a closer listen

Ranges ~ The Ascensionist

Nothing says “post-rock” like a big ‘ol mountain on the cover.  Add the name Ranges and the album title The Ascensionist, and the association is cemented.  But just as we’re starting to make a list of all the other post-rock bands with mountains on their covers ~ as well as those with references in their names (The Ascent of Everest), we notice this simple fact:  Ranges is from Montana.  Montana contains over a hundred mountain ranges.  So if anyone has a right to such a name, a title and a cover, it’s Ranges.

This leads to a larger, although obvious question: why do post-rockers like mountains so much?  The answers are fairly simple: the music is filled with peaks and valleys, and the best tracks build slowly to a sense of euphoria, akin to that of a mountain climber reaching a summit and looking out at the vast cloud-dotted landscape.  The height literally takes one’s breath away, and to many, the ascent ~ with no guarantee of success ~ is worth the danger.  It’s no surprise that post-rockers are often drawn to religious concepts as well, present here in titles such as “In the Arms of Kings and Gods” and “Called Not to a New Religion, but to Life”.  (The band’s earlier works covered mythology, God, the devil and Bonhoeffer.)  One recalls the double ascent of Moses, the Sermon on the Mount (although likely a hill) and the phrase, “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.”

Post-rock albums tend to rise rather than fall, inspire rather than discourage.  The Ascensionist is no exception.  The album is in fact a series of ascents, spending little time packing and climbing and a lot of time on the peaks.  And why not?  After releasing 44 tracks in just under 44 months, Ranges still has 58 ranges to climb.

Those looking for political commentary won’t find it here.  They will, however, encounter struggles between god and man, myth and religion, good and evil, life and death, each leading to some manner of epic victory or at the very least, noble failure.  The whistling winds that open the LP are an invitation to ascend: to stride into the storm, to engage fully in the challenge.  The pounding introductory drums of “Seven Sisters” are a reminder that the triumphs are worth the trials.  Time and time again, the quartet pauses, then surges forward, relentlessly determined to achieve their goals, and by extension, to inspire others to reach their goals as well.  After all, a mountain is also a metaphor.  “Climb every mountain” is not about mountaineering, and “faith can move mountains” is not about terraforming.  But listening to these peaks ~ and they are here aplenty ~ one starts to think, “I can do this”, referring to any manner of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles.  The title track in particular plants a flag and rises to its feet.  “The Greater Lights” pushes even further, remaining confident from base camp to summit.  Through it all, the quartet demonstrates great fluidity, the result of playing so many shows.  The band has always been solid, but The Ascensionist is their most energetic and endearing to date.  It’s as if they’ve already reached the summit as pilgrims and returned as guides.  (Richard Allen)