Thinking Aloud: The Watermark High – Bright Black EP

By James

(Welcome to ‘Thinking Aloud’ , the latest weekly column on Postrockstar written by James (IamHop). Stay tuned for the future, I plan on using this column to not only review albums but to also share my thoughts on the music industry and the state of the post-rock genre.)

I was first introduced to The Watermark High via fellow Postrockstar writer Shooter, who nominated their “Slow Motion Clarity” album to be our 2012 Electronic Ambient album of the year. I was floored when I first heard the one-man Johannesburg outfit, the music was everything I was ever looking for in electronic music. The Watermark High presented complex and uptempo beats packed nice and neat inside these beautifully put together songs that never made your head spin. He produces his music thinking about both the ambient listener and the synth loving bass junky. Far too often I find electronic artists are unable to find the perfect balance when composing this sort of music. The Watermark High does it to perfection.

The ‘Bright Black EP’ is a 6-track 24 minute odyssey released earlier this year and available at a name your price right on bandcamp and free to stream via Spotify. The EP falls right in line with the rest of their discography, expanding on the more forward and experimental sound that we heard most recently from The Watermark High in the 2013 effort ‘Murmurs’. The EP kicks off with ‘Saudade’ which seduces the listener with an infectious beat that is easy on the ears despite being a very busy track. ‘Saudade’ is the water in the pool that doesn’t shock your nerves but still requires some acclimation before it truly becomes enjoyable. By the time “Muddle” rolls around you really start to get a feel for what ‘Bright Black’ is all about. Too uptempo and aggressive for the local coffee shop but clearly not the “sick beats” you’d expect to hear in a night club either.  I’m far more than ok with the happy medium here.

“Weak End” is the most catchy track on the EP and feels like a retro throwback to the songs from their 2012 ‘In Flux’ EP. You’ll have to forgive me for absolutely butchering electronic descriptions and terminology here, but the beeps and buzzes in this track are absolutely nuts, especially with a proper high-end audio set up. This song is night and day when I play it in my car and on my home set up. It can be enjoyed regardless of whatever you’re pumping it out of, but songs like this reassure me that dumping money into high-end headphones is well worth it. “(W)hole” features piano work around a beat that is more easily broken down by layer if you pay enough attention. The bass in the lower spectrum of the mix is eerily reminiscent of early Massive Attack and is something I’d love to see Watermark High utilize more of in the future. I don’t necessarily feel like this sort of music is in need of deep bassy textures, but it could certainly further complement their efforts.

“Welcome to the Resistance” is a little off-putting to me in that I feel it’s an extremely bold effort. While the song succeeds in feeling heavily culturally influenced (likely from the India/middle east region), I can’t help but feel it’s a little bit forced. It certainly stands out from the rest of The Watermark High’s body of work. The problem is that by standing out it also breaks up the good vibe and synergy found elsewhere throughout the album. Luckily the album finishes outlandishly strong with “The Outsider” which sort of encompasses the entire theme of ‘Bright Black’, representing a little bit of each of the other five songs within itself.

I’m very satisfied with what Paul van der Walt has given us with this EP. The Watermark High is still very under the radar when it’s clear the music they churn out continually proves to be worthy of being a focal contender within electronic circles. I’d really like to see The Watermark High get their day in the sun and get the recognition they deserve. As a post-rock lover more recently crossing over into electronic, I couldn’t be more thankful to have come across The Watermark High. They’ve really opened a lot of doors for me into other sub-genres.