Roundtable Review: Lowercase Noises – This Is For Our Sins

For the April edition of our Roundtable Review we’ve chosen ‘This Is For Our Sins’ by Lowercase Noises, the moniker of multi-talented ambient artist Andy Othling. To get a better of understanding of the meaning of this album and it’s importance, Andy penned the following to us when we received our copy of the album for review:

“..this album is written about the Lykov family, who lived isolated in the Siberian wilderness for over 40 years. I’d highly recommend you check out this article about it. It’s an incredible story, and I think it will help you get more out of the album.”

As you might imagine the anticipation going into this Roundtable is that ‘This Is For Our Sins’  would be a much different experience than we’re use to from Othling. Without further ado..

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 I think I subconsciously put artists into boxes when I first listen to or stumble upon them. I’d like not to, but I think that’s what happens. There are the artists who have “made it”, and there are those who are still “bedroom” musicians. The lines might blur occasionally, with acts like Lights & Motion exploding on and beyond the scene despite humble beginnings. Generally though, I listen with different ears to music by Mogwai as I do to that of Good Weather for an Airstrike, for example. That’s not to discredit any of the works released under the bedroom musician’s name; I just find that it somehow affects the way in which I judge what I hear.

My point with this is that I have always kept Lowercase Noises in the little box, where my expectations for variety and studio polish are a little more forgiving. For this reason, the opening track of This Is for Our Sins caught me off guard entirely — I was blown away by the sophistication of what I was hearing. The album doesn’t sound like it was made by a “bedroom” musician (I cringe at my use of this term as the advancement of available technology moves to render such notation irrelevant); This Is for Our Sins is an extremely competent and professional piece of work, befitting any band of experience.

There aren’t any specific songs that stand out to me, but all serve to satisfy the senses. There is more outright rock here than in Lowercase Noises’s past — which I really dig — and I’d perhaps credit that to the novel use of live drumming. This kind of thing shows the real growth of Lowercase Noises over previous efforts. I also like that the second track reminds me so much of Sigur Ros, despite such familiarity. The vocals throughout the album are a nice addition, acting as milestones to track the progress of the album’s narrative. What surprised me the most is that I have never been bored by This Is for Our Sins, which is saying a lot for an album that is 60+ minutes of mostly-ambient, instrumental music. I don’t like that banjo though; sometimes it serves a purpose to lift the mood, but mostly it’s jarring. But don’t let that be a major deterrent. – Shooter

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I have no qualms with concept albums. In fact I really enjoy cohesive albums that do not sound like just a few songs put on disc. Luckily This Is For Our Sins feels like most of the tracks are united in the name of telling a story. However that story is not always the one about the Lykov Family who lived in the wilderness of Russia for over 40 years. No, it often slips into Northern Georgia with Burt Reynolds or even an evening with Michael Flatley!

OK, I am being facetious, but the first time that Banjo makes itself known in The Hungry Years I instantly thought of the banjo duel in Deliverance. I can see no place for a Banjo in a concept album based in Russia. Andy Othling has said (in a Reddit AMA) that it was used because “I didn’t set out to make Russian music. I set out to make music that expresses my own feelings about the Lykov family and tell their story in my own way.” Fair enough, but it doesn’t sit right with me and detracts from the overall power of the album.

I’ll explain the Michael Flatley comment now. The piano melody towards the end of album opener Death in a Garden reminds me of the melody from the hymn, Lord of The Dance. It does work with the track, but it does mean that I think of rows of Irish people shaking their legs about whenever I hear that part. The melody also returns in track ten, Prepare to Die, but Sow the Rye. It is something that takes away from the overall experience of listening to the album, simply because I associate it with something else.

After all that, what do I think about this album? Well I actually really like it. I feel that the first two tracks are the strongest on the album, which is a shame as it detracts from the other great tracks that are on there, but all the tracks are well composed, expertly produced and carry those Lowercase Noises’ trademarks (Volume swells, slide guitar, that bloody Banjo, etc.) without just being a rehash of previous works.

This is forward thinking Lowercase Noises; an ambient album that does not have to work hard to keep my attention like other ambient albums might. I really enjoy the vocal work, especially the end of Prepare to Die, but Sow the Rye; overall they help strengthen the concept. The additional musicians bring a lot to the table too. The percussion brings life to the tracks, especially Death in a Garden, which actually feels pretty heavy in sections, and I am a sucker for Cello and Violin parts; they are such emotive instruments and they really carry the album’s overall atmosphere.

This is a great album, but there are some elements that detract from my complete enjoyment. I have to applaud Andy Othling for putting this out; I think it is the strongest release that I have heard from Lowercase Noises. – TenaciousListening

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I’ve been a fan of Lowercase Noises’ work since he released his “Migratory Patterns” EP. In our house, it’s called “The Whale Album” and rightfully so. My whole family adores it, even my infant son falls asleep to its soothing tones.

Then “Passage” came out, and it was a step in a new direction. It had new instrumentation, a whole new feeling that he hadn’t explored before. From the accordion-like sounds to the banjo, it all fit together so well.

When I saw that Lowercase Noises had announced a new full-length album, I was absolutely ecstatic. If he could make amazing EPs, imagine what a LP would sound like! He said it’d be a conceptual album, based on the Lykov family, who had all died in the harsh Siberian winters. (Beautiful stories, by the way)

Now, when you think of a Russian winter, what do you think of? A harsh, unforgiving environment, surely. Lowercase Noises definitely thought the same thing, with Minor tonalities abounding, this is definitely another step in a different direction for Andy Othling, the one man band behind Lowercase Noises.

However, there is one major problem with the album. A Banjo. Every Postrockstar staff member has mentioned the overabundance of the banjo in this album, so I know it’s not just me who thinks that it doesn’t belong in this album. The perfect example of this would be in “Requiem”, which, at first, feels like a song about how you feel after all of the funeral attendees have left. You’re all alone, left with the bittersweet feeling of leaving someone you love behind, knowing that they’re in a better place… Until the banjo comes in. Literally every time I was really getting into the music, the banjo would make an appearance. Out of all the things you could picture about a Russian winter, a banjo isn’t one of them. It was a fun bit in “Passage” but he never should’ve thought about using it for “This Is For Our Sins.”

Tinny plinking aside, there are a lot of good things to say about this album. Andy’s always had a very firm grip on composition and layering, and this album showcases it just as much as any other album of his. The times I was getting into the music were very well done, and the production quality is superb. In one song I could actually hear the sound of wood striking wood as the piano was being played. This only happens on the highest notes, and it’s the best example of how well this was recorded.

Overall, I can’t truthfully say that I enjoyed this album. That Banjo would take me right out of the music every time it made a sound. It’s a serious issue when it comes to this album. It’s supposed to be a conceptual album, and I’m pretty sure the Russians didn’t have a banjo to play during the cold winter nights. I’m just glad I only pre-ordered the digital album instead of the $22 vinyl. – Foofer

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It goes without saying that this is a very important album in the career of Andy Othling. To date we’ve seen Andy, better known as Lowercase Noises become something of a virtuoso within the ambient kingdom. In the world of Melatonin simulating slow jams Lowercase Noises is absolutely the king of the jungle, the Mufasa if you will (that’s a Lion King reference, folks).

This album is important for his career because it is a bold departure from anything else we’ve seen in the past from Andy. And he’s not doing it alone this time either, as this album features eight other musicians lending their talents towards this magnum opus effort. What they’ve accomplished on this album is nothing short of impressive, making ‘This Is For Our Sins’ the most technically pleasing album in the Lowercase Noises discography. This album is glorious from front to back in nearly every aspect. The rich, vibrant cello work, the wonderful guitar tones, the sensual piano with just that itty bit hint of bass, and the vocals, well, they’re nothing short of these  heavenly heartfelt passages that garnish the rest of this musical feast very naturally and are surely going to be the most under appreciated part of this album.

Do you want to know another masterpiece ambient album that’s vocals went highly under appreciated? The 2013 effort of Olafur Arnold’s ‘For Now I am Winter’. That album is spectacular on every front and is the album I’m choosing to draw a direct comparison to as I try to convey to you just how magical ‘This Is For Our Sins’ feels to this reviewer. I’ll admit that even after a dozen or so listens and plenty of research on the Lykov family, I haven’t quite been able to tune into the conceptual side of this album.  But even if I still haven’t keyed in on the bigger picture that is being painted through the music, my ears are trained enough to know when they’re hearing something truly special, and that’s exactly what I feel as I listen to ‘This Is For Our Sin’ on repeat.

Just try to listen to “What Would There Be Out Here to Hurt Me” without feeling the music’s beauty. Try to tell me that there isn’t something magically triumphant about “The Hungry Years”. I dare you to listen to “Famine and the Death of a Mother” and not applaud the beautiful instrument arrangement and top-notch production values. There isn’t a single moment on this album that my ears dislike. This is an A+ effort through and through. Is this the peak for Lowercase Noises? I honestly have to believe so, because it’s going to take a truly remarkable effort to top this piece of art Andy Othling has created. A must listen that will absolutely be on my year end list. Oh and one final thing; Never stop playing that Banjo, Andy — It’s a signature sound that I love (sorry guys, gotta oppose all the banjo hate) – James

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You’ve heard from us, now hear from what others are saying about ‘This Is For Our Sins’. These comments were taken from the chat during the album’s world premiere live stream on youtube hosted by Andy himself.

“Holy Sigur Rós that was magnificent!!!” – kaleidoscopicFILMS 

“This is the highlight of my day – thanks Andy!” – Michael D.

“I’ve listened to your stuff all day and found myself staring our the window just reflecting on life…your stuff has a way of inspiring deep thought because it comes from a place of deep thought.” – Ken K.

“Andy, this album is the most beautiful stuff you’ve ever written.” – Taylor V.

“To me, part of the beauty of this music is that it sounds very different from your previous stuff but feels very familiar to me. great work!” Jim B

“Wow. This is beautiful! I love the use of vocals in this album.” – Josh W.

“This is absolutely breathtaking and overwhelming. In a good way, of course. You sir are incredibly underappreciated! This is divine” – ptasiemleczkogurompt 

“This is just spectacular Andy. I’m almost at a loss for words ..” – Matt T.

“Great work Andy! You have a great ear for arrangement, and interesting melodies.” Zac C 

 

tags: ambient drone experimental instrumental post-rock Albuquerque

Surrounded By Infantry – ‘Signals & Noises’

Reviewed by James

Earlier this month I got an opportunity to see Ben Sharp aka Cloudkicker perform on a stage in my hometown of Seattle. I never expected to experience such magic, it was definitely an item to cross off my musical bucket list. To be completely honest, I can’t seem to ever get enough of Cloudkicker, which is why I’ve actually found myself really enjoying Surrounded by Infantry’s latest effort ‘Signals & Noises’, released March 5th. This well hidden gem with only about 200 likes on Facebook comes to us from Dresden, Germany and appears to be a one-man project. Sounds familiar.

You know, I really hate the term ‘rip-off’ when comparing one band to another, but I will say that the first time I heard ‘Signals & Noises’ I honestly believed I was listening to a cover band. At face value, the parallels are simply too hard to ignore. Delving deeper you realize Surrounded by Infantry does stand on it’s own two legs with material of it’s own. In short this album seems to be 50% Cloudkicker reimagines and 50% new material.

I’ll just get this out of the way in case you choose to compare the two so that we can move onto the material that is a better representation of the band’s ability to write songs that aren’t heavily inspired from other artists. And don’t get me wrong, all four of these songs are pretty good, but I’ve heard them before in the form of the following Cloudkicker tracks:

“We Met Twice” = “From The Balcony”
“Before” = “Seattle”
“Letter From N.Y” = “Garage Show”
“Disconnected” = “Let Yourself Be Huge”

The rest of the material on ‘Signals & Noises’ is actually pretty solid and merits giving the album some deserved attention on Postrockstar. “You” is a dreamy blend of spacious guitar work that really gels nicely together to create an upbeat ambient atmosphere. “Were” combines sensual piano with a heavy helping of synthesizers to really bring the mood down a notch. ‘Here’ bookends the album as the closing number. I really like the intro to this track where a sample from ‘I Heart Huckabees’ plays on loop starting as a garbled unintelligible mess and ends up being play continuously throughout the song music without the garbled effect. My biggest complaint is that it’s looped far too much, detracting from the fact that this is actually a pretty intense track with a lot of different musical elements going on. A keyboard opening, Crescendo guitar breakdowns and a synth/keyboard combo ending really set this track apart from all of the rest on the album, except for one.

That track is the title track and also uses samples from ‘I Heart Huckabees’, brilliantly interweaving them into an explosive little number that features fluid guitar work that would likely impressive even the Sharpest of Bens (sorry, I had to!!!!). Honestly I love this track from start to finish. The samples are powerful, the music sets the mood for each one, there is a level of desperation and despair in the storytelling done by the guitar that is riveting and powerful. A+

I think that the original material on ‘Signals & Noises’ makes the album a worthwhile experience to check out. As much as I dogged on the fact that there is a lot of carbon copy translation to be found here, it’s all done really well and I’m a big geek for anything Ben Sharp has ever done, so I really enjoy the reimagines found on this album just as much as the original material. Surrounded by Infantry clearly know what they’re doing from a musical standpoint, they just need to remove some inspiration from the mix.

 

 tags: ambient electronic instrumental postrock Dresden

Beef Terminal – Canadian Patent

https://i2.wp.com/i.imgur.com/7Oh3Kjg.png

Welcome to the first edition of Foofer Friday! This will be an ongoing series written by Postrockstar staff writer Foofer who will use this weekly special as a forum to review albums and/or sound off about any and all things post-rock. In this introductory edition, Foofer will be taking a look at ‘Canadian Patent’ by Beef Terminal.

It seems like it’s everyone’s goal to find a band that none of their friends have ever heard of. It’s okay to admit it, everyone loves sharing their musical tastes with their peers, it’s perfectly human. That’s how music thrives, through word of mouth. The best thing about it is you can share your unknown interests with your friends without being a pretentious hipster. If I can do it, you can do it. Just because I like fixed-gear bicycles, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, grass-fed Coffee, and fair trade flaxseed oil doesn’t mean I’m a hipster.

Totally…

Anyways, with only 1,009 likes on Facebook, I’m pretty sure that none of your friends have heard of Beef Terminal. I hadn’t even heard of this band until I decided to review “Canadian Patent”. Actually, my wife said I should review it. She liked the band name.

If only she’d heard the music. If it were coffee, it’d be in a can, instead of that grass-fed stuff I love so much. I don’t think the guitarists realizes you’re supposed to step on the reverb pedal periodically, rather than sitting on it. The guitars (or reverberizers, as they call them) don’t quite sync up with the electronic drums, and the bass is nearly non-existent. I’m not even talking about a bass guitar, it sounds like there isn’t any, it’s just missing everything that is low. I was blasting this music on my headphones with the subwoofers built-in, they almost vibrate off of my head they’re so responsive. Absolutely no vibrations. My ears actually evolved to the point of feeling emotions just so they could join in my disappointment. There are some deeper sounds, like the drums in “The Short Turn” but they’re not enough to make you feel anything.

Technical errors aside, it’s still an album you can easily enjoy. The Beef Terminal Facebook page names Boards of Canada as one of their main influences, and rightfully so. This is the kind of music you play when everyone else is asleep, and you need something chill to tickle your ears. This is the kind of music you play when you’re dead tired but can’t fall asleep. You stare out your window and watch the raindrops  trickle down the pane, pretending that they are racing one another. Beef Terminal is right there with you,  creating a rather appropriate soundtrack to the quiet parts of your life.

So whether you need a sleeping pill or a partner for these quiet times you have to yourself, Beef Terminal’s there for you, free to download on their bandcamp page.

Quite convenient, seeing how I wouldn’t pay to listen to it. They actually say on their Facebook page that it’s something you play at 3am. If I were up that early, I think Beef Terminal would knock me out right away.

   

tags: ambient electronic guitar late night post-rock Toronto

Those Among Us Are Wolves’ latest album “This State is Conscious” releasing Monday April 28th + album release show

Those Amongst Us Are Wolves are releasing their new album This State Is Conscious, on April 28th, 2014. The album will be available via the band’s bandcamp page found here. Postrockstar will have full review of ‘This State of Conscious’ in the coming weeks.

Recorded at Flipside Studios, Coventry, the band have teamed up for a second time with producer Matthew Cotterill, who collaborated on their debut 2013 ep ‘Chaotic Love Stories and Irrational Behaviour’. Responses to the latter were exceptional. ‘Prog rock bliss…Those Amongst Us Are Wolves are required listening” – Echoes and Dust

Since 2011, band members Mark Oliver, Tom Brill, Chris O’Connell and Joshua Neal Bate have established Those Amongst Us Are Wolves as an emerging force on the UK’s post rock scene, securing high profile supports for bands such as Nordic Giants, UpCDownC, Iran Iran and Lost In The Riots.

Consisting of just four tracks, but clocking in at a mesmerizing 40 minutes, the release of This State Is Conscious sees the band merging influences from across electronica, trip hop and space rock, to deliver a uniquely blended sound.

And for those of you reading this from the U.K be sure to check out the band’s facebook event and if possible head on over to their album release show this Saturday.