthood is pretty awesome. It’s exhausting, draining, and emotionally rewarding. If anything, it’s given me more focus on my music career, and how I utilise my time to do something meaningful and purposeful.
This album’s concept was something that I’ve always been fascinated in – the art of communication. And creating a (mostly) instrumental album themed around miscommunication without the literal form of verbal communication was a personal creative challenge I set myself, and how I could… communicate the nuances, misinterpretations, contextual and situational influences that would normally impact the intent or reception of a conversation.
This deepdive of communication is now more important than ever – my daughter is 10 months old and attempting to converse with me at every step, without the ability to verbalise her intent (well, except for the words “Elmo” and “book”), and it’s the ‘everything else’ that I’ve got to decrypt to understand what she wants.
FOUR continues SEIMS’ penchant for unbridled energy in your music, everything sounds like it’s about to fall off the rails. How do you stay on the thin line between powerful music and losing your cohesiveness?
Write tight. Don’t rehearse.
I wish I had a bigger, more constructed/conceptual/secret spicy answer for this, but I don’t. We don’t rehearse any of this as a band. And it’s a completely intentional, creative choice.
I’m incredibly lucky that I have Australia’s best musicians (no word of a lie) as part of the SEIMS lineup, and this is a crucial part of this process. I wholeheartedly trust their ability, their intent, and their musical intelligence, so when it gets to being in the studio, we’re not sitting there recording take after take after take and selecting the one they played the most “perfect”. We spend more time talking about phrasing and dynamic and overall arrangement and emphasis and emotional intent. And it’s a very important conversation. The dots on paper are the last thing we ever worry about.
Every song you hear on the album features the first or second take of every musician, because it has inherent anticipation, fragility, and the slightest imperfections. The only time where I tried to break my rule was the guitar solo I did on Biting Tongues. We recorded almost 20 takes, and every take got cleaner, and more perfect. And by the end, it had all the charm sucked out and it sounded so out of place. The first take is what made the final cut.
Can you tell us more about the writing process behind SEIMS’ music? Your sound is very intricate so how do you work together to make sure that it all fits together when you write it?
The process isn’t as glamorous as the final result implies. I compose all the tracks in my home studio at the wee hours of the morning, and write them in MIDI form on my piano (even my guitar parts etc. so I don’t forget how to play them when we get to the studio – it’s happened before!) I’ll track every instrument and give it a poorly sounding VST, just to ensure it sounds together, or quickly demo different instruments i.e. should this part be on viola or flugelhorn? And if the MIDI barebones has a vibe, then that’s normally a good sign.
I’ll then send the MIDI to Chris (drums) and give him some direction on what I’d like from his drum arrangement i.e. “don’t change what I wrote here / keep the snare pattern here because that locks into xyz / delete my drum idea and do whatever you want but the vibe is abc” etc. and then he’ll shoot through a couple of demo drum takes of what he’s thinking. My feedback is always pretty minimal (because he’s amazing), and normally involves things like how the drums refer back/affect the song’s overall composition.
From there it’s a matter of uploading it to Soundcloud and listening to them randomly on walks / in the car etc. and “roadtesting” the track. Is there anywhere I naturally tune out? Is the main harmony still intact? Does it make me tap my foot after the 50th listen? I question things a lot.
I’ll write charts out for the rest of the musicians with some shitty notes (it normally involves me apologising) and then “see you all at the studio!” Nothing really evolves beyond that point – our studio time is always very structured and methodical as the arrangements are water-tight by then, and we can spend more time focusing on crafting sounds and textures, and having those very important conversations.
Finally, are you planning another release like 3.1 to support FOUR or is the extent of your current material on the album? Please say you are.
Don’t be so greedy. Isn’t 10 songs enough?
And there you have it. If this interview doesn’t convince you to pick up SEIMS’ FOUR, then I don’t know what will. Just preorder it below, alright? Good talk.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
Driving Slow Motion – Adrift:Abyss (cinematic post-rock)
Back in 2019, Driving Slow Motion completely disarmed me with Arda. I knew nothing about the relatively new band but just hit play on it based on some recommendations. What followed was a meditative dive into melancholy, a post-rock album which bordered on slow-core. The oft used adjective “cinematic” doesn’t really do it, or this newer release, justice; there’s something more than “just” broad and sweeping about DSM’s music. There’s something about it that’s like sinking, a growing weight that sweeps you under its torrid and yet oddly chilling sort of noise blanket. On Adrift:Abyss, these sensibilities are further explored, at times stretched out even further into ambience but only as a setup for the most crushing “descents” of DSM’s career thus far.
Opening track “Leaves” is a perfect example of this. It starts off “light” enough; the tone of the guitars is morose, the delay effects are substantial, and the entire track up until its mid-mark is that classic DSM sound. Like a rainy afternoon which stretches into forever but is not necessarily unpleasant. After the middle point though, the music “falls away”, leaving a fair bit of time for an ambient passage that sketches out the outlines and borders of the previous musical ideas but strips them of much of their presence. This quieter, more sparse passage stands on its own merits; DSM’s control of melodies and their ability to transform them into this more lightweight mode is a joy to hear.
But this ambient passage is also eventually contextualized by the huge outro which crashes on the listener, an absolutely massive version of the main musical idea of the track, transformed into a riff. This is like thunder echoing out over a turbulent sea, accentuating the subtleties of the waves below it, of the music that came before it, and painting them large for the observer to experience. Of course, as you might have already expected, the track which follows it falls quiet again, for its entire duration this time. “Reflection” is the quiet after (and before) the storm, a deep breath which fills the cavity left behind by “Leaves”’s tumultuous ending.
The rest of the album moves through and resides in these sorts of tensions. For example, “Cathedral Dreams” is one of the best DSM tracks to date and also revolves around these feelings of rises and falls, of towering heights and bottomless lows. Perhaps more than any previous DSM release, Adrift:Abyss draws strength from the spaces around the gentle and forceful exploration of musical ideas and the power released in that exploration. While the album is shorter than their previous releases, it feels even richer, filled with callbacks, echoes, and retreads, iterations pulled off in the best possible of ways. DSM’s returns are carefully engineered to pick out pieces of their music and hand them to the listener, the better to tempt us into diving deeper and deeper into their music. And dive we shall; see you at the bottom.
Trna – Istok (instrumental blackgaze, post-black metal)
This is the fourth LP from the St. Petersburg trio, but it’s also an album of notable first. It’s their maiden outing after having to leave the soon-to-be-defunct boutique post-rock label Elusive Sound (whose final release will be the fantastic sophomore album from BLAK, which debuted in late August in digital format and will be unveiled on vinyl around the end of this year). It’s also the first time they’ve explored more manageable track lengths – at least manageable relative to the 15-20 minute format that characterized their earlier work. It also marks their first foray into featuring vocals, as the unnamed singer for the mysterious Portuguese black metal band Gaerea steps in to contribute to “Shining” (Trna does hedge their bets a bit, though, featuring an instrumental version of the track at the end of the digital album).
If you aren’t familiar with the musicians behind Trna, it really is high time to become acquainted. Their members also contribute to other St. Petersburg bands like the post-black outfit Show Me A Dinosaur, who released the superb Plantgazer last year, and Somn, whose 2019 blackened post-hardcore/post-metal debut The All-devouring made it into my Top 5 albums of year. These cats have some serious pedigree at this point, and it shows in the precision and wisdom that guide the songwriting on Istok.
There is a lot of room for error when you’re an instrumental black metal band: it’s so tempting to go all in on the furious riffing and blast beats that the genre has made its name on, but the truth is that approach is all about creating maximum impact with these moments of unleashed frenzy, and if that’s all you’re doing you’re actually decreasing your power through constant bludgeoning, which listeners will eventually grow immune to. On the other hand, you could do a wholesale ripoff of the Deafheaven soft/loud formula, but recent records by that band seem to show that even they’ve kind of exhausted that compositional style and moved on from it.
Where Trna stand up tall is in their ability to vary their pacing, volume, and dynamics. They come right out of the gate on fire with the title track, parlaying a huge, dramatic post-metal opening into a more measured and mid-tempo but no less moving midsection, and it isn’t until they are nearing the five minute mark that the black metal elements begin to be folded in. The track is ultimately comprised of four unique passages which effortlessly come together into a cohesive whole. Then they hit the listener with the epic black metal dramatics from the first moment of “Echoes of the Past,” which I find to be a savvy choice, displaying their ability to thoughtfully reserve their bigger moments for the spaces in which they are able to hit the hardest.
“Shining” is definitely the centerpiece here, opening with a galloping drum beat accompanied by an almost breezy guitar progression (by black metal standards at least, which is where the band’s post-rock leanings reveal themselves the clearest). The vocals genuinely add an essential layer to song, which is unsurprising since Trna’s members are no strangers to singers from their experience in their other bands. A short shoegaze-influenced section during the back half gives an appropriate amount of space to allow the band and the singer to build up to the dramatically crashing conclusion.
Although it does feature some traditional black metal composition, much of “Burning Bridges, Shattered Dreams” is a welcome departure, leaning into darker, more sinister metal territories. Its second half, however, readjusts and shifts seamlessly back into a more traditional, and thoroughly inspired blackgaze realm which reveals what may be Istok’s most epic moments. The album closes with “Rebirth,” a fitting finale that showcases a little bit of everything from the band’s repertoire. Istok is one of the grandest recent examples of an album that successfully finds the sweet spot in the traditional black metal/blackgaze/post-rock Venn diagram, and if you enjoy this make sure to dig further into the St. Petersburg scene; it’s likely you’ll find a whole lot more material to scratch the itch if Trna is the kind of thing that piques your interest.
Enjoy Eternal Bliss (Best of the Rest)
Mono – Pilgrimage of the Soul (cinematic post-rock)
I’ll be honest with you: the last two Mono releases were very underwhelming for me. Part of it is because I consider The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness, their 2014 release, to be one of the best post-rock albums ever released. But part of it is also because Mono seemed more interested in making only one part of their music well, namely the more atmospheric and “light weight” part of their sound. The melodies were pretty enough but without a good heft to accompany it, heft previously provided by their heavier sound or their crescendos, it all felt sort of empty and devoid of energy. They were good enough; Mono are all extremely talented musicians, after all. But I wasn’t really able to fully get into them; they sort of passed me by with their.
This is the part where I say “however”. However! Pilgrimage of the Soul gladly sees me whole-heartedly embracing Mono again. The album has plenty of ambience and “prettier” moments but it once again sounds like Mono are interested in putting as much effort into the heavier parts of their music again. Take opener “Riptide” and its follow up, “Imperfect Things”. Starting with the latter first, it is all looping electronics and thin, morose guitars. But it works so well because “Riptide” is an absolute rager, kicking off the album with one of Mono’s best riffs to date. By the time the dreamy “Imperfect Things” rolls around, you’re in the right mindset, coming off of the high of “Riptide” dopamine releasing ride. Not to mention the fact that “Imperfect Things” has its own, heavier agenda nearer its end, underpinned with one of the grooviest drumming segments of their career.
Overall, Pilgrimage of the Soul is premium Mono. It is delicate and dreamy. It conjures the wind and open skies, it calls to windswept hills covered with meadows. But it also contains the storm, anger, rain, and thrust, pushing the other, more conceptual pieces of its sound ever-forward. It’s a true return to form for one of post-rock best acts of all time and I, for one, re-welcome our overlords.
Closet Disco Queen – Omelette du Fromage
Listen, I am somewhat self-aware and I know that I’ve spent the better part of the last year and a half razzing bands for insisting on the endless build/dramatic-crescendo formula, but don’t get me wrong – when that composition style is executed well (see: Caspian’s “Sycamore,” Explosions in the Sky’s “First Breath After Coma,” and really the entirety of Years of Rice and Salt’s criminally underrated album Nothing of Cities) it’s one of the most heart-wrenching, soul-affirming, overwhelmingly beautiful things music has to offer. But that can’t be all there is. I desperately need more bands that channel breathless energy over banal emotion, because, let’s face it: it’s way easier to make someone want to dance than it is to make them want to weep. It’s almost insulting that so many bands seem to think they can just pull the heartstrings at will without putting in a professional effort. And that’s where this ornery old-man preamble comes to Closet Disco Queen.
THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Here’s a band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously (adding “The Flying Raclettes” to their name for this album and naming it after a Dexter’s Laboratory episode), and understands the value of a riff. On their Bandcamp page they name The Mars Volta, Breach, Goat, and The Hives, and while I’m 100% here for that, there are also heavy doses of Kyuss, Smashing Pumpkins circa Aeroplane Flies High, Saetia, and Finch, and I am REALLY here for that. Usually when I hear the term “krautrock” used to describe anything my first instinct is to shrink away, but in both the opening two tracks and the closer of Omelette du Fromage Closet Disco Queen plays directly into the tropes of that subgenre, but are just so forceful and fiery that it immediately turns my frown into a stinkface. And those are my least favorite songs on the record.
Closet Disco Queen is one of those intriguing bands that clearly exists within the post-rock genre, but you’d never be able to tell from their approach to the music. They seem to happily exist outside of the framework, releasing records on their own personal label, Hummus Records. In a way they remind me of the UK collective Poly-math, or Montreal’s avante-garde darlings Atsuko Chiba, in that they’re ostensibly artists of interest within the post-rock realm, but they don’t seem particularly aware of it, or interested in kowtowing to any of the expectations that come with that terminology. But where those two bands rely on an in-the-know audience to really absorb the brilliance of what they’re doing, I feel like Closet Disco Queen could show up at my local dive bar and absolutely slay. They have a kind of brash, balls-to-wall, delightfully trashy rock sensibility that is virtually unseen in post-rock, but I’ll be goddamned if we couldn’t use a whole lot more of this. All I know is that I could listen to “Spartacuisse” over and over and over again and never get sick of it, and I don’t know how many current post-rock bands I can make that kind of statement about. Make it a point to seek this record out.
Seabreather – Off A Bow Echo
I love when an album’s description, or background information however brief, can augment your listening experience. This was the case with Seabreather’s Off A Bow Echo, another great solo project to emerge just this year, featuring guest contributions from the likes of Hereafter who we’ve covered on this column previously. Like their debut EP released back in May which was focused on the ocean and the changing tides, each release is noted to be centred around a theme of an element of nature. “Off A Bow Echo” writes Seabreather, “is about rain and the heavy, immense storms that bring it. A rainstorm can be gentle and quiet…or it can be thunderous and devastating. But whether the sky is bright or dark, the rain will always fall…”
These ideas instantly become visualized while you’re listening to this, be it the turbulent Toundra sounding swaying melodies of “Squalls” or the more humid morning rain of “ESD”. The latter was the first standout on the album for me, with its delicately plucked violin(?) string sound used prominently, very reminiscent of some of Balmorhea‘s work. It feels like the calm post-storm drizzle, when you’re not sure if it’s still raining or it’s just the sound of water dripping from the trees around you. I’m surprised the track’s not named “Petrichor”, but maybe that’s been overdone already by prog bands.
Off A Bow Echo consists of five tracks, spanning over 30 minutes with the final two combining for over half of that play time. Here they expand their pallet even further, incorporating more electronic elements such as a distant thundering rumble of an electronic beat, and more sludge-influenced guitar riffs. Multiple layers of guitar swarm together for a whirling monsoon of sound, with the lead guitar dancing throughout like a plane caught in the turbulence of a storm. There’s a bit ofsSleepmakeswaves in their ability to construct and seamlessly collide these various forces into an easily digestible form with a cinematic fervor. It’s not the most original or cavalier post-rock you’ll find, but Seabreather have crafted a highly serviceable and worthwhile addition to the post-rock ethos.
The Endless Shimmering (Other Notable Releases)
Glasgow Coma Scale – Sirens (post-rock)
Lehnen – Negative Space (heavygaze, post-rock)
Liontortoise – Sisters (instrumental prog metal, post-rock)
Lovewillsaveus – Pink (post-rock, shoegaze)
molino – molino (jazzy instrumental math rock)
Thumos – Nothing Further Beyond (post-metal, instrumental, stoner, thrash)
Transmission Zero – Bridges (post-rock, cinematic)