Post Rock Post! Baby, I love you. Seriously, it gives me so much joy to keep running this column, in lean months and in deluges. This one is somewhere in between, with several excellent releases but less in the terms of ancillary ones to flesh things out (though you shouldn't miss out on that Grails album that's lurking in the "Further Listening" section). It doesn't matter though - I still love reporting on and writing about this versatile, contemplative sub-genre in all of its forms.
I'll leave you to it with that, as there's a fair bit of music top get into below; you know how post-adjacent releases can get, namely long, busy, and intricate. That's definitely true this time around so dive in for yourself. I love this column and I love you for reading it!
You, You’re Awesome (Top Picks)
Dwaal - Never Enough
The fact that Dwaal describe themselves as doom gave me a reason to once again meditate on the spaces between that well established, classic genre of metal and the younger, less well defined, relatively recent innovation that is post-metal. Some might argue that the entire existence of the latter is in doubt, as the classification has lost all shape and form over the last few years. I don’t even necessarily disagree with them, as post-metal has become somewhat of a meaningless catch all. And yet, Never Enough, with its dark, ponderous tones and cavernous compositions, is a good candidate for an example of why the descriptor might still hold some water.
When you listen to Never Enough, “merely” calling it doom seems to miss something about its sound. Yes, it’s slow and loud and feedback heavy but it’s also scored by an undeniable “darker” mood, mostly generated by haunting synths but also by the “voids” in the album’s structure which the rest of the instrumentation seems to revolve around. Jump to the final quarter of the first track for example and listen to the drums punctuate the writhing synths, creating a maelstrom of swirling, moody energies, and how this bleeds into the absolutely monolithic bass of the track which follows it. Yes, this definitely belongs in the doom spheres but it also benefits from a more industrial, void-like, and sleek sound that places it firmly within the realms of post-metal.
The most important thing, of course, is that the album is good and that it is. Never Enough shows Dwaal wielding an absolute mastery for conjuring and channeling the kind of belligerent contemplation that both above-cited genres are so good for. In addition, the dips and dives into post-metal do much to dispel the regular danger that haunts doom metal, that of monotony. These compositions, effects, and approaches make for an extremely dynamic and engaging album, turning Never Enough into a momentum filled beast. Whether you long for doom metal heft or for post-metal’s tendrils, this release has plenty of either to set you at ease (or to unsettle you). It’s a ponderous, heavy album that’s perfect for the weather patterns that are about to unfold.
Austin TV - Rizoma
While Mexico isn’t typically known for its post-rock prowess, the Mexico City-based five-piece Austin TV is looking to change that. One of the best things about the globalization of post-rock is you get bands from all over the world creating relatively similar music within the confines of the genre, but you find these minor local folk influences seep into the sound furthering its growth and evolution and there’s touches of that here. Building on the likes of This Will Destroy You and Sleepmakeswaves, Austin TV have crafted some original and refreshing instrumental post-rock on their new album Rizoma that was a standout from September’s releases.
Austin TV are no new comers to this scene, they formed in 2001 and released four full-lengths between 2003 and 2011 before going on hiatus until their triumphant return last month with Rizoma. Those early releases leaned further into a math rock and midwest emo influenced post-rock sound. It had a not quite twinkly, but delicateness to it. With Rizoma, there’s shades of that, but it feels like a much more assertive and powerful sound. Beyond that, there’s also much more range, with plenty of tonal shifts, especially emotionally. From warm instrumental indie rock inspired sounds, to the introspective melancholy and explosive and heavy climax of album standout “De La Orquídea y La Avispa”. It nails that quality that a lot of strong post-rock albums are able to convey, in that there’s an unspoken narrative storytelling element playing out which provides fuel for an imaginative and receptive listener.
Diving into the instrumentation itself, Rizoma is largely a fusion of eclectic keyboard synths (and mellotron) and cinematic, semi-progressive guitar playing. They really get the most from their two guitarists, in both how they’re layered and how they approach a song from a different angle. Sometimes the lead guitar just goes off into a psychedelic solo ride, flowing with the rising and setting rhythm melodies. The lead is tastefully immersed in the mix however, to not act as a solo that takes over and demands attention, but provides another layer to the tapestry they’re painting.
This soloing does an impressive job of elevating the emotional catharsis brought on by these melancholic backing melodies, providing spirited passion to their adventurous writing. It’s something the underrated Overhead, the Albatross also did especially well. The percussion on average is the one element that could use some more creativity, but is completely satisfactory and complementary to the overall sound they’re trying to convey and doesn’t detract from that. The drumming shines the brightest at augmenting the explosiveness of the climaxes, such as the Maybeshewill -esque “Hasta las Hifas, un Micelio”.
After an over ten year absence, Austin TV have returned with an impressive comeback release that builds on an established sound with a refreshed and invigorated energy. Rizoma is dynamic and flowing, and should bend and flex to any set and setting you find yourself in.
Pleiades - Affinity With
I had never heard of UK-based band Pleiades until I found their debut album Affinity With while delving into the depths of bandcamp new releases, where their album art caught my eye. I gave the album a quick listen and was immediately enraptured by the earnest and emotional mixture of post-rock and post-hardcore that I was hearing. Now, a dozen or more listens in, I can confirm that this is both one of the best albums of the genre I’ve heard this year, but also just one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, period.
Instrumentally this album is a smorgasbord of absolutely stunning guitar leads, emotional riffs, and flashy, technical drumming that consistently catches my ear. Each of these elements swirls in and out of focus as needed to ensure that each song has the perfect emotional peaks and valleys to keep a listener focused and engaged. Add onto this an intense and visceral vocal performance, consistently flipping between post-hardcore cleans and visceral harshes and you have a recipe for a marvelous listen.
The cherry on top of all of this, however, is the band’s compositional abilities and restraint. Every song is exactly the length it needs to be, as is the album as a whole. There is no fat to trim here, and there is not a single wasted minute. This is a marvelous piece of music that deserves to be consumed whole, and often. If I had to pick out a single critique it’s that the mix could be slightly clearer at times, but that is truly splitting hairs and I’d much rather focus on how absolutely marvelous I think this band is. Please give them a listen, they truly deserve it, and I will be waiting anxiously for their next release.
Spurv - Brefjære
Despite the fact that the genre of post-rock was built on the back of the idea of the “epic,” surprisingly few bands have truly been able to capture the full meaning of the word and all it carries. Yes, it’s music that is big, loud, wide in scope and takes on a triumphant bent to its composition. But in reality it’s never the climaxes and endpoints that define the nature of the epic. It’s everything it takes to arrive at that moment of triumph, the moments of quiet solemnity, of plodding but propelling action, of the twists and turns one has to get through first. Epic is not a state; it’s a journey. The bands that understand that and execute on that vision are the ones who rise above the pejoratives of “crescendo-core” and into the musical sublime.
All of that is to say that, my friends, Spurv’s latest album Brefjære is really fucking good. It essentially combines the best aspects of MONO, Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros, and GY!BE into one compact powerhouse package.
Split up into three movements, Brefjære (translated literally into “Leaf Spring”) opens with “Krokete, rettskaffen,” (“Crooked, upright”) a prelude of sorts that opens with a slow melding together of ominous strings, followed by a literal Greek-style chorus of voices, and a foreboding atmosphere that sets up the mood of what is to come. And, boy, do they waste no time in setting up the musical stakes. “En brennende vogn over jordet” (“A burning wagon across the field”) breaks through the fog with a ringing riff and, like the best of Russian Circles’s catalog, simply does not let up while iterating and playing around the central theme. Despite clocking in at a hefty 9 ½ minutes, the composition is a perpetual motion machine, never letting an idea or motif overstay its welcome before throwing a new wrinkle and morphing into the next section. Meanwhile, “Som skyer” (“Like clouds”) takes on a lighter and more positive bent while still injecting plenty of energy and movement. The tremolo melody in particular channels the triumphant leads of sleepmakeswaves.
The second movement is the most subdued of the three, opening with solo vocals on “Under himmelhvelvingen” (“Under the firmament”) and moving into the album’s longest track and centerpiece, “Til en ny vår” (“To a new spring”). The latter track is where the MONO influence really comes to play, as a peaceful melody very gradually grows from a seedling into a mighty oak of a song. A lesser band would fumble by either growing too soon and having nowhere to go by the middle of the track or not evolving enough and succumbing to boring repetition (and even MONO have been guilty of either many times), but the track earns its 10 minutes of run. It plays out exactly as the song’s title suggests, like the dawn of a new spring.
And finally we reach the last movement, opening with another vocally-driven song in “Å vente er å endre” (“To wait is to change”), featuring some heavy contrasts in intensity and Björk-esque vocal delivery. The change in tone from the more subdued and contemplative middle of the album is stark and only becomes clearer as the record’s climax “Urdråpene” (“The primal drops”). The sheer largesse of the track is made so by everything that preceded it, and all of that pent up aggression and energy comes rollicking out into 8 straight minutes of blistering orchestral riffs that rival GY!BE’s most soaring work. “Din pust fra stein” (“Your breath from stone”) brings back the chorus from the opening track as a fitting bit of symmetry to close out what is nothing short of a masterful work. Truly epic in all meanings of the word.
The Endless Shimmering (Other Notable Releases)
Grails - Anches En Maat
Explosions in the Sky - End