This Patch of Sky – This Patch of Sky

     Sometimes in life we lose sight of what we came from and who we’ve become. Natural and organic change is a gradual experience that can be rapid at times, slow to a crawl at others or come and go in spurts. As a music reviewer, nothing is more satisfying to me than to be able to chart the progression of a band from album to album. I need to see forward progress on each subsequent album to truly enjoy a band’s work and get an understanding for what they’re trying to accomplish and where I think they might be headed.

    I’m not sure where This Patch of Sky is headed and I feel that might be the biggest compliment I can offer to the Oregon 6-piece. Having followed the band since their 2011 debut ‘The Immortal, The Invisible’, I can honestly say that I feel like a proud parent that has watched their kin grow up before their eyes to begin heading down a path to fully realize their potential. With their fourth release in as many years, TPOS have transformed from an eccentrically aggressive style of post-rock that attempted to lure in listeners with catchy hooks and flashy guitar work to what is now one of the most complete and full sounding post-rock bands in the world.

    Generally I’d do a track-by-track breakdown of the album right here, but instead I want to do something a little different. I want to compare three songs from this album to three songs from each of their previous albums just to illustrate how far the band has come. Let’s start off with the intro track, “Time Destroys Everything, But Our Foundation Remains the Same” that begins with a serene grace period, slowly building forward, accumulating layers and playing on emotions before peaking around the five-minute mark with a burst of spiraling crescendos amidst a wall of rapidly progressing sound before tapering off into a beautiful cello ending. Now let’s compare this to “A Fire Through The Dark”, the opening number of 2011’s ‘The Immortal, The invisible’ . This song is ultimately the song that put TPOS on the map for me with it’s quick pacing and layered guitars chalked full of aggression and power. It’s a damn fine track with a killer ending, but in comparing the two tracks, the repetition found in the latter of the two immediately sticks out. Repetition is simply no longer present in TPOS sound, catchy hooks are a thing of the past, showing us just how much the band has learned about songwriting and structure in just four short years.

    For my next comparison I chose my favorite track on the latest album, “The Winter Day Declining” and “Cities Beneath”, my favorite track on their 2012 effort ‘Newly Risen, How Bright You Shine”. Again with “The Winter Day Declining” we have another soft, minimalist style build up with synths occupying the majority of the soundstaging amidst building cello, light offerings of keyboard and an occasional cymbal tap here and there. As the track picks up a head of steam and fully comes to fruition we experience an overload of sound as guitar clashes with cello for center staging in an overpowering yet blissful calm. Meanwhile with “Cities Beneath” our ears are met by a full on attack of raw guitar driven post-rock, occasionally making way to let drumming shine through during brief moments of the song’s low key moments. What ultimately sets this track apart for me from the rest of the album is the strong finish that includes some chanting vocals and screams that compliment the music perfectly. The most distinct difference between these two tracks is that we notice with “The Winter Day Declining” that there isn’t one one instrument that dominates the sound spectrum, whereas with “Cities Beneath” lives and dies on a full on assault of guitar layers.

    Lastly I wanted to compare two tracks that share a lot of similarities in structure, purpose and really are just two tracks that stand out above the others around them, so I chose to compare “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” with “Heroes and Ghosts”, the title track from last year’s release. With “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” we’re induced with a slow build up that covers over half of the song’s seven minute duration before being treated to a strong finish of spiraling crescendos, cymbal crashing and a dominate guitar that feels like a throwback to the band’s earlier years, albeit not nearly as raw and far more controlled. With “Heroes and Ghosts” we’re also given about a three and a half-minute build up before things start picking up, but when listening to the songs sequentially back to back you’ll immediately recognize that even though the two tracks share similar parallels, the pacing on “Heroes and Ghosts” is much quicker than it should be and the heavy breakdown the track works towards, while immediate and overbearing,  simply doesn’t have the lasting impact nor does it feel as smooth as the breakdown found in the newer of the two songs. For what it’s worth however, “Heroes and Ghosts” does outclass “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” in the outro department.

    I make these comparisons and breakdowns because to truly understand what This Patch of Sky has become, you have to understand where they’ve been. Individually it is very difficult to pick apart their albums because the band simply knows how to deliver a damn fine record in relatively short time spans. However when you start comparing the new to the old, you quickly realize how the band has improved upon flaws that wouldn’t otherwise be audible without making these comparisons. Obviously the difference from the first album to their latest album is night and day, but even the differences between the last two albums are distinct and noticeable as well.

    I think what sells me the most on this self-titled album is that unlike last year’s ‘Heroes and Ghosts’, this album is complimented with a lead-in album that makes the further progression in the band’s ever changing sound not nearly as dramatic. If you break down TPOS’ catalog, you realize there is a turning point where the band’s sound blossomed so significantly that it likely caught listeners off guard the first time around. Their catalog works best in pairs, as their first two albums synergize well with complimentary styles, as do their last two albums. With their first two release, TPOS looked to blow the listener away and melt ears with raw guitar work, overbearing heaviness and emotional yet somewhat easily digestible songs. Over their last two albums we’ve watched the band evolve with a more methodical, purpose driven sound complete with complex overtones and emotion that sustain over several tracks rather than just drift from song to song. These two vastly different styles had a clashing point, that being the jump from 2012’s ‘Newly Risen, How Bright You Shine’ and last year’s ‘Heroes & Ghosts’.

    With ‘This Patch of Sky’, that clashing point has is non-existent as anyone familiar with the band’s scope of work should have known that their sound was heading in this direction. Maybe not. Maybe I’m just a little too privileged. I remember the first time guitarist Kit Day messaged me through Facebook absolutely stoked about practicing with their new cello player Alex Abrams. Even though I knew what the band was cooking up with their self titled, I think even I’m a little taken back by how damn well they put together all the pieces. There is no doubt in my mind that Alex’s contributions to the band’s sound will be what will make or break this album for a lot of people, it’s simply far too predominate not to be. You’d have to be crazy to not see how dynamic the band has become simply by adding one instrument.

    There isn’t much else for this reviewer to say. This album is awesome from start to finish. A breath of fresh air? Your damn right. This Patch of Sky continue to set ridiculously high standard for themselves and never stop striving to push their limits as musicians. “The Winter Day Declining” remains the high point of the album for me with it’s hypnotic textures of serene calmness under overtones of gut wrenching agony.

If there was ever an album that warranted a six month grace period before reviewing, this would likely be it. In all honesty after a dozen listens I’m not even sure if I’ve managed to take in everything this album has to offer. I’ve struggled immensely to put my feelings about this album into words. Worth the wait? Definitely. The band’s best work? Easily. The high point of their career? I doubt it.  A 2014 must listen? Without question.

 

tags: ambient instrumental post-rock rock cinematic cinematic rock instrumental rock postrock Eugene

Comrades – Safekeeper

Occasionally you find that one album that pierces through your listening comfort zone, making you question what you’ve been missing outside of the genres your ears tend to call home. For me that album is Comrades latest offering ‘Safekeeper’, released May 6th through Blood and Ink Records. ‘Safekeeper’ is a bright burst of clashing musical influence and styles that only an elite few have been able to bring together in such a beautifully focused effort as Comrades have.

I suppose to best summarize Comrades sound it would be best to break it down as if it were a recipe. Comrades start off with a nice thick post-rock base that will function to hold all the ingredients together. They’ve seasoned that base enough to give it a far more aggressive mainstream appeal, retaining post-rock presence but stripping it of all it’s drone and monotonous qualities. From there they add in some of the better elements of post-hardcore, you know, the catchy guitar hooks and not too overly harsh male vocals. With a really good recipe brewing so far, the band adds their final two signature ingredients; sensual female vocals that soothe the ears amidst all of the intensity and finally just a dash of prog-metal guitar noodling that just makes so much damn sense in the grand scheme of things that is ‘Safekeepers’.

“Endless” welcomes us with the vocal stylings of band member Laura amidst what is perceived to be mood-setting piano. That mood quickly goes to the way side as the track swiftly evolves with a post-hardcore presence. This wicked opening track encompasses everything Comrades is about: Vocal harmonizing, guitar noodling, harsh vocals and a strong build up followed by heavy wall of sound.’Roving’ offers stronger ties to the post-rock world as a heavy instrumental number, falling somewhere between the lines of Russian Circles and This Patch of Sky. “The Compass” returns to softer female vocals and darker-toned guitar driven melodies. This track is highlighted with a gang vocal finale that works well as the next track, “Pax” is a short departure that resets the ears palate.

“Calling Down Fire (To Keep Warm)” is a short yet rambunctious number that packs a strong punch, intertwining prog-metal noodling with what I perceive to be palm mutes, but I could be wrong. This is one of the more technically impressive efforts on the album and shouldn’t be overlooked for it’s short length. “Orphan Hymn” features another impressive meshing of softer female vocals with harsher post-hardcore vocals throughout the course of a progressively building track. Another short interlude with “Haven” helps set the table for “Severance”, a song spearheaded by dominant guitar work that creates a strong post-rock vibe. The album comes to a close with “The End of This Story and the Beginning of All the Others” which is the only track on the album to utilize samples. I really love the overtones and messages within the samples. It seems as though this is exactly what the album has been building to through the lyrics of previous songs as well as other track names (see: “Roving, The Compass, Haven). A strong finish to one of the best albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing this year.

My biggest issue with ‘Safekeeper is that it’s just too damn short! At nine tracks totaling just over 33 minutes, I sure do wish this album was about 12-20 minutes longer. Of course with this album being pretty close to masterpiece status, I would never question the amount of time or dedication the band put into ‘Safekeepers’. This album is especially impressive when you do some digging and listen to the band’s previous material. The first sore thumb that sticks out of the production values of their material on ReverbNation is nowhere near the quality found on ‘Safekeepers’, it’s literally night and day. The second thing you’ll likely realize is that the band completely revamped their sound for this album. Like I said earlier, this album is incredibly well focused. With such an enormous personality and presence, it goes without saying that this is a rock-solid foundation for the three piece to launch from. Make no mistake about it, this is an album that has cemented it’s place on my year end lists for sure.

   

tags: comrades punk independent music instrumental rock post-rock Richmond

Terraformer – Creatures

Terraformer wants you to believe their latest release ‘Creatures’ is one of the hardest hitting, pulse raising, clad in darkness albums you’ll hear all year. But when you pull back the post-metal veil you’ll quickly discover this album has just as many post-rock intricacies as it has post-metal appeal. This three piece belgian brute has been on my radar since their 2012 effort ‘The Sea Shaper’ which solidified the band as an upcoming powerhouse that suits my post-metal fancy. I have to be in pretty rare form to truly enjoy brutal vocals, so Terraformer’s heavy instrumental doom and gloom  passages  really connected with heavier preference.

Don’t let the opening moments of “Beast” fool you. Like a lap dog showing it’s teeth the first time it meets you, this track is quick to mellow down from it’s brutal opening and quickly simmers to a post-rock meets prog-metal boil. High pitched guitars occupy the upper channels while a ground army of distortion marches in the lower levels. Add a dash of spiraling crescendo and a gratuitous helping of cymbal riding, add a menacing and low key middle and you have all the ingredients for a spicy opener.  “Wolves Beyond The Border” is the track where the realization kicks in that this is going to be a special album. The slow burn in this song is the real treat, as the build is almost always better than the peak. The aura and atmosphere that’s been created in the first two tracks is both eerie and intense.

“Wyverne” has a slightly friendlier appeal to it with it’s catchy beat and melodically warm distorted guitar tones. The technical drumming truly shines here prior to the uprising of the guitar for one grand finale of layered grandeur.  “Louve” serves as a short transition number to help set the table for “Kelpie” which is probably the go-to track I would use if I was introducing someone to Terraformer for the first time. This song is a beat driven track chalked full of technical prowess, overpowering distortion, layered clean guitar work and a badass build up leading into a payoff of high pitched crescendo that streaks across the upper channels like shooting stars. All of this is capped by a signature heavy ending we’ve grown to love out of Terraformer.

“Géants” follows and while I enjoy the song I definitely feel as though it is clearly upstaged by “Kelpie” in almost every possible way. It’s almost as if one of the two short interlude tracks should have been slotted between the two tracks. “Aegir” comes in and lightens the mood for “Alecta”, the album’s closer.  “Alecta” brings  a much different approach to songwriting and really sets the mood with a much slower, more reserved pacing. There are vocals here, but they are minimal and add a new dynamic and depth to the band’s sound. An elongated finale that lasts about three minutes slowly draws this eight track, 43 minute album to a close.

‘Creatures’ is the realization of a full potential for Terraformer. With a tremendously focused effort, this album has all the tell tale signs of an album that will withstand the test of time. I can’t finish this review without mentioning I’m in love with the production of the album either. As a snobby audiophile I applaud the mixing and mastering throughout the album. Guitar layers are deep and bassy, the heavy cymbal riding is placed in the mix in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the bigger picture. All of this is done while the band maintains an overall tight sound, keeping the atmosphere of ‘Creatures’ in tact.

The kid gloves are off and amateur hour is over. This album signifies the rise of the next major player in the post-rock scene. Albums of this caliber that seemingly come out of nowhere are the reason why I love this music and why I tirelessly plunge hour after hour into Postrockstar. Let’s be completely honest, with the exception of music in the nordic countries, the music industry as a whole isn’t in great shape. Those on top are more in it for the fame than the art. It genuinely bothers me that ‘Creatures’ will potentially only be heard by a few thousand people while big label backed Top 40 entertainers (because let’s face it, few at that level are actually “artists”) can put their name on any badly overproduced track and it will be heard and lauded by millions. Fuck that. People need more albums like ‘Creatures’ in their life. This album is A+ and is easily a must listen to album.

 

tags: experimental liège epic instrumental instrumental rock math rock post-metal post-rock progressive progressive metal Belgium

Garden Party – EP II

Reviewed by Erich

Sometimes it’s possible to fall in love again. I thought it wouldn’t happen after I first heard Slowdive’s ‘Just for a Day’. Then I felt for sure after M83’s ‘Saturdays = Youth’ that it was over, that I would never find that beautiful, perfect mix of ambient and up-tempo. I thought I’d be lost in a sea of repetitious 3rd wave and wannabe soundtracks. I’m so glad I was wrong. I am in love with Garden Party, and I want the whole world to know it.

From the lush and drifting sound clouds of the opening track right through the shoegaze/dreampop, past the jangle and the wizardly intermix, through the whispers and dangling ringing notes, and all the way out the other side of the galaxy enclosed in’EP II’, my heart and mind sang. I drifted gleefully in a playground so well crafted that when the record ended I felt like I was thrown into a cold world unprotected by reverb and shimmer. So I played it again.

This release is so solid that it not only does justice to its influences, it trumps them. We all know that shoegaze and most of it’s non-metallic side branches have been in decline, fed by pretenders and amateurs, making it so diluted that all the power and supple majesty that made it great were in so short a supply that many of us gasped for it, drowning in the unintended silence.

We need not gasp again. Garden Party has replenished the finicky rare air we love, and enriched it.

Musically, this release is just amazing. My only wish is that it was produced slightly more unambiguously. At times there’s a sonic break up, almost like analogue tape saturation, that, if intentional, is very nice, but if manifest because clipping or track overload, is hiding more glimmering musical gold. Aside from that, the mix is well done. It may seem that that would be easy because many parts of this EP are sparse when it comes to harsh dynamics, but the nuances captured at low levels is part of what kept me coming back, to float again thru the ether of EP II.

The warmth, given the media, is astonishing.

This is a must listen if ever I’ve heard one. If I had a physical release of this EP I would cuddle with it.

 

tags: ambient bellingham drone indie math rock math-rock post rock post-rock seattle shoegaze soundscape Seattle

Winds With Hands – (untitled) **Must Listen**

Reviewed by: Shanexedge

By this point, anyone that is even remotely well-versed in post-rock/post-metal is aware that Russia is steadily turning out a staggering amount of great bands (see the recent review of the newest Show Me A Dinosaur album on here as proof). Even with the internet being the Great Spreader of Things, there’s undoubtedly a ton of bands from Russia that we’ll likely never know about (along with a million bands from everywhere else in the world). Thankfully, Winds With Hands is not one of those bands that will remain unknown. I can’t recall how I first stumbled upon this trio from Stavropol, but once I saw that their influences included not only names you’d expect like Isis and Pelican, but also Fall of Efrafa and Amanda Woodward, I knew I had to check out their debut release, (Untitled).

The Isis/Pelican influence is definitely felt throughout, though that’s certainly not a bad thing. Not once during the entire duration of the album did anything feel like a rip-off, it just gives you an idea of what to expect, musically. The opening track, “Into the North Sea” sets the atmospheric tone for the album – the whole thing feels very cold and isolated. Though the city of Stavropol sits nearly 2,000 miles from the shores of the North Sea, it’s a mountainous area, and given that the album was recorded in winter… it’s pretty easy to get that feeling. So dense is that feeling, in fact, that the next track being titled “Eternal Winter” doesn’t feel like a stretch of the imagination at all. There’s a good bit of the Fall of Efrafa influence here, which of course I love. Overall, a very moody, dark track, and probably my favorite on the album.

Given the tone of the album, even the “prettier” moments, like the first few minutes of “Closing Date”, feel a bit uneasy. Winds With Hands have come out swinging and made their presence known as a band that can masterfully craft a story without uttering a single word. I know that’s what a lot of post-* bands strive for, but frankly, a great many of them fall short. That’s not the case here. There’s almost a cinematic feel to the whole album, though certainly not in the way that bands like Yndi Halda and U137 are doing things. The build-ups and climaxes are there, sure, but they’re much less joyous. Certainly not any less beautiful, but not in that warm fuzzy feeling sort of way. By the time the closing track, “Decline of the Empire” hits, you feel it. It’s bleak, it’s ruined, and it’s unforgiving.

One thing to note about the music on this album – there’s nothing technically astounding here. Each instrument is played with relative simplicity, though it’s a very deliberate simplicity. I really get the feeling that while any one of the three musicians that make up this band could churn out music that is more technical, this deliberate simplicity is, to me, a sign of very talented songwriters. They understand that you don’t’ need intricate guitar solos and complicated drum fills to make a moment sink in, and that sometimes the exact opposite is what best does the trick. This is a really, really fantastic album that I think fans of the Isis school of post-metal will greatly enjoy. Hell, I think most people that enjoy post-rock will enjoy it.

Finally, seeing as how most everything that I can find about the band is in Russian, and Google Translate is about as useful as cooler in Antarctica, I can’t tell if Winds With Hands is a side project of members of One Day Of December (as the two bands share all but one member), or a band formed from the ashes. All signs point towards the latter, though if you enjoy this release, I’d say that the lone release by their other (former?) band is absolutely worth checking out as well.

    

tags: experimental atmosphere atmospheric instrumental post-metalpost-rock Stavropol

Cloudkicker – Subsume

Subsume cover art

Artist Cloudkicker
Album Subsume
Genre Post-Metal | Post-Rock
Buy/DL Bandcamp
Web Cloudkicker Blog
Label
Release 14 September 2013
Rating: Must Listen

Its funny that we split so many things into genres and sub-genres, especially when reviewing something, just to give a better hint as to whether someone might be interested in it.

“Oh, third wave slow core is the best!”

“No way, blackened post-doom all the way!”

Obviously I’m exaggerating here, but my point is that there are some things that are only a few people’s cup of tea, whereas other things tend to lend themselves to a wider audience. We seem to have a specific niche that we champion, if only in our hearts. I don’t find fault it that, but I think sometimes it’s to the detriment of our potential experience.

Ironically, this is sort of how I felt about Cloudkicker for a while. I felt that I was too cool for it.  I was into different stuff, more “core” as it were.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Ben Sharp’s musical output. It’s certainly not that it was a different sort of music than I prefer, because I love post metal when it’s done well.  It was just something about the whole idea about Cloudkicker I had fabricated in my mind. They were popular and sort of generic, I thought.

Well, I was definitely half right. Since 2007 Sharp has been very consistently building up a very large fan base, while consistently expanding his musical output. In fact, I was surprised when I found out how much of an influence Cloudkicker really had on not only post-whatever music, but on the process of Internet word of mouth “marketing.”

Marketing is in quotes for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t believe Ben ever monetized Cloudkicker music up until Subsume, and, secondly, because I don’t think he goes out of his way to push his music at all.

This is really refreshing to me. The whole idea of “it’s there if you want it, and if you like it tell a friend” distribution is awesome. Add the fact that Cloudkicker is so prolific and consistent, and you’ve got quite the underground powerhouse.

Which is exactly why my more narrow minded side avoided prolonged exposure to this amazing band.

Subsume is a masterpiece.  I haven’t heard an album this strong in quite a while. From nuance to anthemic riff, it declares itself majestic and moving, something not to overlook.

Sharp has outdone himself. After looking into Cloudkicker’s back catalogue, it seems he makes a habit of this. This time, however, He’s gone to the pinnacle of this post-metal mountain and basically established post-“djent” as not only a viable subgenre, but something so refined yet spirited that I don’t think Subsume’s legacy will ever be in question.

From the slow sonic pulse of the buildup that introduces “The warmth of the daytime seemed like a dream now” to the jaunty haunty martially sludge flow of “You could laugh forever but never end up happy” we are taken on a journey that feels universal and personal at the same time. Nowhere does this album feel weak or strained. It is both devastating and empowering.

While not the heaviest post-metal around, Subsume has many thunderous moments, not just in the usual ebb and flow dynamics of the album, but in the excellent production. Cloudkicker has never sounded this open and wide. Drums thunder and slap, Guitars manifest as clouds that rain beauty and shoot thick riff lightening, all while the thunder of the low-end rolls unmolested. I’ve listened to this album on many pieces of equipment, in many environments, and I can’t point out a single missed opportunity in the sound range and mix.

I mentioned that, to my knowledge, Subsume is the first time Cloudkicker has charged for an album. It is most certainly worth the price. So much so, in fact, that I chose to purchase the vinyl. This is something I haven’t done with a reviewed band since Caspian released Waking Season.

This is top-notch music that will most certainly be on my year’s best list, and honestly, if I ever have the fortune of meeting Ben Sharp, I will be thanking him for creating this excellent album.

Lights & Motion – Save Your Heart

Artist Lights & Motion
Album Save Your Heart
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Deep Elm Digital | Itunes
Web Facebook | Deep Elm
Label Deep Elm Records
Release 12 November 2013
Rating: Must Listen (100%)

We are all a part of this crazy thing we call life for a reason. Some people spend a lifetime of soul searching and discovery just to figure out who they truly are. Some connect with their inner desires early in life but lose sight of everything in the struggle between want and need, forced to do jobs they weren’t meant to do to make ends meet. Truth is there are only a lucky few of us here on earth that not only discover ourselves early in life but are also able to live our lives doing what we feel we were put here to do. Christoffer Franzén was born to make music. He knows this because it’s his music that made him discover just exactly who he is.

This year has been a whirlwind for Franzén, the driving force behind a little solo project you might have heard of called Lights & Motion. Inspired and ready to face the world, the project debuted with its first full length album “Reanimation” in January to much critical acclaim, instantly setting the bar for what has become a stellar year for the post-rock scene. In the months following the release of ‘Reanimation’, it felt like the only album people were talking about on a consistent basis. To be perfectly fair I’m not even sure if its popularity has even crested yet to this day. It puts a smile on my face when an album is able to garner attention outside of its respective genre and that’s exactly what ‘Reanimation’ did as word spread of something beautiful sweeping through the post-rock genre.

Franzén could have chose to ride out and capitalize on his newfound success as he sit atop the post-rock world. But he didn’t, nor was he satisfied with his achievements. He spent his time dreaming, writing and in the studio, where he felt as though he belonged.

” Being able to dream is a human right, and every day I do my best not to lose sight of that dream that is still so very clear to me.”

His words speak volumes.

So here we are some ten months later and I sit in a dark room, headphones affixed as I relaxingly listen to my twentieth or so play through of his latest masterpiece “Save Your Heart” , due out everywhere November 12th. The 11-track, 40-minute follow up to “Reanimation” was graciously offered to us for review by Deep Elm Records, who is keeping this album under much tighter lockdown than any of their other 199 previous releases. It is no coincidence that this album just happens to be Deep Elms 200th release in their impressive catalog.

Reviewing music of this caliber and beauty is a responsibility and an undertaking that I hold dear to my heart. So here it goes. “Reanimation” is a guitar focused journey through spiritual rebirth and triumph. “Save Your Heart” is a keyboard focal exploration to the depths of the soul, teaching us to remain true to the things we love, cherish and desire to be. Separately each of the 11 tracks capture the spectrum of the human element: cheerfulness, sadness, happiness, heartbreak, desire, tragedy, passion, the list goes on. In doing so, they spread roots as each song (or rather, anthem, which is really a more proper word to describe each track given how damn inspiring this album is) brilliantly flows into the next as the album’s true beauty begins to blossom as it reaches its culmination.

The listener is warmly greeted back to familiar territory with the intro track, “Heartbeats” as sensual piano is overtaken by increasingly present synthesizes that create a safe haven for the mind to wander. As marching percussion and free flowing guitar work enter the mix the song comes to fruition in a serenade of glorious crescendo filled emotion. “Heartbeats” serves to bridge the gap between ‘Reanimation’ and ‘Save your Heart.’, but that’s as far as the comparisons go as this is a much different album than its predecessor, as first indicated by “Ultraviolet”, a short two and a half minute composure that gives us our first taste of the stellar keyboard abilities of Franzén. You can really tell he felt most comfortable showcasing his emotions behind the keys this time around, whereas in “Reanimation” each guitar piece oozed with emotional prowess and distinctness and took center spotlight. I find it refreshing to see a multi-talented artist shift focus from one instrument to another at ease without changing the key foundation of their music.

“Sparks” slows the album down with a heartfelt soft multi-layered guitar introduction as synths loom in the backing layers while drums occupy the forefront of the soundstage. Again this is just more of the classic Lights & Motion that was so prevalent on the first album, so as you can expect the song builds in both sound and energy as it should. Faint vocal harmonizing enters without notice before slowly moving forward to the mix as the track concludes in burst of momentous joy. “Shimmer” follows and is a testament of Lights& Motion’s ability to do more with less as the number is predominantly synthesizers and a persistent drum beat that is met by a very casual soft-spoken guitar that just sort of hangs around doing its thing, never quite getting in the way, but ever so present.

All of these elements I’ve talked about so far finally come together in one culminating fusion within the track “Snow,” which is where the album truly starts to take flight. It is the only track on the album that feels as though it would be at home on either album and the inspirations from the work on ‘Reanimation’ are more present on this track than any other. The underlying layers of the track are eerily reminiscent of the murmurings found at the beginnings and ends of the earlier work of Sigur Ros and when combined with the multi-layered keyboard work and the heaviest finale on the album, “Snow ” is a song that has only gotten better after each listen. It is the type of song you can hear a thousand times and still hear new sounds each time. It is a track that repeatedly has given me goosebumps on numerous occasions. A+ .

The Piano driven “Bright Eyes” is my go to track on ‘Save Your Heart’ and has emerged as my early favorite. Franzén’s innocently shy vocals in which he croons “Come Bright Eyes…” amidst a twinkly xylaphone (or perhaps Kinderklavier? I can never tell) backdrop that is quickly followed by a swift build up is unequivocally the highlight of the album. Franzén has an angelic voice that is criminally underutilized on both albums. If you follow this blog you know that I’m ultra critical on vocals in post-rock. Lights & Motion is on the very very exclusive list of bands I would like to see more vocals from in the future.

If it wasn’t apparent yet that this album is very much keyboard centric, “Crystalline” is the track that will all but seal the deal. The keys in this track are alluring, enchanting and chalked ripe with the emotion of heartbreak and solace. What makes this track unique however is the 180 degree finish it manages to make without skipping a beat, evolving into a heavy breakdown of raw guitar and semi-aggressive drumming. “Orbit” is next to follow and serves a short transition track leading into “We Are Ghosts”, yet another number on the album that opens with a strong piano presence before blossoming into a beautiful flurried arrangement of instruments. Have I mentioned that I love the keys on this album? I feel like that is all I’ve talked about the last few paragraphs. I apologize if I’m gushing a little but they really are the most stellar element of this album.

“Atlas” gives us a synth dominate track of epic proportions that we’ve come to know and love out of Lights & Motion. I think this song serves its purpose as an ideal set up for the album’s closing track, which happens to also be the title track. Clocking in at just over two minutes it is the energetic culmination of what has been a storybook year in the life of young Franzén. An artist, a dreamer and a kindred spirit who has been fully exposed to the world through outpouring his soul and essence into his music. No track on either album feels like filler, everything serves purpose and has been given equal attention down to the slightest details.

I will say this about ‘Save Your Heart,’ –  This album feels much more personal than ‘Reanimation’. ‘Save Your Heart’ is an extremely polished album that is yet another feather in the cap of Deep Elm Records, but ‘Reanimation’ was coated with so much studio gloss that it feels almost too perfect. This time around Lights & Motion’s second effort is more so about the creativity and maturity of an eager and talented musician and that is where ‘Save Your Heart’ really shines and earns its Mettle. Lastly, it would be impossible for ‘Save Your Heart’ to capture the initial magic of its debut predecessor. There was no expectations for ‘Reanimation’ when it was released so naturally upon first impact there was that intangible experience you feel when you know you are apart of something magical and memorable.

‘Save Your Heart’ is burdened by the responsibility of delivering upon the success of “Reanimation” and while it certainly delivers on every level and you couldn’t ask for a better follow up, listeners will come in with a their own expectations this time around. When you combine that with setting the bar as high as he did the first time around, Christoffer put himself in a position where no matter what he did his next album would be tasked with trying to surpass that first initial Lights & Motion “experience” that I honestly don’t believe can be trumped. With that being said, ‘Save Your Heart’ and ‘Reanimation’ are 1a and 1b to me. Not even by the tiniest of margins would I prefer one over the other, they are both on the same level, that being two of the greatest post-rock albums ever released. That in mind, ‘Reanimation’ will remain near and dear to my heart and most memorable of the two simply because it was the first, not because it was the best.

Never have I felt so in tune with the message that is being expressed to me through music. It is truly a work of art when a musician is able to connect with the listener in a way that transcends the music itself. Franzén’s message of never losing sight of the things that you love has hit extremely close to home and with good reason. Each song is a brilliant journey that reinforces the idea that we were put here to do the things we love and be the people we want to be, not to be the people others perceive and tell us we should be. “Save Your Heart” delivers the message that we should aspire to live each day as though it is our last through touching , inspiring, melodramatic and engaging anthems that could relate to any moment in life.

Quite simply put, ‘Save Your Heart’ is likely my co-album of the year, it is an absolute must listen and an instant classic that caps off the single most impressive year for an artist I can remember. This album has brought joy to my heart and I am obsessing over it the same way I did with ‘Reanimation’. I end this review simply by saying that I am infinitely thankful Deep Elm trusts me with their most prized album to date, because enjoying this album three weeks in advance was the best early Christmas present a post-rock enthusiast could ever ask.

Arbor Lights – Hatherton Lake

Hatherton Lake cover art

Artist Arbor Lights
Album Hatherton Lake
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Bandcamp
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Label
Release 01 July 2013
Rating: Excellent

As a musician should you always be striving to do something nobody else has done before? In the musical world, where the phrase “It’s all been done before” gets bandied around by those who fail to find inspiration in their instruments,I find myself frustrated that bands are unable to see the bigger picture; that bigger picture being context. If you can compose a piece of music that creates a response in you and your target audience then you have succeeded. It does not matter that the chord progression has been used before, that the melody is too simple, the vocals too cliché. It does not matter. What does matter is that you have evoked a response in the listener; you have connected with them on a vulnerable, personal level and you don’t even have to have met them. So what is my point? My point is that it is OK not to break boundaries. It is OK to compose something that is not completely new and innovative. It is OK, because so long as you can make your listener feel something you are having an impact on that small period of that person’s life. That is something special. That is something unique.

Hatherton Lake‘ is Arbor Lights’ debut album and their third release. They have not broken any boundaries here but the progression in their sound is one of maturity and a firm understanding of who they are and what they do. Their debut self-titled EP (2012) was a collection of tracks that held a proud middle finger to anybody who says that a Post-Rock track needs to be a long and sprawling experience. All but one track was between two and four minutes long and made of catchy, rocky hooks that came and went without the notion of outstaying their welcome. In some ways the track structure on ‘Hatherton Lake‘ has regressed back to their ‘On The Sea‘ (2011) release. This was a single that spanned over six minutes and built on a simple melody with loud bits and quiet bits; a young band testing the water of the Post-Rock genre.

So here we are with their first album. Longer songs with more complex structure like ‘On the Sea‘, with more of those catchy hooks that made their self-titled effort such a joy to listen to. The sound this time is bigger, the layers denser, the ideas more closely explored; but this is still Arbor Lights and that is what makes this release such a success.

“The Silent City” washes the listener with waves of fuzzy guitar until another one of their catchy single note riffs interacts with crunchy guitar chords while the drums tumble over each other. Arbor lights know how to build the layers into a majestic crescendo and this track truly delivers and then breaks down with really simple melodic lines only to prepare for the second track. “Interstellar” is probably the most disappointing track on the album, but only because it is the last remnants of the band they were. Bouncy, joyful and uplifting; it delivers everything you’d expect from them and is perfect as the album’s first single.

Damascus” is where the album really starts to show newer influences. Bowed bass drones for the first two minutes and then provides a canvas for heavily delayed guitar to paint on. It’s completely absent of drums until four minutes in when they roll in from the distance and the other instruments build. When any other Arbor Lights’ track would usually end this one evolves with a brilliant ambient noise section with effective melodic lines that really make this a highlight of the album. Cornet (played by William Bull of Sunrise Over Europe) and a touch of Glockenspiel elevate “Silhouettes” into more than just a filler track between ‘Damascus‘ and the track I consider to be the best track Arbor Lights have ever done, ‘The Mayor and The Diver‘.

Hatherton Lake is a lake in Walsall (UK). Named after Lord Hathertonits, lore includes a story of a diver, who died in a search for the body of the Mayor of Walsall; who had drowned. With that in mind I can tell you that this track (an extended version of “Coda” from the band’s self-titled EP) conjures the panic you could associate with seeing the light fade through the ever stilling surface of the lake as you sink, seemingly peacefully, to your death . Sustained notes dance between chaotic harmonics and fuzz slowly engulfs the music as it progresses. It is Arbor Lights at their most atmospheric whilst still maintaining the sound they are claiming for themselves; hearty instrumental rock.

This carefully crafted album is a triumph. The whole package runs smoothly from one track to the next and concludes without me feeling it could be longer or, conversely, thinking that there needs to be more. Even in its darkest moments there is a feeling of optimism that runs through each track from beginning to end. Arbor Lights are staying true to themselves and carefully developing their sound with small steps. While not breaking ground within the post-rock genre they are staunchly claiming their territory. Given time and more exposure I have no doubt that they could become a comparative…

“Hey, have you listened to (…)? They sound a lot like Arbor Lights

I’ll admit to welling up with pride as the first track started playing. You’ve done an incredible job, chaps. If you like post-rock you cannot fail to like this album. Do not miss it.