Category Archives: Post-Rock

I, A Man: Gravity Wins Again

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I, A Man: Gravity Wins Again- Let me introduce you to I, A Man: hailing from Melbourne, Australia, the four-piece created their own label, We Swimmers, on which they will release their debut album Gravity Wins Again on April 11. The 10-track album comes after three years of EP’s and some dedicated fundraising among them. I, A Man even took the time to press their own vinyl – impressive for an independent band whose first album is not yet released. All this no doubt shows the care and tact the band has for the music they put out.

Smooth bass lines, melancholic, bittersweet vocals and a driving force of drums carry throughout the album. The guitar has a tinge of romance to it; you can almost hear the passion and love I, A Man has for the music they produce. The album as a whole carries out as a complete thought – one track melts into the next, presenting itself as a skillfully planned exposé of the band’s skills. Gravity Wins Again has the rural, return-to-roots feel of a town on the outskirts of a big city where the album was written.

The album opens with ‘Fossils,’ which begins with deep vocals over quiet synths, pulling the listener in with innovative lyrics, “Now this paper tiger roams/ Brave-faced with no home.” As the first track of their debut album, ‘Fossils’ carries the weight of introducing the virgin listener to their sound; a sound that is consistent (though not overtired) throughout Gravity Wins Again. The second track, ‘In Time’ grows a bit repetitive lyrically and sonically, but carries through sweetly into the third track, ‘A Small Good Thing.’

The ambient, mellow sound of the first three tracks leads succinctly into the fourth track, ‘Minivan,’ one of the album’s strengths. The drums act in a more staccato fashion, a solid foundation to build the layers of guitar, bass and sweeping vocals of the remainder of the song. An echoing chorus fills the background, which all quiets down around halfway through, so the vocalist can be heard singing, “It wasn’t vengeful for the most part,” his Australian twang surfacing clearly.  ‘Cold Feet Warmed,’ continues the more upbeat pace, drums increasingly faster, as if the music itself gains confidence of its quality as the album progresses.

The album’s seventh track, ‘Less Traveled,’ is perhaps the strongest track, the climactic peak of the album before its melodic descent back into the ambient melancholy from whence it came in ‘Fossils’. A return to the ambitious spirit of youth, as the vocalist sings over chiming percussion and strong guitar chords, “Lead me back here again/ To the house of my youth/ It’s here I find my eager eyes/ I keep ‘em open for changing times.” ‘Less Traveled’ is a testament to the journey of the independent band, and perhaps for any artist who struggles to get their foot in the door. This passionate, youthful spirit is heard throughout the album, in the careful construction of each track in relation to the album as a whole.

Gravity Wins Again closes with ‘Bandwidth,’ which begins with a sound reminiscent of a cross between Neva Dinova and Elliott Smith. A cyclical closing to the album, a definitive ‘end’ to the journey that began in a comparable spaced-out manner. ‘Bandwidth’’s gradual ascent into a post-rock jam (that then sounds more like a track off Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Methodrone than Dinova or Smith) leads into an ambient fuzzed-out sound, the vocals slowly fading out into the music that overwhelms them, as perhaps a testament to the band’s principal focus on sound over content. The song (and the album) end as they have begun – with one instrument and dream-like vocals.

With Gravity Wins Again, I, A Man proves their as yet perhaps unnoted potential, and hopefully will draw attention to their skill as songwriters and music makers. Their talent is without debate, evident from the first track to the last, and any in between.  No doubt I, A Man is a band to keep an eye out for in their imminent future success…8.7/10

Unconditional Arms: Kinship

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Unconditional Arms: Kinship – There’s a group of people out there that might inherently get Kinship, the debut release from The American Scene’s side project Unconditional Arms. Those who have brought life into this world, who know the joy, the fear, the unrelenting wave of emotional apexes and crashes that come with fostering life might be in that group. After all, Kinship was started as a project for guitarist Jeffery Wright’s son, Owen. For the sake of exposing my biases, I am decidedly not someone who knows the emotional experience that come part and parcel with raising a child. There’s something integral to this album that I do not, cannot fully understand. That doesn’t mean that this album’s moving music is something that will be lost on anyone, though.

True enough, the album’s origins have a heartwarming sentiment behind them. Even considered outside of that, though, it’s a soft but striking collection of tracks with an instrumental hum that paints entire moments around its listeners. It’s post-rock to its core, but less bleary and droning than its contemporaries; Kinship comes right out of the speakers with clean, resonate guitar and melodies that move slowly through moods, telling stories that listeners can hear, see and feel without depending on a single word.

Opening with ‘Family Tree’, Wright sticks to the post-rock canon, but does so in a refreshingly neat and inviting way, showing off his skills as a guitarist while still bringing in dim hums and soft chimes that echo with familiarity and welcome, the kind of opening that even to the outsider truly does seem to fit with the sentiment of bringing a son into the world. The album diverges a bit from the mold after that, though, leaning into different songwriting styles and bringing in themes and tropes distinct to each track. ‘Rest’ brings in soft acoustic harmonies and lulling melodic accents that start as an echo behind the becalmed guitar and slowly work their way to the forefront while the acoustics drift off like a dream. In an incredibly intimate moment, ‘First Look 1’ starts with background noises and voices recalling the moment in which Wright first finds out he’s going to be a father before building into strident, almost choral progressions meant, perhaps a bit too idealistically, to capture the emotion behind that so-difficult-to-comprehend moment. Each track is true to form in its steady, meandering guitar and lengthy composition, but there’s a clear distinction from song to song, a different approach to each one that makes it apparent that they are all inspired by distinct and deeply personal moments.

For as private a time as it is meant to represent, the album is very much a community effort too, from the Kickstarter campaign that funded its recording to the grassroots means that Wright used to spread the word, even giving the album away for free at points. This is truly something that Wright made as a gift, and though its intentioned toward his son, he seems to be welcoming any fan of his work to come and enjoy it.

Made for his son but gifted to anyone who wants to share in the moment, Unconditional Arms’ Kinship is a sentimental but still completely enjoyable album filled with both post-rock convention and genre-pushing exploration. It’s continuously upbeat, which admittedly takes a certain mood to be able to appreciate, but at its core, the album is a gift, and even those of us who have no idea what this kind of parental experience is like can still appreciate the simple wonder of a father’s love and some seriously good music…7.8/10

The Family Tree

Row Boat: Shallow Waters

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Row Boat: Shallow Waters – If you’ve ever taken a rowboat out on a tree-lined lake on a calm night where the moon is reflected in the water, you already know what the first track off the Shallow Waters EP sounds like. Even if you haven’t, Row Boat, UK musician Mark Wardale’s post-rock/ambient project, does an incredible job in ‘Ever After Memories’ with capturing and transcribing that strange, lonely tranquility that comes in those kinds of moments. There’s a lot going on under the surface – twinkling bells, soft piano, deep percussion, breathy vocals, vibrato strings and everything else that’s packed in there – yet Row Boat deftly blends each element, folding them carefully into one another and tucking any loose ends out of sight to create a peacefully gentle yet dark and interesting opening to the album.

While ‘Even After Memories’ evokes a certain loneliness with its sound, it never drags or turns depressing. Shallow Waters isn’t melancholy, exactly, but much of the music falls within the darker end of the spectrum. ‘Orkan’, for instance, strays into that darker territory, beginning low and innocuous and then building gradually towards an expansive finale. This track isn’t in a hurry to get to the big guns; it’s content to introduce its tone and evolve only when good and ready. Listen for the vocal motif midway through that’s echoed by some of the instrumentation – it’s one of my favorite aspects of ‘Orkan’.

The third track, ‘kärleksbrev’, is more in the vein of ‘Ever After Memories’, but Row Boat creates the same feelings of longing and tranquility with both a different instrumentation (in this case, a quiet mix of piano, brass and strings) and a less effects-heavy approach. What I love about this one is the way the lightly arpeggiated chords resolve and the simple brass line resonates against the empty space; it’s nice to see someone effectively use silence.

‘Inertia’, for me, is where things stagnate a bit. The atmosphere Row Boat has been carefully cultivating on this EP is still present, but this track isn’t as complex or gripping as the ones that came before it. It’s not bad; there are definitely moments that are attention-catching, but for a nearly seven minute song, there’s not enough going on. Ultimately, ‘Inertia’ just fades into the background a little too much to really offer the listener anything to hold onto.

Speaking of background, some of the tracks, like ‘Midnattsol’, wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film soundtrack, but while Shallow Waters can be unsettling, that doesn’t make it uncomfortable to listen to. ‘Midnattsol’ feels like maybe there’s something lurking nearby that’s eerie or vaguely sinister, but isn’t outright evil. Row Boat’s use of effects and percussion are particularly notable – honestly, the percussion work on this track is some of my favorite on this album. If I have one complaint, it’s that one weird, almost whining noise that comes in sometimes – you’ll know the one – which kind of gets to me after awhile, but I have a sneaking suspicion that’s just a personal problem. Regardless, ‘Midnattsol’ is intriguing and makes full use of small flourishes and effects.

Shallow Waters ends with ‘Prova’, which is not my favorite track but is nonetheless a smart choice. There are more major chords than minor, and the whole thing is a bit uplifting, courtesy primarily of the vocal work and strings. There are a few grating effects going on, but if that doesn’t bother you, then ‘Prova’ is a nice track, especially when it reaches its final burst at the end.

‘Prova’ ends Shallow Waters without getting saccharine, which again is smart because the strength of this EP is in its quieter, darker sound and ability to create such an emotionally-charged atmosphere, a talent that’s mandatory for any successful ambient artist. It’s probably not an EP I’ll be throwing on at a casual get-together any time soon, but it’s a beautiful listen, and there’s a wonderfully introspective quality to Shallow Waters that’s awfully compelling…8.7/10

Orkan

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything

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Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything – Oh, Canada. Even in your least proud moments, we still love you for everything you’ve had to endure. In all seriousness though, Canada has a lot of musical reasons to hold its head high; among those reasons is the influential post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. With Sigur Rós, Mogwai, and Explosions in the Sky; Godspeed You! helped define a genre and went on to inspire/spawn countless post-rock bands. One of those bands, A Silver Mt. Zion, started off as an instrumental side project of Godspeed’s Efrim Menuck and a few others. Zion’s since gone through enough name changes and personnel switch-ups that it’s virtually impossible to keep track. 7 albums and a slew of moniker changes later, the newly proclaimed Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra is back with a very emotive and complex Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything that shows a band in the final stages of morphing into its own unique musical brand.

This album is a far cry from Thee Silver Mt. Zion of the early 2000’s. Listening to lead singer Menuck’s compelling vocal delivery will make you wonder how they ever functioned as an instrumental band. Menuck has developed a knack for effectively delivering straightforward, in-your-face vocals and then turning around to evoke emotion through schmaltzy lyrics and impassioned singing. The song ‘What We Loved Was Not Enough’ comes to mind to showcase Menuck’s vocal performance. When he sings, “All our children gonna die!” it should come off sounding a little hokey and melodramatic with the music’s urgently somber tone. But, Menuck somehow still manages to break your heart and then really seal the deal as he pleads, “Kiss it quick and rise again.”

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The album’s opener, ‘Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)’ is a 10 minute opus that features an interlude by Menuck’s son Ezra before the music comes in swinging right off the bat.  Ezra says, “We live on the island called Montreal, and we make a lot of noise… because we love each other!” And, make a lot of noise Silver Mt. Zion certainly does on this record. This album is chock full of cinematic punk riffage and experimental post rock dynamics that both work together for a one-of-a-kind listening experience. With songs clocking in at 10, 11 and 14 minutes  one would expect that this album could get a little boring, or a least be a lot to take in right away. However, there are a plethora of singable and catchy melodies that keep it somewhat accessible.

The first three songs are where all the power in the record lies. The last three songs add some much needed delicacy into the mix.  In that regard, it’s very balanced sonically but runs the gamut of emotions. At times it’s triumphant, it’s seething, it’s defeated, and just about everything in between. ‘Take Away These Early Grave Blues’ storms in like a raging bull for probably the most exciting song on the album. Immediately after, ‘Little Ones Run’ flirts with Grizzly Bear-esque piano balladry and offers a sweet, calming release to the thrashing that preceded it.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion didn’t hold anything back on Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything. Even when it’s not going balls to the wall musically, the lyrics are very bold, revealing, and honest. This album is truly dynamic and proves that Silver Mt. Zion are taking the confines of their post-rock roots and throwing them out the window… 8.3/10

What We Loved Was Not Enough

The Echelon Effect: Atlantic

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The Echelon Effect: Atlantic – The first thing you have to remember about The Echelon Effect is just how tempered the project is. Theirs is not going to wake or even stir anything in listeners; they are far more gentle. The second thing you have to remember is that The Echelon Effect is, despite all placid moods, ambitious perhaps to a fault. With that in mind, turn your attention toward Atlantic, the first of a dual-album effort from the David Walters-headed project looking to traverse the two largest bodies of water on the planet.

Their soft, ethereal sound makes The Echelon Effect an unlikely candidate to pioneer a multi-oceanic journey, a metaphor that extends straight into the heart of the album. As it begins on their Bandcamp, “We leave the south-west coast, into the Atlantic, heading westwards, dreaming of dry land. TO BE CONTINUED…” The Atlantic imagery is maintained throughout the actual album by using small vocal attachments and interjections, but Atlantic largely takes on its sense of dimensionality almost exclusively through its own melodic imagery. The Echelon Effect is, after all, a glowing assemblage of post-rock, and that implicit dreamy sound is far from gone even as the project moves distances from where it began.

Where Atlantic truly stands out against Walters’ other compositions is in its ability to be not only inherently intimate, but at the same time expansively radiant, projecting out from its very core the images its composer put into it. Tracks like ‘Fallen’ are murkier and turbid in tone, while others, such as ‘Tired Wings’, start off soft and somber before breaking through to a sense of both peace and determination. Moments like that make Atlantic a truly emotional album, but great care is taken in transition between highs and lows. Nothing about it shocks, nothing about it overwhelms, and subsequently, listeners are left 11 tracks later wondering just how they came to feel so deeply for an album that by all accounts was inches away from a lullaby, were it not for the guttural bass that weaves its way through the recording.

There is a sense of finality missing from the album. Where the last strident notes fade on ‘Tired Wings’, there’s the rightful sense that something more is to come. In this case, it’s the vast Pacific, set to be released as the second half of this project. Still, it makes Atlantic seem just a little incomplete, less of a letdown and more of a cliffhanger, as listeners prepare themselves for the greater and more challenging is yet to come.

If you’ve yet to hear The Echelon Effect, keep those first two things I said about them in mind, and backtrack maybe an album or so. No doubt Atlantic would have you wanting for more, but without being able to see the quiet, self-kept place from which the project originated, it’s going to be difficult to wrap your head around just how ambitious and far-reaching this dual release is. For those in the know, listen and get ready – the Pacific is on the horizon…8.0/10

Tired Wings

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