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.