Marché La Void – The Origin of Non-Entity – 80%

The Origin of Non-Entity cover art
Marché La Void is a nearly 10-year-old band hailing from Jakarta, Indonesia. Originally a 3 piece, the band is now six members strong and just released their first full length album, “The Origin of Non-Entity” following their 2007 EP and 2005 demo. The great thing about Post-Rock is that it is a universal language and allows us to discover and appreciate great bands from far away countries.

The album opens with some ear-piercing haunting music that sounds like it is being played out of a vintage all-in-one radio system. “Silent War” draws in the listener with a soothing and slow piano segment before slowly snowballing down the hill into intensity as a string instrument, drums and guitar find their way into the mix. The song is highly atmospheric and a bit quirky at times. I highly enjoy the band’s use of samples in that they make it the main focus while the song basically comes to a standstill. “Display of Power” is more the same with great synergy to the previous track and brings more straight forward 3rd wave post-rock to the table, forgoing some of the experimentation found in the last track.

“As We Progress Marching” has a very intriguing intro that captures my attention more so then any other on the album. This album as a whole is very well textured with rich tones and sounds darting in an out of the mix. I also have to give praise to the keyboards found throughout the album for the way they at times assert dominance over the guitars as the focal instrument. Just off the top of my head, their keyboard work is very reminiscent of Collapse Under The Empire’s work on their last album. “For a moment, Silence” has yet another fantastic use of an interesting sample that really meshes with the bleak outlook the album has presented. Guitars wail in despair throughout much of the album. The album closes with “Serenity,” the longest track on the album that has a decent slow burn build up for over 11 minutes before finally peaking. Again, this track is very experimental and atmospheric but couldn’t hold my interest for the full nearly 13 minutes.

And that’s really this album’s only major downfall. I commend any band for experimenting and trying to separate themselves from the pack, but sometimes the experimentation is a little too quirky or out there for me. Tracks are sometimes too slow or too long and they are all too similar sounding. I found myself far more into the first half of the album because the second half just sounded far too similar to what I had already heard. Aside from that, the album has excellent mixing and mastering and the band has an original sound that I think a lot of people should enjoy. 8-16-12

Available for $7 at http://marchelavoid.bandcamp.com/

Zombie Western – The Great Migration – 85%

The Great Migration cover art

Zombie Western are a relatively new band (formed in 2009) from Waco, TX which is the home state to post-rock legends like Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You. The band came onto the scene with “The End…And the Aftermath,” a solid rookie effort. Now they’re back with another album, “The Great Migration” that clocks in at just over 40 minutes.

We’re met with a short eerie intro piece that leads into “Wasteland” which quickly brings the intensity. Drums are prominent and high in the mix while moody bass fills the low-end of the mix. Guitars give off high-pitched squeals as the drums set the pace for the track. The track gives off a desolate vibe and is an excellent track that shows the band has matured with a more tight sound. “A Pilgrim’s Departure” takes it down a notch as the intro eases the pace and the song is a lot more spacious than it’s predecessor. Bass is rich, but not overly rich which I felt plagued their previous album in certain areas. While the mix is very pretty with instruments finding their place in each individual channel, the epic build up here didn’t quite do it for me. The breakdown is just far too short in all it’s glory for a nearly 5 minute build up.

“Pillar of Fire” is my personal favorite track on the album. It starts rather mysteriously with an excellent bass line looming in the background. Why more bands don’t feature their bassists is something I’ll never understand. Bass adds so much more atmosphere and life to tracks and Zombie Western is a perfect example of that. I also really dig the way they layer their guitars. In this track for example there is almost always at least two layers but it almost feels as if one is always the dominant layer since they never seem to compete for the spotlight.

“Heroes or Ghosts” follows and returns again to the slower pace. I like this track, especially its tones and the Explosions in the Sky influenced drumming, but it’s in a rough spot on the album, sandwiched between my favorite track and the 10 minute long monstrosity that is “Without a Tremor.” As you can imagine this track builds slowly using all common elements of Zombie Western has to offer: Looming bass, punchy drums with airy cymbals and overpowering guitar. While the guitar work is solid across the board, the heavily distorted tones really do it for me the most. The pacing change halfway into the track is a real nice touch too as the song almost instantly goes from looming and building to drumrolls signalling the peak is quickly approaching. The album wraps up with the title track and it has a chill vibe going on for it. The guitar work in this track is insanely good, amongst the best on the album. The wailing guitars amongst a layer of static is absolutely brilliant and makes for one hell of a fantastic finish.

At the end of the day Zombie Western have shown great promise in their two releases and continue to get better. It’s tough to make a name for yourself when two of the biggest post-rock bands in the world (Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You) are looming right in your backyard. It would be easy to ride off of their momentum and conform to their styles with a similar sound but Zombie Western hasn’t done that. They have a unique sound that sounds like nothing else I’ve heard coming out of Texas and that’s probably the best thing these guys could possibly have going for them. An excellent album that deserves all the praise I’ve given it.  8-16-12

Available for $7 on bandcamp: http://zombiewestern.bandcamp.com/

No reviews for the next few days — Broken headphone cable :(

Unfortunately tonight my audiophile Hi-Fi setup suffered a tragedy when my HiFiMan HE-500 cable suffered a glorious death when one of the cables broke at the connector pin. Because HiFiMan has their own special connectors, this means I can’t just run out to any audio store and pick up a new cable and will have to order one from Head-Direct.  I use these headphones to review all of the releases on this site and refuse to use my stock iphone earbuds to write reviews in the meantime. The downside to being an audiophile is that you get so accustom to quality that music isn’t nearly enjoyable unless it is coming from your personal setup.  Fear not, I’ll have the cable replaced in no time and the reviews will once again pour in at the frantic pace you’ve come to expect as I continue to trudge through the backlog of 2012 releases. In the meantime, since I can’t really write any reviews, I’ll run down my hifi setup for those interested in that kind of nerdy stuff.

Headphones

HIFIMAN HE -500 headphones

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These cans are absolutely amazing and by far my favorite open headphones I’ve ever owned. I had Sennheiser HD650’s once and these just blow them away at every level. I really enjoy the sound signature of HiFiMan headphones and the bass is refined yet crisp with these and the highs and mids are extremely separated among the large soundstage. I got these for an absolute steal of a price at $550 after originally buying the first wave of HE-400’s that were defective and receiving a nice discount from the company on the step-up upgrade. Previously I had been using AKG K271 MK II’s , a closed can that allowed me to listen to music as loud as I wanted at work. I don’t think I could ever go back to closed cans after experience these bad boys.

AMP:

Schitt Asgard

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I bought this amp after it received stellar reviews. I think that this amp perfectly compliments the HE-500’s and doesn’t interfere with their sound signature. The performance is phenomenal and the build quality is rock solid. It’s well worth every penny. I’m pretty sold on Schitt’s audio performance and my next purchase will definitely be their Bitfrost DAC
USB DAC:

HRT Music Streamer II

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Of course with all this high quality audio gear there was no way in hell I was going to plug my amp into my PC via 3.5mm and soundcards are a pain in the ass when you don’t know what you’re doing when you open up a computer case.  The HRT Music Streamer II connects to your PC through USB to provide audio quality at an unparalleled level.  Best of all it supports 24-bit 96khz natively in all it’s glory.
MEDIA PLAYER:

Media Monkey 4.0.1

This little media player has everything I could ever ask for. Highly customizable? Check. Supports large music collections? check. Auto-scans collection on startup? check. Scrobbles to last.fm? Check. Great equalizer (even though I listen to everything flat)? Check. Native FLAC support? check. It’s really simple. Stop using Itunes or Windows Media Player and get Media Monkey now!

 

 

We Used to Have Horses – “Landscapes..” – 81%, “..Fly” – 82% and “The World..” – 86%

We Used to Have Horses is the laid back instrumental project of Niall Jones from Worchester, England. With workhorse mentality, He has already released 2 EP’s and an album in the first four months of the year and has no plans on stopping.  Without further ado, let’s get into the albums.

Landscapes We Can Only Dream EP – 81%
Landscapes We Can Only Dream cover art
“Landscapes We Can Only Dream” was released in January and has a very spacious and open feel to it. Drums sound very airy and synergize well with the slow building crescendo of the guitar. Hints of ambient influences ala The American Dollar flutter in the mix and beautiful keyboard segments layered underneath busy tracks like “The Skies Fill Us With Hope” are a very nice touch. String Instruments are dominant sounding but are a very nice addition. My only complaints about this album is that occasionally the bass gets very muddy in the mix and sometimes I feel the drums are out-of-place and too heavy for the more laid back music.  Overall though, a great little 25 minute EP that is just an overall fun album that I enjoyed very much. 8/10/12

The World Above Us cover art
The World Above Us – 86%
“The World Above Us” was also released in January and is a two-part 31 minute EP. This is again a very ambient and very pretty release. It’s far more straightforward but still retains the lighter ambient feel of “We Were Meant to Fly.” Guitar work is far more prominent and thrust into the spotlight on this release more so than the last two releases which is a real nice change of pace. Again, excellent mixing really allows the instruments to individually shine, particularly the keyboard work which has the perfect amount of bass. I was pleasantly surprised when Part two picked up the intensity towards the middle of the track with a wall of crashing cymbals and feedback-laden guitar work. This release is by far my favorite of the three and I feel this is the album I would want to use to introduce people to “We Used to Have Horses.” A great all around effort. 8/10/12

We Were Meant To Fly cover art

We Were Meant to Fly – 82%
“We Were Meant to Fly” is the latest from We Used to Have Horse being released in April and clocks in at 4-tracks and 45 minutes, so I’ll be considering it an album rather than an EP. The mixing is far better than “Landscapes We Can Only Dream” and has a far bigger soundstage. Strings seem more focused, Bass feels much tighter and the music songs themselves feel much more thought out. I’m a really big fan of the intro of “Life, Death, Ghost?” which sounds like a stripped down math-rock song with its curious arrangement of keyboard layers and prominent bass lines makes it truly a unique ambient track. As a post-rock album, I feel like this album might bore fans of the heavier side of the genre. However as an ambient album this is a highly imaginative and exploratory piece of work that is among my favorite lighter works released this year. 8/10/12

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

Good Weather For An Airstrike – This is as Good a Place as Any – 78%

This Is As Good A Place As Any cover art

“This Is As Good a Place As Any” is a short EP by Good Weather For An Airstrike, a one-man project from Winchester, UK. This 3 track EP, which is really one 12 minute long track and 2 extremely short tracks, is a tribute to his wife. I wouldn’t exactly call this post-rock, it’s more relaxed ambiant-drone, but it’s extremely beautiful music nonetheless. The nature field recordings are blissful among the drone-ish sounds which crawl along at a snail’s pace. I think it’s always good to have a few albums like this in your collection, its perfect music for background noise that doesn’t require deep attention to appreciate. “Goodnight, Boogaloo” is a fantastic track that utilizes sample among very elegant and spacious guitar work. This 17 minute EP is a fantastic spot to get started on the Good Weather for Airstrikes catalog. 8-7-12

Pay What you Want on Bandcamp: http://goodweatherforanairstrike.bandcamp.com/

Cloudkicker – Fade – 98%

Fade cover art

Words cannot express my love for the music that Ben Sharp creates. In the four years since he first released “The Discovery” he has single-handedly created a scope of work that most artists can only dream of. When your discography is so vast that your fans cannot decide on what your “best” work is, you’re obviously doing it right. The way Cloudkicker’s sound has developed over the years is what continuously drives my love for the music.

Cloudkicker came onto the scene sounding like Meshuggah’s little cousin in 2008 with the guitar-focused powerhouse “The Discovery,” complete with palm mutes, sick riff after sick riff and an in your face approach. In 2009 we were treated to “The Map is Not the Territory” and “Portmaneau” both of which while still very heavy, begin to show a more mature sound. 2010 saw Sharp put it all together and release the only post-rock album I consider to be perfect in every way, shape and form, “Beacons”. This mastermind of an album combined the raw intensity of his earlier work with vivid storytelling and album synergy that was off the charts. Not only did he release this monster of an album that will be forever in my heart, he also managed to release two 3-track EP’s that year too! In 2011 Sharp surprised us with “Let Yourself Be Huge”, an 8-track 25 minute adventurous album exploring the lighter side, an album that very much reminds me when the legendary progressive metal band Opeth released “Damnation,” one of the best and darkest soft-rock albums ever recorded. With Cloudkicker’s latest album “Fade,” we have now seen 9 releases in the span of 4 years by the guitar maestro hailing from Columbus, OH.

“Fade” is a return to the heavier side of Cloudkicker following last year’s detour and let it be known that it is a monster of an album. The album kicks off with “From The Balcony,” an incredibly tight sounding intro that features prevalent bass lines, something that I feel has always been missing from Sharp’s sound. The track forgoes the normal Cloudkicker explosiveness opting instead for a softer, tighter and much more focused sound. The transition to the next track, “The Focus” is so seamless that I wasn’t sure where the actual transition was until I actually took the time to watch the songs change on my media player. While the drums are once again programmed, I still find them to be more natural sounding, most likely due to the way they were mixed with just the right amount of echo. Guitar tones have that crisp and full of life feeling that we’re use to in all of Sharp’s releases.

We are treated to the longest track in the Cloudkicker portfolio next with “Seattle”, which just eclipses the 10 minute mark. This song has everything you’d expect to find in an epic track of this magnitude. The slow burn build-up with multiple layers of dominant guitar work that weave themselves brilliantly into a web is brooding. Cymbals appear in the background as the track begins to pick up intensity and pace. And then it’s all gone, giving way to a guitar track that is soon complimented by a second layer of thick bass. The layering in this album is just brilliant, it’s just layer upon layer creating unreal walls of sound. The song retakes form as guitars wail amongst crashing waves of cymbals before coming full circle. This track in all it’s glory could easily have been two tracks with an interlude in between. And yes, this song definitely deserved to have an entire paragraph written about it.

The halfway mark on the 8-track 44 minute album is “Garage Show,” a short number that is comparable to the likes of “…It’s Just Wide-Open Field” or “We Were all Scared” in that it does it’s job of maintaining the feel of the album while setting the table for what’s to come. “LA After Rain” is perhaps the most mature sounding Cloudkicker song to date. The song structure is fantastic, the tones are rich, the bass is prevalent throughout the song and the guitar work has just the right amount of epic riffage without the rawness that we’ve come to expect in Cloudkicker’s work. The following track, “Making Will Mad” is my favorite on the album. With its multiple layers of different guitar tones and effects, cymbal crashing and high-hat riding, this song is the perfect blend of “Beacons” inspired guitars with the “Let Yourself Be Huge” approach to song structure and mellowness. The whole track is just fun.

“Our Crazy Night” is again more of the same great guitar layering and cymbal crashing we come to love but with a much more “Portmaneu” -esque feel to it. The guitar work is masterful like always but the tones are a bit darker than the rest of the album with a stronger emphasis on feedback playing into the mix. Speaking of the mix, did I mention this album is by far the best sounding Cloudkicker album to date? Drums and cymbals are never overpowering, the guitar is still the most dominant instrument but not nearly by as much as it was in the past and the soundstaging is quite large as the instruments are fairly separated apart from one another. The album wraps with “Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown”, a soft little number that might seem weird to you, but if you look hard enough and know where to look, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the message.

I think the biggest question is how Cloudkicker fans will approach this album. Anyone with half a brain and truly understands music will realize that this album is a natural step forward in the musical progression of Cloudkicker. When Sharp’s Cloudkicker stepped onto the scene it brought unlimited potential and pure rawness that tried to overpower you with every song. Like a rookie shooting guard who scored a lot of points but didn’t help the team anywhere else, Cloudkicker has matured with age into a well-rounded player on the post-rock field. This is an album that has an extremely refined sound that is the end result of an amazing guitarist who has blossomed into an even more amazing musician. The craftsmanship of the album is impressive and Sharp’s dedication to his music and his workhorse ability to crank out high-caliber releases is unparalleled. I’m sure some fans of his older work will be unsatisfied with the lack of aggressiveness and fans of “Let Yourself Be Huge” will be turned away by the loudness of this album, but if you can’t appreciate “Fade” then perhaps this genre just isn’t for you anyways. This is the perfect album to introduce your friends to Cloudkicker and the post-rock genre. But most importantly this is a must-listen release of 2012. It rarely gets any better than this. 8-5-12.

Pay what you want on bandcamp: http://cloudkicker.bandcamp.com/album/fade

Anatomy of the Bear- Anatomy of the Bear – 80%

Image of Album

Anatomy of the Bear is a band composed of two friends who without question have a deep love for ambient style music. Their previous release, “Awakening” was a fantastic effort that was on the more electronic side of the genre with qualities similar to bands such as The American Dollar and The Album Leaf. They’re back with a new self titled album that boasts 68 minutes of new music over 12 tracks and by far the cutest album artwork you’ve seen all year. Just look at it! The bear is on a swing among the stars. ITSJUSTSOCUTEIWANNAHUGIT.

Ok, now that I got that out my system, let’s get to the album. “Rua” is the intro track and is has a down tempo mood going for it. It’s definitely a very chill track that really sets the table for the rest of the album. The spiraling crescendo guitar amongst a sparkling keyboards in “A Gentle Breeze” is a really nice touch and I find myself in absolute love with the drums. Drums are up front and have a nice amount of echoing to them adding nicely to the mood. The soundstaging is compact which makes for an incredible tight sound. The mixing is superb save for a few small areas where I felt certain layers were a bit too loud. Vocals make their debut in “Stars Above The Cave” and I’m split in my opinion of them. I really like the heavily filtered vocals that are deeply embedded in the mix but I’m not a fan of the upfront vocal tracks. They’re a little bit distracting and make the otherwise relaxing track too busy. It should also be noted that this track was featured on the band’s EP.

“June” has an epic build up leading to a huge wall of textured guitars that has one guitar wailing away in a truly gorgeous tone. There is an awkward transition between that song and the next, “The Glowing Night Sky” , which begins with a sea of feedback amongst electronic elements only to give way to clean guitars. The song itself is really good, but there is still an evident lack of synergy among these two and other tracks on the album. The electronic side of Anatomy of the Bear really starts to shine on “Distance” I have to give a lot of credit to the band for managing to really capture a mood on this album while still allowing each track to be unique and different. No two tracks are a like on this album. You have beautiful tracks like “Quietly Chasing Fireflys” that pull you in with their depth and beauty and other tracks like “Cold Season which any shoegaze fan would appreciate.

The album returns to a more straightforward post-rock approach with “Dawn,” and “The Welcoming.” I particularly love that the spiraling guitar is an afterthought in the latter track. Again just remarkable creativity by the band to use a traditional post-rock element in a unique and creative way in a lighthearted and laid back track. While “Paw in Paw” has the best riffs and guitar work on the album the upfront vocals again steal the spotlight away from the guitar. The album wraps with “Fireworks” which pushes the 10 minute mark as the longest song on the album. I was quite pleased with this track in that it really captures every element of the band’s sound.

Like I said earlier, the vocals are really hit or miss and I feel like they will end up being the deciding factor on whether or not listeners will enjoy this album. Anatomy of the Bear are undoubtedly one of the more unique bands to represent the post-rock genre and for that I will always be a fan. 8-1-12

Available for about $16 at http://aotb.bigcartel.com/product/album-pre-order