Líam – MMIX – 81%

MMIX cover art
Líam come to us from Germany and I have to be honest, I know absolutely nothing about this band. Obviously I am slacking at my job as a reviewer as I have none of their prior work. MMix is an eight track effort by the five piece band that was released on bandcamp with a note saying that these tracks were recorded three years ago and that the band will not be able to make music together due to moving away from one another, hence the release of MMix. Quite sad.

The eight tracks are not named as the band opted for the roman numeral approach. The album begins with a somber intro that later leads to an epic build up in both pace and sound. The spiraling guitar work is well textured and feels deep. In the second track there is some really excellent drumming early on that truly stands out before the wall of tremelo based static crashes into the my headphones channels.

The whole album in general feels very spacious and I find myself far more interested in the lighter side of the album rather than the heavier spiraling walls of static. The quieter moments is when the album really shines and the band shows a huge amount of creativity. For example, “III” begins with some very sensual and somber guitar work as a crescendo guitar begins what will be an extremely long build up. The amount of space between the two in the mix creates an enormous soundscape that captivates me because it feels  full of life and emotion. My biggest complaint with the heavier side of the tracks is the lack of intensity, mostly due to the way the crashing of the cymbals are completely overpowered within the mix by the guitar. One thing I do have to give Líam high praise for is their transitions between the valleys and the peaks of the album. Tracks such a “V” do a perfect job seamlessly transitioning multiple times. “VI” is my track on the album, there’s something about it that caught me as inspirational and it really stood out once the drums really took the spotlight amongst the guitar feedback.

I feel like this album is by far and away a classic Jekyll and Hyde album. I absolutely love the lighter side and don’t particularly care for the heavier side. The softer side is unique, creative and pretty while the heavier side is standard 3rd wave post-rock on the generic side. And I get that there’s only so many ways to texture multiple layers of guitar with drum rolls and cymbal crashes. However the band did show the ability to produce heavier segments of much higher quality in “VII” where the guitar just kind of thrashes about until giving way to a beautiful ending.

I respect the band for releasing this album rather than shelving it for all of eternity. For what the album is it’s a solid release. It’s a shame that the band no longer makes music with one another. Unfortunately that’s how the world works sometimes and who knows, maybe the band will get a chance to make music at some point in the future. Never say never. 7-31-12

Pay what you want on bandcamp: http://liampostrock.bandcamp.com/

Scott Holmes – “We Used to Paint Stars in the Sky” – 90%

We used to paint stars In the sky cover art

“We Used to Paint Stars in the Sky” is the latest effort by Scott Holmes, a solo artist coming to us from Scotland. A quick glance at his biography will tell you Scott has spent a lifetime surrounded by music but has never been influenced by others. Those two characteristics alone have the ability to set artists apart from the rest of the genre. Expectations have been raised!

So the album begins with the title track as lush vibrant tones flutter in and out as a second guitar layer begins building up. When the drums finally hit about a minute and half in there is a really magical moment that instantly brought me back to the first time I heard *Shels “Plains of the Purple Buffalo Pt 2,” one of my favorite tracks of 2011. While the music does indeed share some traits with that album, this track is its own beast and a huge opener. The next track is “Always The Last to Know” and drops the intensity of the last track in favor of eardrum piercing keys (perhaps guitars, the sound is interesting) and more perfectly textured walls of sounds. The mix is quite well in that all the instruments are equally represented. The drums are powerful but not overbearing and the layers of guitar work can easily be heard if you choose to focus in on one particular track. That’s what I like in a post-rock album.

“Ascension” is a great track that begins quick and has this uplifting aura present all around it. The drumming is rather systematic sounding while the guitar is simple yet highly enjoyable. In “Levels of Greatness” we see the clean guitar give way to the heavier feedback guitar only for the first 90 seconds until it makes a reappearance sporting an extremely chill tone that is my favorite on the album. The craftsmanship of this album is truly off the charts. Each song is well planned and unlike the previous track. While this does occasionally lead to strange transitions between the tracks they are quickly forgotten. The album takes another twist with “October” as waves crash, a church or clock bell faintly rings in the background, a bird chirps and a car passes in a beautiful ambient soundscape intro. Female Vocals sound angelic and are not overpowering and the guitars have just enough echo in them to make you appreciate the large sound stage.

The album picks up the pace with “Signals” as the drumming intensity goes up a notch as guitars swirl among windy ambiance. The whole track has an awesome djent feel to it while retaining much of the albums natural ambiance. Scott Holmes has shown us just a wide array of versatility throughout this album’s tracks. “Death of an Orchid” is full of emotion as guitars twinkle amongst a sea deeply layered vocals and cymbal crashes. Drumming retains the same intensity found in the last track as it’s now the guitar’s chance to shine as they become increasingly heavier. This track has an incredible transitional period that stopped me dead in my tracks. The last 90 seconds of this track is a work of art.

It’s funny that I consider this an ambient post-rock album even though the heavier tones that have been splashed throughout the album would suggest otherwise, especially on a track like “One Day Your Dreams Will Find You.” The 11-track album enters the final stretch with “Journey to the Stars,” a relaxing trip through space. “Let Us Fly Tonight” lost me completely with its vocals and quick pacing in what I felt like a case was right track wrong placement on the album. The album wraps up with “Doorway to Tomorrow” which has traditional vocals. Usually I would shame the artist for the inclusion of a track like this, but given the range of Holme’s musical prowess has shown, it makes sense that a song like this would close out the album. As a guitarist, I think Scott is in the elite company of very select few post-rock musicians. As an album, “We Used to Pain Stars in the Sky” is a true showcase of workmanship and talent. I said that my expectations were high and I certainly was not disappointed by this effort. A fantastic album all around. 7/30/12

Available for bout $8 on bandcamp: http://scottholmesmusic.bandcamp.com/album/we-used-to-paint-stars-in-the-sky

Ruined Machines – Celestial Bodies Series Pts 1- 3: “The Sun EP” – 82%, “Mercury EP” – 84%, and “Venus EP” – 79%

The Sun cover art

Ruined Machines is the brainchild of Joseph Kenyon, a one-man band from New Jersey. “The Sun” is the first in “Celestial Bodies”, a monthly series in which Kenyon is collaborating with artist Michel Brodka to create a Solar System inspired music series with strict deadlines. I’m not quite sure how to approach reviewing this series so I’ve decided that I will review each release independently once every 3 months and give a final score for the series as a whole when it is complete.

The series kicks off with “The Sun” , a 3-track 15 minute experience that starts off with “Heat,” a rough in your face track that opens with harsh Djent inspired riffs. The space theme is almost immediately recognizable through the strange electronic sounds incorporated into the song. The EP takes a much friendlier turn with “The Ballad of Sunshine” , which opens with Synthesizers straight out of the 80’s which for whatever reason reminded me of the Matthew Broderick movie “War Games.” Following a quick little guitar ditty and some ambiance the song takes a more straightforward post-rock approach. Spiraling guitar works its way to the front of a well layered and textured mix, a hint of Explosions in the Sky influence ever so present. It amazes me that this is still the same EP that started off with riffs that would make any Meshuggah fan bang their head. The EP takes a final dramatic twist in pacing with “Waves of Fire,” which sees guitar tones full of life rise through a sea of drone like a phoenix would rise from the ashes. My only complaint here is that this track could continue for another 6 minutes and have my full attention. But in an instant the track powers down as the short EP comes to an end.

Mercury cover art

Another three track, 14 minute effort by Ruined Machines, “Mercury” is the second EP in the series. The album begins with the series title track “Celestial Bodies,” an ambient journey that does an outstanding job capturing a space-like atmosphere. But just like the previous EP, Kenyon really loves taking twists and turns and “Heavy Bombardment / Mariner 10” is a return to post-metal inspired riffs with deep bass making its presence felt as well. I just love the way the guitar crescendos it’s way into and out of the mix at will in this track. The heavier riffs don’t quite do it for me but the more vibrant tones are lush and just downright fun and enjoyable, definitely the brightest star amongst the series (see what I did there?!). I’m not sure I’m totally sold on the use of an electronic beat here instead of traditional drums, but it works. “Ode to the Possible Past” tempts us with more clean guitar while space ambiance looms amidst the background. This track is really a masterpiece both musically and technically as the sound stage is fantastic and the mids and highs are perfectly equalized. Overall you can really tell the series is beginning to take on a life of its own.

Venus cover art
Chapter 3 in the series is the “Venus” EP which has a lone 10-minute track “In Velvet Flight, In Satin Skies.” This track begins with what is a far cry from the rest of the series. The track crawls along in snail’s pace ambiance taking a drone approach for nearly 3 minutes before the drums finally breathe life to the track. Forceful warm Bass rumbles through the halfway point of the track upping the intensity while a guitar gets off to a slow start, sputtering in and out of the channels of my headphones. The most interesting thing about this track is that it really starts taking on one identity only to stop on the drop of a dime, return to ambiance for about 15 seconds and then take on a completely different identity. The final couple of minutes of the track finish strong with a prog-rock (think Porcupine Tree) ending.  I’d like to think of this track as more of an adventure then a song. The storytelling continues to get better in the series and with these three EP’s only representing 25% of the journey, I’m excited to hear the next 9 parts! – 7/25/12

Pay what you want on bandcamp: http://ruinedmachines.bandcamp.com/

Artwork from the Series available here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/michalbrodka

Caves of Steel – Troposphere/Magnetosphere EP – 85%

Troposphere/Magnetosphere cover art

Caves of Steel are a four piece from Olso, Norway.  It seems like every other band I review these days are from that region of the world. We all know the music scene in America has gone to the dogs in terms of who is financially successful. Chris Brown and Deadmau5 sell out arenas while the likes Opeth and Dream Theater struggle to pack 75-year-old concert halls, at least in my experiences as a Seattle concert goer. Case in point, Europe is clearly doing it right in terms of the type of musicians they produce and what still makes money across the pond these days. “Troposphere/Magnetosphere” is the latest offering from CoS that is only 23 minutes long. What it lacks is length it makes up for in sound.

While the intro track “Last Citizen of the USSR” might fool you into thinking you’re in for a deeply emotional ride as it is a much more formulaic track that builds in intensity and has all the elements of a standard post-rock song, this album is actually quite fun. I can always appreciate a band that realizes they can get away with naming their instrumental tracks whatever they want and “Lisa Nowak Love Story” is about as crazy as it gets. If you don’t remember, she’s the psycho astronaut who kidnapped another astronaut in a weird love triangle a few years back. This track has a really fun Matrix like sound going on for it that is unlike anything I’ve heard lately in an instrumental track. It’s kind of like the background music you would expect to hear during a late 90’s movie scene where guys break into a corporation and start hacking a bunch of computers as a sea of green characters fill the screen.

The guitar tones are vibrant and full of energy, the riffs have strong math-rock inspiration in them, and it’s no secret the band likes to experiment (“Gemini XII” has some crazy robot like vocals). The thing I love about CoS is that their bass lines are often their own layer to the sound rather than a layer used to complement the guitar work. Bass can often be heard in the low laying levels of the mix, especially on a song like “Honey Trap” for example. This combined with some clever wailing of a 70’s experimental prog-rock sounding guitar while a layer of static does it’s thing in the background makes for one hell of a spacious track.

It would be easy to write off Caves of Steal as JUST another post-rock band, but it’s clear they’re not just that. Sure, their album cover is a boring picture of some clouds and the sky and their Facebook timeline cover is your generic black and white live shot. But behind that lies the sounds of a band not afraid to mix standard post-rock song writing with whatever prog, math or experimental rock concepts they find appropriate. In fact, in thinking of a post-rock partner CoS sound would mesh best with I’m drawing nothing but blanks. The Norway rockers have created a unique sound and that’s a winner in my books. 7-24-12

Available for $4 on bandcamp: http://music.cavesofsteel.no/

Also available on vinyl: http://doognad.bigcartel.com/

Wang Wen – 0.7 – 87%

0.7 cover art
Wang Wen is a 4-piece from China who have come along way in their 13 years of making music. Some of their discography is a little out there but with each release the band matured into a full-fledged post-rock butterfly. Their 2010 release L & R was by far the best work in their 7 release catalog. 0.7 Is a 7-track 45 minute that is the band’s latest offering.

The intro song is “2012” and is a very natural sounding and focused track. The track builds in intensity blissfully as cymbals crash in the background behind beautifully textured keyboard and guitar work. The song is ripe with emotion and leads way into “Rain Watcher,” which begins with very sensual piano work as an electronic noise resembling water from a hose pours into the background. The traditional Asian musical influence is prevalent in this track with the likes of string instruments and an interesting sounding chime finding their way into the mix. The song eventually gives way to a more straightforward post-rock finish.

The longest track on the album, “Lonely God” follows the soft-spoken mellow vibe. The sensual soothing parts of this album really sets it a part from the pack. The thing I love about post-rock is that you can’t fake the emotional attachment the musicians have to their music. Listening to an uninspired post-rock track and then listening to a track that has been carefully crafted by an artist who pours everything they have into their music is a night and day experience. One thing I respect about this album is that it’s been crafted to perfection. Every layer has its place and purpose and six of the seven tracks are equally brilliant and complement one another well.

One thing I really like about 0.7 is that the songs don’t really have peaks and valleys. They just continually climb higher and higher in intensity and generally end at their heaviest. They don’t tease you in the least bit and that’s the greatness of this album. I expect slow cymbal rumbles to lead into waves of crashing noise invading my ears, I want the pretty guitar to lead to pure walls of static and the sensual keyboards to transition into full-scale lightning paced and high-pitched segments.

While I give much of the album praise, “Absent Minded Theme” really kills the vibe in the middle of the album and is a 3 minute and 34 second mood killer. The song structure, the wacky bass intro and the strange timbre that sounds like it was created in a cheap iPhone app just don’t do it for me. The band also got a little too creative in some of the funky neo-jazz like keyboarding found in the closing track “Seasons.” Outside of that and the sometimes tight sound staging, there really isn’t much to complain about here. This album is solid inside and out and in my opinion outshines their last release. Wang Wen continue to grow as a band and continue to get better with age. 7-21-12

Available for $6 on bandcamp: http://wearybirdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/07

Alcian – 2012 Demo EP – 83%

2012 Demo cover art

Alcian are a New York based 4-piece who bring to the table qualities most similar to Collapse Under the Empire. Their 2012 Demo was released in March and is 3 tracks topping 22 minutes in length.

“Echoes Across the Sea” is the intro track and shoots out of the gate with crescendo and looping guitar work hanging around in the foreground while crashing cymbals take front and center during the heavier break downs. I’m not going to be too rough on this EP as it is a demo and a decent one at that, but this is probably the flattest equalized track I’ve heard all year. Mellow yet vibrant bass makes its presence known in the next track “This Way to the Stars,” an upbeat and fun track that draws comparisons to the band Mooncake. This track has a really strange transition in it halfway through it that makes me feel it would almost be better suited as two tracks. Cymbals are minimal and well-timed during the softer segments while elegant guitar work is beautifully layered to create a spacious echo.

My interested peaked off the charts hearing the voice of John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn during the opening samples of “The Quick and the Dead.” Both the original and the remake of True Grit are two of my favorite Westerns of all time so to hear The Duke yelling out “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” at the start of any song just makes me feel giddy. Even the track itself has a western tone to it. Guitars slowly wail as a persistent cymbal tapping slowly becomes full-scale crashing. Crescendo guitars spiral in the background behind amplifier feedback. This track has all the makings of a legendary post-rock track and is without question the band’s best work. Alcian saved the best for last and this demo is worth checking out based on this track alone.

This 3-track demo is a good starting point for Alcian and if they can continue to produce high quality work with proper mastering they should be a welcome addition to the post-rock scene! 7-20-12

Pay what you want at http://alcian.bandcamp.com/

Jakarta Project – Geographic – 83%

Geographic cover art

The Jakarta Project are still much a mystery as a band as the Russian post-rockers have very little web presence. Even after translating their Russian Lastfm.ru page it is impossible to find out even how many members are in the band. Their Facebook group requires request to join and contains only 20 members as of this writing.

The album kicks off with a 2 minute intro track “Siberia” as guitar feedback fills the background as a sample plays. “Alaska” is up next and highly textured guitars dart through the song with lifeful and fun tones full of echo. The guitar has a prog-metal feel going for it that draw strong comparisons to the band Maserati. The album doesn’t skip a beat with next track “New York” as a thick and bassy low note fills the lower areas.  This is an extremely dense album with a lot going on, making it nearly impossible to zero in on one particular sound throughout the songs.

The drums are very electronic inspired and I could not decipher whether or not they were programmed or real given that they have a very tight and systematic sound. Electronic noises make their presence felt throughout the album, most prevalent in the track “Vietnam.” The final track, “New Earth” is the longest track on the album and by far my favorite. It begins with keyboards echoing throughout both channels as well as samples reminiscent of the intro track. The riffs in this track are the best on the album as the album.

Despite being only 25 minutes It is a good album, but it just didn’t blow me away. While the music is focused I found that the tracks themselves are all over the place. The build ups lead to no true break downs either which is disappointing. The heavier segments tend to only last a few seconds before settling back down. While I’m a big fan of the guitar tones and style found on this album I found the whole thing to be a little too manufactured. I would have been delighted had their gritty and raw static guitars been utilized more. Their sound should continue to mature and grow with experience and this is definitely a more than acceptable debut release. 7-20-12

Free at http://jakartaproject.bandcamp.com/

The Pirate Ship Quintet – Rope for No-Hopers – 85%

The Pirate Ship Quintet (ep) cover art
The Pirate Ship Quintet set sail from the UK many moons with ago with a crew of simply 5. In place of classic “yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” pirate songs they bring to the table heavy and dense post-rock featuring non-traditional instruments (trumpet and cello). A follow-up to their 2007 self titled EP, “Rope for No-Hopers” was unearthed in a treasure chest on April and unleashed to the world.

The five track album begins with some clever mixing as guitar work alternates between the left and right channel while the somber strings of a cello fills the rest of the space. The drums are extremely tight and compact sounding and the cymbals seem to be mixed at a much quieter level allowing the guitars to really shine through in the spotlight. The softer valleys in their music really are something to behold as the inclusion of a cello player sets them a part from the rest of the field. In the midst of the build ups near the end of “You’re Next” static crescendo guitar work looms in the background while the cello maintains center stage. The entire track feels as one big tease in that the expectation that a full-scale breakdown is approaching is always prevalent but it never truly comes to form.

“Horse Manifesto” ditches the cello in favor of a sharply aggressive static laden guitar that tears through the track. The song turns even darker when screams fill the background behind the guitar. The pacing quickens as the cello whines in the distance as if to say a storm is coming. The guitar flutters in and out in an panic-esque echoing. As the final minute of the song approaches the layers come together in a powerful finish. The following track, “Dennis Many Times” continues the albums bleak outlook with continued screamo style growls that are emotionally agonizing. The pacing is almost at a crawl until about halfway through the track when guitars explode into the song without warning as the screams intensify. Before your ears can adjust, it’s all gone as the song returns to its slow pacing. This track is 10 minutes of peaks and valleys, highs and lows with slow pace giving way to the unexpected and cello work leading into guitar feedback. One of the truly unique tracks of the year.

“Rope for No-Hopers” is all over the place in terms of raw aggression mixed with bleak beauty but maintains a somber feel of hopelessness. The constantly changing pace kept me on edge throughout the second half of the album as the albums ability to shift gears on a moments notice is certainly a breath of fresh air to post-rock song writing. Occasionally I found the riffs to be lacking substance, particularly the ones that find themselves stuck in the middle ground between the build ups and the full-scale breakdowns. Also, while the vocals fit the album well, the words (if there are any) are completely indistinguishable. I give the band much respect for the albums unique sound and their approach to the post-rock genre. Diversity is key in this genre and The Pirate Ship Quintet are clearly in a class of their own. 7-20-12

Available for about $8 on Bandcamp: http://thepirateshipquintet.bandcamp.com/

Joy Wants Eternity – The Fog is Rising – 84%

The Fog is Rising cover art
Representing my home town of Seattle, Joy Wants Eternity have been around nearly 10 years. “The Fog is Rising” is their follow-up to “You Who Pretend to Sleep,” an absolutely mind bending album released back in 2007. A lot tends to happen in a five-year span and the post-rock scene has evolved quite a bit since then so let’s get into the review and see if this album is worth the wait.

The album begins with no frills as “Our Backs into the Wind” starts heavy from the opening second with systematic drumming and climatic cymbal crashes before settling down in a flurry of ambient beauty. Despite the heavy opening the finish is quite the polar opposite as a beautiful piano segment plays us out. The title track follows and is a beauty of a track that has it all. Deep ambiance and well textured crescendo guitar work their way in and out of the mix combing to create bliss for the ears.

The sound stage is too far small and compact meaning certain instruments tend to disappear as tracks become too dense. The album as a whole has a much darker tone to it production wise. While beautiful, I can’t help but feel that the equalization process in the mastering could have been better. For example in the first half of “Dark Heart of the King” the spiraling crescendo guitar hides behind the predominant drumming. That’s not a knock against the band per say, I suppose that it’s just uncommon to see a more ambient release with technical qualities better suited for a heavier release.

Technical mumbo jumbo aside, there is something to be said about the work of a band who has been around the scene for a while. The synergy  both between the instruments themselves and the album tracks is incredible. The album is extremely refined and the band never tries to do too much  with their build ups or break downs, a common mistake found amongst younger post-rock bands. The album wraps up with “In Camera,” a sentimental keyboard track that provides a perfect ending to one of the more mellow post-rock releases of the year. It’s great to see a band put as much emphasis into their keys as they do with their guitars. “The Fog is Rising” is as solid as it is beautiful and it is well worth your time to check it out. 7-20-12

Available for $5.94 at http://joywantseternity.bandcamp.com/

Astralia – Astralia – 95%

Astralia cover art

Astralia are a 4-piece from Spain who have a very small web presence. After some quick research, they have no website, a bandcamp containing just the album and very little info, a Facebook page you must add as a friend to see, a MySpace (do people still use that?) and a SoundCloud page. The important thing here is that I have their album, meaning while the rest of the band will stay a mystery, we can still get to the bottom of their latest offering.

The album opens with “Northern Horizons,” an atmospheric track that begins with well textured ambient guitar work and wide-open drums before crescendo guitar sneaks into the mix helping the song quickly develop from a gentle trotting show horse to a full gallop purebred stallion. Guitar tones are wonderful, sound stage is very large and the sound is full. “Glacial” brings a much tighter sound to the table as precious drumming takes focal point while deeply textured guitars wail in the background. There is an enormous amount of craftsmanship and tight control to be found here. Each instrument seems to have its place and each guitar tone and effect has been chosen for exactly the right reason. This track finishes far stronger than it opens and is effective in keeping me waiting to hear what’s next and wanting more.

The title track “Astralia” follows and sounds as though it was recorded in empty abandoned building given the echo-ish vibes. Each instrument is vibrant and is well spaced in the mix. Each riff, cymbal crash and bass line can easily be distinguished. They compliment each other brilliantly and synergize like very few bands are capable of producing. The bass is especially impressive and is consistently present within all the tracks. The album naturally transitions into “Midnight Sun,” the longest track on the album. An eerie build up tempts the ears as chords slowly develop over a lasting hum. The song finally takes form in the shape of a track that would put This Will Destroy You to shame. You heard me right. I would be willing to put this track up against song on TWDY’s “Tunnel Blanket” because that’s how good it is. This album is a work of true beauty and music art. My biggest regret is not picking up on this band sooner. This album would have sat on my digital shelf much longer had it not been for a suggestion from my buddy @Will_Hough suggesting I check it out sooner rather than later.

The album wraps up with “Mistral Roars” which is a heavy ballad of textured tones, drum rolls and bleak ambiance. Astralia took me by shock and overpowered me with its rawness and well crafted sound. Although only 33 minutes long, quality absolutely trumps quantity here. Each of the five tracks are unique, full of life and can’t be overlooked. You would simply be insane to hit the skip button on this album. This is a must listen to album of 2012. 7-19-12.

Free at http://astralia.bandcamp.com/