Frank Booth – Constructs EP – 83%

Constructs cover art

Frank Booth is a 4 piece band from Grand Rapids, Michigan who describe their sound as Post-rock meets shoegaze. The band features ex members of Lights at Sea and Paucity, two other post-rock bands from the Grand Rapids area. With little information on their facebook page, I took to their twitter to find out more about the mysterious band. From there I unearthed that the band has plans for both an EP and a full length album next year and intends to do some touring. Not a bad start.

Even though the band mentions shoegaze in their description the EP is pretty barren of any traces of the genre. There are no vocals to be found on this short 3-track 15 minute EP and their work comes off as thickly distorted post-rock rather than shoegaze. I guess one could make the connection to the shoegaze realm by the band’s use of thickly distorted undertones and layering to bolster their sound. ‘Constructs‘ opens with “Blackout” which kicks off with breakneck drumming and a high-pitched guitar circling out control. My particular favorite moment of this track is the incorporation of ear-piercing guitar screeches towards the end of the track.

Macena” has a much more refined sound and  begins with clean guitar work in the left channel and distorted wailing in the right channel and an ultra thick layer of bass in the middle head space as drums keep a rhythmic beat. As the track progresses the two sides shift just before giving way to a quieter moment on the song, or a moment of clarity if you will. Drums push the pace as the track gears up for a big post-rock finale and guitars rev up one final time for the big push. A well executed and tight sounding track.

The EP comes to a close with “How to Breathe Fire”, which occupies nearly half the EP’s length at around seven and a half minutes long. In this track spiraling crescendo guitars come and go as the layering underneath plays a mellow tune. As expected distorted guitars appear about a minute into the track but at a much more relaxed level and pace that spans throughout the entire track. This is by far the band’s best work and shows their musical range and serves as a proving point that the band doesn’t need to rely on heavy distortion as a crutch. Bass is extremely prevalent and plays a big part in Frank Booth’s sound throughout the EP and is never lost in the mix. This can most likely be attributed to the fact that the guitars and drums were recorded live.

In so many ways this album feels a lot like X Suns self titled release they put out earlier this year which also employs the philosophies of heavy distortion meets creative, explorative and spacey guitar work. Sonically the tones on the EP are great but as with any self release the equalization is missing that fine level of engineering polish that we’ve been spoiled on by the likes of genre giants Russian Circles and Explosions in the Sky. Still, the EP holds its own and is a great starting point for a new band whose members have a proven history of musical prowess and moderate success in the post-rock genre. 10-26-12

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

Late Night Venture – Pioneers of Space Flight – 83%

Pioneers of Spaceflight cover art

Late Night Venture are a 5-piece band from Copenhagen, Denmark who include elements of alternative, shoegaze and space-age psychedelic vibes to their style of post-rock. While relatively unknown state side, they are well accomplished in Europe and have over 150 live shows under their belt, sharing the stage with the likes of This Will Destroy You and Caspian. Their story begins in 2006 with the release of their self titled debut album in 2006, which received rave reviews and led to distribution across the UK and into Japan. From there the band made a fairly big leap into the post-rock genre with their 2009 EP “Illuminations“.

Now they’re back and ready to make a name for themselves worldwide with ‘Pioneers of Spaceflight’, a huge 10 track 57 minute post-rock goliath. I’ll stop right there for now and cut to the verdict on the vocals the band brings to the table because as most of the readers of this site know by now I am perhaps the biggest critic of post-rock that features vocals. Late Night Venture‘s vocal tracks fall generally fall somewhere between the shoegaze offerings of Silversun Pickups and the much lighter stylings of Gregor Samsa. Some vocal songs on the album, such as “The Empty Forest” definitely stand head and shoulders above others, such as “Hours” which features whispery vocals that really don’t do anything for me but detract from the big psychedelic infused post-rock finish of the track. I think that the most important factor here is that the band does a fantastic job balancing between their post-rock and indie/shoegaze sides and as an end result has produced a well-rounded album that will please everyone.

Without question Late Night Venture‘s post-rock side is where the band truly begins to open up. From the heavily distorted opening moments of the albums opener of “Kaleidoscopes” to the lighter ambiance of “Glitterpony“, the band shows an extraordinary amount of range and prove themselves gifted musicians. “Peripherals” is perhaps a perfect showcase of the band’s true abilities, opening with the ambient sounds of children playing in a school yard while soft keyboards play a soothing number. Relaxed guitar work comes in elegantly, complimenting the keyboards well and drumming is nothing more than a mellow beat until a spiraling guitar lulls its way into the back end of the mix. The track slowly gains a head of steam in an uplifting manner until it peaks at which point heavily layered distortion guitars increase the decibel level substantially while still maintaining the track’s mellow and unrushed pace for the most part. This is generally a winning formula in the realm of post-rock and Late Night Venture certainly understands that.

The band does an excellent job switching things and up and while most tracks eventually delve into deeply textured heavily distorted guitars, the lighter sides are highly varied. Some influences from other bands can easily be heard through the album.“Birmingham”  opens with a very twinkly Explosions in the Sky feel to it and “Carisma” closes out the album with heavy distortion and spiraling crescendo guitars eerily reminiscent of the likes of Mono and God is an Astronaut. Sonically the album is as rock solid as it gets and is a great example of solid layering depth and sound staging. Of course I’d expect nothing less than excellent given that it was produced by the well accomplished Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna) after all. Lindberg’s previous contribution to the post-rock world was his work on PG.Lost‘s last album ‘Key‘ which saw release earlier this year and was equally as amazing.

‘Pioneers of Spaceflight’ is one of those boundary crossing albums that can only do good for both post-rock and shoegaze fans alike. While some post-rockers might be turned off by the vocals, which will attract the shoegaze crowd, the majority of the album is excellent instrumental work that is the perfect soundtrack to drift off to the edge of your imagination to. This album is well worth every minute of your time. 10-25-12
Available for about $13 on Bandcamp: http://latenightventure.bandcamp.com/album/pioneers-of-spaceflight

Band website: http://www.latenightventure.com/

Australasia – Sin4tr4 EP – 90%

Sin4tr4 cover art

Over the course of my life I’ve been fortunate enough to journey through many different genres of music. As a teenager I found nu-metal just like everyone else did around 1998. From there I slowly moved onto the heavier styling of Melodic death, which led me down the dark path of death, doom and black metal. About this time I also discovered post-metal bands like Isis, followed by Pelican and Jesu. As my love for these bands grew and my tastes matured while I aged into my adult years, I began to drift away from death metal mostly due to my increased dislike of harsh vocals. As a younger man, the violently loud vocals were a beautiful thing. As an adult I realized that anger without purpose is petty and pointless and found much of the death metal I previously enjoyed lacking in emotion. Still there are times when I want nothing more than a double bass pedal and the sick riffage of a down-tuned guitar to blast through my headphones and invade my ear canals.

That is how we arrive at Australasia. The one particular thing that truly captures 100% of my attention these days are bands that are able to take uncommon or unlikely combinations of genres and make something truly beautiful with them. Well Australasia has done just that with their latest release ‘Sin4tr4‘, a 7-track 22 minute musical odyssey that combines ambient post-rock with harsh blast beats and melodic death metal. While there are elements that are definitely post-metal to be found here as well, the band has no problem stepping up a notch above that by pealing back the more textured heaviness to create a more straight forward melodic death sound. This is most evident in the intro track “Antenna“, which opens with about a minute of ambient post-rock until the double bass and down-tuned post-metal guitars come sweeping in. That is until something beautiful happens. The  guitars blossom into fullscale melodic death metal mode with absolute mind-bending riffs. This transformation is truly a beauty to behold.

Spine” follows the same formula and has an absolutely captivating ending where synths cascade down through powerful  guitars as the track comes to a close in a very electronic fashion. “Apnea” is next and is a stark departure from what we’ve seen so far on the album. In this ambient and spacious track that features electronic beats rather than drums, beautiful female harmonizing vocals completely change the mood. “Scenario” manages to do a good job transitioning the album back to the blast beats and post-metal before ending in an italian language sample. “Satellite” is a mind expanding ambient track that really wanders amongst the stars and shows that the band is more than capable of producing softer post-rock without their signature heavy side.

A curve ball is thrown in the mix with “Retina” which opens with these gawdy funeral parlor like organs and synthesizers. To be perfectly honest the intro to this song really caught me off guard  and rather than enjoying it I just keep pondering what it’s purpose is. luckily however the track eventually delves into the heavier side of the band and perhaps features their best work yet as guitars are on point and drumming is as technical as it is brutal. The EP comes to a close with “Fragile“, which slowly builds up by adding piece by piece to the mix as what I think are cars pass by in the background but I can’t be certain. This track is as straight forward post-rock as it gets and you can definitely tell there is a strong european vibe to it, particularly during the ending.

While I highly enjoy this EP there are a few nuances to be found that detract from the experience. At first listen the range in different sounds found on the EP will make it feel as though it’s more a collection of songs rather than a fluid and well-planned EP. This feeling vanishes after a few listens but I feel it’s still relevant to mention. Secondly, while I know it’s an EP, some of the tracks feel far too rushed and the fact that they managed to cram 7 songs into 22 minutes is still something that boggles my mind. Lastly, the intro to “Retina” is far too out there and just comes off feeling out-of-place.

To be perfectly blunt, I have yet to hear a single band that sounds remotely like Australasia and their debut EP has managed to capture my attention and has garnered a ridiculous amounts of plays in the week or so that I’ve had it. For uniqueness and creativity the band deserves an A+. For this EP however, it’s not the best I’ve heard this year, but it’s awfully close. An extremely solid debut from perhaps the next big Italian band. 10-24-12
Free streaming via bandcamp: http://australasia.bandcamp.com/

Album available for purchase via Itunes or amazon MP3: http://www.amazon.com/Sin4tr4/dp/B008IMXFYA

Band website: http://www.australasiamusic.com/

All shall be well (aasbwalmotsbw) – ROODBLAUW – 79%

ROODBLAUW cover art

Written by Jerome Marshall

All shall be well (and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well) aren’t overwhelmingly concerned with sweeping you off your feet. Much like their name implies, they’re more interested in soothing you.

Spanning five songs and 40.8 minutes, ‘ROODBLAUW’, All shall be well’s debut EP, is a thoroughly enjoyable cohesive piece of minimalist post-rock. And man, is it minimalist. After listening to the entire EP three or four times, the only word my brain wanted to use to describe ‘ROODBLAUW’ was “deliberate” and I think that’s exactly what the band wants. Each song is carefully crafted and delivered at an ambling place, and there aren’t many exceptions to this rule. While listening to ‘ROODBLAUW’ your ear might start to want release and explosive dynamics after so much build up, but All shall be well just won’t give it to you. At least not in the manner you expect.

The first track, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters Our Music Is All Awful Noise And We’re Just A Bunch of No-Goods” comes in at 7:09 and there isn’t one excess note. It takes nearly three whole minutes of subdued organ chords before the listener gets to hear anything that might pique their interest. Eventually the organ fades away and is replaced with warm, softly reverberated guitar licks gently laid over plodding drums, but the song’s pace doesn’t ever pick up.

“Mothers” tapers off and we’re again treated to classic saccharine post-rock guitar work in the song “There will always be at least a thousand things you don’t know.” The production on ‘ROODBLAUW’ is incredibly tight and leaves all the instrumentation feeling very close, creating an intimate experience for the listener. This track is easily the strongest example in my opinion. “thousand things” flows at a slightly quicker pace than “Mothers” but, much like the majority of this release, still refuses to rock harder than hammock.

By the time you get through the next three songs, you’ll understand that All shall be well are exceptionally good at resisting the temptation to explode into grandeur the way most post-rock bands do. They choose to slowly swell their instruments at such a gradual pace by the time it gets loud you don’t recognize it much. “History Is Ever Ours For The Reliving” showcases All shall be well at their loudest but it still displays control and precision rather than passion.

ROODBLAUW’ is far from perfection. At times the subtle dynamics and torpid song flow grow monotonous to the ear and the band’s refusal to experiment with song styles makes the individual tracks flow into each other a little too well. Quite often I would have to double-check the song title when I was listening because it was difficult to distinguish between the songs. But it’s still a worthwhile listen and a solid effort from a new band. Just don’t expect to be lifted to your feet while experiencing this album.

That in mind, this EP is perfect for calm drives, writing to, and any other relaxed activity, which I don’t think the band would have any problem with me saying.

Pay What You Want: http://allshallbewell.bandcamp.com/album/roodblauw

El Ten Eleven – Transitions – 95%

Transitions (album) cover art

It seems like everyone these days is trying to pigeon hole bands into these obscure genres that just don’t seem to actually exist. People try so hard to explain bands that they use these describing words that don’t make any logical sense. Crust-core? Psych-Drone? Post-Apocalyptic Folk? Do you see what I’m getting at? Why can’t we narrow things down and keep genres relatively simple? Well, there’s a reason, and bands like El Ten Eleven are the ones to blame.

Their new record is ‘Transitions’ and I’ve been flat-out obsessed with this album since getting my grubby hands on a copy. I’ve always appreciated El Ten Eleven’s work but never have I been drawn in by it the way I have with ‘Transitions’. The two-piece california band have truly outdone themselves by making one of the most easily accessible albums of the year. This is without question THE perfect album to spin if you’re trying to introduce post-rock to poor souls who have been stuck on bad radio rock all their lives. While the album carries itself as an upbeat post-rock album with flurries of math-rock and electronica everywhere to be found, it does so in such a obnoxiously and infectiously catchy manner that gives the whole thing a crazy pop aura to it.  El Ten Eleven are one of those rare chameleon bands that transcend genres with ease while still staying within the comfort zone of fans spanning multiple genres.

Clocking in at over 10 minutes, the title track kicks off the album and never has a track been more appropriately named. What begins as a track sounding something like what you would expect to hear during the opening credits of a summer time feel-good teen flick, out of nowhere a math-rock transition bursts through the track as cascading guitars overtake everything else going on. From there we have another well-timed transition where distorted guitars come in for about a minute until cutting out as the track comes full circle and the three different segments of the song blend together in harmony to form a deeply textured groove that you just can’t help but bob your head along with. A brilliantly designed track that showcases the musical prowess and masterminds of El Ten Eleven.

In the next track “Thanks Bill” we’re treated to rich vibrant bass and hypnotic electronic drums that transition into a slower moment of catchy as hell chords and  guitar offerings that will surely get stuck in your head for days to come. “Yellow Bridges” is about as normal as it gets on this album and feels much like an attempt to emulate the japanese math-rock style while keeping a strong core of what makes El Ten Eleven so unique. Fantastic layering makes the song feel deep while still retaining its fun-factor. “No One Died This Time!” is an electronic heavy track that’s full of delay pedal action and looping mixed with signature guitar work occupying the high-end as thick distortion sets a foundation on the lower end of mix. I feel like this track would be absolutely phenomenal to hear live.

“Birth” kicks things off with repetitive clapping and a thick bass distortion layer occupying most of the sound space. I really like this track because the layers really start to build up as though the distortion layer is a magnet continually attracting new sounds. “Tiger Tiger” is intriguing because on side of the spectrum the whole track is completely out there and has this abstract feel really working for it. On the other hand El Ten Eleven  have gone to the depths of their imaginations time and time again on this album and there are really no boundaries they won’t cross. While the track might be a bit strange it certainly fits the album. The album closes with “Lullaby” , a much slower and more ambient adventure that ends in bleak distorted quirkyness. Did you expect any different?

I listen to post-rock for the beauty, depth, trance-like repetitiveness and musical brilliance generally associated with the genre. So when an album like ‘Transitions’ comes along and completely changes the game with tracks that are endlessly fun, catchy and just simply  put a smile on your face enjoyable, I feel the need to place them on a pedestal. Honestly there hasn’t been an album this enjoyable and fun since Pan‘s “These Are The Thing’s I Love and I Want to Share Them With You” . While the album might be a light-hearted approach to post-rock it would be a mistake to not take El Ten Eleven seriously as major players in the genre. ‘Transitions’ is an album that by all means should take the band’s popularity to new heights. It’s too good not to. This is a must listen to album of 2012. 10/21/12

Available for $7 at http://www.elteneleven.com/#!music/cqo1

Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson – Small Changes We Hardly Notice EP – 89%

“Don’t throw out your winter clothes; the way our glances froze, it just might snow”

‘Small Changes We Hardly Notice’ is the unassuming new EP from the Norwegian post-rock band Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson. Youth Pictures… started their musical career in 2005 with their debut album, ‘Unnoticeable in a Tiny Town’, that featured epic track durations and spoken-word samples overlayed by expansive soundscapes. With this they accrued a small yet dedicated fan base, to whom the intelligent and forward-thinking music appealed. A lot has changed in the last 7 years however; namely, their style has been stripped back and refined to comprise more concise indie-rock songs, with a heavy focus on lyrics and vocal delivery. This — coupled with the fact that Youth Pictures… chose to sign with popular “emo revival” label Count Your Lucky Stars to release this EP — might have been cause for concern. Fortunately, the band’s experience with crafting dense and atmospheric post-rock has not been relinquished, as every moment in this EP is awash with a sense of delicacy and warmth.

With its combination of soft vocals and shoegaze-inspired aural passages, the closest comparison that could be made with regards to ‘Small Changes We Hardly Notice’ would be with The Appleseed Cast, circa ‘Low Level Owl’. This is the type of music that isn’t instantly astonishing; the band tends to defer away from hook-laden melodies and catchy refrains in favour of a more warm, layered sound. As such, upon my first listen I might have gone so far as to say that this EP is nice, yet forgettable. But I kept coming back to it, and it’s because of the inherent (I’ve said it twice before and I’ll say it once more) warmth that emanates throughout the 23-minute run-time of this EP. Even if it’s not inordinately exciting (there are screamed vocals, however they’re so unobtrusive that you’d be hard-pressed to notice them at first), this release is comforting to the utmost.

Many bands of the post-rock arena aspire to take you somewhere you’ve never been before. Listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor evokes a feeling of isolation, loss and loneliness. Sigur Ros might break your heart. It’s good to feel like this sometimes; it enables you to connect and resonate emotionally with the music. Listening to Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson maintains a much-needed balance. This is winter music. But it isn’t the kind that places you in a desolate blizzard, or slaps snow in your face and makes you feel alive. ‘Small Changes We Hardly Notice’ instead brings you inside, wraps you in a blanket and sits you in front of the fire. It rests your pulse and puts a smile on your face. It’s cosy, and that’s perfectly fine.

Available for $4 or more at Bandcamp: http://countyourluckystars.bandcamp.com/album/small-changes-we-hardly-notice

Empire of the Sea – Skywatchers EP – 81%

Skywatchers EP cover art

Formed in 2010, Empire of the Sea are a four-piece post-rock band from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Their latest release is a 4-track EP called ‘Skywatchers’ that clocks in at around 25 minutes. This EP has a lot going on for it and shows a band experimenting with a wide range of sounds and ideas. I’ve listened to this EP extensively over the last two weeks and as I sit here writing this review, I’m still on the fence about how exactly I feel about it.

The best starting point would be to discuss what I do like about on the EP. I really like the chill atmospheric vibe the album presents through the first two tracks. The album maintains a solid flow even throughout  its spiraling crescendos  build ups in “Mother Hawk” and even through the quick tempo of “Father Owl.” Guitar work is on point throughout the album and is a solid combination of post-rocky distortion textures, power chords and bluesy solo work, which is particularly excellent in “Father Owl.”

These two tracks are good, but Empire of the Sea really start to show their range on the latter two songs on this EP. “Sister Sparrow” brings the tempo down a notch and is a much more ambient track that presents a huge field of sound into a tight package. My favorite moment in this track is when the guitars start to rev up a couple of minutes in. The front guitar layer that roams freely in the higher end of the mix really gives the rest of the distorted layers a strong level of depth and purpose. This track just builds and builds to no end and that’s really one of the bands biggest strengths. The track goes on to make a stark transition and end in a completely different direction than what it built up to.

The first time I heard “Brother Crow”, the EP’s final track, it instantly reminded me of some of the earlier work of The End of the Ocean, particularly their track “We Always Think There Will Be More Time.” Both tracks have this really dreamy after vibe going on for them. This track also has a ridiculously strong build up that should more than satisfy those into the heavier side of the genre.

That being said, this EP suffers from two big flaws that can hamper any release. First, there is the disappointing overuse of cymbals to be found absolutely everywhere on this album. Even during the much quieter, slower build up in the intro to “Sister Sparrow” cymbals crashing completely overshadows the guitar work to the point where the slightly distorted layer is completely covered up and even the main clean layer must fight for its spot in the mix. I’ve never been a fan of bands relying on crashing cymbals just to ratchet up their sound wall and Empire of the Sea is guilty is charged.

Secondly, while the four tracks are technically sound and Empire of the Sea have presented themselves as knowledgeable musicians, the music here lacks defining characteristic to them. I’ve listened to this EP no less than 10 times and to be completely honest I’m not confident I would be able to identify any of the tracks if one of them were to come up if I hit shuffle on my ipod. I think this harkens back to the fact that the band themselves have said their tastes and talents have grown significantly as has their sound. This is something that a lot of younger bands struggle with in their earlier releases.

Still, I think that “Skywatchers” is an excellent starting point for the young band. I have no doubt in my mind that they have all the musical know how to take this band to the next level. Time will tell if they can put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and I’m guessing that they will.

Available for free on bandcamp: http://empireofthesea.bandcamp.com/album/skywatchers-ep