Earlier this month, something that doesn’t happen often occurred: I suddenly realized I didn’t have any post-rock to write about for this post. This could be for a few reasons. First, it might just be my mood; I’ve been working long and intense hours and when that happens, I tend to gravitate towards more aggressive, engaging sort of music. Secondly, it might be because, overall, 2022 appears to be a year of quality over quantity for post-rock; there just aren’t that many albums being released. However, I don’t think that’s really the case as this month was actually pretty good on that front. Lastly, it might just be the case that great post-rock is being made in good quantities but, because of the first point but also just because of the fact that I have my own taste, not much stuff in the vein that I usually enjoy is being made.
Happily enough, this entire discussion is theoretical and consigned to a week or so. With and without my request, the great musical network that I have came to my rescue. Both Trent and David recommended some fantastic music to me, some of which I’ve covered below, and others in my online circles chimed in as well. Suddenly, I found myself with several albums I could write about and one (which I chose to cover) blew me away. I took it in stride, at first; after all, I’m pretty used to exercising these social muscles, as I do so all the time. I am, like many who write for the blog, a constant listening post for new music.
But when I set down to write this introduction, I suddenly realized how blessed I really am and how much I should cherish the incredible group of people who write this column with me, my friends in the post-rock community at large, and the countless people who otherwise interact with me around music. It really does make my life better in immeasurable ways, not only making the task of writing about music so much easier but also adding much joy into my life in the form of that music itself. So, presented below please find, once again and for as long as we can, some excellent music from this genre/community/flavor called post-rock.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
RLYR – RLYR
This Chicago trio is the side project of three local guys who go way back in the Windy City heavy music scene, although after six years and three releases maybe it’s time to stop referring to RLYR as a side project. While I’m not familiar with the work of drummer Steven Hess (Locrian and Cleared), I do know Colin DeKuiper (Bloodiest) as the original Russian Circles bassist, who left the band early on, paving the way for Brian Cook. But what drew me to RLYR when they first surfaced in 2016 was the presence of Pelican guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw. Honestly, even if I hadn’t been aware of his contribution at the time I would have figured it out very quickly, because his distinct tone and playing style carry over considerably into the mix here.
The band’s first couple of records, RLYR – Delayer and Actual Existence certainly had some intriguing elements carrying them through, but at times the songs could come off a bit like Pelican jam sessions that never materialized into anything and ended up as default RLYR tunes. It also can’t be ignored that the sound mix really leaves something to be desired. Their new self-titled record is considerably better, and I think that’s in large part due to more focused songwriting, a clear identity apart from Pelican, and much crisper production values. There are some real bangers on here, and while you can still feel that stoner-doom-by-way-of-post-rock sensibility that characterizes de Brauw’s playing, there’s just something about RLYR that feels much fresher and more confidently defined.
Opening track “Distructure” features a slow-burning first couple of minutes, then eventually reveals itself as a strong tone-setter as it steps into thrashier territory while also putting some sharp melodic hooks on display. “Real Air” is a harmonious fusion of infectious rhythmic chugging, dreamy atmospherics, and aggressive blast beat-driven passages. The subsequent track “Head Womb” ups the ante on that formula and delivers with even more assurance. If I was choosing one song to represent the album (I hesitate to use the word “single,” since this is clearly not that kind of album or music), this would be the one.
However, the band saves what is potentially the most interesting and adventurous track for last. “Codeine Horse” is a sprawling 15-minute effort that has apparently been around for quite some time, but had to be held back partially due to COVID delaying recording sessions. What could have been a song in stasis instead became more of a fluid, living thing, continuously expanding as the band waited for the opportunity to record it. In its present state it’s a lush, druggy epic that is given the space to do its own world-building, and as a listener you become powerless to do anything but lose yourself and melt into the music.
RLYR is without a doubt the album I’ve been waiting for from these guys. There was no doubt that the potential was always enticingly present, but this is the first time the band has felt like a distinct creative collective as opposed to a side project. Each member’s primary band is still active, so I don’t know if we’ll ever see RLYR on stage anywhere (outside of maybe Chicago, at least), but now we have a definitive work showcasing their power, a record that stands boldly on its own as opposed to an intriguing idea lacking replay value.
Towers of Jupiter – III
There are two facts that I would like to call out here at the outset of this entry that should clue you into how deeply and quickly I fell in love with this album. The first one is that I first heard it yesterday, following David’s recommendation, and that I’ve since heard it five times and I’m already writing an entry on it. The second is that David has already covered this album, down below in this very post. I just couldn’t give up on writing my own thoughts on it because Towers of Jupiter’s III is something truly outstanding.
If you lay all the pieces of the album before you, it might not seem something so special or unique. We’ve certainly seen our share of slower and more ambient post-rock albums in the last few years and even ones which draw on stoner and doom sensibilities as much as this album does. But we haven’t quite heard these different parts arrayed in the same way, and to the same degree of expertise, as we have on III. I think what sets the album mostly apart is how much the music is in correspondence with, or even downright influenced by, classic doom/goth/funeral bands like Ahab and early era Anathema. It lends III a weight that is not often seen in post-rock circles, perhaps drawing the incredibly illustrious and prestigious comparison to Soldat Hans.
But III is not exactly es taut or Anhaupt; it’s more “open” than those albums, preferring the endlessly reverberating and echoing style of chords over the “cliff crashing” sort of guitars that Soldat Hans employ. Everything feels drowned in languish and I think a big part of how that’s achieved is the production. The guitar tones are fuzzy but not as fuzzy as straight up stoner. They are also robust and present but not as present as straight up doom metal. They build up and release but it’s not in the classic “crescendo-core” style of post-rock. Instead, they seem to capture a bit of all of those sounds, sort of like Mono’s mid-era works and their proclivity for extended, and meditative, unfurlings or Callisto’s penchant for sneaky, emotive impact.
No matter how you slice it, and moving away from comparisons a bit, Towers of Jupiter are in control of every single piece of sound on III without sounding stifled or contrite. The album is certainly a challenging one; it has plenty of ambience and repetition to it. But it’s also incredibly alluring, enticing you with its drawling vocals and solar-flare like chords, slowly drawing you up into the heights of its expressions and catharsis. It’s one of the most “full” albums I’ve heard recently, absolutely nailing the contemplative aspects of both post-rock and funeral doom while sounding unique as it does. As David writes below, I fully foresee continued listenings rewarding me even more as the many musical nooks and crannies of this album become familiar to me. Won’t you join me in its depths?
Astodan – Evora
Astodan are a Belgian group rejuvenating the post-rock/metal scene with doomy shoegaze influence. Along with the likes of Mountaineer and Sugar Horse, this scene is showing how powerful of a sound this strictly clean-vocal approach to post-metal can still muster up. While it’s obviously not as heavy as the more atmospheric sludge variants like Cult of Luna, there’s a certain cathartic, emotional heaviness that a strong clean vocal performance can bring out of your more typical heavy post-rock instrumentation. Instrumentally, Astodan have remained incredibly consistent since their 2018 debut Ameretat, and the decision to bring on prominent vocals for their 3rd full-length must not have been an easy one, but I would contest it was the right choice that older fans should easily buy in to.
While they don’t bring quite the shear atmosphere of Isis (the band), the focus is more one of graceful contemplation. The vocals bring a soothing at-ease contrast with the at times rougher edge of their post-metal instrumentation. Vocal production wise, they take on a sort of distant, reverberated feel reminiscent of *shels, or their precursor overlap with Devil Sold His Soul, Rinoa. The instrumentation makes the most of a roomy expansiveness, from lighter post-rock introspection to cathartic releases of built tension through rumbling, passionate post-metal outbursts. The heavier elements have even drawn some comparisons to Deftones in its grunge-gaze distorted textures.
One of the things I love about this sort of post-rock is the almost mystical, enchanting properties it can harbor. That feeling of being in touch with nature, sauntering under tree canopies. Perhaps aware of this, the album title Evora fittingly is a feminine name of Portuguese origin, meaning “she who lives near yew trees.” So slap on those hiking boots, immerse yourself in the woods and let Astodan’s captivating grace carry you on a journey.
Enjoy Eternal Bliss (Best of the Rest)
Goodbye, Kings – The Cliché Of Falling Leaves
The only reason that I won’t be writing a longer entry for this release is that I’m probably going to need months to unpack it and get familiar with it. On The Cliché Of Falling Leaves, Goodbye, Kings have created their most ambitious release to date and that’s saying something when talking about a group already known for their vast scope and reach. The album takes the cinematic post-rock formula that powered their excellent 2019 release, A Moon Daguerreotype, with all of its silvered mystery and evocative timbre, and expands it with sixteen musicians collaborating on what the band call “a symphonic poem”. Horns, saxes, double-basses, clarinets and many more instruments are added and, as a result, the album unfurls even further than any previous release by the band.
It’s not an easy release to consume, since it contains meditative passages, massive peaks, and dozens of splintering and communicating leit-motifs but I’ve also been scarcely able to stay away from it, obsessed with decoding it and wrapping my head around it. I imagine it will happen, eventually, but, until them, I am left with the “simple” act of enjoying the varied musicality and passion which shine through on this release.
David’s Lightning Round:
Trees Before The Fall – Last Emotions
Fans of upbeat instrumental math-rock bands like Vasudeva and tide/edit or glossy prog like Polyphia will certainly find plenty to enjoy in this Ensenada, Mexico quartet. I’m 40 and grew up on bands like Guns ‘n Roses, Smashing Pumpkins, and Dinosaur, Jr., so I’m a sucker for the sheer amount of gratuitous guitar soloing. There are actually a few tracks with vocals as well, although that is not advertised in the tags or in the list of band members. It’s a fun, breezy record that also shows some legit musical chops, just in time for summer, when this type of thing seems to shine its brightest.
Secret Garden – everbloom
When I saw this record pop up a couple of weeks ago I had to check back to see if the artist’s debut full-length did in fact come out in January of this year like I thought it had. We all know time has been a bit weird these past two years, so it’s not outlandish to think that maybe I was wrong and that it had actually been released in early 2021. But lo and behold, this is album #2 in a 6-month stretch, and apparently there are still two more forthcoming in 2022, one for each of the seasons. Thankfully this isn’t just reckless ambition without actual substance, but rather it’s one of the better post-rock solo projects going right now. Multi-instrumentalist Greg Almieda has struck a great balance between following whatever whims strike him and still coming to rest with a cohesive collection of songs. You’ll find affirming post-rock, sleek math-rock, soaring prog, fiery post-hardcore, and even some genuinely rad synthwave showing up throughout everbloom. Almieda has some help on this one as well, collaborating with drummer Joseph Arrington on several songs, as well as bassist Reese Ortenberg and a number of other guests. I’m definitely looking forward to what bounties Summer and Fall bring forth from Secret Gardens.
Olanza – Olanza
This Bristol, UK trio occupies a post-rock niche that I’ve been finding very intriguing of late, surveying a tighter, more straightforward style that is rooted in gnarly, angular post-hardcore, post-punk, and noise rock as opposed to the “traditional” post-rock sound. Olanza unquestionably have much more in common with Unwound, Shellac, and Faraquet than they do with Caspian, Explosions in the Sky, or This Will Destroy You, and it’s really a breath of fresh air after a decade-plus of musicians doing everything they possibly could to emulate those latter artists, often with less-than-pristine results. There are a couple longer tracks, but they move along at a nice pace; otherwise everything else clocks in at under five minutes and is marked by a decidedly unpretentious delivery that favors getting to the point over dragging the listener along on a lengthy “journey” to an overwrought climax. Don’t get me wrong, I love crescendocore when it’s done well, but good ol’ fashioned plugging in and kicking ass still remains a likelier route to success, as heard here.
Sagor Som Leder Mot Slutet – III
This Malmo, Sweden band made quite an impact on me with their 2018 record entitled, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, II, which was a strong showcase for their dark and stormy fusion of post-metal heaviness and post-rock melody. Their new one delivers as you’d expect, again characterized by a seething darkness, but not defined by it. It’s brimming with lengthy compositions that can often present as grim and imposing, although once you tunnel into the dense outer layers you’ll find there’s plenty of heart and intimacy striking a balance with the shadows. They’re currently coming off of a dunk!festival performance that apparently made a huge impression on audience members, and it’s not hard to see why once you start working your way through this record, which finds an impressive crossroads of fury, melancholy, and beauty.
Towers of Jupiter – III
I’ve already covered one album named III this month, so why not add another just for fun? This is a bit of a weird one, and I’m still not 100% certain whether I love it or if I’m just momentarily spellbound, but it’s definitely interesting enough to cover here. I’ve long been pleading with bands to do something different with the post-rock canvas, and I’ve also been singing the praises of groups that have chosen to introduce vocals into their songwriting. This Montreal duo does both of those things. Whereas a number of post-rock bands have used vocals mostly as a textural element, Towers of Jupiter assertively places them front and center. The band also demonstrates a unique approach to genre fusion, presenting more traditional post-rock passages that share the stage with ideas leaning into fantasy-focused metal/prog, with both things given space to step to the forefront and make their own individual impressions despite typically existing in decisively different territories.
So why was I feeling somewhat apprehensive? I guess when I start to see imagery featuring dragons and knights, read song titles like “Charge of the Light Brigade,” or “The Awakening of Belial,” and hear vocals that indicate performers who are approaching all this with the deadliest seriousness, my first instinct is to pull away. I’m still haunted by what happened to … And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead once they drifted too far into wizards and questing and shit and eventually lost their way in a churning sea of fifth-rate songs and hideous album art. I’ll say this: III has the potential to be really cheesy. But… it never quite crosses over into those cringier areas. The vocals are surprisingly effective considering that singing doesn’t appear to be either of these performers’ primary skill set, and for as overdramatic as the songs tend to present, there’s no denying that the music makes a genuine impact, and that’s ultimately the point, isn’t it? You’ll start to recognize a bit of a pattern once you’re a few songs in, but the formula is thoroughly engaging nonetheless. I’m having one of those moments right now where I’m getting the sense that when 2022 draws nearer to an end I’m going to look back and realize “goddamn, that’s actually a really good album.” Stay tuned. Or, tune in for yourself right now.
The Endless Shimmering (Other Notable Releases)
Deeper Than Sky – Make No Mistake/The Fuzzlord Sessions
Shanghai Qiutian – Home:Revolution
Jo Quail – The Cartographer
True Champions Ride On Speed – HARS
Tropism – Live At Viva Studio
Coda Found – X
Pluperfect – Time/Tense
Oldernar – Collective Frequencies: Reworked
Adolf Plays The Jazz – Low Life | We Can’t Lose. We Have Already Lost