It's starting to look like 2023 might be a bit more generous with the volume of post-rock releases. Even though the quality of releases in 2022 was excellent, I've written in this intro before about how there were some really dry months. In 2023, it seems as if the volume is picking up again and we are accosted on all sides by great post-rock, and post-rock adjacent releases. That second part is the most important piece of this, even if it's "just" a feeling (as opposed to an objective fact supported by some impossible to gather piece of data on the number of releases). It feels like the type of releases we're getting is more robust, with great albums being released both within "classic" post-rock spaces (what is sometimes referred to as "cinematic" post-rock") and within adjacent sub-genres.
These don't necessarily have to be experimental, though there have been some good albums released there as well, but usually include interesting modifiers and departures from the core post-rock sound. Whether these are the tried and true departures into jazz-fusion or electronic spaces which can be found below or the rarer, and no less lovely, conjunctions with skramz and emo, April's releases this year have plenty to be discovered. So go on and get to discovering! We're already hard at work at next month's batch and it's shaping up to be a good one as well.
What a time to (once again) be alive.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
Contemporary Noise Ensemble - An Excellent Spiritual Serviceman (Eden)
While I know, rationally, that it has been around forever and its increased presence is more a result of me paying attention than anything else, it still feels to me as if the last few years have seen a bounty of warm, technical, and post-rock adjacent jazz releases. Think Three Trapped Tigers, Matt Calvert, Alarmist, TAUK, and, of course, genre innovators Jaga Jazzist. If the above cited groups all sound different to you, that’s not a coincidence; there’s a lot of variety in these musical spaces. However, all of the above bands can be said to be unified by the unique ways in which they marry jazz-y compositions with contemporary post-rock tones and production sensibilities, creating a sort of lush, yet dreamy, sound.
Enter Contemporary Noise Ensemble, an aptly named group from Poland who have been making music for over a decade now. Their most recent release, An Excellent Spiritual Serviceman, has been a constant obsession of mine ever since it was released - as the name suggests, it is a uniquely busy, noisy, and tight album. At its core is a focus on incredibly tasty grooves, the bass and the drums dominating the bottom of the compositions while bells, whistles, and a whole host of tinkling, clanking samples play with redolent synths at the top of it.
“Dance of the Headless Jazz Expert”, the second track on the album, is a fantastic example of how this works. The track starts with psychedelic synths and echoing percussion but soon comes to be dominated by those myriad noises and effects I described above. It’s almost as if the album’s cover art, with its multitude of instruments, containers, and tools, is constantly crashing down your head. Using the aforementioned groove section, Contemporary Noise Ensemble ground this chaos into the track’s rhythm, yoking it in service of its momentum and drive. The end result is something you can dance to but also something incredibly rich, filled with the somewhat discordant echoes of a garden shed collapsing into itself.
Elsewhere, the synths lead the day and An Excellent Spiritual Serviceman turns into a rich, expansive exploration of modern, urban, and always, always jazz sort of post-rock. There’s just so much happening on this release and constantly led by Contemporary Noise Ensemble’s agile dedication to structure, tempo, and vibe. It is honestly one of the best albums I’ve ever heard in these spaces, going toe to toe with all of the great bands I cited in this entry’s opening paragraph. If you’re looking for an album to really engage with and dive into, then look no further; An Excellent Spiritual Serviceman is the jazz gift that keeps on giving.
Faced Out - Faced Out
Fancy some of that weirdo-theater-kid post-rock? Lots of horns, strings, poetic spoken word and occasional screamy bits? Possibly very-inspired by a certain newer British group with a reference in their name to a part of England known for their coal factories? Yeah, if you’re a fan of Black Country, New Road, this is one you’re gonna want to check out. This time around however, the very British-sounding Faced Out is actually from St. Louis, Missouri, another place curiously with a lot of coal smog in its history. While that influence is definitely worn on their sleeves, there is plenty to this band that is very much their own. With their 2nd full-length, following their 2021 debut, Faced Out further explores screamo influences, while also expanding their active roster from 5 to 8-members with the full-time addition of a trumpet, saxophone and violin player.
The self-titled album explores a lot of territory outside the boundaries of pure “post-rock”, from more vocal driven sections, to post-punk and post-hardcore. “Seance” is one of the standouts on the album, largely because of its ability to combine all of these influences into one seamless track. The second-half however is where their post-rock charm really shines. The guitar will go in on a melody, and then the trumpet will take over that same melody while the guitar and violin harmonizes over it in shimmering tremolo and the drums exploding in urgency, before going double-time for a *chefs kiss* outro into a delicate resolve. Beautiful stuff.
Now I don’t want you to get the impression this is an overly self-indulgent, experimental jazz-rock album. Though there’s some obvious influence from the latter, there are plenty of strong and memorable melodies here. The song-writing feels born out of a child of early-wave post-rock and midwest-emo, with anxious and introspective melancholy dominating much of the “feeling” so to speak. Yet it’s hard not to feel those touches of serene optimism brought on by the looping guitar riffs and beaming violin, much in the way a band like Yndi Halda cultivates their sound.
The vocals add to the classic post-rock tension build-and-release dynamic, in a way that feels refreshingly vulnerable and honest. The spoken-word vocals often build to a desperate wail, reminiscent of experimental group Wreck and Reference, or our post-rocky screamo friends in Portal to the God Damn Blood Dimension. Faced Out is a little bit rough around the edges, and some of the punkier tracks juxtaposition with the brass-section can be hard to digest at first, but this post-rock at some of the “art”-iest you can find, and you can’t not praise the ambition and creativity on display. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about Faced Out in the future if they keep this up.
The Endless Shimmering (Other Notable Releases)
Empires of Light - Aberrations
I have expanded the repertoire of sub-genres I tend to listen to and, as a result, I find myself writing less often about “classic” post-rock releases on this column. But, I remain always on the hunt for great releases that can evoke within me the sense of wanderlust that the core manifestations of post-rock are so good for. I am glad to report that as part of this hunt, I discovered (through staff member Trent, as if often the case) Empires of Light’s recent release, Aberrations. This is an expansive, sprawling, and cinematic release, channeling everything that’s great about the roots of post-rock, all of the tropes and sensibilities that caused all of us to fall in love with the genre originally.
At the core of this release is the classic balance between echoing, delay-heavy lead guitars and chunky, heavy post-metal riffs, bringing to mind acts like Outrun the Sunlight (and you know that’s high praise coming from me). From opener “Pyroclast” and all the way to the achingly beautiful “The Argonaut” which closes the album (seriously, I love this track and its gorgeous bass lines), Empires of Light (a solo project from Portland, by the way) wields with impressive clarity and skill the integral and foundational elements of modern post-rock and metal with great aplomb. This release won’t necessarily surprise you, but if what you’re interested in is an album that will help you let go and transport you somewhere else while also hitting some incredibly satisfying heavy riffs, this is the one for you.
deathcrash - Less
These Londoners released one of my favorite records of 2022 with Return, so I was equally surprised and excited to see them back with a new release just over a year later. Their blend of slowcore, shoegaze, and post-rock places them somewhere in the long and knotty lineage that eventually leads back to Slint, but if I’m being honest, Slint has always been a band for me that sounds better on paper than in practice, and deathcrash is more like what I hear in my head when I think of what I wish Slint sounded like. Hope that makes sense.
The number of tracks here is pared down to seven from Return’s twelve, but at 38 minutes this is still a full-fledged LP. It continues many of the themes from its predecessor - understated presentation and whispery vocals that convey a false sense of aloofness, which is discarded by deftly crafted melodies, occasional fierceness, with a tangible sense of yearning and aching fragility. Songs which may initially seem to have a more passive sensibility gradually reveal themselves to be deeply personal and emotionally vulnerable. When I say that, I’m not even really referencing the often hushed and distant vocals. These impressions are derived from execution of the performance; I can feel these things dripping from every note and from each carefully measured passage. It’s a great example of slowness with a purpose, as if the band needs you to really consider and fully experience every single strum, pulse of bass, and crashing cymbal, and for good reason.
Less also feels a bit more confidently composed than Return. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really appreciate the all-over-the-map feeling that characterizes their debut, but on this record it seems like we’re getting a clearer picture of who deathcrash really is, and will be going forward. If that’s the case, it’s an exciting revelation, because Less is a thoroughly engaging effort of considerable weight that cleverly presents as disaffected while in fact existing as one of the most affecting releases of 2023 so far.
Driving At Night - Driving At Night
The best tl;dr for this Cincinnati band’s debut is “I’m deeply perplexed, but also, there’s a reason it made it into the column.” First, to address some of the more bizarre elements: the most immediately noticeable is the production, as well as the inconsistency of the volume level from track to track. I first listened to the album on Bandcamp, and the difference in quality between certain songs is jarring. In particular, opening track “YOU Are A Vampire” appears to be doing one of those fade-ins at the start, where it begins at a low volume and gradually climbs to where it’s supposed to be. Except it doesn’t do that. It just stays where it is, and where it is is not where it should be. But then the following track, “Crash Collection,” is jarringly loud in comparison. The same goes for “Midnight Killer” later on. I wasn’t sure if it could have been an issue on Bandcamp’s end, so I moved over to Spotify, and while the volume seems a bit more balanced there, the two aforementioned songs still play at a noticeably higher level.
There are a couple other issues I take with the production: the band photo depicts four members, but the drums often sound electronically generated. Not sure if this is a fault of the mix, or if they just have a live drummer, but use a drum machine on the album, but it doesn’t do the songs any favors. Finally, there are some moments, particularly during the last two songs, where the composition sounds more like what you’d hear on a demo and less like what you’d expect from a proper album.
So, why is Driving At Night in this column? Because, for the most part, the songs slap. There are some really strong riffs at work here, the energy is great, and the progression of most tracks lead to some seriously anthemic places. Plus, I don’t know if maybe the sound issues are a product of a poor digital transfer to the Bandcamp platform (again, it does sound better on Spotify), and could be addressed. Or, perhaps the band could take their recordings back into the studio and make some needed tweaks. But, if ever this album finds its way to a proper presentation, it’s absolutely worth your time. So this is me just placing it gently onto the radar just in case. Also, those of you heading to Post. Fest in Indianapolis take note: Driving At Night will be performing at the pre-show taking place at Black Circle Music Bar, joining Girih, Dreamwell, Shadeland, and Veilcaste. I’d recommend checking them out, because if the sound is right, the music is tight.
It Was A Good Dream - Rememory
[Note: I own and operate a small PR company, which ran the pre-release campaign for this album. Of course, I wouldn’t have taken the gig if I didn’t enjoy the album, but still, I want to be transparent about this]
This Boston duo has definitely earned a place at the table among the best recently-established American post-rock acts. Whether you listen to their music, scroll through their Instagram, or check out their visual content, two of the prevailing themes are a tight, professional presentation and a keen attention to detail. What listeners heard on their 2019 debut Help Me To Recollect was just a taste of the potential that has now come to fruition on Rememory. Their second dunk!records release, it’s characterized by thoughtful composition, sharp production, and a genuinely compelling evolution both within songs and over the course of the album. It was written as a single concept, then wisely broken down into 6 tracks that can stand on their own.
One of my favorite things about the record is its willingness to develop its world, and refusal to go for the easy crescendo. Typically, I bemoan post-rock bands that spend forever building up to their big climactic moment, but that has more to do with the general dullness of the journey. On The Other hand, It Was A Good Dream carefully weaves earworm melodies that don’t immediately reveal themselves, instead emerging from within other layers, but before long you discover the refrains have become buried in your brain. They don’t rush anything, yet still everything has a sense of immediacy and relevance. And when they do reach a crescendo point from time to time, the impact is memorable and well-earned.
The ways in which they present themselves cannot be undervalued. They went into their performance at dunk!festival last year as a relatively unknown quantity, a band that it's unlikely anyone in attendance had seen perform live previously, but they came away as one of the weekend’s most fondly recalled acts. They’ve also put together a powerful music video for the lead single “Drawing Your Recurve,” so make sure you keep your eyes out for that. For now, if you haven’t acquainted yourself with this record you really should do so, as I believe it’s placed itself in early contention as one of the year’s best post-rock records.
Liongeist - Liongeist
Hey, we’re all entitled to a mistake here and there, right? Well, my mistake in last month’s column was sleeping on the debut from this Oslo band. It was released January 20th, so we’re definitely getting to it a bit late in this column, but part of making mistakes is learning from and fixing them. So this is my amends.
This album has actually been finished since 2019 apparently, and was originally intended to be released in 2020 until COVID changed everyone’s plans. Now, four years later it’s finally here, and it would be in everyone’s best interest not to allow it to remain unheard any longer. For a point of reference, the music here reminds me a bit of the very underrated Dallas trio Glasir, in its powerful blend of pretty melodies and explosive heaviness. But where Glasir spends more time on crafting quietly seething atmospheres, Liongeist presents as a bit more… ahem… untamed. They come at you more like a post-hardcore band that has post-rock elements, as opposed to a post-rock band that can crank it up when the moment calls for it. I think it has a lot to do with the thunderous bass performance, which brings an aggressive edge even to the passages that are a bit more reserved otherwise. Eden is always asking for more bass, please, and in this case it sure sounds like someone was listening.
One really impressive thing about this album is that, despite being fully instrumental and also consistent in terms of tone and composition, it never feels dull or same-ish, and does a great job keeping the listener engaged and excited. It speaks to the quality of the songwriting. Not every band can do the post-rock thing like Caspian, and post-rock is a genre that has its fair share of potential pitfalls, some of which even the giants of the form have fallen into at times. So for a band to write an album consisting of six consecutive tracks that are uniquely compelling and energetic is no small feat. These guys put some serious work into making one of the best pure instrumental post-rock/post-metal records I’ve heard in quite some time, and in their debut at that. So they deserve a lot of credit, which is why you’re currently seeing their January release covered in an April column with a genuine note of apology from yours truly. It’s not a mistake I’ll make with them again.
Winter Dust - Unisono
This Italian outfit has released some really strong work already, including 2015’s Thresholds and 2018’s Sense By Erosion, both of which fused the post-rock template with some post-hardcore/screamo elements. While both of those albums are great on their own terms, their new one Unisono has a different feeling to it that takes their music to a new level. It seems like they’ve spent the nearly five years leading up to this re-evaluating what they want to accomplish and experience with their writing and performance, and have arrived at a place where they are more fully honoring what’s in their hearts. This is their first album that is completely in their native tongue, and it’s much more of a post-hardcore album with post-rock elements, which I am enthusiastically on board with.
If I had to mount a criticism of their previous work, it would be that they spent too much time dwelling on developing the prettier post-rock passages and not enough on the full-hearted, full-throated emotional explosiveness that they so clearly excel at. That concern is nowhere to be found here, as the songs move with more pace and urgency, rarely loosening their grip on the listener. The post-rock elements are also much more well-integrated here, so you get all the inspiring beauty inherent in that style without ever feeling like the momentum is being compromised for the sake of atmosphere-building. This is one of those everyone-wins scenarios where the people who appreciate this band for their post-hardcore sensibilities and those who got into them from the post-rock side are likely to both prefer what they’re hearing on Unisono to all that’s come before. Judging from the energy that’s running through this record, I’m pretty confident the band feels the same way.
felperc - the storm (post-rock, post-metal, ambient)
Timelapse Aurora - In Defeat, I See The Future (post-rock, post-metal)
dots - disintegration (post-rock, instrumental)