I'll be honest with you friends, I don't have much of an introduction this time around. The truth is, these past few months have ground me down; you might or might not know this depending on whether you listen to our podcast or follow me on social media, but I am relocating to Providence, Rhode Island in August. Which is great! But also incredibly hard, involving lots of stressful up and downs and a lot of work in preparation. So, what energies I do have left at the end of the day, I'd prefer to dedicate to writing about music rather than writing intros.
But, on the other hand, here I am writing this intro and getting ready to tell you what you already know: if it weren't for music, I wouldn't have been able to make it through this stressful time. Music is a miracle, music is life, music is my heart; all things I've said here before. And so, as always, let us turn now to music; better days are coming, for all of us. I know it to be true. I love you. Let's listen to music together.
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
Summer Haze ‘99 - Inevitable (blackgaze)
It’s kind of weird that Post Rock Post, of all places, has become the home of our posts about blackgaze. Then again, shoegaze, post-rock, and black metal are genres that have had a sizeable overlap to them for about two decades now so maybe it’s not that weird when you think about it. In any case, Summer Haze ‘99’s Inevitable is an album that’s sure to find resonance with the people who read this column; it has that smudged, “extended” feeling that I think draws most listeners of post-rock to blackgaze. But it’s also not afraid to experiment a bit with that formula, as some of the more unique vocal choices on the album (and especially on stand-out track “Idle Hands”) would show. At the end of the day, all of the elements on this release create that forlorn and melancholic that blackgaze is so good for and which connects it on a deep level with the “post” family of genres.
You wouldn’t know any of this if you tuned in to a track like “Nostalgia”, the third one on this release. It’s a more epic sort of black metal, all cracking lightning vocals, tremolo picked guitars, and break-neck double blasts. But the title track which follows it has more of the that drawn out melancholy, not only in its quieter intro, but also along the beautiful synths which adorn the central chorus structure of the track and the almost heavy metal bridges which connect the softer parts of the track. And then the clean vocals of Anouk Madrid return (from their triumphant debut on the aforementioned “Idle Hands”) and you start to see how everything comes together under the “gaze” or “post” categories.
Bottom line, there’s much on this album to love, wrapped up in a package and attitude which I haven’t quite heard before but which I’m sure fits right into this column. Give this one a chance, even if you’re not the world’s biggest fan of blackgaze or black metal in general. It has a lot to hook you in and maybe show you the delicate, intricate beauty which fuels all of those sub-genres.
Hills Like White Lions - Meander (Post-Metal/Progressive Metal)
Finding a post-metal band that utilizes clean vocals effectively is a rare event. Finding one that utilizes them exclusively is nigh impossible, and yet we have a prime example of that in Meander, the new album by Hills Like White Lions. They play a lovely mixture of post-metal and progressive metal that brings to mind Opeth and Katatonia just as much as it does The Ocean or Neurosis. The drums are driving and rhythmic, the riffs are massive yet atmospheric, and the vocals are just an absolute cherry on top. This album is full to the brim with anthemic, soaring choruses, interspersed with moments of more subdued melancholy, and it all works beautifully.
Although the album plays like one long, relatively uninterrupted track, the highlights are absolutely Part II: Maelstrom and Part VII: Mondgrau, each highlighting the band’s strongest points, and culminating in enormous melodic hooks and earworm choruses (something I’m not used to hearing in Post Metal). There are also some repeated motifs and themes throughout the album that make it really feel like a cohesive and engaging listening experience. Every time the album is done I find myself tempted to listen to it all over again, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t heard it yet to do just that.
Kinder - Desastres naturales para niños (math rock, post-rock, electronic)
A bit of belated post-rock-posting here, but we couldn’t pass up not covering this release from April that we missed out on in our last column. Desastres naturales para niños is the third full-length from Peruvian experimental post/math band Kinder. Frequently enigmatic in sound, the group incorporates a range of electronic elements, drawing comparisons from the playful and complex sides of Battles, to the atmospheric and mysterious musings of 65daysofstatic. The album title translates to “natural disasters for kids”, a surprisingly morbid title for what is largely a jubilant and uplifting listening experience. Yet, they find a delicate balance between these moods, allowing introspective emotions and touches of melancholy to smoothly contrast with the colorful bouts of pure joy reflected in the album artwork.
Kinder makes some of the best use of subtle guest vocals I’ve heard in the genre in some time. A big part of that is how diverse they all are. We first encounter them on the second and only english-titled track, “Tomorrow we Radiate”. Artist La Cueva del Oso adds an emotional and powerful post-hardcore-ish chorus to the climax of this song, with a strained but heartfelt delivery that fits into the song-writing perfectly. Next up is album single “Primeras horas”, featuring Peruvian R&B vocalist Cristina Valentina who absolutely crushes this trip-hop influenced track with a beautifully soulful feature that commands your attention. The contrast of her deep, expressive voice with the tapping riffs later on the track is quite special. Finally we get the repeating chant-like shouts by the band on the second single “Winnie Looper” that give a little more connective material to this dancey energetic track, a bit reminiscent of the dance-punky math-rock of Foals underrated debut album Antidotes. The one thing these features do all have in common is how carefully woven they all are into the instrumentals, never feeling like an afterthought or late addition.
Beyond the great synth work and guest vocals, this album is still largely carried of course by expressive guitar playing and percussion work, behind engaging songwriting. A number of riffs feel very And So I Watch You From Afar inspired in their uplifting and motivating nature, but they also have a great ear for just catchy pop-sensibilities to create memorable tunes within the general tropes and confines of the genre. Despite all the synth and guitar effects on this album, the range of human emotions make it feel very organic. The end product is one of the strongest releases among the genre so far this year, one that draws from a lot of obvious influences, but refines them into something truly of their own.
The Endless Shimmering (Other Notable Releases)
Shy, Low - Babylonica EP (post-rock/post-metal)
We all know the grift: a band releases an album, then sometime within the following year or two they promise a “new release,” which then turns out to be a bunch of remixes, or one decent song attached to a couple throwaway tracks. It’s hard not to be disappointed when a band you love dangles that carrot and you fall for it. However, a notable exception to this phenomena arose back in 2016, when, following the release of Dust and Disquiet, Caspian released the Castles High, Marble Bright mini-EP, which offered fans two absolutely legit tracks that simply didn’t fit into the overall picture of the LP they were initially written for. It turned out to be a gift that has kept on giving, as the title track became a fan favorite and eventually a regular encore/show-closer. The band raised the bar again just today, releasing three new songs from the On Circles sessions that were deemed so worthwhile that a rearrangement of the track list was made for this vinyl-only special edition.
Why am I starting my Shy, Low entry with a full paragraph about Caspian? In part because I have a tendency to take the long way to make my points, but primarily because the band appears to be walking a similar path, releasing a set of songs that are clearly meant to be considered in context with 2021’s Snake Behind The Sun (note the mirror image album covers), and could have easily been included in the final cut of that record. While there is one song of the three that is here solely to act as a bridge connecting the two bookend tracks, that certainly doesn’t diminish the power of what we’re being given here. In fact, I appreciate the tightness that results from the long/short/long arrangement, which proved to be a winning formula for Outlander on their early releases as well.
Shy, Low is one of those rare bands that isn’t exactly post-rock or post-metal, nor are they a post-rock band that features post-metal elements, or vice versa. Rather, they represent the exact nexus where the two styles meet, favoring neither side over the other, with strikingly cohesive results. You get the melodic dramatics and soaring crescendos that you crave from post-rock, delivered loudly and aggressively and without any bullshit or beating around the bush. This really has become my preferred method of delivery for post-rock these days, as I am entirely over the 5-minute-quiet-build approach that so many bands employed during the past ten or so years because they saw This Will Destroy You or Mono do it and foolishly believed they could just duplicate their way to success.
Eden has been shouting it from the hilltops for years now - don’t allow yourself to be seduced by the guitars, because bass and drums are the common bedrock that connect so many post-rock bands that have achieved top-tier status with genre fans. That’s certainly the case here, as the rhythm section provides the essential muscle and energy that keep the listener engaged and allow the guitars to achieve maximum effect. Somehow this band has been around for eleven years now, and they’ve tallied plenty of memorable releases in that time. But it’s really been within this last album cycle, which includes their signing to Pelagic Records, that they seem to have unlocked their full potential. When your B-sides are better than a lot of bands’ A-sides, you know you’re on a special kind of roll. Babylonica serves as a bit of reassurance for fans that Shy, Low have maintained that magic touch while we all wait to see what the next LP brings.
Ocean Districts - Phantom Island (post-rock/post-metal)
I’ve got to give a shout to this Estonian group - they’ve been out there fighting the good fight for nearly a decade now, releasing strong, tight post-rock music that’s mostly meat and very little fat, despite remaining just outside the fringes of most post-rock fans’ radar. They certainly haven’t gotten the credit they deserve (Expeditions, in particular, was one of 2014’s most criminally underrated post- albums), but they’re still here doing what they do and continuing to do it well. This time they’ve brought along some vocalists for a few tracks, which adds a welcome dimension to what is already an exceedingly solid record. What I really appreciate is how each singer brings something completely different from the others, unlocking a number of possibilities that lie within the band’s songwriting style, which has always been more capable of integrating vocals than most post-rock bands due to the tendency toward more straightforward, approachable arrangements.
In particular, “Frisland” is a real revelation, as Eliise Urke’s vocals add a unique quality that draws the track in a thoroughly enjoyable New Wave-inspired direction that should be celebrated as a lesson to every crescendocore hopeful out there. Yes, the song ends with a build-and-release soft-loud Big Climax, and yes, I’ve spent a lot of time bemoaning the number of post-rock bands that have combined to twist that concept into the interminable bore it is today. But what allows it to flourish here is (a) the band earns it by doing something genuinely interesting and creative for the first half of the song, and (b) they shorten the time frame of the climactic ascent, resisting the urge to overstay their welcome and refusing to tack on a drama-destroying 45 second epilogue where the final chord rings out endlessly with a misplaced sense of self-ascribed importance.
You know exactly what I’m talking about, and any bands out there reading this right now, I implore you… don’t. Ocean Districts should have been enthusiastically ushered into the post-rock bubble a long time ago, so here’s your chance to stop overlooking them.
Double Mint Dragon - Silver Bolt (post-rock, math-rock, loops)
Hope The Flowers - Sonorous Faith, Pt. 2 (post-rock, instrumental)
LYF - Chronoscope (post-rock, instrumental)
Ocean Districts - Phantom Islands (post-rock, post-metal)
Zhaoze - No Answer Blowin' In The Wind (post-rock, instrumental)