Stevens’ control of rhythm, melody and atmosphere make this album. Anyone can write a melody, but turning it into something unexpected melodically and rhythmically while supporting the piece with the right feel is a unique skill. Opener “Nightbus” is the perfect example of this, as it warps relatively common rhythms and melodies into a singular piece.
These instrumentals draw heavily on post-rock, trip-hop and acoustic rock for inspiration, but it’s all filtered through a keen sense of what an acoustic guitar can and can’t do. Stevens knows when it’s time to break out the electric guitar, and when to let the acoustic do it’s thing. This results in organic-feeling pieces like “Up” (check the handclaps!) and “Rusty,” as well as polished post-rockers like opener “Nightbus” and the uniquely digitized “20 GOTO 10.”
However, the not-problem problem of his former album continues in the latter album: Stevens is so good at all the aspects of post-everything indie rock that the album lacks flow in places. This is nowhere more prominent than in “Frost,” which starts off with a churning section of metal that would make some modern-day thrashers envious of its heaviness. It is a jarring contrast with the rest of the album, and especially its direct predecessor “Sand (Part 2),” a highly atmospheric piece that draws on trip-hop and jazz.
Still, it’s hard to knock Matt Stevens’ Relic. It’s obvious just from listening that a ton of thought has gone into this record, but the album doesn’t often sound intimidating. The tunes here are awe-inspiring in a majestic, soundtrack-to-my-own-life sort of way; they rarely devolve into towering, look-how-awesome-I-am pieces (Dragonforce, AWAY!). It’s that listener connection that makes all the genre-jumping palatable: it feels real and relatable. Highly recommended for fans of post-rock.
Albums can generally be categorized into four groups: great and up, bad and below, average and almost great. This last category is the hardest to review; for every negative, I want to write in two positives (even when this is mathematically and realistically impossible). Furthermore, I want to point out all the negatives so that bands can improve just the little bit more they need to break over the top. The Fierce & The Dead’s If It Carries On Like This, We Are Moving to Morecambe is almost great, and it’s killing me.
The British post-rock group’s flaw is that it can competently play almost every style of post-rock there is, from romantic melancholy (“The Wait”) to dissonant and abrasive thrash (“Landcrab”) to indie-rock (“10×10”) to pensive build pieces (“Andy Fox,” which also has bonus sax, Empty Space Orchestra-style). The members’ impressive instrumental talents ensure that there are no individual pieces to knock, but the collection falls a tad bit short in terms of constructing a complete album. I don’t want ten copies of “The Wait,” but the flow of the album is weird.
See how depressing that sounds? Let’s recap:This album is really good, but the members of the band need to buckle down and figure out what they’re telling us. The band does tend to lean more toward the minimalist/pensive side, but the moods of those pieces range from the aforementioned romantic to “eerie horror movie” (“Woodchip”). On the one hand, it shows off their skills and creates some really interesting music; on the other, it’s hard to contextualize the whole album.
(side note: “The Wait,” which you will by now notice is my favorite tune here, sounds like this sketchbook looks [warning: one piece is NSFW])
Here’s another way of looking at this: as individual songs, The Fierce & The Dead have written approximately eight solid-to-amazing post-rock singles. (I know that’s not a real thing, but it’s for the sake of argument.) If you’re not the album type, pick at random (unless it’s “Woodchip” or “Hotel No. 6,” which are more sound experiments than songs), and you’ll really enjoy what you hear.
I have a feeling that with one more album under the band’s belt, The Fierce & The Dead is going to be something amazing. Right now it’s a B+. I know my critique doesn’t make it look like a B+, but man — I want to see this band take the next step really bad. I think they can do it. And that’s why it looks harsh.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.