Day Four of our road trip takes us across the Channel to France, where the sounds of Oiseaux-Tempête, Fall of Messiah, Red Forest and Totorro await. These acts may not sound French, but they don’t sound like their Canadian counterparts either. All four share a harder edge than their friends on the other side of the ocean.
An additional bonus: all contain original cover art as well. One never gets a second chance to make a first impression, and for two of these, the covers are what caught our attention. Are we shallow? We still judge music on its own merits. But solid presentation is a good sign that a band has other skills as well.
Oiseaux-Tempête‘s self-titled debut was one of 2013’s best post-rock albums, and boasted one of the year’s most indelible cover images. The original image has been transmuted for this surprising remix project. The surprise is not only the presence of the remix album itself (still rare for the genre), but the identity of the remixers: unusual suspects such as Scanner, Saåad, Dag Rosenqvist, Witxes and Machinefabriek. With this being said, it’s no surprise that the standout cut comes from Harris Underwater of Do Make Say Think, who turns in a superlative mix of “Ouroboros”. (That bass!) By pumping up the major themes, he ends up with an ominous yet regal track strong enough to compete with the original. In other pieces, the drums receive more attention. But while this is a remix album, it’s not a dance album; nor is it an electronically grounded album in the 65dos vein. Instead, it’s an album of applied imagination. Scanner focuses on the squall, Rosenqvist on the abrasion, Witxes on the dialogue, each calling attention to another component of the band’s work. Even the track order is changed. From this angle the listener finds new ways to appreciate what is already superlative, and begins to imagine new directions.
Not only does Fall of Messiah have a cool cover (click the image to enlarge), it also has a sweet theme going, as How to see beyond fields (UFV Records, Palm Reader Records) follows How to Conceive a Bridge Between Circles and How to Build a Chariot. The new album also contains an intriguing subtitle: “an instrumental essay on the past northern rural environment.” We would never have covered the first two albums as they were soaked in screamo, but the new work tones it down. With multiple landscapes on the cover and multiple languages in the track titles, one already suspects that this album will be Epic. And so it is, demonstrating such beautiful restraint in places that one swiftly forgets the nature of the other two albums. “La résonance des hangars” is already one of the best post-rock tracks of the year, blowing away pretty much every other loud-quiet-loud bid on the market. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you do it. Nothing is predictable; the transitions are consistently surprising; and the mastering is loud. At nine minutes long, it’s a clear statement piece, and when it takes the podium, the rest of the hall falls silent. There’s plenty more where that came from, enough to excuse the occasional brief screamo lapse. With so many different languages represented (if not spoken), the album serves as its own road trip. And with incredible drumming matched by memorable melodies and earth-shaking riffs, How to see beyond fields may be the biggest surprise of our road trip: a (nearly) instrumental post-rock album appearing where none was expected to be.
Nearby Fall of Messiah in northern France is Caen’s Red Forest, whose name is inspired by a track from If These Trees Could Talk. Again the cover makes an impression, a frightening blur in the background implying imminent danger. The red tones of the Bandcamp page only amplify the association. As one might expect, Red Forest is a post-rock/post-metal band, presenting a steely face to the world. This four-track, self-titled EP needs to make a big splash in a brief span, and it does so by plunging right in. It doesn’t sound as spooky as its title and cover imply, but it does sound strong, like a warrior returning with his kill. One can even imagine screamo being added to these tracks; its ghost lurks behind the fuzzy distortion of “Dans les Bois Eternals” (“Eternals in Wood”), which fits the title. Swamp Thing readers may think of the Parliament of Trees; Tolkienites may recall the more benign Ents; and it’s probably better not to mention Evil Dead (worst tree ever!). For the best riffs, go right to “Le Lac des Singes.” If you prefer the rock over than the post, this is the forest to visit.
We’ve seen quite a few bands in flux this week. Rennes rockers Totorro are the latest to make a change. The band has made a massive U-turn since All Glory to John Baltor appeared in 2011. At that time, Totorro was a post-rock, post-metal, screamo band, similar in tone to Fall of Messiah. On Home Alone, the band morphs into a melodic, instrumental, math rock band, sounding completely unlike its prior incarnation. This thorough overhaul is good for the band, whose new exuberance is contagious. “WOO!” the quartet yells on “Chevalier Bulltoe”, a moment that would have been unheard of three years ago. The naked aggression is gone. In its place is an endearing vibe, reflected by the cover art. This is approachable music, consistent throughout the eight tracks. “Festivalbini” is one of the best, a punchy, three-minute burst of fearless, toe-tapping abandon. But it’s hard to resist the chanting “Oseo San”, bouncy “Chevalier Bulltoe”, and the disc as a whole. The only question that remains: what kind of concert will the band give its fans, now that new ones will be joining the fold? We prefer the new direction, and hope it wins over the metal crowd as well.