Postmadonna – POSTMADONNA

POSTMADONNA cover art

Artist Postmadonna
Album ‘Postmadonna’
Genre Math-Rock
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Label None
Release April 1 2013
Rating Excellent

Postmadonna‘s “POSTMADONNA” continues right along the same vein as last year’s EP, “Introducing Postmadonna“. This album hearkens back to classic rock territory in that there’s only 9 tracks, 2 from the aforementioned EP. The whole album clocks in at around 25 minutes. With that length, there’s no time for wasted space.

The album jumps right off in “Shredder“. The track starts off with a spastic, jazzy, meedly-meedly guitar solo that makes you scratch your head a little bit; what am I listening to? The song coalesces into a groovy, melodic, catchy track. “Shredder” features the vocals of Jamie Weber from  Dear Mister Manager, another Seattle math rock-ish band. Let’s hear it for collaborative cross-pollination!

Rather than talking about tracks individually, let me speak to the album as a whole. The album is short, with only 9 tracks, but it doesn’t feel like 9 tracks. It feels very cohesive, very planned out. There’s a real flow to it, and it’s great to put on and listen and think. It will demand your attention from time to time, regardless of what you are doing while listening. There are plenty of intricacies in the music, from weird delay-pedal-driven sound effects to quick guitar slips and slides, vocal melodies, bass melodies, harmonics here and there, and all the clicks, slaps, cracks and booms of a drummer that kills it song after song.

What you start to notice while listening to this album is that Postmadonna is playful. All the little noises here and there, the gang melodies found throughout, the guitar bends scattered about; these guys are having a blast and it just oozes from this record. Mid-way through the album, the listener is treated to an interlude of violins, cleansing the aural palette and giving a breather before launching into “Seamonster“, a barely over 2 minute track that satisfies like a 5 minute track. The album closes out with “WLRS“, which is an homage to The Beatles and a fantastically playful track. Starting with a simple piano melody and building from there, it has its tongue firmly in cheek and a wild group vocal, closing out the album with a dog singing along.

This is a solid, fun album that has the infectious hooks of your favorite pop band but chops enough to impress your musician friends and plenty to enjoy therein. The album has been one of the top albums in category “math rock” on bandcamp since it launched at the beginning of April. Go check it out!

On Wings of Wax – The Empty Bed

The Empty Bed cover art

Artist On Wings of Wax
Album ‘The Empty Bed’
Genre Post-Metal | Djent | Progressive
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Label Any and All Records
Release Feb 17 2013
Rating Excellent

On Wings of Wax, Melbourne-Victoria’s Adam Kluga’s primarily one man show is one of those bands that’s like a wish fulfillment. Though undeniably contemporary, heavy, and forward-looking, ‘The Empty Bed’ is so familiar that it feels like it has existed inside you all along.  Kluga not only outshines a whole pack of other bands with similar sounds, he does so with hidden nuances, great pacing, and warmth.

Incorporating the pummeling drum and bass assault of early to mid career Godflesh, ‘The Empty Bed’ adds much more melody and feeling, with multi-layered guitars and synths. Songs are narrative and beautiful, fully realized pastiches of emotion. The  “right on the nose” production further adds to this. It exhibits just enough polish to smooth, not blunt the harder edges, making the aural environment shine.  Drums sound large and live. Texture abounds, but is clear. Nothing overwhelms the total picture.

At some times anthemic and others melancholic, the nine songs all share an authenticity about them. The listener can feel that this is genuine. There are no superfluous touches. No musical wankery. This album has an energy that isn’t easily duplicated. Even in a period in which much music is easily accessed, consumed, and, ultimately, disposable, On Wings Of Wax comes off as vital.

Kluga is a very accomplished musician, as demonstrated time and time again on this release.  From the subtle tapping and jazzy drums on the intro to “Knots” to the stop start rhythmic figure that leads into amazing tremolo flight on “Of Bliss and Expectation.”  Compositionally everything flows like a dream. The first listen is exciting and fresh, yet the replay value is huge, allowing one to dissect the textures, and experience the ambience of less obvious portions.

More than many other bands and albums that go for this “sound,” On Wings Of Wax executes what I would call “post-Djent” not just competently, but with style and great sensibilities. ‘The Empty Bed’ felt like it was singing to my heart.

 

Shy, Low – Binary Opposition

Binary Opposition cover art

Artist Shy, Low
Album ‘Binary Opposition’
Genre Post-Rock
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Label The Subterranea Collective | Fluttery Records
Release Feb 23 2013
Rating Excellent

Richmond, VA has always been a hotbed of musical activity, and I’ve been lucky enough to live in close enough proximity to experience a lot of it. The bulk of the music coming out of the city, however, has been hardcore, punk, and metal (at least that’s what was on my radar), so when I first discovered Shy, Low sometime last year and found out that they hail from Richmond, I was pleasantly surprised. Not that geographical location has much to do with anything, but when a band like this emerges out of a city that’s probably best known for Gwar, Avail, and Lamb of God, it makes you take notice. Anyway, enough rambling about where the band lives, since ultimately it doesn’t matter much.

While I suppose this release is technically an EP, the two songs on here far surpass anything on last year’s self-titled album in length, with both clocking in at over 12 minutes long. Between the length and density of the two tracks, it definitely doesn’t feel like an EP, though. There’s more than enough layers here to make every second of this record truly interesting, and it’s a very engaging listen. While all of the ideas and techniques here are very similar to the ones present on their last release, Shy, Low has definitely progressed as a band. The comparisons to bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mono will come, and are warranted, but I feel like Shy, Low have taken those influences and crafted something that’s just a bit different from the copycat bands. Along with a handful of other bands, like their neighbors to the south in The Farewell Monument, Shy, Low is a great representation of a newer breed of cinematic/orchestral post-rock bands, and ‘Binary Opposition‘ is an incredible well crafted display of that.

The various effects and layers of reverb used by the band give everything a truly massive sound (thanks in no small part to what the band refers to as guitarist Gregg Peterson’s “personal stage”, his collection of various effects pedals), and at times, it’s very easy to forget that something that sounds so huge was written and recorded by just 4 people. This is apparent almost everywhere on ‘Binary Opposition‘, but it really shines starting at about the 6:30 mark on the second track, “Absence“. The layers of guitars just seem to keep piling up, showcasing some masterful work by Peterson and his fellow guitarist, Zak Bryant. The rhythm section of Shy, Low is certainly not lacking in talent either, and that’s made very clear moments later in the same song. As the guitars build back up, drummer Sean Doody pounds out a driving, almost menacing drum line, accompanied by the low end rumbling of Ian Currie’s bass work.

While ‘Binary Opposition’ may not feel like an EP, you quickly realize how fast the nearly 25 minutes of music have passed, and are left wanting more. If there’s one down side to this release, it’s just that. Now, you can also look at the flip side of that, and understand that Shy, Low has created a record so good that you’re left wanting more, which is exactly the stance I’m taking on it. So while I patiently await more new music from these guys (give them a break, they just released this like a month ago), I’ll definitely have ‘Binary Opposition‘ in heavy rotation.

Nathaniel Noton-Freeman – Seabirds

Seabirds cover art

Artist Nathaniel Noton-Freeman
Album ‘Seabirds’
Genre Post-rock / Instrumental
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Label Independent
Release Mar 3 2013
Rating Solid

This had to happen at some point. Nathaniel Noton-Freeman‘s music has until now been entirely composed using nothing but acoustic guitar tracks built atop other acoustic guitar tracks. ‘Whorl’ demonstrated that intelligent songwriting and delicate-yet-complex musicianship is in itself enough to captivate and inspire. ‘Whorl’ was unique and therefore intriguing, but beneath all of this it was evident that, by restricting his vessel to acoustic guitars alone, Nathaniel was imposing seemingly unnecessary boundaries upon his music. ‘Cairn’ took this restricted philosophy even further by limiting the songs to a single layer of acoustic guitar. It seems now that the shackles have been dispelled.

And the results are mixed. There’s no way of avoiding the fact that upon shedding its “gimmick”, Nathaniel’s music would be destined to lose some of its unique appeal. This is somewhat true, but that doesn’t mean that what we’re left with isn’t still worthwhile and entertaining post-rock. I love the arpeggiated synth sounds in “Op. 1 – Fishes” — the track carries a joyous energy that is often absent from soft ambient/post-rock music such as this. Nathaniel’s music carries the positive aura that often comes only with more upbeat post-rock bands such as Moonlit Sailor, whilst maintaining the delicate wistfulness and romance of more ambient bands such as Helios. It’s in the approach and composition that allows Nathaniel’s music to stay within its niche.

On the other hand I still feel that Nathaniel has more to learn and room to grow with this style of music. ‘Seabirds’ marks the first time that this artist’s music has had such a strong focus on pedal effects, and it appears that Nathaniel perhaps got a little too excited when exploring these new territories. The delay effects that permeate many of the instrumental layers simultaneously are overbearing. There’s often just too much going on at any one time. This doesn’t become a problem when ‘Seabirds’ is enjoyed quietly and in the background, but when close attention is paid, perhaps with headphones, then the production flaws become apparent.

But don’t read too much into that, because Nathaniel’s music is just as delicate and enjoyable as it ever was, except that he now brings to the table a greater palette for crafting music, and the result only serves to make me even more excited for what’s to come. The songwriting and musicianship is all there with ‘Seabirds’; there’s a sense that the production was slightly off the mark, however that’s something that can easily be worked on for future releases.

Mandala Eyes – ‘Let Our Minds Be Languageless, Let Our Bodies Be Verbose’

Let Our Minds Be Languageless, Let Our Bodies Be Verbose cover art

Artist Mandala Eyes
Album ‘Let Our Minds Be Languageless, Let Our Bodies Be Verbose’
Genre Post-Rock / Ambient
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Label Any and All Records
Release Feb 19 2013
Rating Very Good

Manadala Eyes is the one-man solo project of Alex Alexander, who calls Fort Lauderdale, Florida his home. He is signed to Any and All Records, which if you didn’t know is a record label who’s only mission is to sign artists so that they don’t have to call themselves “unsigned” and offer no perks whatsoever.  Anyhow, Mandala Eyes generally drifts towards the softer side of the post-rock realm and their latest wordily titled release ‘Let Our Minds Be Languageless, Let Our Bodies Be Verbose’ presents an array of unique occasionally non-traditional musical concepts highlighted by quirkiness and sometimes insanity.

Continuing the long-winded theme, the intro track is “I Love You More Than I Could Ever Dream of Imagining in Ten Thousand and One Lifetimes” and is a light yet heartfelt opening number that draws the listener in with playfully layered guitar tracks of different varieties. At ten minutes long, “Tree Hut” is a bit more on the experimental side again blending multiple guitar layers, including thick distortion guitar that when paired with open acoustic guitar compliment one another brilliantly. You can really get a sense of Alex’s musical influences in “Tree Hut” as offerings from the likes of Lowercase Noises and The Six Parts Seven really seep through Mandala Eyes own music in this offering.

At 17 minutes in length, “Moss Heart” is both the longest and best track on the album. This little number caught my attention last week and immediately captured my heart. Initially the song is forward, upbeat and catchy as hell and immediately strikes similarities to what you’d expect in a math-rock number, but it features a standard post-rock breakdown in the middle including an experimental, somewhat minimalist and ambient ramp up afterwards. As the song approaches its second half it comes full circle and continues to add layers to the mix before ending in a post-rock flurry. “Moss Heart” showcases Alex’s musical prowess and is just an all around fantastic track that deserves to be heard by masses of post-rock fans.

I’m not a big fan of the drone intro to “A Bridge Across Forever” but the rest of the track shores up nicely with a considerably more full sounding noise spectrum compared to the rest of the album. That being said, I do really like the ambient drone track “Going to Portland“, which throws some field recordings of birds chirping to go along with sleep inducing layers of drone guitar that play ever so slowly. “To Remain Astonished by the World, and yet Feel at Home in It” closes out the nearly 1 hour long album with a slow but somewhat quirky build up that leads into a fun, high energy finish that sees guitars screech and cymbals crash at will.

This is Alex’s sixth release since 2010 and while I’ll admit I haven’t had the time to check out his 2011 and prior work, If it’s anything like ‘Let Our Minds…‘ I’ll be quite happy. Mandala Eyes is one of those feel good bands that work their way into ipod and never seem to leave. It never ceases to amaze me what solo projects are capable of in the post-rock realm. Mark this one down as “Very Good” in my book!