L.A. post-rockers Whale Fall have taken four years to record their follow-up to The Madrean. The time has been well-spent, as they’ve produced another catchy, upbeat, and life-affirming album. Sondersongs is very much a release of its time, with a timely message that does not shy from world events, but seeks to address them in a positive manner.
But before we get to the message, let’s just listen. It’s possible to understand the point via the tone. This is the perfect album for a post-rock road trip (I should probably copyright that phrase) ~ music to play while driving far from home to enjoy new experiences and meet different sorts of people. Periodically, one will return to the car to process, daydream and reminisce. Sondersongs offers a rich, melodic hue of post-rock, in which the guest instruments often take center stage. The horns are the band’s not-so-secret weapon, but the cello adds depth and the glockenspiel the welcome sunshine. This being said, the primary instruments each have their time in the sun: the acoustic guitar in “Decades,” the piano in “Asunder,” the drums in “Holarctica.” Many songs build to crescendos, most notably the heart-lifting opener “True Places” and “This Cat Has No Moral Compass.” “Holarctica” contains multiple inner peaks.
How do we feel? We feel calm, comforted, reassured, encouraged, and generous. We’re ready to give humanity another chance. We’re sorry for that argument, that misunderstanding. Perhaps we judged too quickly. People aren’t that bad, after all. The warmth we gain from the music is now extended to our interactions. In the car, we’re content to let others pass. We have no desire to cut in. The people driving the other cars have their own problems, their own distractions, their own hopes and dreams.
So what’s sonder? The word was coined by John Koenig to fill a linguistic gap. It’s part of his seven-year (to date) project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The short version: sonder is “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness.” (For the longer version, see TED Talks.) The liner notes refer to divisions, collisions and commonalities, and overlap with the current sociopolitical climate. But the album operates more like the World Cup than Crash, making the point through example. Given Whale Fall’s proximity to Hollywood, it seems fair to quote rookie statesman T’Challa: “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”
We’ve just explained the inspiration and ambition of Sondersongs. But wait ~ we received the same impression from reading the words of the band as we did from listening to their music. This perfect confluence proves that the band has succeeded. Sometimes we don’t need words. Instead we need open hearts, open arms, and music to express what the tongue cannot. There is great sorrow in the mutual loss of a shared path, but great joy in the thought of finding it again. (Richard Allen)