Last updated on May 11, 2019
My three favorite types of music are absurdly happy (Anamanaguchi), extremely sad (Damien Jurado), and cerebral (The Mountain Goats). Pan combines absurdly happy and cerebral in their post-rock, and it’s just a wonder to behold. Their new EP Meta Major! is exactly as optimistic as that title would suggest, and that’s excellent.
The five-piece instrumental band (the usual suspects and a violin) recorded this 15-minute EP live, so the four tracks feel more like movements of the same song than individual songs on their own. That’s also excellent; the live recording lends a pounding energy to the tracks, and the individual movements ensure that they didn’t go nuts trying to record a 15-minute tune in one flawless take. As it stands, the recording is pretty impressive: the guitars soar majestically, the rhythm section provides strong counterpoint, and the violin caps it all off as the link between melody and rhythm. It’s overall a very impressive achievement: fans of Fang Island, And So I Watch You From Afar, should start at the beginning and listen all the way through (with special attention paid to “Miracle Mile”).
RCRDS‘ Summer Aches EP is also a 15-minute experience that flows together as one track. Where Pan goes for the exuberant, RCRDS goes for the cerebral: their mash-up of indie-rock, trip-hop, and a dark form of chillwave ends up being akin to artsy, instrumental hip-hop. The songs are composed primarily of live bass, washed-out vocals, effects-heavy guitars, and non-intrusive beats that work together to give the recording a distinct feel. It’s not obviously sad (like singer/songwriter fare can be), but it carries a sense of the forlorn in it. It’s a gripping moment when “Release” strips down to thrumming bass line, staccato beat, and pitchshifted vocals at the end of the song; that striking bass work continues throughout the release. As I mentioned, the whole album feels like one cohesive work, which is a strong quality to have in work like this. Recommended for those into Clams Casino, Balam Acab, et al.
Smash cut to the next scene: Gifts or Creatures plays thoughtful alt-country that draws heavily on traditions that emphasize songwriting over virtuoso performances. It’s not a bad comparison to say that Yesteryear Western Darkness sounds like a Wilco-ized version of The Civil Wars, although that’s selling their talents short in the service of quick reference.
“Relicts & Ghosts” and “Gospel of Glaciers” spin two sides of the same tapestry: the former sets the core motion of the dual vocals and thoughtful lyrics in a walking-pace alt-country idiom, while the latter slows things down with a Wurlitzer and weeping pedal steel. The Low Anthem blows out the ends of their sound way more, but the impulse to cover a wide range of sounds without leaving alt-country altogether is similar in the two bands. Highlight “Blind Pigs” features memorable melodies, a dreamy mood, and protest lyrics; “American Pockets” couches similar discomfort with the state of things in a comfortable alt-country tune. Gifts or Creatures aren’t into riffs or attitude-filled ragers, but they sure know how to write a song that cuts to the bone. Fans of bands as disparate as Over the Rhine, Wilco, Damien Jurado, and The Lesser Birds of Paradise would do well to check out Gifts or Creatures’ Yesteryear Western Darkness.