I Hear Sirens – Between Conciousness and Sleep

Between Consciousness And Sleep cover art

Artist I Hear Sirens
Album Between Conciousness and Sleep
Genre Post-Rock
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Label Independent
Release 7 May 2013
Rating: Good

Salt Lake City’s I Hear Sirens have released a compelling album with “Between Consciousness and Sleep.”  While not reinventing the wheel, they have continued the tradition of post-rock as extension of so-called “Emo” music. Let me clarify before you either vomit or applaud. When I say “Emo” I’m talking about the sub-genre term for the music that evolved out of hardcore and started refining itself more than 20 years ago. If we look at the lineage it would go from the first wave (example Rites of Spring) to the slightly more subdued and experimental growth spurts of second wave (examples Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate) into the splitting divergent personalities of the third waves tumultuous hydra, where it actually reached an arguable mainstream popularity is some forms( examples Weezer, Jimmy Eat World) while others stayed fairly underground but still held much of the rock bite of their predecessors (examples Thursday, Get up Kids, The Promise Ring, as well as many Jade Tree and Deep Elm releases in the mid 90’s thru the early 21st century) and still more set out to develop into an incarnation of the post-rock we know and love today, which isn’t to say it is the only or direct ancestor to post-* music. (Example Mineral, Jejune, Appleseed Cast, and a whole new crop of Deep Elm released bands)

It is in that third arm of the third wave where we find the seed of the sound that “Between Consciousness and Sleep” presents to us. Though undoubtedly they have other influences I Hear Sirens very nicely shows the power of emotional music through their chord changes, arrangements, and progressions.  Soul harrowing keys give way to confidence inspiring power chords. Messages are being sent. Hearts are being broken and healed and filled.

Great musicianship is needed to accomplish this tapping into our feelings. Luckily I Hear Sirens has just that.  Having played together since 2005 with just the change of a single member, and refining their craft with two prior releases, they are tight and augment each other very well.  Instead of throwing a million themes and noodles at us, “Between Consciousness and Sleep” keeps its song length down to an average of five and a half minutes, delivering concise statements and figures that are well embellished, but not overdrawn. As a result every song is rewarding, even though they do blend a bit. It’s also a nice treat, and almost an evolutionary vestige at this point, to have some vocals. They aren’t overpowering, and fit very well.

Moods are set, and heartstrings plucked, with the help of very solid production. It would have been relatively easy to overproduce this music, and that would have destroyed utterly its humility and honesty. The band wisely kept things slightly lo-fi, while still retaining a great clear sound. Vocals, when they appear, are low enough in the mix to add to the sound while also still drawing the listener in to decipher the lyrical content. They have just enough reverb and echo to buoy the falsetto. Drums thump and snap satisfyingly, while cymbals are dark and rich. They are also very well mixed and enhance the space of the atmosphere. Keys, mostly of the traditional variety, are done with taste and class, enhancing the mood considerably. The bass is both wide and defined, helping build the rhythm without sacrificing its own voice. Guitar tone and dynamics are quite well done, with a slightly distorted “clean” sound at times that really empowers the lines.  Spatially everything is mixed down well, and there are no annoyances or hindrances to the listener.

“Between Consciousness and Sleep” is a solid album done by an earnest band. This is meat and potatoes stuff, with a few seasonings. The innovation to the genre may be lacking, but it’s an enjoyable record none the less. I can see how listeners, and some of our readers, would just fall in love with I Hear Sirens.

 

RQTN – Passenger EP

Passenger cover art

Artist RQTN
Album Passenger
Genre Post-Classical, Instrumental
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Label Independent
Release 1 March 2013
Rating: Excellent

I don’t know what it is about the French that makes their atmospherics so coercive and moving. From Alcest to Para One, and from Air to M83, they just keep it coming with transcendent atmosphere and composition. This streak is kept alive by Paris, France’s RQTN. RQTN is solely the handiwork of  Mathieu Artu. Every single sound, every single edit, and mix selection is his decision. While there are plenty of “Bedroom Auteurs” in this world nowadays, with mixed visions and projects, Artu is more than a cut above.  If there is any justice in the world, what we have here is the next phenom soundtrack composer. Although referring to this style of music as post-classical normally feels a bit pompous, here it fits very well. Artu’s arrangements and compositional skills are very impressive. It goes to show that if one is determined enough, one will find a way to do what he loves.

From soaring, lush, populated crescendos to stark, melancholy, dark cloud measures, it is very apt that this album is titled “Passenger,” because we are taken so many places, so skillfully, that it feels like second nature.  Breaking the songs down individually would be a pointless endeavor for me to do, as they are so emotionally rich that my interpretation would be vastly different from anyone else’s, and probably be of novella length as well. Tiny dissonant figures evolve into heart scorching themes, just as the surrounding arrangements evolve into full, passionate, sounds capes.

This project of Mathieu’s is not fly by night either. It’s plain to any listener that he has far from a novice, but the RQTN discography itself is quite deep, with this being the newest of four full length releases, and two eps. As if this doesn’t keep him busy enough, Artu is also the singer and guitarist for a fairly well done indie rock band called Kid North.

I’m assuming that every sound on “Passenger” is made electronically, as it both sounds like it and seems the most logical method. It’s pretty easy to hear that Artu is gifted with a keyboard and programming, as well as overall production and mixing. This release is very pleasing produced, and everything sounds in balance and is well placed. Effects are not oversaturated, lending a fairly non-digital feel to the whole album. My only grievance is that some of the sounds are a bit generic in a medium where almost everything is tweekable. Still, the emphasis on overall composition outweighs this a hundred to one.

I loved the depth of “Passenger.” I find the scope of Mathieu Artu’s work highly admirable, and I look forward to checking out the RQTN back catalogue. Mostly though, I wait for the day where someone gives this man control over a film score and an orchestra to append his palate of sound. Then I will rejoice. – Erich

Meanings – Things Do Get Better

Artist Things Do get Better
Album Meanings
Genre Post-Rock / Drone
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Web
Label Independent
Release 17 February 2013
Rating: Very Good

(IamHopToday we have a special guest reviewer. Please welcome Natscho to postrockstar.)

Meanings released the EP ‘Things do get better’ on 17 February so it is relatively new. This artist’s compositions are really interesting and I’m sure that he has a lot to offer in the future. The EP consists of 4 short tracks with total length of 10:71 it is not time-consuming so I would recommend it to everyone.

To begin with, the first track “The Earth is a cold dead place” opens with ambient-like flying synthesizer melodies which can, to say, hypnotize and prepare the listener for the great composition. Then, long guitar riffs and accompanying not-so-loud drums enter the amazing song. It is a kind of sad and I consider this track as my favorite in the EP. “Why Are We Here” is the second song which starts with slow delayed guitar notes and an even slower bass line. The evocative second part of the track introduces more aggressive guitars and more desperate melodies, which remind of the Drone music. The track is absolutely worth listening and I recommend it.

“Backbones” is the shortest one (1:36) and it has only one bass line in it. In my view, “Backbones” is the intro to the final “Are not complete without a company” as it follows its notes. In the end, the 4th track is keeling me back and forth between bright emotions and some kind of desperate feelings. “Are not complete without a company” perfectly fits into its place since it is actually the more aggressive one. In the end of the track, Meanings let it flow into the space with melodic echoed and delayed guitars and synthesizers.

In a nutshell, ‘Things do get better’ is really worth listening and I can rate it as ‘Very Good’.

We.Own.The.Sky – “The Glass/Nails EP”

The Glass/Nails EP cover art

Artist We.Own.The.Sky
Album The Glass/Nails EP
Genre Post Metal/Post-rock, Experimental, Ambient
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Label Independent
Release 1-13-13
Rating EXCELLENT

Amazing. Another fairly young band, in a foreign land, totally killing it. I’m actually getting sick of liking this much music. At some point I’m sure I’ll have the cathartic pleasure to review a bad endeavor for PostRockStar, but this isn’t it.

When I think of Greece, I think of ancient art, progressive thought, beautiful scenery and Dionysian delight. Oh, and Aphrodite’s Child. Athenian post-rockers we.own.the.sky have quite a bit in common with those notions. What they do is beautiful for certain, and some of it is quite progressive, which justifies the mention of a late 60’s early 70’s obscure rock band that I happen to love. I also happen to be ecstatic over this EP

“The Glass/Nails EP” was recorded over about 10 days in May of 2012. It seems like before that the 5-headed beast of we.own.the.sky was too busy gigging it’s ass off and packing houses in a place that isn’t exactly booming economically. Don’t gloss over that mention of five people, because it’s important. There are no keyboards on this album that I can detect. In fact, I can’t find any pure electronics at all, which is interesting for a band that presumably lifted their name from an M83 song. Wait…does that mean…three guitar players? Oh yes, it does. That means they can produce more layers then an onion. However, this attribute is used very wisely and mostly to thicken the sound, as opposed to drowning the listener in meandering. Tasteful and tactful describe the arrangements here.

Here exists a great blend of the heavy and sweet. When the song calls for it, these guys can definitely shake some ground, but it’s all for the better of the structure. “Blue 88” illustrates this perfectly, and also makes a bit of a sociopolitical point via spoken word sample. It’s an impressive piece, both musically, and in terms of intent, especially since most post-rock bands don’t get very political, or in this case, humanist, via song. The message is straight ahead without being overwrought, which I appreciate.

The opus of this EP is the three song “A Stain of Ink” cycle.  While all the songs on “The Glass/Nails EP” flow together seamlessly, these three are more thematically linked. From deft building of tension in “Part I,” we are given a chance to breathe with a slow and well embellished Pink Floyd-ian groove, before being delivered to a grandiose reprise of theme in “Part II.” “Part III” offers another chance to take in the smooth and slinky delay riddled landscape, ascending to a plateau of melodic wizardry, before hammering us home and leaving us in want of more.

Sonically, this EP is put together excellently. The mix is superb and the guitar tones are strong and fluent. The stereo spectrum is used fully by the instrumentation. At times instruments are swept and panned to affect the mood.  Drums pound when needed, and cymbals shimmer vibrantly all around. The bass is solid and tight. I cannot find fault with the production.

Here’s where the Dionysian delight comes in again. This effort should be way more on the radar then it is. Great music by a group of hard working and intelligent musicians living in possibly the most economically slumped country in the first world.  I can’t imagine a better execution for these pieces of music. Being into the kinds of music we review and support here, and not listening to this album is tantamount to passive masochism. Indulge and be rewarded.

 

set and setting – “Equanimity”

Equanimity cover art

Artist set and setting
Album Equanimity
Genre Post-rock/Post Metal, Ambient
Buy/DL Bandcamp | Science of Silence
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Label Science of Silence
Release 6-04-13
Rating Very Good

At first listen, I was tempted to write St. Petersburg Florida’s set and setting’s “Equanimity” off as just another status quo third wave band.  I’m sure you’re familiar with this sort of thing by now…same old same old, not bad, but not much of a standout either. A sort of vanilla flavored post-rock malaise. Standard formulas repeated again and again. Background music. Hackneyed. However, I continued to delve and was rewarded with some truly magical moments and a very well done post-rock album.

 Surface level impressions are very easy to run with, especially when one listens to a metric shit ton of music, as I do. The sad truth is that plenty of good bands and albums get overlooked or nudged to the side because of this sort of ham-fisted style of critique. If not for the slightly higher standards that PostRockStar has set for itself, and those I feel obligated to satisfy within myself, this gem of a debut full length could easily have been a victim of that.

Thankfully it didn’t, because set and setting deserve better. Not only have they written a very compelling bunch of songs and raised the bar for non-“big name” third wave, but they have paid their dues as a live band as well, especially as of late.

 Classifying this album is a very pleasurable challenge.  It’s absolutely clear that they’ve been influenced by a myriad of musical styles. The pleasure comes in how this is so nicely reflected in the songs they’ve created. The straight ahead third wave is there, but it’s augmented some excellently done bits of buried drone throughout. “New Age” is a respite of warm neo-classical beauty. “Essence of Paradox” is a real tour de force of progressively devised post-rock/metal, with some very concise black metal–esque tremolo picked riffing, putting to shame similar experiments by many of set and setting’s peers.  The most standout track here is “Fear of Obtainment”. In my opinion this song embodies the entire aesthetic of the album, from highly nuanced third wave peaks and valleys to powerful post-metal pseudo-sludge grandeur, with the addition of field recordings and other “sound effects” It shows the true power of unspoken narrative that set and setting seem to do so understatedly well.  It is also worth noting that the follow up song, “Petrichor,” is one of the most minimal yet lushly beautiful intermissions I’ve heard in quite a while. All of the songs on this release tie together smoothly, with the shorter pieces almost feeling like gateways.

 Warmth and delicacy permeate the production values of “Equanimity.” In fact it’s almost sort of intimidating. Nothing is fragile, but everything is very delicate of spirit, like a special memory from a long time ago. Even when set and setting kick into the heavier sections they leave room for breath, which keeps the whole album sounding imbued with life. Instruments are clear for the most part, with the exception of some of the percussion high end being minimized in the mix at the heavier bits. It’s a pretty common problem when dealing with the frequencies inherent in downtuned guitar, multiply tracked, and it’s not over prevalent enough to put anyone off of the sound. The layering is excellent, and headphone listening will reward one with tiny nuanced moments of great happiness.

I’m impressed not only by the quality of “Equanimity,” but also by the enterprise of set and setting as a whole. They seem to have a plan, and they take advantage of the outlets available for spreading their music in intelligent ways. While this release isn’t a brain bashingly amazing world game changer, it has a great deal of skill and charm, is polished just enough to glisten, and sets a new standard for the possible future of third wave indie post-rock. Its nuance and warmth are it’s greatest features. “Equanimity” is most certainly well worth acquiring and enjoying.

 Full US/Canada tour dates here: http://yoursetandsetting.tumblr.com/shows