Rare is the band that improves with every release, but this Oregon septet has done it again. This self-titled album – the band’s fourth – is its best yet, representing another leap forward. To those unfamiliar with the band: it’s time to start noticing.
By releasing an album a year, This Patch of Sky has kept up a pace as steady as its drumming. Debut effort The Immortal, The Invisible was a solid start, informed as much by metal as by post-rock. Then came Newly Risen, How Brightly You Shine, which edged in the latter direction while still including a tiny bit of screamo. The vocals were gone by Heroes and Ghosts, making possible the band’s new motto, “We make music without words to communicate without language.” A wider tonal palette was apparent, evidence of the band’s desire to expand its horizons. And now, the self-titled album: a confident effort with an even wider setup, marked by the addition of cello and (on three tracks) bamboo flute. While the band continues at times to sound like mid-period This Will Destroy You (especially during the opening of “Love Is In Beauty and Chaos”), a separate sound is developing that embraces orchestral elements; we suspect (and hope) that this trend will continue.
As mentioned in September’s Singles Chart, it’s brave to open a post-rock album with a drum-free, guitar-free track; but that’s exactly what This Patch of Sky does with “Prelude”, highlighting Alex Abrams’ resonant cello. “Prelude” is not only the overture to the album, but to the next track, as the gorgeous string lines find completion in “Time Destroys Everything, But Our Foundation Remains”. When considered as a whole, this diptych represents the band’s best song to date. A gentle build contributes to the song’s overwhelming sense of melancholy, a mood that continues throughout the album like the soft mist of regret. The re-emergence of the cello at 3:32 provides the track’s finest single moment. Not that the primary instruments (guitar, bass, drums, keys and synth) should be discounted; post-rock fans would be destitute without them. But the increase in dynamic contrast provides the greatest emotional payoff.
Emotion is very much on the minds of the band members, as is apparent in the track titles: “The Winter Day Declining”, “And So They Watched As The Years Passed Us By”. Ten-minute tracks with ten-word titles are the hallmarks of classic post-rock, and This Patch Of Sky does not disappoint. But the power is in the music. Having learned a new restraint, the band is able to prolong the payout. On this album, weeping crescendos take the place of pounding crescendos, softening the blow. One is barely aware of the high mark of “The Winter Day Declining” until one is in it: the song progresses from small flakes to large rather than from frost to blizzard. This approach allows the album to be viewed as a whole. While not billed as a concept album, it unfolds as one, leading to the pensive yet positive “Wait and Hope”, a sign that the melancholy has faded, and that once again, our eyes are lifted to see that beautiful patch of sky. (Richard Allen)