Considering the state of the nation and the world, I always expect to get more protest music than I do. I could expound upon why I think that is so, but it would take away from the point of this post: a political/protest song debut. Whatever else other people are doing, Tyranny is Tyranny is involving politics in their work.
In fact, everything about them is a political statement, from their band name to their imagery to their lyrics. Their sophomore album The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism is coming out quite soon (streaming in full starting tomorrow, vinyl pre-orders till May 17, full release June 13 on Phratry Records), and they’ve graciously allowed us to premiere their 15-minute juggernaut “Victory Will Defeat You” today.
The best way to describe Tyranny is Tyranny is as a very noisy, thoughtful rock band: post-rock, post-punk, and post-metal are all applicable at various times throughout the 15 minutes of the tune. Forlorn trumpet lends a post-rock texture to the piece; towering distorted guitars and howling vocals ring up the post-metal comparisons; the section from 9-11 minutes has post-punk grooves going on. The whole thing is somewhat akin to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, one of the very few post-rock bands that is explicitly making political and social moves. It’s very heavy in sections, which may not appeal to some post-rock fans, but I think many will dig this. If you’re into Hydra Head Records-style post-metal, you’ll be all over this. It’s not every day you get to be bowled over by 15 minutes of indignant fury, so get your kicks in here.
When you’ve been in music for a while, nuance and subtlety become more important to you. This is true for listeners and creators; although I can still appreciate a mighty guitar riff, I find myself entranced by complex lyrical turns and less obvious arrangements. Tri-State is a band composed of people who have been in bands, and you can tell from the songs they write. These pop-rock tunes, while poppy, are not constructed as instant hits. These are measured tunes, tunes that take their time on little guitar bits (“All Different,” “Back Before”) just because. This unhurried, “let’s give this some space” method is much like that of IC fave The Brixton Riot.
Tri-State’s tunes unfold in pleasing ways: “Back Before” creates an ominous mood that builds and builds, while follow-up “Country Squire” toes the line between pop-rock and alt-country. It doesn’t feel disjointed at all; the songs feel like outworkings of the same thought process. If you’re into ’90s indie-rock (Pavement, Guided by Voices) or mature songwriting that appreciates with multiple listens, you should give Tri-State’s self-titled EP a spin.
Kira Velella‘s gentle voice is the primary feature of her singer/songwriter tunes, and for good reason. Her second soprano/alto voice commands the arrangements, sucking the listener in. “Lover, Move” and “Barn Swallow” both feature strong instrumental songwriting that is totally eclipsed by the endearing confidence of Velella’s voice. She accomplishes the rare feat of encapsulating confidence and vulnerability in a single performance, which keeps me coming back to the tunes.
This uncommon tension buoys the six-song Daughter EP, making it consistently interesting to the invested listener. The wintry arrangements accomplish a second improbable feat: the Damien Jurado-esque characteristic of feeling both lush and sparse at the same time. It gives Velella’s vocals both the forefront and a space to inhabit; it is easy to imagine Velella in a video clip of a snow-covered field for any of these tracks. The mood here is strong throughout tunes, giving a polish to the release. All told, this is an impressive debut offering from Kira Velella.
Categories can be stultifying and abrasive, but they are helpful starting points for conversation. Saying that U137 plays post-rock is mildly helpful to get the conversation started, but saying that the band plays “pretty” post-rock (Moonlit Sailor, Dorena, The Album Leaf) instead of “heavy” post-rock (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis, Tyranny is Tyranny) is far more descriptive. You’re going to hear a lot of arpeggios, humongous crescendoes to jubilant melodies, and ethereal synths in Dreamer on the Run. If you’re into that, then the 40 or so minutes you spend listening will be breathtaking.
It’s not the sort of album where one particular track sticks out: it’s simply a forty-minute excursion into a beautiful section of the world. If you’re feeling down about the government shutdown, gun violence, poverty, or any other modern malaise, Dreamer on the Run can help you forget that for a few minutes and remember that there are so many beautiful things in the world to comfort you. This, simply put, is a gorgeous record.
Dorena‘s Nuet slipped under my radar when it came out in March, but it’s far too good to not extol. Dorena’s brand of post-rock is of the beautiful, cinematic variety: there are major keys, soaring guitar lines, twinkly keys, and an overall feel of hope. This wouldn’t be anything startling if the members weren’t incredibly strong songwriters. The Swedish quintet know how to use space in tunes not just as a contrast to density, but as an emotive player. Anyone can be quiet and then be loud. It takes skill to make that quietness mean something in and of itself.
Opener “Semper” and highlight track “My Childhood Friend” have loud sections that are enhanced by their quiet backdrops, but the quiet sections themselves are moving. The former sounds like the very best moments of Sigur Ros, while the latter puts me into a reverie sort of state before snapping me out of it with a huge, dramatic, fist-pumping riff. Dorena knows how to write a beautiful melody, but they also know how to write a whole song around that great moment. That’s what makes post-rock stick for me. I highly recommend Nuet.
But if you’re still on the fence, consider “The American Dream Is a Lie” as a litmus test. It starts out quietly, with a ponderous, winding guitar riff that leads into a section of building through the dissonant two-guitar setup. Two and a half minutes in, the vocalist finally appears, yelling atonally the phrase “opiate the brutish life.” The guitars get heavier as the band starts to pick up steam through minutes three and four. At 4:45, there’s a tonal shift that could maybe be called a breakdown, before it leans back into that winding riff from the beginning. Then it reprises the heaviest section of the tune, bashing its way to the end of the track.
If that’s the sort of music that’s intriguing to you (and it’s very intriguing to me), then you’re going to be all about the rest of the album. Heavy, left-leaning, but never gratuitously brutal, Tyranny is Tyranny makes angry music for a reason. There’s not enough of that going around these days (and a lot of self-obsessed yuppie anger), which makes Tyranny is Tyranny all the more valuable.
The band name and title of Cmn ineed yr hlp’s It Came Without Warning…As Most Disasters Do also tells you almost everything you need to know before you even hear it, but in a very different way: this post-rock band has big aspirations but also a good sense of humor. Their five-track release is instrumental post-rock that tells the story of a giant sea monster via vocals that are recorded to sound like they’re from ’50s radio broadcasts. (Or maybe they’re actual found sound? That would be boss.) The music itself is densely textured rock that leans toward the mathy end of things: dissonant chords, patterned guitar riffs, acrobatic drumming, and a strong bass presence mark the tunes.
The story is pretty important to the enjoyment of the album: no particular song stands out as the hook. It makes good on the original promise of post-rock: trying to achieve other artistic goals with the rock idiom. There are impressive moments, like the opening bass work in “The prognostication is murder” and the gymnastic guitar riffs on “Without a sail in view,” but they aren’t given any particular preference over the churning, full-band attack of closer “Cold, airless, forbidding.” The band really operates the album as an album, and that’s a cool thing to hear. Recommended for fans of math rock or “something different.”
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.