I have never heard anything like Ghost Heart. For starters, there are no snare drums on their album The Tunnel. There are shakers, cymbals, three million tom hits, bass drum and more, but not a single snare. Most of the vocals are modeled after soaring tribal chant style, but with a distinctly Western melodic bent. The guitars range from indie-rock to mathy patterns. The bass guitar is about the only normal thing in this whole album.
It sounds glorious. It’s really confusing and convention-busting, but it’s a good confusing. The tunes are very long, too; the eight songs here run forty minutes, with one outlier at 1:29. Surprisingly, their unique uncategorizable genre encompasses several different moods; “Salty Sea” is indeed a sea shanty, while “No Canticle” is something Sufjan could write if he spent a week or two in South Africa (Sufjan’s Graceland would be a thing to behold). “Whoever You Are” is an odd, Pontiak-esque mellow rumination. After forty seconds of weirdness, “Black Air” turns into an incredibly surprising indie-rock tune featuring the aforementioned mathy guitar work.
Again, The Tunnel is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Also, The Tunnel is brilliant. It’s bands like these that test reviewers’ moxie: can this incredibly original sound be translated to text well enough to convince unsuspecting listeners to check it out? I don’t know if I have succeeded. But here’s a list of RIYL bands: Funeral-era Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes, American Football, Coldplay (any album except Parachutes), American Football, Journey, yodeling. No, for real.
I don’t review modern rock on Independent Clauses very much. This is not because I don’t like it; on the contrary, I like good modern rock very much. It’s just that there’s not a lot of it to be had. I love everything Anberlin releases, because it has the emotional impact that much indie rock and folk has while still retaining the guitar bombast, cavernous drums and throat-shredding vocals. But most other bands just can’t stay artsy when they throw down a double pedal roll.
Thankfully, Athletics is championing good modern rock in an incredibly subversive way. By marrying the power of modern rock to the melodic thrust of post-rock (which is, as a backlash to modern rock’s posturing, one of the most emotional genres we currently have), they created Why Aren’t I Home?, which is a consistently amazing debut.
The press for Athletics gushes “It’s one of those albums that reminds you why it is you listen to music in the first place,” and for once the music lives up to the exuberant PR.
The band starts off with the title track, which lays down a distant atmosphere before bringing in rapidly arpeggiated, cascading guitar work. The drummer rolls expectantly on the cymbals. A second guitar comes in with a building guitar line. A tom pound punctuates the preceedings, leading to a snare roll. The vocals, clear and strong roar out as a bell kit comes in. The music leads to the breaking point.
and then nothing happens. They pause entirely.
And THEN they bring in the whole band, with screaming guitars, pounding drums, thundering bass to create an absolutely triumphant feel. It’s post-post-rock; it’s music to think about and mosh to. At the same time, if you can.
The band spends the entire album messing with people’s ideas of what rock is. “See You on the Other Side” is a straight-up rock tune, with a cascading guitar line on top of the mix as the only sign that this band isn’t on tour with Anberlin. The song whips into a frenzy by the end, and you’re probably dead if you aren’t excited as well. “Fairview” is a slow, churning mood piece that would be in perfect company with Sigur Ros. “Jordan” is a vocals-heavy indie rock song, honestly. “Lullaby” isn’t a lullaby at all, but one of the most tense pieces on the album, complete with distorted hollering and a crushing sense of doom underpinning the piece.
But it’s speaking for everyone that gives the most shivers (and trust me, I had more shivers listening to this album than I have in any other album this year). It’s a hollowed-out tune, with the vocals reverbed and the guitars amorphously shifting the atmosphere in the background. It’s incredibly mournful, put over the top by the devastating cry “Have mercy/on everyone/but me” which takes over the last minute of the song and turns into an emotional destroyer. Haunting isn’t a strong enough word.
I could write about each song here, but that would be doing the music a disservice. If you like adrenaline and distorted guitars in your music, but can’t stand posturing of any variety, you need to track down Why Aren’t I Home? It’s easily the most emotional rock experience that I’ve ever heard and/or been a part of, thanks to their brilliant songwriting and spot-on execution. This band deserves to “make it,” whatever making it means to them. This band is amazing, and this album must only be the beginning. Please, for the love of all that is good and right in music, stay together, Athletics.
There’s a whole world of people out there; no one can meet everyone. And it’s impossible to form deep connections with every one of the relatively few people we meet. To make matters worse, there’s no way to guess when and where the next deep connection will be found. But when that deep connection is found, all is forgiven. All the frustration is worth it, because this new person is so great.
If listening to music is like meeting people, then “Hope” by Moonlit Sailor is my new best friend. Moonlit Sailor’s 2009 instrumental post-rock album So Close to Life has many treasures on it, but none compare to the bliss of “Hope.” The song is so gripping that I can guarantee you I’ll still be listening to it in ten years.
Moonlit Sailor’s instrumental post-rock skews to the pretty side of the spectrum. They love clean guitar lines, soaring melodies, melodic bass work and acoustic guitar, which is unusual for the genre. They have much more in common with Unwed Sailor than they do with Mogwai. “Hope” is the epitome of their sound.
The tension-heavy intro, full of cymbal splashes and pensive piano flourishes, gives way to a solo acoustic guitar playing the beautiful main chord progression. Then, in an absolutely brilliant moment, the whole band gleefully crashes back in at full speed and intensity. My jaw dropped the first four or five times I heard it. The only way the song could be more gleeful is if someone shot off a confetti cannon at exactly the moment they start up and let the colors rain down as the band tears through the song.
The band keeps playing through various iterations of the main melody, getting heavier and heavier as the song goes along. They keep building tension on top of tension, only letting a little bit of it go at each “chorus.” This makes the final payoff much more gratifying. The final time around, the drums are pounding, the guitars are wailing away, and the piano is twinkling is an incredibly satisfying way. After all, they’ve nailed it: the whole thing sounds exactly like what I believe hope sounds like. It is absolutely my favorite track of this year so far, and it wasn’t even released this year.
Moonlit Sailor doesn’t just bring the power on “Hope.” They know how to set up a tune and build it slowly, as only one song here drops below the 5-minute mark. “Landvetter” is a more pensive piece, but it retains an energy that doesn’t let it get mired down in mope. “Sunbeams” has a wonderful wide-eyed feel to it due to the simple yet powerful melody. “1994” falls between the glee of “Sunbeams” and the thoughtfulness of “Landvetter” to create an incredibly beautiful song that would not be out of place on a Sigur Ros record. The enormous synth moment at 2:30 of “1994” creates an ethereal, uplifting mood that simply reminds me of a higher plane.
There are a couple of songs that drag on So Close to Life, but they are inconsequential compared to the number of tunes that pay off many times over. This album is an absolute must for all lovers of post-rock, especially those who like crescendos, tension and epic moments. Moonlit Sailor loves that stuff, and they give it to their listeners in spades. “Hope,” “1994” and “Landvetter” are simply some of the best tunes I’ve ever heard in the genre. Highly recommended.
I love chronology. Keeping track of dates and reconstructing timelines is one of my favorite hobbies/mental gymnastics. That’s why I know exactly when I was introduced to post-rock. I was brought up on Christian punk rock (of all the odd places to start from), and so on August 27, 2004, I went to go see Last Tuesday, Philmore, Sleeping at Last and a bunch more at Hear No Evil fest. Stuck in the middle of the punk and emo was this post-rock band named Ember Days. I was so awed by their sound that I bought their EP and an XL t-shirt, because that’s all they had left.
Ever since then, I’ve loved post-rock. And that’s why Post Harbor‘s “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them” is near and dear to my ears right now. Post Harbor takes elements from all over the post-rock spectrum and combines them into one incredibly impressive album of sweeping, varied music.
They kick the doors in with “Ponaturi,” unleashing a riff-heavy guitar attack that sounds more like Tool than Sigur Ros. They slam through the riff several times, then pull back into an intricate calm section that features atmospheric synths (in the Appleseed Cast, “I’m about to fight you” atmosphere) and weaving guitar lines. They spend the rest of the album drifting back and forth between heavy and loud, making the most of both of their skills.
They waste no time, closing down “Ponturi” quickly in favor of their statement song “Cities of the Interior.” “Cities” is eight and a half minutes long, almost a minute of which is fade-in and fade-out. In between are heavy guitars, anthemic riffs, a nearly two-minute long section of nothing but vibraphone (or similar percussion) chords, electronic noodling, synthesizers, strings (violin and cello), and sparingly (but pleasantly!) used vocals. In short, Post Harbor throws everything into “Cities of the Interior,” and the return on investment is immense. The track is easily the best thing that Post Harbor has to offer, and it never feels like it takes as long as it does to run its course. The track is simply breathtaking, and there’s no other way I know of to explain it.
Even though the most complex and satisfying track is set at spot number two, that’s not to diminish the quality of the rest of the album. The ebb and flow of the album is perfectly done, with quick tracks flowing seamlessly into quieter ones with no jarring changes. “Alia’s Fane” starts out with the sounds of rain, humming synths and strings; it’s peaceful and wonderful. The rest of the song slowly fades in, and it’s just glorious how the whole thing unfolds. Three songs later, “For Example, This is a Corpse” takes a midtempo approach to math-rock with some serious guitar noodling and rhythmic complexity. That leads in to the final track, “Intro,” which is a delicate, percussion-less piece that floats along on a creaky piano line and background noises.
This album has all of the post-rock idioms rolled into one: guitar noodling, buildups, atmospheric pieces, overarching melodies, heavy parts, quiet parts, heavy/quiet/heavy parts, all of it. The members of Post Harbor studied post-rock, took it apart and put it back together expertly on “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them.” Post Harbor has set the bar for best album of 2010. Let all comers come. It doesn’t come out till February, but you can hear clips on their website.
I was in a really schizophrenic band in high school that featured a art-school guitarist, a jazz-minded pianist, a pop-loving bassist/vocalist, and a double-pedal metal drummer. We made strange music that I still enjoy listening to. Each of them introduced me (the pop-loving bassist/vocalist) to new musical idioms, some of which I still love (Sigur Ros? yes!!) and some of which I have abandoned (toleration is all I’ve got for most orchestral music). One arena that I had not returned to until recently was metal.
I’ve had a few metal albums pass through my life in the four years since Tragic Landscape unofficially disbanded, but Inhale Exhale‘s Bury Me Alive is the first that I’ve reviewed in I don’t know how long. I approached it with trepidation. But as I listened to Bury Me Alive more and more, I was struck by several things.
The guitar work is surprisingly melodic on top of the furious song structures, and it’s surprisingly rhythmic and melodic. The song structures themselves don’t often rely on straight-up chugga-chugga-chugga rhythms; the band progresses beyond that. “Condemned” features a complicated rhythmic pattern in the guitar strum and drums that held my interest the entire time. “A Dark Place for Your Mind To Be” features similar strange rhythmic patterns, as well as some neat guitar effects that I really enjoyed.
Another aspect of Inhale Exhale’s sound that I enjoyed was the amount of lead guitar work. The slew of different riffs on “Did You Ever Have a Touch to Lose?” are strong enough that the song becomes a highlight strictly on the strength and excellent placements of the riffs. “Explosions” also features some excellent guitar work.
The vocals here are low-pitched screams, but not growls or roars. There’s a significant amount of sung vocals, but their use is not one of Inhale Exhale’s better ideas. There’s nothing wrong with the vocalist, but the most generic moments on the album come when they hit the power chorus section of a few of their songs and let the vocalist rip. It’s not bad, it’s just boring. The best use of sung vocals is on the calm, jazzy melodic interlude “Better Her Than Me”; the song’s verses are built for singing, and they work great. The chorus ratchets up into power chorus mode, and it’s not so awesome. But the verses of “Better Her Than Me” show that Inhale Exhale is capable of writing and performing quieter music effectively, should they choose to do so.
Inhale Exhale’s Bury Me Alive features engrossing songwriting, strong rhythmic quality, and engaging lead guitar work. It’s clear that Inhale Exhale has a particular vision after listening to Bury Me Alive, and that clarity produces a focused, entertaining album.
The Boxing Lessonclaims to be from Austin, Texas (and I guess I believe them), but they sound like they’re from outer space. The group’s latest album, Wild Streaks & Windy Days, establishes a psychedelic, dreamy sound that remains consistent throughout.
The opening track of the album is titled “Dark Side of the Moog” – a funny name for an otherwise serious song. Paul Waclawsky’s guitar riff is head-bangable, and Jaylinn Davidson’s moog playing gives the song its otherworldly feel. The driving beat (provided by Jake Mitchell) adds a heavier rock flavor that makes this song a strong opener. Surely, there must be aliens somewhere out there, doing drugs or dancing (or both) to “Dark Side of the Moog.”
“Hopscotch & Sodapop” has the biggest pop influence on Wild Streaks & Windy Days, which is unsurprising when taking the song title into account, and therefore stands out compared to the rest of the album. It doesn’t differ too much, however, because the guitar and synthesizers keep the mood psychedelic. There is also a breakdown moment in the middle, where the fast tempo slows down a bit; this sounds more like the rest of Wild Steaks & Windy Days.
“Hanging with the Wrong Crowd” and “Dance with Meow” both have an electronica/dance feel, but, again, they still fit nicely with the other songs on the album. Probably the strongest aspect of this release from The Boxing Lesson is their ability to blend several different styles with their own predominant genre of space-rock. As a result, the album has enough diversity to be interesting, but is also very cohesive.
Waclawsky’s vocals really shine in “Wild Streaks & Windy Days,” the last track. Its slow tempo gives him a chance to show off his clear, high voice, and it also makes this song sound a little like Sigur Rós. Overall, this album is recommended for Pink Floyd fans, or for astronaut-wannabes. The Boxing Lesson is currently on tour, and is coming at The Opolis next week, for all you Normanites.