I cover a lot of styles on this blog, but one of the genres I've listened to the most this year (though haven't covered as much of it) has been post-rock. As always, EPs are reviewed from 1-8 and full-lengths from 1-10.
A Place of Owls - The Oceanic Tomes (2012)
Country: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I remember seeing this cover a couple of months ago and thinking that it was pretty cool looking. It's just so bleak, both in it's choice of imagery and color palate, and it certainly fits the music on here. I haven't heard A Place of Owls' previous material but I did find out that this album was a collaboration with an artist named Blake Tanberk. It's a strangely ambient based album, at least from my point of view, especially since I came in expecting just another post-rock album. It's very open and spacious, with almost no percussive instrumentation being used until closer Ys. There's also very minimal use of guitar on here. Make no mistake, guitar is certainly used on here, but don't expect any climactic melodies or rise and falls, as even when it's used, the notes being played for about the first four tracks are slow and more droning than melodic (though there is certainly a melody being played). The entire middle portion of the album is straight-up ambient though. It's very relaxing, if nothing else, it is good stuff to just chill out to. I didn't find it boring enough that it ever put me to sleep while listening to it, but it is very soft and spacious enough to the point where I could see that happening to some people. It's an overall pretty solid album, not the greatest, but enjoyable.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Vineta, Ys
Sleepmakeswaves - Sleepmakeswaves EP (2012)
Country: Sydney, Australia
Label: Bird's Robe
Last year I reviewed Sleepmakeswaves' debut full-length ...And So We Destroyed Everything and really enjoyed it, so I was quite interested when I saw that they had this new EP out as well. While it was quite obvious on that record that the band were a "post-rock" band, this EP sees the increases of distortion which leads to a somewhat more metallic and weighty sound in some spots. It's still very much a clean and melodic record with groovy bass lines, powerful sounding guitar parts, and dramatic drumming, but it's just got that little extra oomph during those climaxes, and I think that is a pretty solid addition to their sound. In addition to that I feel like the use of synth melodies on here might be a little bit higher than the full-length as well, which I guess I'm somewhat indifferent towards, because it works, but it's not overly amazing or anything. It does its job but none of the synth melodies ever really wowed me, while I thought they were great on closer It's Dark, It's Cold, It's Winter, I wasn't overly impressed with them on I Will Write Peace On Your Wings, and You Will Fly Over The World, as examples. It is a pretty solid EP, and if you're a fan of the band, it's definitely worth checking out.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: We Sing The Body Electric, It's Dark, It's Cold, It's Winter
Racing Glaciers - Racing Glaciers EP (2012)
Country: Macclesfield, UK
Style: Post-Rock/Indie Folk
I believe I said it last year that I wasn't a big fan of indie folk music. Now don't get me wrong, I love folk music, but there's just something about the way some of the vocalists in indie folk bands sing that really annoys me, even if the music is great behind them. I basically just downloaded a copy of this album on the premise that it said it was a post-rock album, but it actually has more in common with indie folk, and actually, it's pretty good. The songs on here are pretty damn uplifting, they're not overly cheerful or up-beat or anything, but they have that post-rock influence of building a climax and it works beautifully when combined with these soft folk rock tunes. I think Summit is also one of the better tunes I've heard this year (and I'm as surprised as anyone to say that). It just fuses that post-rock ambiance, southern blues guitar lines, and a pretty monotone hook that just works, plus it has a great organ solo during its closing minute. It's not for everyone, I know not everyone digs semi-country/indie folk sort of stuff, even with that ambient backdrop, but check it out if you even think it might appeal to that small piece of you that enjoys acoustic music.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Summit, Little River
Turritopsis Nutricula - Open EP (2012)
Country: Bridgend, UK
Named after a particular species of jellyfish (as if you couldn't tell from the cover) also known as the immortal jellyfish, I as interested in a band that would choose to associate themselves with what could come off as a rather audacious name. Being their debut, I, honestly, wasn't expecting too much from the four songs that comprise this release, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by it. This isn't the loudest or more rocking post-rock release out there, as the band tend to stay in very quiet, introspective ambiance for the majority of the tracks on here. The first third of this album are short little vignettes, of sorts, that flow into each other really well while each actually having a personality of their own. Whether it's the somber piano driven opener My Ghost, the gentle ambiance of Superfluous, or the psychedelic guitar echoes on Empty Sets, they all work to set up a mood and atmosphere before finally erupting on closer Fine. Though I may be building that climax track up a little too much as it does take awhile to build up before that eruption, which probably will not live up to what that word means, but to me it felt like the pressure had finally been lifted. You know what, even though I didn't expect much from this EP, it was actually really enjoyable.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Empty Sets, Fine
Sigur Rós - Valtari (2012)
Country: Reykjavík, Iceland
I'm not going to pretend to be the biggest Sigur Rós fan out there, I think they're a really cool band and they put out interesting records, but I'm not a huge fan of theirs. I guess my main problem with the band has always been that I felt like their records have always been a little too long winded for my taste. It's not so much a problem with their songwriting as much as I just feel like after awhile it all just starts to sound too similar. That's the main problem I have with this record in fact. The more minimalistic ambient based approach they took to writing this sounds really good and is very soothing and tranquil, not completely unlike what they've done in the past, but it's far less poppy than 2008's Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust. Personally, I've always preferred the more soundscape approach the band had over their poppier sensibilities, though I do think that the two were melded to perfection on 2002's () album (which is my personal favorite), and I think there are glimmers of that on this album as well, like on Varðeldur. I've always found that when the band took to creating soundscapes over trying to songs, they wound up creating a far more beautiful and magical pieces that relied less on any sort of structure to guide them into one direction. It's not my favorite album, as mentioned, but it's a pretty damn good piece of work if you're interested in more soundscape-ish kind of post-rock.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Ekki Múkk, Dauðalogn, Fjögur Píanó
Zero Absolu - Autømn (2012)
Country: Lyon, France
Of all the releases I'm covering in these lengthy posts about post-rock, this one is the heaviest. The album fuses ideas from post-rock and metal with shoegaze, dream pop, and ambient tendencies to craft something that ranges from heavy and melancholic to upbeat and poppy. While I can't say that any of the styles performed are done badly or without effort, the album does feel somewhat uneven and overly dichotomous switching up on nearly every track. It gets to be a bit disorienting when in one track you hear a pretty danceable shoegaze kind of song and in the next it turns into a pretty experimental metal track with electronics. Make no mistake though, I do not think that this is a bad album, I actually think that each style is pulled off rather convincingly and well done enough to where I think if the album as a whole was a bit more focused stylistically, it would have been a really good album. The songwriting is there, it just needs to be focused in on a little bit more. Personally, I enjoyed the more metallic bits when they were used throughout, but that's just me, I'm sure just as many might dig the more shoegaze-electronica side of the project. I'd say check it out if you like dreamy music in general, you might find something of interest on here.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Hello Darkness, Hello Gentle Moon, After Her, Season Is Failing
Basheer & The Pied Pipers - Basheer (2012)
Country: Islamabad/Karachi, Pakistan
Style: Post-Rock/Indie Electronica
If you asked me what attracted me to this album originally, I probably wouldn't be able to tell you. I found this album several months ago and only remembered that I actually had it when I decided I was going to do these lists. I looked it up and it said post-rock so I threw it in there. However, depending on your view of post-rock, this could very well tread that line where it no longer sounds like it at all. This project is a lot closer to the more indie-post-math rock, yes that's made up, of a group like Tortoise rather than the calming sounds of Mogwai. On opener Yes, the drums keep things really propulsive to keep with the very funky bass lines with the guitars bringing a cleaner sort of indie kind of vibe to it, but I didn't feel like that worked on the much more indie spirited and vocal driven Once Again. But of everything that this band has going for them, I think the clear standout on here is the bass work. The lines that are played in nearly every song are clear, groovy, and very memorable. Having said all of that, there are songs on here which I could not tell you anything about, Circling Nowhere and NXTLVL are utterly forgettable and seem to slip from my memory as soon as they finish. In the end, it's solid at best, but that's about it.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Dreaming to You, Stormdance, Mallet
Hammock - Departure Songs (2012)
Country: Nashville, Tennessee
I'm not one to complain about long albums, but there's something to be said for spreading oneself too thin. A pretty decent amount of post-rock full-lengths tend to be around an hour long, at least from the ones I've heard, and in my opinion, that is about as long as I would want to listen to a post-rock album. This album is almost two hours long and that is too long for my money, but that's just me. I can only take so much somber ambiance before just wanting to hear something a bit more aggressive and upbeat. There are nineteen tracks, and while it does become a bit taxing as it goes on, I do have to say that the band do actually manage to keep the record pretty consistent and diverse. Yes, the great majority of the album is either straight-up ambient, Awakened, He Heard Only Silence, or more ambient post-rock, All Is Dream and Everything Is Real, but there's also a couple tracks that channel more of a dream pop/shoegaze vibe, (Let's Kiss) While All The Stars Are Falling Down. Those tracks are actually pretty good, and, in my opinion, are what keeps this album afloat for so long. I'm not going to say that every one of those tracks is amazing or a keeper, but every time one of those tracks began to play I found my ears perk up a little bit more and my attention would begin to be drawn to the music again - because there were a couple points where my mind would wander.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Artificial Paradises, Tape Recorder, (Let's Kiss) While All The Stars Are Falling Down, We Could Die Chasing This Feeling