I bet if you did one of those word clouds for posts that we’ve written on the blog the past two years, the word “rest” would be featured pretty prominently. That’s no surprise as we had into our third (!) plague year; even if you’re lucky to be reading this from a place which has started to see the end of the pandemic due to vaccination, I think it’s safe to say that we all now realize that “normal” doesn’t exist and going back to it is not an option. Whether you have the privilege of working from home or you’re out there working in a service industry, the future looks grim and things are hard. Even if they don’t seem to be. Even if there isn’t a huge meteor heading your way or someone with a gun pointed at your head, the ambience of our lives has become one of danger and, as a result, of fatigue.
Which is why rest is so important. Which, incidentally, is why post-rock is now more important than ever. Yeah, I said “important”; sue me. At this juncture in our lives, or at least in my life, I feel like music which allows me to look inside or to travel far away in mind is more important than ever for my survival. I’ve fallen back on post-rock more and more during this period, using its exploratory and sweeping movements to help me step away from the intense hustle and on-guard gestures of my day to day life. But sometimes rest means less music and it often means less writing which is why the post today (and in the last few months, if we’re being honest) is shorter than usual. A lot of us resting. A lot of us are taking the time to recuperate, to spend our energies elsewhere in life, to make sure that the constant, invisible tidal wave of stress is being shored up where those defenses are most needed.
The year is also winding down and end of year lists are looming. Winter is taking hold. Things are getting slower. And that’s OK. There’s still great music. We’ve written about some of it below. There’s also a lot of great music we didn’t cover here. That’s also OK. It will be there for us one day. Or not. Either way, it exists and we turn our flashlights to a tiny portion of it even when all hands are on deck and churning out content. What difference does it really make if we cover 0.01% of all excellent music or 0.1%? Not much.
So. Enjoy. Take stock of the things that are good in your life. Hug those you love. And remember to rest.
Take Me Somewhere Nice: Shy, Low – Snake Behind The Sun
The first time I heard the Richmond, VA-originated band Shy, Low was when I spun their 2015 LP Hiraeth, more specifically the album opener “Nostos.” The track immediately resonated with me as it wove a tapestry of guitars in that special kind of way that is somehow both melancholy and triumphant. I was transported back to my college days, when I was delving hard into then-new groups like Sparta, Explosions in the Sky, and Cursive, as well as the local Connecticut post-hardcore/emo acts In Pieces and Building A Factory. It was a sense I don’t often get from modern post-rock acts, but I’m exceptionally excited when I do. The first time I saw Shy, Low live, at a sushi restaurant in Salem, MA (of course), it was a much different story. These cats were heavy, and at that point I only became more intrigued. Until recently the only thing they’d released since then was the 2017 EP Burning Day, but those two songs proved to be a very enticing preview of their newest record Snake Behind The Sun, which was released October 8th on Pelagic Records.
Snake Behind The Sun is a beast of an album. Easily in the Top 5 post-rock/post-metal releases of the year, it’s one of those records where the production on every instrument is standout, giving it a punchiness and sense of purpose that grabs you from the instant you hit play and keeps you in its grips throughout. It’s also able to maintain that grasp because, simply, there’s hardly any down time. There are powerhouse riffs spread throughout, but even when the music quiets a bit the compositions are such that everything still moves with strong pace and thorough impact. If ever you find yourself bemoaning a lack of invention or impact in current instrumental music, let this record find its way to your headphones to have your displeasure set at ease. Anyone who digs the direction that Coastlands have gone over their past two albums should be the same audience for Snake Behind The Sun. It’s post-rock… I guess? Except it’s really more just instrumental post-metal at this point, which I’m 100% here for. We spoke to the band recently and asked them to shed some light on what’s been happening in their world to lead them to these impressively aggressive new heights.
Heavy Blog Is Heavy: This feels like a very basic question to start things out, but what is the origin of the name Shy, Low? I’ve always just accepted the name at face value but it’s unique, particularly the inclusion of punctuation. Where did your name come from?
Shy, Low – Believe it or not, we’ve rarely gotten asked this question but it’s one that doesn’t particularly have the most exciting answer. Back in 2011, Gregg and Zak were part of a post-metal group called Vessel. The project originally had a vocalist but after he decided to move forward with other personal endeavors, we changed sonically and started writing what would become the self-titled record. With that sonic shift it was decided that a name change was necessary, and after tossing around a few ideas Shiloh came to the table and was the front runner. I can’t remember who had the idea to change the spelling and throw in the punctuation, but we decided to stick with it. While it’s helped us stand out, it’s also created some confusion in the past, particularly with being confused for Low.
HBIH: Your most recent record Snake Behind The Sun goes to some places that I very much appreciate, recalling some of the music I grew up on back in the mid-90’s to mid-2000’s. But that could be me just hearing what I want to hear; what would you say were your greatest influences in writing this album?
SL – I would have to say the biggest influence on the writing process of this record was the addition of our newest members, Drew Storks & Dylan Partridge. Both Drew and & Dylan, while having similar musical backgrounds as Zak & Gregg, brought something completely new to the table and allowed the band to explore ideas we had never had the opportunity to previously. One of the main goals of this record was to try and encompass as much of our individual influences, regardless how different they can be at times, while still maintaining the integrity of what the band is.
HBIH: You guys have been in the game for a while now, going on nearly ten years. Can you talk a bit about the development of the band? What were your goals when you got into this, how have they evolved over time, and what are they now and for the future?
SL – It’s crazy to think that it’s been almost a decade since this project started. We were fresh out of high school and were definitely a little wet behind the ears, but since then we’ve shaped and grown both as a band and as individuals. Initially, a long-term goal was to get to a point where we were able to tour off of the east coast, then that evolved to touring into Canada, and then eventually Europe. Back in 2019 we had the opportunity to play at both Post in Paris and dunk!fest on our second European tour. We also hope to continue pushing ourselves creatively and sonically. It’s been amazing to see the continued support that people have shown us over the years, and we couldn’t be more thankful for everyone who’s stuck with us this long.
HBIH: Your career has tracked through a considerable chunk of the “crescendocore” era of post-rock, a stylistic approach that we’ve seen both widely lauded and, more recently, mocked for its sonic and thematic regurgitations. Your record Hiraeth beautifully takes on some of the more atmospheric, gentle qualities often assigned to that style, but for the most part Shy, Low has leaned much more into heavier territories. Are your records simply the result of what you happen to be feeling in the moment, or have you approached writing with the conscious intention of going in one direction or another depending on how you viewed the genre at the time?
SL: I think it’s always been a bit of both. With previous releases, it’s mainly been four people in a room, trying to capture and organize ideas that were floating around and then restructure from that point to fit any theme or emotion we had in mind. For Hiraeth, we purposely decided to approach the sonic direction from a more subtle, thematic point, incorporating soft string arrangements. On the opposite end, when we were writing Burning Day, we purposely tried to keep things more raw and overall aggressive. Snake Behind the Sun is an amalgamation of all those ideas, the extremes on both ends, and has a heavy focus on building structure based on riffs more than texture.
HBIH: What initially drew you to post-rock, and how do you feel about how it has progressed over time? What would you like to see more of and/or less of as the style moves forward?
SL: To be honest, I’m not sure any of us set out to start a band in the “Post-Rock” genre. I think it just came naturally when we split ways with our vocalist back in 2011. Zak and I knew of bands like Mono, Sigur Ros, Hammock, and others but I’m not sure if either of us set out to start this style of band…it just happened.
It does seem like while there will always be a few bands that follow the typical song structure under the post-rock sound, we are finding a lot of bands that are definitely incorporating some new elements and it’s working really well. Like any genre, it’s okay to evolve a bit as new “tools” come out to alter the sound of a guitar, or bands in other genres put out records that also influence ones in our genre. I personally don’t know what I’d like to see moving forward, as long as those who are playing music and in bands are enjoying themselves and not boxing themselves into one specific sound.
HBIH: This question is specifically for Gregg: Most fans of the post-rock genre are familiar with your work both in Shy, Low and Au Revoir. What is like having the simultaneous experiences of performing with these bands? I’m especially curious in the differences between being the primary songwriter and being a person who is helping to flesh out the vision of another songwriter.
SL: It’s been interesting over the years growing with each band. Both bands are known for different things within the genre and social media and all that. Shy, Low is a little more serious of the two but can get goofy for sure, while Au Revoir is a van full of goons playing serious music. Both are equally enjoyable, and if I had the choice I’d just push everyone to make a supergroup. When SBTS was written with Shy, Low, I’d say Drew and Zak took on 80% of the writing honestly. I was in a weird headspace during a lot of the writing process with that record and was struggling to find myself able to contribute 100% the way I had hoped. In the past, we have all collaborated pretty evenly in a room, though, and this record was written and demoed a lot via computer. With Au Revoir, it’s similar now to where someone brings a few ideas to the table and then we run with them in the practice space until we have landed on a concrete song.
HBIH: The last time many of us were taking part in the live music scene Shy, Low was featured in festivals on both sides of the world, having played dunk!festival and Post. Festival in 2019. What were those experiences like, and how are you feeling about the prospects of re-entering the world of touring and live performance?
SL: Our experience at dunk!festival was unreal. I think we were all hesitant about playing the Forest stage initially, but when we actually got on stage and felt the amazing energy from the crowd, that and just the awesome atmosphere made us feel incredibly comfortable and we all walked off stage feeling very confident with how our performance went. Post. Festival was wonderful as well but we weren’t at our full lineup so that changed the feeling a tad. I think all of us are super eager to get back to touring and playing shows and festivals for sure. There are so many incredible line-ups getting announced and it’s putting positive thoughts back into our minds about touring and seeing our friends all around the world again.
HBIH: What bands, new or old, have you been listening to the most lately? Any gems from the past that you think more people should know about? How about current bands that most deserve to be heard by a wider audience? You basically have carte blanche to step up on a soapbox for any music, genre non-withstanding, that you feel strongly about and tell us why you feel that way.
SL: BRUIT, Soul Glo, Portrayal of Guilt, Brutus, LLNN, Year of no Light, Chilledcow spotify channel, MEW, Failure, Thrice, Deftones, SOM, Lesser Glow, Cult of Luna… these are some bands that just have the “IT” factor in our eyes, or are good friends of ours that continue to put out great stuff.
HBIH: Aside from music, what have you guys been getting up to over the past year and a half? Many people have been re-discovering their passions or finding new hobbies. Anything you can think of that has made these past 18 months more bearable for everyone in the band?
SL: We are all working full time and spending time with our significant others and families. Gregg just recently got married and they are still working slowly on their bus conversion. Drew is working on a few movie film shoots and recording bands in his down time. Dylan is a bartender on most nights, skateboarding, and working on art. Zak has been working on visual art, volunteering at a local animal shelter and is in a few other music projects with Drew and some other friends.
HBIH: What’s on the horizon for Shy, Low? What can fans expect the next year or so to look like for the band?
SL: – We have a few more things to release tied in with Snake Behind The Sun that we are very excited about. Aside from that, we are working on locking down some touring dates, beginning the writing process again, and solidifying something special for Spring 2022.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
SEIMS – FOUR (jazz-fusion, math-rock, progressive rock)
On last month’s Post Rock Post we featured an interview with SEIMS. In its introduction, I mentioned how important the band are too me and the personal connections I share with the band. So I think introducing all of you to what SEIMS are about and what they do is a bit redundant at this point and, besides, if you don’t know, you can just listen to their music (just pick an album, they’re all good). Then I thought I could use this space to talk about the music itself (gasp!). However, I soon realized that what I had just said (about you being able to just put one of their albums on) obviates that as well. I mean, you could technically say that about all music and then we could just shut the blog down. But with SEIMS it really is the case; there’s something very communicative about their music that makes listening to them an approachable and still challenging and interesting experience.
So, instead, I want to do something else and focus on one specific element of FOUR, their latest release, which I haven’t really seen anyone talking about: its leitmotif. In case you are not familiar with the musical term, here’s Wikipedia to the rescue: “A leitmotif or leitmotiv (/ˌlaɪtmoʊˈtiːf/) is a “short, recurring musical phrase” associated with a particular person, place, or idea.” In essence, a leitmotif in music is a recurring segment of music which conveys an emotion, a figure, a place or even a state of mind and which tends to recur throughout the work in different interpretations, but always made up of the same basic building blocks. It’s one of my favorite mechanisms of music exactly because of that: I love hearing a series of ideas or sounds explored in many different iterations. It’s fascinating to me how many different versions of the same basic building blocks a band can come up with and it truly speaks to the uniqueness and beauty of music.
Well, luckily for us, FOUR has a brilliant leitmotif. You can hear it, appropriately enough and is most commonly practiced, on the first track of the album, “The Mountain’s Lullaby”. It will then, as befits the mechanism, appear throughout the album; you can hear it sneaking about in “The Pursuit of Intermediate Happiness” (what a wonderful name for a track), in the chord progressions of the explosive “Showdown Without a Victim” which follows it (hint: listen to the synths) and, of course, triumphantly return on the majestic “The Mountain’s Scream” which closes off the album. In every iteration of it it will have a different flavor: on the first example of “The Pursuit of Intermediate Happiness” it provides the track with the spring in its step, its lilting melody guiding it along. On “Showdown” it’s almost like a pattern, a limit, or a border inside of which the track explodes, blooming compositions dancing around and within the leitmotif.
And on “The Mountain’s Scream” it is catharsis incarnate, the end of the journey and the beginning of another, much larger one, called life. By transmuting this motif throughout the album, and finally giving it flight and “release” on the closing track, SEIMS are able to achieve a few things. First, they achieve interest. It’s “simply” interesting, on the “lowest” level of listening, to hunt for the leitmotif and try to identify it. Then, they achieve progress (progressive rock, yeah?). By following the leitmotif as it changes, you are guided through the music and the many iterations which it goes on, not just the changes to the leitmotif itself. It’s a sort of guide, a constant (if wavering) beacon which sees you on your way.
And, lastly, SEIMS use the leitmotif to achieve affect. Because you are so intent on the leitmotif, it draws you into the music and the changes in its mood (from playful through forceful all the way to jubilant) change your mood as well. And that’s what I meant when I said that the album ends in life: the album ends by releasing you to go on your way but leaving something with you. You have been affected by the album; your internal world has changed. By listening to the leitmotif and following along with it, you have let the album and it’s had a bit of a good time with your innards. It has left you different than when you first started listening and it will leave you a bit different whenever you listen to it again. That’s the beauty of the leitmotif, after all, right? It’s always different but always just the same.
God, what an album.
Enjoy Eternal Bliss (Best of the Rest)
KINDOFKIND – Odds & Ends Begin to Even Out
There’s very little I like in this world more than math-rock that wears its joy in music on its sleeve. In essence, I choose to believe, math-rock is a happy, jubilant, extravagant genre and while I definitely have space in my heart for more somber or post-rock influenced releases (flavors of which this album also has) in the style, sometimes I just want music that’s exploding in my face and in my heart. That’s the kind of music KINDOFKIND have made on Odds & Ends Begin to Even Out. It’s an album that sounds like a peacock looks, adorned in all sorts of colorful riffs, drum beats, and weird, math-y structures. Oh, and it even includes awesome vocals, sometimes singing heartfelt lyrics about relationships, self-confidence, life, death and sometimes (like on opener “What Are the Odds!?”) simply adding another layer of instrumentation to the rest of the music. Think early Snooze or Standards but with less fruit and slightly more groove and you’ve got KINDOFKIND. What’s not to like? Go have fun.