Welcome back to another monthly installment of Roundtable Review. This month we have a real special treat for all of our readers as we are breaking down and dissecting Those Amongst Us Are Wolves’ latest effort ‘This State Is Concious’, the follow-up to their 2013 album ‘Chaotic Love Stories and Irrational Behaviour’. TAUAW have been big supporters of our site for quite awhile now and likewise we are big supporters of them and their brand of unique post-rock, so it was really quite a no-brainer for us to choose ‘This State Is Conscious’ as a candidate for a Roundtable. Without further ado..
At first listen it is easy to draw a number of different opinions about ‘This State is Conscious’. This album is a vast and intricate web of unique and differing influences and styles all culled into one giant post-rock cauldron. My original perception of the album was that even though I felt the band really poured their heart into perfecting this record, in doing so they had put too many different flavors (layers) in the pot. Each song was so distinctly different from one another, full of curious nuances and sounds from different genres and well hell, different cultures of music as well. As I continued listening several times through, I realized that wasn’t the case. Sure, the synergy between the four tracks isn’t particularly great, but the blend of layers featured in each particular song synergize so well with one another that it never really occurred to me just how much sound the band jampacked into these 40 minutes until I started breaking songs down layer by layer.
With “How to Level Water” the band chose to open the record with inviting and very listener friendly third wave (I believe the kids these days just call it “pretty”) post-rock in the vein of Lights & Motion. As the track evolves it becomes easy to forget that the main focal point of this track is the spotlighted cello work that lasts until right before the shift from pretty to a dark toned. Moving forward the album immediately shifts styles and picks up with the monstrous prog-rock presence of “At The End Of The Scene, The Walls Are Black And She Is Gone, And He Is Alone.” Originally I thought this track oozed influence from fellow U.K. band Crippled Black Phoenix, but after conversing with band members I uncovered that wasn’t the case. The keys in this track are the real highlight, shining and headlining the song from nearly start to finish. The center of the track gives us a brief keyboard interlude in an Asian/Mandarin theme amidst a backdrop of ambience, a nice touch that leads into a reprisal of the intro while maintaining the same musical theme.
“Placebo Affects” is one of the most insanely creative musical mindfucks I’ve ever experienced. So the first time I heard this track, I immediately dismissed it as filler leading up to the grand finale. It’s very easy to do that considering how this album is structured. I can now tell you with 100% certainty that this is my favorite song on the album by a landslide. The psychedelic and space age-like intro really throws you for a loop at first, so it’s best to just let it set the mood and not over analyze it while the cascading sounds swirl around your head. The song shortly evolves into a grooving and downtempo yet proper post-rock jam. Then something outright ridiculous happens. A Horn section that would make any Ska band jealous spawns out of seemingly nowhere and captures the ears. Focus on it too much and you could easily miss the rattling guitar layers or even better, the bluesy bass line being laid down in the underbelly of the mix. Finally, as if all of this wasn’t enough, the guys go back to that big band prog-rock sound I spoke of earlier as the number comes to a close. This song simply takes these massive steps of radical change and does so without missing a beat. Who would have ever imagined a Ska horn section, a bluesy bass-line and post-rock guitar layers playing into one another so perfectly? The brilliance will surely be unappreciated by anyone without trained ears.
I suppose “He Is The King of The Tenuous Link” will be most perceived as a the band’s magnum opus effort, as it sits at 20 minutes, or half the album’s length. My biggest criticism I have with this track is that they could have easily done this song in 13 or 15 minutes and the 20 minute mark seems a bit artificially inflated. The copious amounts of ambiance is nice, but it really brings the mood down to a level where I felt like I was just waiting for the next big moment, and not in a good build up kind of way. However, from around 12:20 onward is when the real finale begins as the guys unleash an all out post-rock assault for next few minutes. Keys, bass and drumming come together to form a really tight build up leading to giant explosion of layers that all come crashing down in the mix. Guitar work here is easily the best on the album with an extremely tight, occasionally gritty sound that slowly envelops everything else around it.
It’s safe to say that one play through isn’t enough to appreciate what Those Amongst Us Are Wolves have accomplished here. ‘This State is Conscious’ was well worth the wait and well worth the price of admission. There is a little bit of something for everyone in this album. – James
Song craft and structure are part and parcel to what makes good third wave post rock for me. If it’s lacking, things are flat and uninteresting, even when played by the most skilled musicians. That happens a good deal when you listen to as much stuff as we do here at PRS. This all too common downfall is in no way evident here, as TAUAW have summoned a very compelling handful of songs on This State Is Conscious.
Surprisingly synthy in parts, I enjoyed the interplay between electronic and organic instrumentation. The atmospheres created by the electronics lend a thickness that enhances the handsome melodicism of the guitar and the very well rounded bass work.
I had a slight issue with the drumming at times. There are a couple of places where the timing is off just enough to jar one out of revere. That coupled with the generics of the kickdrum sound (although it is a solid sound) left me wondering what was programmed and what was recorded from a live kit. The actual drum lines are inventive and propulsive when they need to be. I’m just nitpicky about sonics.
While the last track, “He is the King of Tenuous Links” is the obvious opus on this album, and is truly a tour de force of segues and interlocking song craft, my favorite moments are in “At The End Of The Scene, The Walls Are Black And She Is Gone, And He Is Alone.” It is so well conceived and deceivingly complex. The combination of the atmospheric ambient sections and the hammered dulcimer just lit up my brain.
All in all I quite enjoyed every piece and look forward to more. – Erich
“This State Is Conscious” has everything I want in a post-rock album. Soothing and mellow ambience, blistering passages through musical fire, a strong variation of instrumentation, and a chance to hear every member shine through at one point or another. This is one of those albums I can’t stand to listen to very often because I can’t find anything wrong with it. I have no complaints. I have nothing to think about this album, other than how much I enjoy it so thoroughly. It goes right up there with Yndi Halda’s Self-Titled album, and Caspian’s ‘Waking Season’. Just… too perfect.
That being said, don’t let me deter you from enjoying this album. The places it takes you and the stories it tells are things you shouldn’t miss out on. I mean, how many of you have listened to a post-rock album with a hammered dulcimer in it? In fact, when was the last time you heard the words ‘Hammered Dulcimer’? This is something unique, and should be at least appreciated, if not cherished.
My one and only complaint is the last song being a whopping twenty minutes long. When a song gets that long, I have a hard time avoiding any mental separation after the music dies down and picks up with a different feeling or instrument. It just kinda makes sense to split it into two or even three songs when it reaches a certain length. There are some exceptions to this like some Godspeed You! Black Emperor pieces, where they’re trying for a certain theme or telling a story. I don’t really get that feeling with this album.
Regardless, I become enthralled with the music to the point that I forget about my complaints when the album is over. JUST LISTEN TO IT ALREADY, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD. – Foofer