As autumn begins, it’s time to harvest a new crop of post-rock! The tractors are back, and we’ve gathered in the sounds of Acker, Aidan, Arrow Highway, Civil Protection, Meridian, Row Boat, Unconditional Arms and Wander As Ghosts for the fall feast.
What did you do during your summer vacation? We’re all familiar with this first-day-of-school question, but few of us can answer, we released our first EP. The members of Acker may have partied hard and played hard all summer, but their debut shows that they worked hard too. Now that they’ve left Champaign and returned to their separate colleges, this music is their legacy, and it’s a good one. Over the course of five tracks, the band displays a love of rhythm and melody, changing tempos and timbres with gleeful abandon. Wisely choosing to break out their secret weapon, the cello, early in the opening track, they make a quick impression as a band with more than a summer plan. One easily imagines an EP2 and EP3 followed by an album. Echoes of long-lost post-rockers Yndi Halda are apparent here, as well as hints of vintage Murder By Death before their transition to a vocal western band. But Acker has a sound of its own, informed as much by progressive rock (check the Yes-like breakdown on “Norlisk”) as post-rock. This is 20 minutes well-spent; every track is a winner, and we already want more. Don’t neglect your studies, but be sure to write and record some more great music over break.
Aidan’s dystopian, post-metal tone is set by heavy plods that crunch the skull and dull the nerves. And it’s the tasty tempo changes, time signatures and Isis-like dream metal passages that keep this debut album dynamic and enjoyable. (And as a free download, what’s not to like?) The band from Padova, Italy is at its best when the slower moments change into syncopated metal beat downs or synthesizer-laden philosophies. Aidan has many a trick up its sleeve, including predatory lead guitar moments that never overstay their welcome, surprise speed metal assaults and mastering by the mighty James Plotkin, ensuring a much needed sonic balance and tasteful background elements that make this album a surprisingly cinematic experience. (Nayt Keane)
A new instrumental project led by Mike Chylinski, Arrow Highway features two members of Drugstore (including Chylinski), two from Bell Gardens and one from The Wedding Present. Recorded mostly at home, it exudes an expected home-spun charm, reminiscent of the early works of Do Make Say Think. A recorded conversation makes its way into “Everyone I Know”, amplifying the personal nature of the release. The experience of the band members seeps through the grooves, creating a mature and accomplished veneer. Yet for the most part, the album’s strength is also its liability; the album is exactly what one might expect, as viewed in the lead video and in Chylinski’s description of “driving through the desert at night”. People who enjoy languid-paced post-rock, graced by steel guitar and a sprawling, languid sense, may love this set; it’s confident, accomplished, and sure-footed from start to end. The only problem: there’s no sense of surprise. But for that late night drive, it’s perfect.
Civil Protection ~ Stolen Fire (Bunnysnot Records)
The members of Civil Protection (U.K.) have fought hard to get where they are now. They’ve recorded demos, played gigs and even been the victims of a cowardly beating. This makes the sound of Stolen Fire all the more remarkable. The quintet’s debut album might have been the sound of bitterness and violence, but instead, it’s the sound of confidence and determination. Prometheus stole fire out of love for humanity, and Civil Protection produces that same sort of fire: the fire of warmth and comfort, instead of the fire of anger and destruction. To produce a sound such as this, a band must exercise great self-control, a factor that is first apparent at 1:45 of album highlight “My Memories Will Be Part of the Sky”, when the guitars drop out to clear a path for the drums and bass. The opposite takes place later, as the latter elements drop out to make room for the former. The post-rock crescendoes will come, but in their own time. Other standout moments include the wordless vox at the end of “Many Moons Ago”, the murky breakdown of “From the Parish to the Pavement” and the crushing finale of the title track and closer. We’re glad this fire wasn’t just stolen, but shared.
This Tampa band may only be a duo, but it makes the racket of a full band. We don’t think that James is playing the drums and bass simultaneously, but one never knows. The band invites listeners to “lay aside preconceptions of what rock can be”, which is a bit pretentious until one remembers what most people listen to. We tend to forget that the outside world is not always friendly to instrumental music, especially music that rocks hard without apparent choruses, breaks down to angular guitar lines, and drives basslines forward with a bulldozer of drums. “Ridley” begins with the riffs that often end a metal song, shoots off into tangents, enters a King Crimson-like interlude and returns to the core. On the one hand, this track (as well as the others) seems to fidget a lot in its chair, but on the other, it’s a lot better than the familiar eight-minute extension on a single riff. For those who like a lot of stuff going on quickly and turning over rapidly, Progression is your new caffeine. Our advice: a more creative cover font and more dynamic contrast. The surface is engaging; now show us what’s beneath.
After releasing two well-received EPs, Mark Wardale has applied the lessons learned to his first full-length album, a widescreen work whose intensity hides the fact that all this is the work of a single man: horns, strings, guitars, drums. As cold as a Scandanavian winter, Ett drips texture and nuance like tree sap. Shortwave radio and the winding of a clock imply stoic isolation, the type that might inspire a man to slowly, meticulously, re-create the work of an orchestra. And yet, if classified by season, Ett is also a mirror of melt and reengagement: the hermit shaving, returning to town, pulling up a seat with the locals and hoisting a cup of mead. The ghosts of Sigur Rós are present, especially in the occasional vocals, something to watch on subsequent recordings. But the most beautiful moments – the dark piano and underwater warbles of “Fix Your Bones”, the studied ambience and late bloom of “By Winter’s Night” – are all his own. And by highlight “Kämpaglöd”, everything white has vanished, replaced by bouquets of green.
New life is a beautiful thing, something that one is eager to share with the world. In related fashion, a new child is the source of inspiration to artists, who seek to translate their joy into a relatable work. There are so many ways in which this can go wrong – too twee, too underdeveloped, or worst of all, too many gurgles and coos. Amazingly, Oakland’s Jeffrey Wright has avoided all potential pitfalls, producing a tasteful tribute to his newborn son Owen that his friends and family should adore, while expanding his appeal to a general global audience. Love overflows on this release, especially in the dialogue of “First Look”, but it doesn’t overwhelm; the effect is sweet, but never saccharine. If the album can be summed up in one word, it’s joy. Correct that ~ JOY. When “First Look” explodes into euphoria, it’s more than a simple post-rock moment; it’s a connection to the whole reason people make music. “The Family Tree” possesses a similar sense of ebullience. The peaceful finale, “Rest”, implies something that new parents don’t encounter often; but in this case, if Jeffrey can get it, his rest will have been well-deserved.
One can glean an idea of this London duo’s sound by looking at the cover art and the title. Add [electronic/ hip-hop/industrial] for good measure, and all the bases are covered. The rapidfire beats of “The Plasticine Du Jour” recall the best of 65daysofstatic, and “Ketsuban” is what KMFDM would sound like if they tried screamo. At 2:06, the latter track pivots into a big Bambaataa instrumental, shattering any thought of predictability. Did we expect metal riffs at the end? By that point, anything goes. A wealth of ideas is shoved into each track, ramping up the excitement. This is the sort of album that one plays while breaking the speed limit. “Sorry, officer, I was listening to “Spiders With Human Teeth” and I couldn’t help myself ~ you understand, don’t you? I was going to slow down when I got to the bells, but you caught me before then.” Few tracks end where they begin. Don’t like screaming? Wait for the orchestral sounds. Too slow? Too slow? Really? Okay, we can make it faster. Hey, let’s dance! The logo is a coffee cup that’s wired. Yes, the cup itself. It’s a perfect metaphor for the music. It’s unbelievable that this album is “Name Your Price”; it’s worth double the price of a regular LP.