Red Fire Ant – Red Fire Ant EP – 96%


Red Fire Ant are a post-rock band from France who just released their first EP earlier this year. Unfortunately the band doesn’t have a bandcamp page which is a shame because I find this 4-track 28 minute EP to be downright fantastic.

The album kicks off with an absurd amount of energy and intensity with “Joel Barrish,” as rich, thick guitar tones chug along while drumming steadily intensifies. The song has a real sense of purpose and full of life. It’s intensity is not overpowering but it’s also far from what you’d consider beautiful. With an interesting curveball thrown into the mix about three and half minutes in this song has drawn me into the EP like no other opener. It didn’t fool around with a slow meddling intro, guitars didn’t bother ramping up and the intensity only drops for a few seconds at a time. This track shoots right out of the gate and goes flat-out until it crosses the finish line.

The next track however, “Bruce Nolan” switches it up by taking the pacing down three notches. Just a ridiculously spacious track that shows the sheer size of the soundstage of this EP. Have I mentioned how good the technical side of this EP is yet? The mixing and mastering are about as perfect as it gets and you can really tell that someone who knew what they were doing behind the soundboard took their time on this release. Drums are nice and airy with the perfect amount of bass, cymbal crashes have just the right amount of echo to them and none of the instruments fight for dominance in the mix. The guitar layering at the end of this track is simply brilliant and left me head over heals wanting another 5 minutes of this track.

“Fletcher Reed” opens with a more ambient relaxed vibe that tapers off as a high-pitched clean guitar flutters around before progressing into a catchy layered vibe, persisting gaining in intensity. There is a short riff in this track that is just ridiculous on all levels. Drumming is masterful as usual, Red Fire Ant’s drummer knows exactly when to utilize his fills and when to ride the cymbals. This track pushes a giant wall of sound to absolute peak levels that I’m not sure they could have even fit one more layer in the mix.

The album comes to a close with “Walter Sparrow,” a nearly 10 minute track. A couple of guitar layers mettle around while the drum work sets the pace at a moody level. That is until the track goes full-blown mental about three minutes in with a flurry of breakneck riffs. Unfortunately that intensity doesn’t last too long as the album edges back down with some electronic drone before rediscovering itself as drumming takes spotlight as the noise levels creep back up. The track closes out the album with a few final minutes of melodic and catchy post-rock that my imagination gets lost in before abruptly coming to an end.

Honestly I’m blown away by the quality of this EP. I wish that all smaller post-rock releases could be of this quality. Its simply superb from a technical standpoint. I can’t think of a single fault with this effort. It simply astounds me that this band only has 24 “likes” on facebook as of this writing. This is a band waiting to be discovered by a genre that they have all the right tools to dominate in given time. Red Fire Ant have entered the post-rock fray with an amazing effort. These guys NEED to make more music because this is the most promising EP I have heard all year. This is a must listen to EP. 8-29-12

Streaming available at Red Fire Ant’s Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/583064294/

Downloading available here (third party site): http://www.postrockxchange.com/2012/04/red-fire-ant-red-fire-ant-ep-2012-postrock/

We are Oceans – We Are Oceans – 81%

We Are Oceans cover art

Released last month, “We are Oceans” self titled release comes to us courtesy of the Massachusetts four-piece. Delving right into the 4-track 40 minute release we have “Roots Grow Down,” which opens at a relaxed pace with an interesting mix of layered clean guitars and bass with faint chiming of the cymbals in the background. Immediately I was drawn into the mixing which has the guitar layers in separate channels and the bass and cymbals in front and center. The synergy between the guitars and how they’re arranged compliment either other very well.

When the song picks up steam at around the 5 minute mark the cymbal crashes begin almost immediately, an elementary trend I see in a lot of newer post-rock bands in an effort to ratchet up their intense walls of sound a notch or two. Cymbals are nice but can quickly wear out their welcome. Case in point here is when the track is peaking towards the end and the guitar has become one big static-laced mess and the drumming gets progressively louder we still have the same crashing cymbals as before. Still, the song is a decent opening track that is well structured for an 11 minute intro.

Next up is “Step” which opens with quick opening sounding drums and quirky guitar with just a tad of echo. The drums are just as much the focus in this track as the guitar, which was a great idea as the drummer has put on an absolute clinic in this song. “mmYellow” is an interesting track with chugging yet playful guitars amidst more great drumming. The fantastic guitar tones that have a stoner/drone sound really shine standing next to the cleaner tones also found in the track. This track intrigues me the most and caught my attention the most out of the four just based off the uniqueness of it. Halfway through the track it comes to a screeching halt only to rebuild its intensity sounding like a completely new song. The way the guitar screeches in the right channel while a spiraling guitar works the left channel is superlatively creative mixing. It’s only burden is the technical recording/mixing/mastering issues that are to be expected and are completely forgivable on self-funded smaller band’s releases.

The album closes with “Leaves Like Stained Glass”, the longest song on the album clocking in at 12 minutes exactly. This track begins with a return to the relaxing vibes we felt in the intro track. Thick bass peaks my interest as a wailing guitar crashes in the distance and the song kicks it up a notch in pace and intensity. It does this several times and really is really a fun track that shakes up the post-rock feel with its sporadic pacing.

All in all I think We Are Oceans has shown a lot of different looks on this short yet sweet album. They’ve proved themselves capable of constructing well planned songs and have shown chameleon ability to switch their sound at a moment notice. We are Oceans certainly have my ear. 8-27-12

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

Qualia – “Cast a Light” – 80%, “Songs for Longing” – 85% and “We Do Not KNow What Our Nature Permits Us To Be” – 81%

Qualia is a one-man project from Cambs, UK that has a total of 5 releases since forming in 2010, including three this year alone. In today’s update I’ll be taking a look at all three of those releases.

 

Cast A Light cover art

Qualia – Cast a light

“Cast a Light” was released in April and opens with a strong ambient vibe as spiraling guitars swirl in the background amidst a sea of static. Mighty cymbal crashes give the intro and title track a huge feel to it. The guitar work on this album is just all around aces and it’s definitely a unique release in that I feel has all the characteristics of an ambient release except that static, reverb and feedback can be found everywhere on the album. It’s an album that walks a very fine line between heavy ambient and soft post-rock. There is a firm understanding of post-rock song structure and layering presented here that is far advanced for someone who’s only been making music for two years. The final track on the album, “Memoria” has a lot going on for it and is my favorite track on the album as bassy classic piano plays amongst what sounds like an old film projector in the background. The track is gorgeously layered, properly mixed and is by far the best work on the album.

While the album does have a lot of good things going for it, there are some detractors as well. The production feels very rough and all the mids on the album sound extremely muddy, with lows and mids sounding coupled together on an extremely tight sound stage. Guitars have very little bass to them and drums tend to get lost in the mix. Also, the transitions between tracks can be a little awkward. Overall though a good release that is well worth checking out. 8/23/12

 

Songs For Longing cover art
Qualia – Songs for Longing

“Songs for Longing” was released a month after “Cast a Light” and is a 49 minute album over 6 tracks. The album begins with soothing piano work as a spiraling guitar can be heard in the distant background. Cymbal crashes are perfectly timed and the big moment when the guitars peak feels like a proper and well crafted peak to a post-rock track. The drums play a much bigger part in this track as well, a nice change from the last album. “Hollow Hearts” is a very focused track and the high-pitched wailing of the guitars in the background is an excellent touch. The way the song really picks up in intensity out of nowhere is a welcome surprise. Unexpected pace changes are a reoccurring theme on this album as the very next track Lanterns does a great job almost seamlessly changing at a moment’s notice. “First Day of Spring” shines as 11 glorious minutes of crescendo filled post-rock goodness. The contrasting emotions between the upbeat lighter segments and the bleak heaviness static-filled heavier peaks is just as good as it gets. Like “Cast a Light” this album also ends on a shorter sensual song.

This album is leaps and bounds better than “Cast a Light” in that it is a far more concentrated effort. All of the songs have synergy and feels more like a real album than just a collection of songs. Production feels better as well as mids and lows don’t quite sound so bunched together. Softer guitar tones feel a lot more vibrant and the soundstaging isn’t quite so tight meaning the layers don’t quite run into each other as much. After hearing this album, I definitely prefer the heavier side of Qualia to the more ambient side. This is a well-rounded release that is just an all around great album. 8/23/12

 

We Do Not Know What Our Nature Permits Us To Be cover art
Qualia – We Do Not Know What Our Nature Permits Us To Be

Released in June, this is the longest Qualia effort of the three, clocking in at 54 minutes over 6 tracks, including the nearly 17 minute intro track behemoth “With Open Eyes and Open Minds.” The guitars are the main focus here as the drums are deeply embedded in the mix. “Footsteps” brings the levels back down a few notches with an ambient intro. This track does an absolutely brilliant job of drawing in the listener with a mood as relaxing as watching the sun set amongst water as far as the eyes can see. The guitar layers perfectly compliment one another, the slow methodical drumming is present yet distant and the snail’s pace build up never fully develops. Out of the three albums releases so far this year by Qualia, this is without question the undisputed winner as far as single tracks go.

The album continues to build off its relaxing ambiance with the next track, “I Dreamt I was a Butterfly.” One of my favorite elements to Qualia is the beautiful layers of Piano found throughout his work. Make no mistake, when I say Piano I mean classic piano sound, not eccentric keyboards as heard throughout most of the post-rock realm. “Are We Alive?” features fluttering guitar work and the drums take a more front sounding approach, a really nice change of pace given that drums have largely been overshadowed on the previous two albums. “Breathe” is an acceptable track that sees a piano play over a sea of breathing ambiance. The album wraps with “When We Were Lost, ” a soothing 12 minute closer that showcases a glimpse of vibrant bass and a wide array of guitar layers as the track goes through the peaks and valleys of a standard post-rock track. Combine with just a slight pinch of piano work and we have all the makings of a brilliant track that puts it all together to create a track that is the essence of Qualia.

All in all, I feel like this album is definitely the most mature of the three released this year. My biggest complaint is that you can hear throughout the album that particular tracks were given far more attention than others as particular songs are just of a much higher quality than others. Also, some of the technical problems that I talked about in “Cast a Light” still persist on this album. These types of problems are bound to happen in self-releases, especially given Qualia’s workhorse like mentality, with 2+ hours of music released in the first half of 2012. What strikes me as odd is those problems were nowhere to be found in “Songs for Longing.” Still this release cannot be overlooked and neither can Qualia. With less than 50 “likes” on Facebook as of this writing, I can only hope that more people check out this excellent UK-based band. 8/23/12

Pay what you want for all 3 on bandcamp: http://xqualiamusicx.bandcamp.com/

Sinobola – Idea EP – 86%

I’m introducing a young band founded in 2010 in Poltave, Ukraine, who started with the relatively simple setup of two guitars and drums but then quickly added a bassist to round out their sound. As we will soon discover their sound feels far from simple, even in this short three song EP.  I do not get a feeling of inexperience or lack of cohesion from these guys, it sounds as if they’ve been playing together for much longer than a couple of years.

Lovely tones greet us washed by distortion intermittently – I’m welcoming the tone selection.  Drums amp up the pace and it feels like we’re off to a great start for this short EP.  The main riff kicks in and it’s catchy as hell.  Building up to an impressive start, I’m not hearing anything terribly innovative but nor do I care at this point.  The length of the song seems appropriate, anything longer and we’d start to get a bit repetitious.  This is a great example of restraint and album engineering.

Second track starts off like a sound check but quickly we’re building up to a release that feels extremely powerful.  After the surge, I’m welcoming the twill of shimmering guitars we are all accustomed to in this genre.  I really dig the interplay between guitars in the mid-section of the track – layers on layers on top of a tight drumbeat, I have no complaints.  We have an excellent bridge, starting to notice the care they put into their sound, surprising from such a young band.  They’re invoking the post-metal traits of more well-known acts such as Long Distance Calling or Toundra.

Finally, the Estrangement begins with a deep groove which amps up the anticipatory level a good bit.  Towards the meat of the tune, we revisit the shining guitars for a moment before another buildup to what I refer to as a pseudo-climax.  They really show off their ability to transition between loud and quiet, which is essential to this style of music. Later on in the tune, we do get that release that was hinted at from the start.  The guitars get a biting tone, the drums really quicken the pulse and you’re forced to start bobbing your head.  By the end, you’re waving the devil horns in your hands and begging for more. 8/22/12

Their music is freely downloadable on their last.fm page:  http://www.last.fm/music/Sinobola

Earthmass – Lunar Dawn (Keep, Relic & Ritual) EP – 83%

Lunar Dawn (Keep, Relic & Ritual) cover art

The 4-piece band Earthmass was formed in February of this year and comes to us from Essex, South-East England. Self described as Progressive, Doom, psychedelic, Stoner Metal, I’ve been assured by a friend that this is definitely a more post-metal release than any of those genres so I’ve taken it upon myself to delve into the one-track 20 minute monstrosity.

The track begins with a slow brooding guitar amongst anxious drums and acceptable bass trying to find its way into the front of the mix, occasionally catching a glimpse of spotlight when the guitar isn’t doing its thing. When the downtuned guitars and the vocals hit I can’t help but feel instant similarities between Earthmass and the heavier work of Katatonia circa 2003’ish. The overall feel is very dark and gloomy but with enough cymbal crashes, ambience and fluttering guitar to set it a part from the doom metal realm.

The clean vocals are enjoyable, particularly as the focus amongst low laying bass and sporadic drums while the guitar takes a backseat. The drums sound quite fantastic, just an excellent mixing job throughout the whole song. You can really hear every beat of the drumrolls during the quieter parts of the track. The rest of the mixing I can’t say the same for however as the track definitely gets muddy in certain areas and is in desperate need of some proper studio engineering.  That’s a nuance you come to expect though in self-releases though so I’m not too unforgiving on that qualm. I also felt like guitar layers sometimes drifted too far off the path resulting in static that is far too high-pitched to be enjoyed.

What’s important here is that the as a 20 minute song, Earthmass has managed to maintain my interest by switching pace and style numerous times throughout the track, showcasing a wide range of ability and talent as a young band. I don’t think that the material is groundbreaking by any means, but it’s still a solid release. There definitely is a stoner rock vibe to it and hints of psychedelic influence strung about but make no mistake, post-metal fans should be right at home listening to this track. 8-21-12

About $2 on bandcamp: http://earthmassband.com/album/lunar-dawn-keep-relic-ritual

CSSC – Overgrown – 79%

Overgrown cover art

CSSC is the work of one college student who had a passion for making music. Erik Rodriguez is the man behind CSSC and through tenacity, experimentation and hard work he has reached “Overgown”, a nearly hour-long release that is his 4th album. CSSC is an interesting project that combines post-rock elements with ambient atmosphere, Electronic sounds and sometimes jazzy vibes which are a new addition with this album.

The whole album has a much more subtle approach going for it. “Comatose” and “Sweet Slow Death” play off of down tempo paced drums as ambiance slowly sweeps its way through the songs in a drawn out manner. The way the minimalist keyboards find their way into the songs as a dominant instrument is both intriguing and delightful. “Garden” is a curve ball track that is far removed from the post-rock genre and would probably find its place in the down tempo trip-hop vibe. It has sort of a Boards of Canada meets The American Dollar feel to it, and those are two bands I absolutely adore. Unfortunately much of the track is really busy and filled with electronic noises and beats which sort of ruins the chill out mood it has going for it. While I was expecting the album to pick up intensity following that song, I was surprised when “Stop Motion” greeted me with a nearly 3 minute elegant piano intro. When the bass kicks in there is definitely a jazzy feel in this track that is quite unexpected. The whole track itself is highly experimental and the second half sort of lost me.

“Time to Grow” returns to the more ambient side of CSSC with deep bass and the sound of children playing deeply embedded in the mix. This track is well in line with the CSSC I remember from previous albums, just a really soothing track. “Bloom” is yet another electronic down tempo jam that synergizes well with the previous track. This track could easily be mistaken for a track by the likes of The Album Leaf. The keyboard work here is easily the best on the album and the ambient factor is off the charts. The way the 7 minute long track picks up near the end is perfect as well. Each new addition to the track is perfectly timed so that the song snowballs seamlessly without missing a beat. While the last couple minutes or so of “Wither. Wilt.” awed me with its static-laced big finish, the nearly 8 minute ambient build up was just too long. Maybe I was a bit impatient, but I just felt this song had a really solid opening, a lackluster middle and a big ending. The album wraps with “Old Soul”, a beat driven track that combines post-rock beauty with elements of down tempo in just a marvelous closing track. Without question my favorite track on the album with its elegance yet punchiness and twinkly ambiance.

The real question I have regarding the album is where it fits in among listeners. As someone who listens to both Post-Rock and electronic, the album is a no-brainer in my collection. Down tempo fans will enjoy this album if they aren’t scared away by the heavier segments that are few and a far between. Fans of the more electronic side of post-rock will enjoy this album as well, but what about the Russian Circles, Caspian, Mogwai, etc fans? I just don’t think there will be enough substance here for people who aren’t satisfied unless crescendo guitars swirling amongst delayed static are constantly buzzing about. As the softest of the four releases CSSC has put out, I find “Overgrown” to be a good album but not quite on the same level as his earlier work. 8-18-12

Pay what you want on bandcamp: http://cssc.bandcamp.com/releases

Jakarta Project – Beauty Lies In Lover’s Eyes – 81%

Beauty Lies In Lover's Eyes cover art

(IamHop  – Please welcome Bothra to Postrockstar! Bothra is a founding member of Post-Rock & Beyond on turntable.fm and brings a deep understanding and knowledge of the realm of Post-Rock to the site. He is the first of what I hope to be many contributing writers to the site in order to diversify reviews and catch up on our huge backlog of albums to review so that we can provide a faster turn-around time to new releases and bring other featured articles to the site. )

For my first review, I’m taking a look at Jakarta Project’s latest offering, Beauty Lies In Lover’s Eyes.  Released on August 13, this is the followup to Geographic, reviewed here back in July.  I find most of IamHop’s thoughts apply to this release as well.  This Russian band seems to be pretty busy this year in the studio.

Another short album, nearly an EP, this one clocks in around 30 minutes from six tracks.  The first thing I notice is the album cover, a pretty girl in the water with her eyes closed.  I wonder if this has significance since beauty, apparently, lies in her eyes – yet they are shut.  Is there no beauty, or is it something that will be revealed by listening to the album?  I guess we’ll find out.

Album opener – The Owl Song – greets us with heavily delayed and reverb rich acoustic guitars which come across cleanly and precisely.  I definitely get a feel for their unique sound and am reminded of a few tracks from Geographic as this short track washes over me.  It gets me excited to hear the rest of the album as any great intro should.   Unfortunately, it begins to feel haphazardly thrown together when the next track, LA Streets, starts us off with an electronic loop bleeding into some heavy riffs.  Here is when I first notice what is known as “the bandcamp sound” – the lack of production quality is apparent, but understandable for self-releases, especially from these less-than-established bands.  Typically, I can move past that and listen to what the artists were trying to convey.  Regardless of that, we have short bursts of riffs backed by a pulsing drumbeat giving away to a breakdown with an Indian vibe to it.  The electronic loop resurfaces at the end and suddenly there is a piano or keyboard towards the end of the track.  The third track feels like filler, with the lead guitar picking the melody over some clean delay loops and a meandering melody.

Maria’s Sunday Morning is probably the strongest track on the album for me.  We’re reminded of the album opener as this song starts us off with acoustic guitars working their way into the mix with another electronic loop.  The drums beat a pretty standard poppy 4/4 behind this interesting mix of electronic loops overlaid with pretty guitar work.  The build-up and punch remind me of God Is An Astronaut, while the melody is memorable it falls into the standard rinse-and-repeat trap.  The overall climax of the song is underwhelming, which could be due to production and we’re left with more electronics to lead us out to the next track.  Last Night in Tokyo revisits a disco beat, this time over light piano notes.  The main riff kicks in and I feel underwhelmed again, and the final crescendo shows promise of a heavy, rocking band but ends too quickly.  We’re left with the final track, Out Of Memories, which opens with sounds of a seashore.  This somber track is slow and dreamy, feels almost verse-chorus-verse without vocals.  It’s a pretty happy melody, kind of mellow and winds down leaving us back at the seashore listening to the waves.

Overall, a pretty standard release.  This band follows in the footsteps of Maserati’s middle releases – danceable beats with heavily delayed guitars providing the melody.  Where it fails is the lack of production quality and overall meandering between sounds.  We have acoustic guitars, electronic looping, heavy riffs, pianos, dance beats, cymbal riding and even a cowbell or two.  I felt confused on their direction but not totally disappointed.  If this band were to get some quality studio time with a seasoned engineer, I feel they could make a powerful record.  Still, with the album as pay-what-you-will via bandcamp, it should be digested by any fans of this genre. 8-17-12

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