It should be obvious at this point that I’m a sucker for a pop song by a acoustic-instrument folk collective. But The Noise Revival Orchestra‘s latest tunes, which fall squarely into the aforementioned category, were a bit baffling to me. The last TNRO release I reviewed was To The Seven Churches In The Province Of Asia, which was an intriguing post-rock effort. There have been intervening releases, which other writers for Independent Clauses covered; somewhere in there I missed a dramatic stylistic shift. Their press says that it happened for this album specifically, and that would be an abrupt shift indeed if that were the case.
This is sort of a bummer; I miss TNRO’s old sound. I thought it was vibrant and thoughtful. However, I begrudge them not their new direction; nothing is constant in music but change. Songs of Forgiveness is a strong 20-minute, 5-song EP that shows a confident sound and interesting melodic ideas.
But they can’t fully escape their post-rock bent; having subsisted previously on primarily instrumental melodies in the post-rock realm, their retained sense of melody is a welcome aspect of their new sound. The title track has sweeping cinematic “oh-ay-oh-ay-ohs,” and closer “Sapphire” has a long instrumental intro featuring violin. The title track also features a uniquely syncopated rhythm throughout, giving the song an unusual quality among most straight-four-count folk tunes. “Crushing On You” has a similar highly refined sense of rhythm.
And, get this: there’s a massive key change and distorted bass guitar in the title track. This is pretty much still a post-rock band at heart, just writing pop songs that happen to sound like a folk collective because of their choice of instrumentation.
“Dance the Night Away” and “When I Was 8” have the ornamentation and rhythm, but they are dominated more by the vocals than the instrumental performance. These tracks are less effective; the male vocals are good, but they’re not the most compelling part of this band. The sound works better when the instruments lead the voices through the song, and not vice versa.
Overall, this is an incredibly unique and interesting EP. Critics are fickle, always asking bands to change or not change, depending on what we like or dislike about them. (Sorry.) The Noise Revival Orchestra has pulled off the rare feat of moving forward in their sound while still retaining things that made them great. If you’re interested in progressive, well-arranged pop songs, you should definitely be looking over here.
Album Name: To the Seven Churches in the Province of Asia
Best Element: Stunning songwriting, stellar musicianship
Label Name: n/a (this is a sin)
Band E-mail: email@example.com
The Noise Revival has a lot of guts, and I admire them for it. I admire the fact that they would put barrels of money into an extremely well-produced record of sounds that aren’t going to be well-received by the public at large. You see, The Noise Revival is somewhat akin to a more optimistic Pink Floyd- creating huge slabs of rock that are at times droning and at others complex and intricate. Ebb and flow is the lifeblood of the Noise Revival, and To The Seven Churches in the Province of Asia is basically one 60-minute song broken up into 9 slightly-easier-to-handle chunks (this very nature defeats the purpose of quoting song titles, which I won’t do very often during this review). It’s freaking awesome if you like that sort of thing- which I do, a lot. This album has some extremely strong songwriting and while the vocals could use a little bit of help, these songs are mostly instrumental, which only adds to their gutsiness.
These songs succeed because these songs aren’t long out of pretentiousness. These songs are long because the members of the band enjoy the melodies that they play so much that they feel compelled to repeat them many times in many different settings. This isn’t a band that says “lets play long songs cause it’s cool”- this is a band that says “man, this melody is awesome- how many different ways can we work this into a song?”
Another thing that helps out their sound is that the band members are all on the same page. Each of the individual members seems to be on equal talent footing. None of the members go for the narcissistic touches- each plays their own little part in making the sound go. There aren’t any huge drum solos or bombastic guitar riffings- there’s only what needs to be done. The keys offer up a brilliant touch in “Lie N Die”- then disappear. The guitar repeatedly plays a beautiful melody in “Good Job”, but it never gets excessive. The drums never goes for the throat, put always gently pushes the sound forward- the stomping beat on “Revolution” is ample proof of that. The bassist has a huge contribution on this album- his finesse and melodic ability turn many of the more droning sections of atmospherics into highly enjoyable sections of music.
The only drawback to The Noise Revival’s sound is the vocals, which take some adjusting to. They’re sort’ve like a mournful trumpet- not really all that happy to be there, but you know it’s there. Sometimes the low, swooping sound works in the context of the music, but many times it feels a little awkward. It’s truly the only awkward piece of this equation, though- every other piece fits together like clockwork- including the mood shifts, which are dramatic. The song “Revolution” alone contains all out rock, dream-pop, ethereal moodiness, dancy stuff, tempo changes galore, and I think even a key change, although I can’t verify that. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if there were one in there.
The Noise Revival has crafted an epic with To the Seven Churches in the Province of Asia. This is probably my favorite release of epic post-rock since Pink Floyd committed their visionary whatever-you-want-to-classify-it-as to tape. And while it’s ambitious to pass up people like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed and all those who made the genre famous, I feel something in the Noise Revival that I don’t feel in the others. I feel an earnestness, an honesty, a passion, a driving force that gives them something more. Also, I feel a lot more variations in sound than I do with other bands. That always helps.
Basically, if you like post-rock and you don’t own this album, you’re cheating yourself. This album is the epitome of both post-rock and the enduring hope of the independent music scene.
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.