Mono – The Last Dawn // Rays of Darkness

 

One of the most fascinating parts of listening to postrock (and music in general I suppose) is being able to stand a distance away and watch a group of people come together. They form a band and create a sound. That sound is an expression and when that sound resonates with you, it’s a wonderful feeling that’s hard to describe. And as you watch this group of musicians put out new albums that sound and that expression evolves in unique ways. Mono is a band that many see as one of the biggest faces in postrock. While I try to write reviews from as objective as a point as I can, I would be lying if I didn’t start this by saying that the sound and expression Mono has created in the past has always resonated with me.

When I first listened through The Last Dawn, I heard the expression I’ve come to appreciate from Mono. They somehow create a sweeping orchestral sound through layers of almost dissonant noise. If you are a fan of Mono, The Last Dawn is what you’d expect from them. The sounds and the arrangements are tighter than what we last heard with For My Parents, but this isn’t a step in either direction for the band. That’s not a criticism because the album is gorgeous. Where We Begin is a standout track that encapsulates Mono’s sound.

But then we get to Rays of Darkness, and the game changes a bit. This album felt almost like a big reveal in a movie. When they finally say who the killer was and all you can think is, “I should’ve known the whole time.” The arrangements and the sounds are much darker and much heavier, but they still remain true to the band. Recoil Ignite is a track that might be a bit of a surprise because of its mood, but seems so obvious once you listen to it a few times. The whole album felt almost revelatory.

This is the album where we watch as this group of musicians evolve and express in a new but not unfamiliar way. And now it’s time to talk about what many people are going to be scratching their heads over: The Hands That Hold The Truth. This song brings vocals… well if you can call those vocals. It’s by far my least favorite track on the albums, but I’d like to explain why I could understand and appreciate what they tried to do. 

If you listen to the whole track it builds up to the point of a climax, which we would expect of Mono. They are known for their crescendos, but those always came from guitars. In this song, they switch the formula and bring it with vocals. The vocals are harsh, grating, and startling. This is a darker album for them, and it almost seems inevitable that they would have to switch their tone to be darker for this type of song. Unfortunately, they went to a far extreme, but the reasoning seems solid enough.

Overall these two albums welcome you back to the sound of Mono, and at the same time bring you into a new expression of their band. The Last Dawn is a gorgeous example of what this band is capable of producing, and Rays of Darkness shows what we can expect from them in the future. Evolution is inevitable and Mono managed to still be Mono while showing some new and great things.

 

Roundtable Review: Mogwai – Rave Tapes

It’s the end the month which means it’s time for our second Roundtable Review of the year. This month we’re tackling a band who damn near is bordering on legendary post-rock status at this point. Needing no real introduction, this month we’re excited to examine Mogwai’s latest effort “Rave Tapes” , which saw a January 20th release via Rock Action Records (UK) and Sub Pop Records (US). With this being the 8th album in a career that has spanned nearly 20 years, our team took the album with a keen ear and anticipation for what these post-rock giants brought to the genre this time around.

We would love to hear your input and thoughts on ‘Rave Tapes’ so feel free to leave a comment and let us know if you loved it, hated it, or just didn’t care for the release in general.

“I got into Mogwai when a friend handed me a mix tape entitled, “Beginners Guide to Rock Action”. It was the only Mogwai compilation you could ever need and contained only the best tracks from their back catalogue all the way up to Happy Songs for Happy People. That compilation was a sound track to some great times and each one of those tracks was special to me.

I didn’t listen to an actual Mogwai album for some time. In fact it was 2006 when Mr Beast came out. From there I started to explore their back catalogue and found that Beginners Guide To Rock Action was the best of Mogwai and, despite some absolutely killer tracks across all these albums, I had already heard all that the band had to offer.

So I have always been cautious when Mogwai release a new album. I am always convinced that they will disappoint again and again. Not that they cannot write some incredible music, just that each album will, ultimately, be filled with filler tracks. So I was completely surprise when I played Rave Tapes and found their most complete album to date.

The whole thing fits together so well and each track stands on its own merits without standing too far out from the rest. Mogwai can be applauded that each new release brings a little something new to the mix, but never to the detriment of their sound. Rave Tapes is brooding; tracks are mid-tempo short journeys that, with each new listen, display the subtle nuances that show how incredible these guys are at composition.

I’ve heard people shrug this release off as, “too synthy”. Yes there is a lot of synth here, but each instrument has its place and there are still a ton of brilliant guitar melodies to write home about. Overall this album is so full of hooks that your head won’t know what you should be humming by the end of it and there are too many highlights to name them all. If you forced me to reel some off I’d instantly blurt out Remurdered, Deesh, and No Medicine For Regret; but you should really take in this album as a whole.

So the question is: Is this Mogwai’s best album? My answer is emphatically, yes! Simply because of the way it all fits together, unlike most of their previous work. It also has a handful of standout tracks that can stand alongside some of stunning tracks that are packed into their back catalogue.” – TenaciousListening

———

“I’m not ashamed to admit that Mogwai’s style of post-rock has never really clicked with me. While I appreciate what they’ve done for the genre, I’ve largely skipped around the majority of their discography to a very select few songs that I do find interesting. To be perfectly honest up until now the only Mogwai release I enjoy front to back is their 2011 4-track EP ‘Earth Division’. With all that being said, I’m pleased to say that ‘Rave Tapes’ has absolutely won me over and is a marvelous album, easily my favorite work to date by the Glasgow rockers.

Everything about this album just free flows so flawlessly save for ‘Blues Hours’, which I feel should have been saved for a future EP. The keys, synths and elements of electronica shine brightly and are complimented with just the right amount of reverb and drone. Drums and beat patterns are infectiously intoxicating and the pacing really helps lament the mood. With each subsequent listen I find myself enjoying the album more and more due to the simplistic beauty of the whole package. There is never too much going on, everything feels spacious and meaningful.

The band isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here and I’m sure a song like “Remurdered” will piss some post-rock purists off, but you know what, Fuck em! Mogwai has nothing left to prove do they? I love “Remurdered” to death, but then again this is coming from the same guy who’s most listened to release of 2014 is Crystal Method’s latest self titled album, it being my favorite album to work out in the gym to right now. There is a little something for everyone on ‘Rave Tapes’. I hope that this electronic heavy styling is a direction they decide to pursue going forward. This album gets a solid B+ in my book (no, we’re not doing letter grades on this site now).” – James

——–

“I wonder if Young Team was just a fluke. Mogwai has made some good songs since then — one, maybe two per album — but really, very little of their catalogue holds a candle to the greatness that was achieved on their debut. On ‘Rave Tapes’, most of the songs meander to nowhere, yet not for long enough for them to become hypnotic. “Remurdered” is fun, and “Blues Hour” is very endearing. The rest of the songs fail to leave any memorable imprint though, their hooks ranging from forgettable to tedious. I don’t think I’m a Mogwai hipster who only likes the old stuff because it’s old. Their sound was significantly different in 1997. And perhaps my favourite song of theirs is 2011’s “Drunk and Crazy”, so I’m hardly averse to the new. I just expect more from a group so acclaimed. I wish I had more to say about Rave Tapes, but to me it’s mostly an album of uninspired melodies and insipid beats.” – Shooter

———–

“When a band like Mogwai puts out a new album, the expectation is always higher. They are one of the big names, that rare post-rock band that you could almost say has made it. Made it to where is a completely different topic. But here we are with a new release from one of the biggest names in the post-rock scene.

This album is consistent, solid, and very forgettable if you aren’t paying attention. The only track that really stands out is Remurdered with it’s epic sounding 80’s vibe like a track off the Drive Soundtrack. Outside of that the tracks stay pretty calm and subdued. They don’t cater to crescendos, but Mogwai never really have. They’ve always been a band with solid songs doing their own thing. Rave Tapes is no different.

The album would be easy to toss aside after a listen because of how subtle it plays out. My biggest gripe is that each track feels like it should weave into the others, but they just don’t. The album feels like it has a loose theme that connects these tracks with a tiny thread. It takes time to appreciate this album, and I feel as though it could have used just a bit more tidying up. A track like Repelish should have been relocated to Bonus Track status, and it would have been nice to see these tracks meld a bit more. However, after a few listens this has become an album to listen to while fixated on other things. It plays well in the background, but doesn’t hold it’s own for sole focus. A solid release by Mogwai that needs just a bit more to stand on its feet.”Bryan

——–

“Oh Mogwai, how you bring me such joy. Again and again, album after album, you just put a smile on my face. Rave Tapes is no exception. What I think people miss about this band is the inherent humor involved with them. One gets the feeling that the only thing Mogwai takes seriously is the music they make. They’re just taking the piss out of everything else. The music industry, artistic context, and even the post rock genre itself seem to be a good laugh.

From start to finish, Rave Tapes is a solid record. Its more synthy overall then other Mogwai offerings, sure, but not overdone. Written and arranged with the competence one would expect, the analogue sounds really blend nicely with the warm production here.

Listening to Mogwai evolve album-to-album is fascinating and rewarding. There’s always a slightly different slant to things. Sometimes it’s quite subtle. Sometimes you get the feeling it’s just for a lark.

Highlights like “Remurdered,” “Mastercard,” and “No Medicine For Regret” are joined by slightly off kilter beauties like “The Lord Is Out Of Control.” My personal top pick here is the beautiful and darkly hilarious “Repelish.”

After several listens I started to wonder if maybe this whole album was made as a post molly club night come down record. It’s certainly languid and gentle enough.

Mogwai have deservedly earned their notoriety and the respect they’re given in the post musical world. Hell, they’ve come just as close as third wave darlings like Explosions in the Sky at being crossover successes. Rave Tapes is another great chapter in the very long book of Mogwai’s pantheon of enjoyable albums. It’s not the most essential, but it certainly put a smile on my face.”Erich

   

Click here to download Rave Tapes via Itunes

Click here to download Rave Tapes via Mogwai’s official online store

Bryan’s Top Picks of 2013

 Welcome to Staff Picks week here at Postrockstar! This week our writers will be going over their favorite albums of 2013.

Please click the album art to go to the artist’s Bandcamp/Website/Facebook/etc .

Hammock – Oblivion Hymns

“Picking this as my album of the year was a tough call, but Hammock does too much with this album for it to be ignored. Hammock has always been known for gorgeous music that creates images and landscapes. Oblivion Hymns does this again, but with new tactics and original ideas. This is definitely one of the best ambient albums not only this year, but in the past few.”

 

Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe

“It’s wonderful to see someone as talented as Julianna Barwick starting to rise in the ambient/ambient folk realm. She has a unique sound of looped vocals and her latest album, Nepenthe, might be her best yet. She keeps her traditional sound, but incorporates a children’s choir and some electronic flair. This adds up to an album that is beautiful and haunting. A must listen.”

EF- Ceremonies

“I thought EFs Ep last year, Delusions of Grandeur was as close to perfect as the band can get. While Ceremonies isn’t flawless, it gets damn close. This is a testament to the fact that post-rock doesn’t have to be the prescribed notion of build-up to breakdown. The instruments are gorgeous, the vocals flow seamlessly into the music. EF is staking their claim as one of the best and most influential post-rock bands with this album and their contributions to music.”

 

Caspian – Hymn for the Greatest Generation EP

“Not a full album, but definitely on the top of my list. I didn’t know how Caspian could possibly need an EP after Waking Season, but they proved me wrong. The title track sounds like it was a tough cut from Waking Season. The Heart That Fed is a more traditional post-rock song, but uses vocals as a build-up instead of guitar and has an epic breakdown. Finally, CMF sounds like a goodbye to their wonderful bassist who passed away this year. These three tracks work alone and as a unit. Caspian continues to push the boundaries of this genre and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for 2014”

Eluvium – Nightmare Ending

“The return of Eluvium was fantastic this year. Few acts can capture feeling across two cds, but Eluvium did it. I could go on for days about the use of strings and the overall mood and feel of the album, but this wins my award for ‘Album that You can Put on and Forget About.’ It just flows from track to track and gives you a mood to live in. A fantastic return to form by a fantastic artist.”

Olafur Arnalds – For Now I am Winter

“It’s hard to describe why and how Olafur Arnalds succeeds. If you know him, you understand and if you don’t you need to listen. I was skeptical of the vocals, but listening to the album dozens of times and seeing it performed live made me understand how the vocals fit with the music. An outstanding album from a younger musician and definitely worth a few listens. For Now I am Winter is an evolution for Arnalds, but one I can fully endorse.”

 North Atlantic Drifts – Monuments

“I could ramble about this album for awhile, but there’s one thing about this album that gets it into my list: every minute is good. That might be a strange reasoning, but this is the kind of album I would recommend to those wanting to know what the ambient genre is about. It’s completely solid from start to finish. Just put it in, enjoy it, and be glad it exists.”

Mountains – Centralia

“Probably the most subdued of my top ten. This album is hard to describe. The flow of the music and the smoothness of the guitar is really what brought me back to it. Probably my favorite album to put on while relaxing and it does a good job of mixing the acoustics of the guitar with some synth.”

65daysofstatic – Wild Light

“This album got a lot of mixed reviews when it came out. I was never a big 65days fan, but something about this album grabbed me. To me, it’s just fun post-rock with some great tones and riffs. Perfect music for the car and one of the most fun albums I listened to all year.”

Sigur Ros – Kveikur

“I’d be remiss to not include Sigur Ros on this list. They somehow manage to pump out solid release after solid release. Admittedly, this album seems to have more critics, and it took me longer than I’d expected to really get into it, but once I did there was no going back. Sometimes heavier and definitely pulsing, this is a great album that was a pleasure to see live. “

2013 Year End Awards

It has been a whirlwind year here at Postrockstar as we put the finishing touches on our first full calendar year reviewing and promoting all things relevant to the world of Post-Rock and instrumental music. This year we were able review 73 albums and promoted 150 other albums, constantly offering our readers fresh new music to feast their ears upon. As you might imagine dissecting and breaking down the ins & outs of 200+ albums for these year end awards was no easy task. The team has been hard at work researching, discussing and sometimes even arguing their picks for these awards right up to the last very weekend before they went live. At the end of it all, we stand firmly behind our picks and believe these are the very best offerings of the year from some of the most talented bands in their respective subgenres. Without further Ado…

Winner : Ef – Ceremonies

“The craftsmanship and attention to detail found on this album was the first thing that grabbed my attention. ‘Ceremonies’ has so many incredibly vibrant moments that picking a favorite song is nearly impossible. There is no filler here, each of the eight tracks are all the same caliber of material that I’ve come to expect from Ef.” – James

Click here to read our full review of ‘Ceremonies’

Runner Up: Lights & Motion – Reanimation

“It’s beautiful, dramatic, powerful, to-the-point, explosive and uplifting. The culmination of everything that post-rock (or a certain school of post-rock) has been trying to achieve for the past decade. It picks your spirits up where all else has failed. It inspires feelings of awe and wonder. It’s music for stargazers. It’s the sound of your first crush and your last love.”Shooter

Click here to read our roundtable review of ‘Reanimation’

 Winner: Deafheaven – Sunbather

“Deafheaven does their thing very, very well, and with “Sunbather“, have undoubtedly released one of the greatest albums of the year. I know, it came out in June with a full 7 months of music yet to be released, but I can say with great certainty that I’ll stand by that statement.”ShaneXedge

Click here to read our review of ‘Sunbather’

Runner Up: Light Bearer – Silver Tongue

“Silver Tongue’, as an album, is not something that is easily digested (nor are any other Light Bearer recordings, really). To me, that makes the mark of a truly great album. It’s not something that’s just going to be blurred background music – it demands your attention, and rewards you greatly for focusing on it.” – ShaneXedge

Click here to read our review of ‘Silver Tongue’

Winner: And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures

“‘All Hail Bright Futures’ is like a dream pop album on a sugar-high. Aggressive metal elements that were once a distraction are now left by the wayside in the aid of a cohesive pop sound. I feel like this band has finally found its identity.”Shooter

Click here to read our roundtable review of ‘All Hail Bright Futures’

Runner up: Jardin De La Croix – 187 Steps To Cross The Universe

“Fasten your seat belts and secure your headphones tightly to your head because you are in for a hell of a ride. An excellent must-listen to release that is not to be taken lightly. Bands looking to melt faces in 2013 be warned: The bar has been set high.”James

Click here to read our full review of ‘187 Steps To Cross The Universe’

Winner: My Bloody Valentine – M B V

“It’s impossible to have any sort of discussion about shoegaze, as a genre, without talking about My Bloody Valentine, and as such, there were very high expectations and hopes surrounding this album. In my opinion, ‘M B V‘ lives up to the hopes..”ShanexEdge

Click here to read our full review of ‘M B V ‘

Runner up: The Fauns – Lights

“This British five piece take the best inspirational elements from all of the 90s shoegaze/dream pop giants, and churn out a masterpiece of an album (helped in no small part by Alison Garner’s incredible vocals). Though there were other huge, notable shoegaze releases this year, how many other bands released a single mixed by Clint Mansell?!” – ShaneXedge

Click here to download ‘Lights’ on bandcamp

Winner: Caspian – Hymn For The Greatest Generation

The post-rock world’s collective hearts sank for Caspian this past August with the sudden passing of bassist Chris Friedrich. In the wake of tragedy this talented collective of musicians pressed forward, touring and releasing ‘Hymn For The Greatest Generation’ , an EP that simply stood head and shoulders above the rest of the EP’s released in 2013. The acoustic styling of ‘CMF’ won our hearts as a touching tribute to their fallen brother, while the title track is simply Caspian reinventing their sound yet again.

“They never cease to amaze me because they never waver or falter, they don’t even misstep on occasion. Caspian’s career trajectory has been a clear path upward since 2009 and the band has transformed themselves into a pioneer at the forefront of a genre that desperately needs leaders. I never know what to expect from a Caspian release, but you can bet I’m going to listen to it the moment it’s released. ‘Hymn For The Greatest Generation’ is as emotionally charged as they come. You shouldn’t need any convincing why this EP is a must own.” – James

Click here to download ‘Hymn For the Greatest Generation’ on bandcamp

Runner up: Lavinia – Take Shelter EP

“The beginning seduces you, then proceeds to kick you in the balls, and you’re not even halfway through the first song. Lavinia’s EP is just too short, I wish it were an hour long.”Foofer

Click here to download ‘Take Shelter EP’ on bandcamp

Winner: Hammock – Oblivion Hymns

“..Hammock is a band that’s only true descriptor is unique. Of course, words like beautiful, ethereal, majestic, can all be used, but they fail in the most magnificent of ways. They fall short because they are just words. The music, the layers, the use of every instrument is what brings life to those hollow words.  Hammock is what people think of when they desire a soundtrack to their lives.” – TenaciousListening

Click here to read our review of ‘Oblivion Hymns’

Runner up: North Atlantic Drift – Monuments

“North Atlantic Drift’s Monuments is a powerful record that is both spacious, as ambient music is prone to being, and melodious. What wins it for me is you can drift off to this music, but you are compelled to do so with ears pricked lest you miss some of the bigger moments that almost nudge you to make sure you are still listening. The duo has blended beautifully elements of post-rock and electronica to create one of my favourite albums of 2013 and it is easily placed as runner up for the best ambient release this year.” – Bryan

Click here to download ‘Monuments’ on bandcamp

Winner: J.R. Alexander – Moments

“‘Moments‘ in many ways treads upon Alexander’s previous musical ideology except with an added presence of electronica, glitch and downtempo influence. By combining gorgeous string instrument arrangements, elegant piano work and rusticly smooth acoustic guitar work with electronic-inspired beats Alexander has created a downtempo sound that quite frankly has me struggling to find the proper way to describe it.  – James

Click here to read our review of ‘Moments’

Runner up: The Watermark High – Murmurs EP

“While ‘Slow Motion Clarity’ could be considered a more ambient, instrument focused album, ‘Murmurs’ flips the script, giving us a much more glitchy, aggressive side of Watermark High. Straight-forward post-rock fans will likely hate this pick and think that this EP has no place being anywhere near the site. Maybe they’re right, who knows, but if you can’t see the influence or parallels between post-rock and The Watermark High, your missing the entire point of what we’re trying to accomplish with Postrockstar” – James

Click here to download ‘Murmurs’ on bandcamp

Winner: Lights & Motion – Reanimation

“‘Reanimation‘ is an hour plus long magical journey that explores the depths of the soul by seamlessly transitioning between moments of glory, triumph and heartbreak. After dozens of listens I still find myself impressed at the musical mind of Christoffer Franzén (Lights & Motion). That no one particular instrument stands out as clearly being dominant or “better” than the rest speaks volumes to Franzén’s talent.”James

Click here to read our roundtable review of ‘Reanimation’

Runner up: set & setting – Equanimity

“Warmth and delicacy permeate the production values of “Equanimity.” In fact it’s almost sort of intimidating. Nothing is fragile, but everything is very delicate of spirit, like a special memory from a long time ago. Even when set and setting kick into the heavier sections they leave room for breath, which keeps the whole album sounding imbued with life.”Erich

Click here to read our review of ‘Equanimity’

Winner: This Patch of Sky – Heroes & Ghosts

This category is always difficult because there are usually several bands well deserving of this spot and this year was no different. Although proper and well thought out cases were made for those other bands, This Patch of Sky was the voting council’s collective top pick. With ‘Heroes & Ghosts’ we witnessed a transformation through maturity and comfort of a band no longer interested in simply blowing away the listener away with raw power, but rather reward the listener through complex build ups, ranges of emotions and storytelling. The leap in quality from their 2012 effort ‘Newly Risen, How Bright You Shine’ and ‘Heroes & Ghosts’ is unmistakable and the band’s new found direction only excites us for what’s to come from this young Oregon band.

“‘Heroes and Ghosts’ is an impressive step forward for a band who could have chosen to play it safe and continued to carve themselves a nice little niche in the post-rock world. For them to willingly go out of their way to reinvent their sound and further themselves as musicians is a noble undertaking that has earned the band much respect in my book.” – James

Click here to read our review of ‘Heroes & Ghosts’

Winner: EF – Ceremonies

“To say that we’ve been ultra critical of vocals in post-rock on this site would be an understatement. Vocals have the ability to ruin even the best of albums when they don’t fit in and are overbearing or they have the ability to accentuate everything around them and add an incredible amount of depth when used properly and sparingly. The vocals in Ceremonies take the latter route and are absolutely adorable, heartfelt and shine in their limited role. While much of the staff agreed there wasn’t a vocal-centric release quite like Alcest’s ‘Les Voyages de l’Âme’ which took the award this year, the vocals harmonized well enough with the rest of ‘Ceremonies’ that we felt no other album was more deserving.” James

Click here to read our review of ‘Ceremonies’

Runner up: Jesu – Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came

“Again this is just another great example of when vocals can bring out the best in everything else around them. No one understands that better than Justin Broadrick and the vocals found within ‘Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came’ are very much what we’ve come to love and expect from him. Downtrodden, static-laced and optimistically bleak, Broadrick’s vocals are by no means nothing you haven’t experienced before, but than again, there’s probably nobody else who could do them any better either.” – James

Click here to download ‘Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I came’ on bandcamp

(Despite our best efforts we simply couldn’t pick a winner in this category and after lengthy discussion, it was agreed there would be dual winners for this category. The violin work found on ‘Ascendere’ offers the album an enormous range of depth and is really what sets it apart from the rest of the field by giving it an identity. ‘Ascendere’ is the quintessential example of how just one instrument can drastically alter a band’s entire sound. While on the other hand Ólafur Arnalds’ “For Now I Am Winter” is a testament of true classical beauty and simply in a class of its own)

Winner: Ólafur Arnalds – For Now I Am Winter

“It would have been a grave injustice for us not to give this award to Arnalds as well, who’s latest ‘For Now I Am Winter’ embodies the very essence of this category. At just 27 years of age Arnalds has classical compositions perfected, each one of his works dripping with heartfelt passages, powerful emotion and an array of sounds that just blend perfectly with one another. ‘For Now I Am Winter’ is an important album in the career of the young icelandic virtuoso, showing he capable of much more than neo-classical and ambient pieces by incorporating looping electronics, hypnotic beats and offering a slightly more aggressive side to his work. This album is gorgeous.” – James

Click here to visit Ólafur Arnalds’ website and download ‘For Now I Am Winter’

Winner: Aesthesys – Ascendere

“I tend to think of post-rock with neoclassical influence and/or string instruments as noble and place it on a pedestal much higher than the more modern third-wave stylings of big guitar crescendo and distortion driven tracks. Whenever I review an album like ‘Ascendere’ I expect so much more out of them than a standard album. In that aspect, I think Aesthesys has shined at incorporating these elements into a more traditional post-rock sound. In another light, I feel like their best work is ahead of them and that this album is just a taste of what’s to come from a band who’s potential is as bright as sun on the album cover.”James

Click here to read our review of ‘Ascendere’

Winner: God Is An Astronaut – Origins

“It is unfortunate when a band releases an album that just doesn’t connect with  their fan base and in that respect we have to give this award to God Is An Astronaut for their ‘Origins’ album. Three years removed from ‘Age of the Fifth Sun’, the band opted to leave their dreamy atmospheric sound in the past, pursuing a much different and far less appealing distortion heavy dream pop hybrid sound that left us scratching our heads. GIAA’s contributions to the post-rock realm cannot be ignored and we believe that they are band that deserves the respect and attention from the post-rock fans, but we would like to see them get back to their roots in the future.”James

Click here to download ‘Origins’ on bandcamp

Winner: Arbor Lights – Hatherton Lake

In a new addition to the year end awards we wanted to recognize the artists who’s album covers are as unique and/or beautiful as the music they create. This year there was a whole slew of potential suitors for this award but the Postrockstar staff agreed it was Arbor Lights’ “Hatherton Lake” that appealed most to our liking. The artwork comes to us from Renée Sylvestre, who captures the album’s theme and focus all too well. From the messy water colors, the finely detailed diving suite and the elegant script font, the whole package feels perfect.

“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, “The Mayor and the Diver” (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.” – TenaciousListening

Click here to read our review of ‘Hatherton Lake’

https://i2.wp.com/i.imgur.com/jkcqYx7.jpg

Runner up: EF – Ceremonies

“Ef has once again teamed up with Staffan Larsson to create the album artwork for Ceremonies. Larsson manages to capture the emotional highs and lows of Efs sound through his artwork. The interconnectedness of this artwork to the sound is what makes this stand out to us as the album artwork of the year.” – Bryan

Click here to read our review of ‘Ceremonies’

Winner: set & setting – “Essence of Paradox”

Post-Rock is a genre built on slow build ups, grand finales and tracks that routinely push the 10 minute mark. Not all ‘epic’ songs have to push the double digits mark nor do they have to be a brooding masterpiece of layered crescendos and false finishes. Truth is there are probably close to 50 songs that could easily contend for this award but “Essence of Paradox” by set & setting stood just taller than the rest. This song is a near 14 minute marathon of a track that packs an enormous punch, never slows down, never gives an inch, and continually builds to a finale that is well worth the wait. A true masterpiece.

“The band’s final song was “Essence of Paradox“, their  13 minute long magnum opus that felt like it was never going to end. And none of us wanted it to end either. Louder, faster, harder. Louder, faster, harder. The build up continued as a crowd in awe witnessed a band playing endlessly like the world was crumbling around them. There are few things in this life that are true and pure. Being in the band’s presence as they performed “Essence of Paradox” felt like an honor and a privilege. If set and setting was a drug, I would have overdosed and died with no regrets.”James (on “Essence of Paradox” performed live in Seattle)

Click here to read our review of ‘Equanamity’

Runner up: Cloudkicker – “A weather front was stalled out in the Pacific–like a lonely person, lost in thought, oblivious of time.”

Better known as Cloudkicker, Ben Sharp has consistently reinvented his sound with each new release to his catalog, offering his faithful following new glimpses into the mind of possibly the most complete sounding solo project on the planet. But with 2013’s ‘Subsume’ came something I don’t think any of us could have imagined: a 16 minute destroyer of worlds that completely changes everything the way we view Sharp as a musician. While 2012’s ‘Fade’ did give us one 10+ minute track, “A Weather Front…” just goes to show that Sharp’s Djentbased prog-metal (Post-Djent?) is more than capable of standing toe to toe with epics from the likes of GY!BE, EITS, Sigur Ros, etc.

“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.” – Erich

Click here to read our review of ‘Subsume’

Hammock – Oblivion Hymns

Oblivion Hymns cover artReviewed by: Bryan K.

When you listen to a Hammock album in a way you know what to expect. You’ll be placed in front of a white canvas and whatever is put on that canvas is going to be beautiful. Each track will add an image or a layer or a feeling and you’ll get a clearer and deeper understanding of the picture being painted in front of your eyes. Oblivion Hymns paints one of their most beautiful canvasses to date.

Excuse the cliché above, but Hammock is a band that’s only true descriptor is unique. Of course, words like beautiful, ethereal, majestic, can all be used, but they fail in the most magnificent of ways. They fall short because they are just words. The music, the layers, the use of every instrument is what brings life to those hollow words.  Hammock is what people think of when they desire a soundtrack to their lives. Just go on Youtube and see how often their music is appropriated. They make the kind of music that people want to live their lives by. I can think of no greater compliment.

Oblivion Hymns follows their dual CD Departure Songs. In many ways these albums feel connected. Departure Songs, while almost upbeat in places, seemed to be about letting go or dying. The album’s title would be a giveaway. Oblivion Hymns follows in a similar vein. But these songs add a texture that felt intentionally absent on Departure Songs. Amidst the painfully sad textures of Oblivion Hymns, there is an undeniable streak of hope. From the use of choral sections to the beauty of the strings, Oblivion Hymns seems to say that this journey, while it may be ending, does not have to end poorly.

I find pointing to individual tracks to be difficult. The album, like most of their work, feels like a whole. Yet, I can say that ‘Like a Valley With No Echo’ drew me in. I’m a sucker for the strings and the slow build that never needs to break. The song is sad but gorgeous. It epitomizes the album. As I said before, the introduction of choral sections gives the music a dimension that you know works the second it starts. The only track that gives me pause is ‘Tres Domines’. It feels more like a bonus track and is slightly jarring, but given what precedes it I cannot lay too much fault.

To those who would say that this is just Hammock being Hammock, I would argue that they aren’t listening. Each album is a movement. I feel as though Oblivion Hymns isn’t the next step, but an area of Hammock’s catalog they’ve illuminated. I’m sure there are more areas still left in the dark waiting to be played, and I can only look forward to hearing them. Without a doubt, this is an album to listen to and to live by. Enjoy it.

   

tags: ambient drone instrumental modern classical modern composition neo-classical post-rock shoegaze Nashville

Roundtable Review: Lights & Motion – ‘Reanimation’

Artist Lights & Motion
Album Reanimation
Genre Post-rock / Ambient
Buy/DL Deep Elm Digital
Web Facebook | Soundcloud
Label Deep Elm Records
Released Jan 16 2013
Rating Very Good / Excellent

    In our first roundtable review of 2013 we are examining Lights & Motion’s debut album, ‘Reanimation‘, released January 16th on Deep Elm Records. Lights & Motion is the brainchild of Swedish musician Christoffer Franzén and tends to walk among the lighter side of the genre. Without further ado let’s get to our panel of reviewers —

    “I tend to prefer vocal music to instrumental music. I like stories and words and the emotion and nuance that can be communicated vocally. Furthermore, instrumental music has to try a little harder to sound unique; usually a singer has his own delivery, word choice, enunciation and timbre that sets songs apart. All of that said, Lights & Motion’ s latest, ‘Reanimation‘, is a good example of an instrumental album done well. It sounds like a mixture of Sigur Ros and The End of the Ocean but with acoustic guitar, dedicated string section and a piano holding the melody. Highlights include “Victory Rose” – mellow, pretty track, perfect for a night drive; “Fractured” with a cool piano melody, “Texas” a track that starts with crickets, acoustic and slide guitar, then builds and adds a xylophone; and finally “Dream Away” , which I was pleasantly surprised when the final track had vocals, and a pretty good singer to boot. It serves as a great bookend to the album. The acoustic guitar and prominent piano help to separate this from other post-rock bands I listen to, so I’d rate it as “Excellent“. Well done!” – Tim

    “Let me get this out if the way first and foremost – the debut album from Lights & Motion is a good album. It has all of the crescendos you could hope for, all of the cinematic sounds, and all of the classic post-rock elements. To me, though, that’s part of its downfall. There is literally nothing here that you haven’t heard before – this part sounds like Explosions In The Sky, that part sounds like The Album Leaf, etc. There’s enough of a foundation here to leave me somewhat looking forward to what’s to come, but there just isn’t anything new here. The songs are well executed, they just travel very, very familiar ground.” – Shane

    “I’d heard A LOT of hype around the Lights & Motion release ‘Reanimation.’ Generally I’m pretty wary of anything that’s lavished with excessive praise but I manage to crack this album with an open mind. And you know what? It wasn’t terrible, but I definitely wasn’t blown away. The 13 track-record has its moments. It’s easy to listen to and even edges on greatness, but it just can’t get there. All the songs are catchy in an “I-feel-like-I’ve-heard-this-somewhere-before” kind of way that leaves me wanting to listen to the songs I’m reminded of, not the L&M versions. The perfect example of this is “Aerials.” While arguably one of the better songs on the album, it’s eerily similar to “Your Hand In Mine” by post-rock pros, Explosions In The Sky.
    The production on the album is incredibly clean with all the instrumentation reaching your ears quite clearly but I felt it was lacking in raw passion. Perhaps L&M sacrificed intensity for certain cinematic clarity. I would rate this album as average/solid.  Regardless the album is still pretty enjoyable and worthy of a listen through or two. After that? Who knows.” – Jerome

    “There’s not a lot that i need to say about this album, because if you’re a fan instrumental rock post-Explosions In The Sky then you already know what this sounds like. It’s beautiful, dramatic, powerful, to-the-point, explosive and uplifting. The culmination of everything that post-rock (or a certain school of post-rock) has been trying to achieve for the past decade. It picks your spirits up where all else has failed. It inspires feelings of awe and wonder. It’s music for stargazers. It’s the sound of your first crush and your last love. It’s crescendo-core through and through, but crescendo-core at its finest. A polished and perfected homage to everything that came before it. Is it derivative? Yes. Repetitive? A little. Contrived? Probably. But for any other band to revisit this style of music now would be futile — ‘Reanimation‘ just wont be topped. A must-listen to album.” – Shooter

    “After being bombarded by hype (thanks Deep Elm, bang up job again), I spun ‘Reanimation‘ a few times to get a feel for this ‘breathtaking’ and ‘magical’ release by EITS, GIAA, Lowercase Noises, Dorena, The Best Pessimist, Aerials, I mean Lights & Motion. Does changing your band name, as a solo musician, still allow you to use ‘debut release’ in marketing? Odd. Well, each listen left me unimpressed. I’m more of a fan of energetic, progressive, guitar-based instrumentals over the more emotive, piano-driven offerings but even so, this album provided nothing I haven’t heard on at least twelve other albums over the past seven years. Sure, it’s pretty, well produced and inoffensive – but it isn’t innovative or even noticeable in anything other than the fact it is a new release.  I must have heard that same marching, building drum beat thousands of times over the past few years. You know the one, EITS uses it on every other track. It failed to meet my number one criteria: “Can I recognize the band by the music, without looking?” I’m sure this album will end up on years’ end best of lists, because Deep Elm has excellent marketing skills and a choke hold on mid-major ‘post-rock’ releases. For me, I’ve rated it as a Solid Release – it’s OK, but don’t get your hopes up too high.” – Bothra

    “The first grievance I can see anyone listening to this album having will be that it’s formulaic and derivative. I can’t argue with that point. The first few times I listened to the album, I was ready to walk away calling it an unabashed homage to Explosions in the Sky, M83, and Sigur Ros. But I kept at it because the music has an undertone that deserves recognition. While almost every track is the formula of slow build to giant explosion, this album seems to almost perfect it. Over the course of thirteen tracks, this wears thin, but it still managed to captivate. The songs take hold when the piano is given more time to shine and the thumping drum beats stand off to the side instead of slapping you in the face. Two great examples of how this formula is done so well are “Drift” and “Reanimation“. This is a debut album and I can see this act evolving well over the next few years. Hopefully our next outing with Lights and Motions is more refined and less capable of being slapped on a movie trailer.” – Bryan

    “Deep Elm’s lineup of post-rock talent never ceases to amaze me. The label just seems to have a knack for finding some of the best talent around and ‘Reanimation‘ by Lights & Motion is just further proof of that. ‘Reanimation‘ is chalked full of cinematic flair, ripe with over the top emotion and has those captivating indescribable elements that carry it to its place among the higher echelons of post-rock releases. With top-notch production qualities and fine tuned craftsmanship, I can safely say this is the first truly brilliant post-rock release of 2013 and I think that it sets the bar high insanely high for in that regard. It’s crazy to think that at just three weeks into the new year there is already an album that will undoubtedly be found on many year-end lists and for good reason. ‘Reanimation‘ is an hour plus long magical journey that explores the depths of the soul by seamlessly transitioning between moments of glory, triumph and heartbreak. After dozens of listens I still find myself impressed at the musical mind of Christoffer Franzén (Lights & Motion). That no one particular instrument stands out as clearly being dominant or “better” than the rest speaks volumes to Franzén’s talent.
Prior to the release of this Roundtable Review, I’ve read early rumblings and criticism from those who were quick to dismiss this album as simply another third wave crescendo-core ripoff and I just don’t hear it honestly. There is a difference to me between common similarities and straight up reproducing another band’s style. Sure, there are inspirations found on ‘Reanimation‘ from EITS, and probably more so from Dorena than any other band, but they are just that, inspirations. What sets Lights & Motion apart is the fact that they’ve taken a successful formula and mastered it to include their own artistic interpretation and flair. Obviously there is going to be a little overlap in sound amongst instrumental artists of a specific style within a genre, but I think it’s far too easy to get swept up in trying to point to specific similarities than it is to simply enjoy an album for what it is. Sure “Reanimation” might not tread upon much new ground, but sometimes that’s ok and it shouldn’t detract from the fact that simply put this is an excellent album that needs to be a part of any post-rock fan’s collection.”  – IamHop

Postrockstar’s 2012 Year End Awards

As we write the final chapter of the book of 2012, We leave you with our year end wrap up awards that encompasses everything that our site strives to accentuate within the realm of post-rock. It was a huge year for post-rock that saw the return of two of the genres biggest bands and many new bands emerge and make their names known. I’d like to think of 2012 as a year that really saw the genre explode creativity wise, as what is most commonly referred to as the “third wave” post-rock revival seems to be coming to something of an end. While crescendo-core still remains as popular as ever, a lot of bands have begun branching off in different directions exploring exciting new sounds. Where are we headed in 2013? Who really knows, but Postrockstar is optimistic for the future and can’t wait to start helping our readers discover new music.  All of our decisions were made by a panel of our writers and were discussed at extremely great lengths. These albums stood head and shoulders above the rest in their respective categories and for that we’re endorsing them as the best releases of 2012. Without further ado, the awards…

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Sigur Ros – ‘Valtari’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook
Honorable Mention: Caspian – ‘Waking Season’

“Sigur Ros return from hiatus to reclaim their spot at the top of the post-rock genre. Valtari to me presents the best range of emotion, song structure, raw ability and timelessness showcased in any album released in 2012 and for that it deserves all the praise it has gotten.”  – IamHop

EP OF THE YEAR

The End of the Ocean – ‘In Excelsis’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook
Honorable Mention: EF – ‘Delusions of Grandeur’

“I’ve maintained that if the EP was just two songs longer it would still be among the best albums released this year. The End of the Ocean are a band with unlimited potential and this EP showed true promise for a bright future.” – IamHop

SHOEGAZE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Whirr – ‘Pipe Dreams’
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“Carrying a more downtrodden tone than their previous releases (Distressor, and the June 7″), Pipe Dreams cements Whirr as one of the leading bands of the modern shoegaze scene. This is a band that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of shoegaze a bit (see ‘Formulas and Frequencies’), and this album excels for that.” – ShaneXedge

POST-METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR

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Amenra – ‘Mass V’
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“The long awaited newest album from Amenra delivered on all fronts, and with its release, the band stood tall amongst their contemporaries (and even some of their predecessors). With so many great post-metal releases this year, there was a lot of competition, but “Mass V” was the obvious pick for best of the year.” – ShaneXedge

MATH-ROCK ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Mental Architects – ‘Celebrations’
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“This album is everything that a math-rock album should be in that it doesn’t try to do too much. All of the tracks have great synergy and the energy remains high from start to finish. Most Math-Rock albums tend to peak early and slowly fizzle at maintaining my interest after multiple listens. “Celebrations” just keeps getting better.”IamHop

AMBIENT ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Good Weather For An Airstrike – ‘Underneath the Stars’
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“Underneath the Stars is an album that allows itself to be discovered on the listener’s own terms. It’s understated; it’s sparse; and it has an expansive atmosphere, so pure and vacuous that your deepest thoughts can’t help but wander into it. This is Good Weather for an Airstrike’s magnum opus — a powerful catalyst for your mind’s own voyage.”Shooter

ELECTRONIC BASED POST-ROCK/AMBIENT ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Watermark High – ‘Slow Motion Clarity’
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“Many post-rock bands utilize electronics to infuse their music with energy and intrigue. What makes Slow Motion Clarity stand above the rest is the way in which the electronic elements supplement the album’s lush, almost aquatic atmosphere, without ever detracting from the organic nature of the guitars with which they interplay.” – Shooter

DEBUT ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Echotide –  ‘As our Floodlights Gave Way to Dawn’
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This is one of the most confident realizations of the “one long song” approach to album composition that I’ve ever heard. It has the strange atmosphere of Godspeed You! Black Emperor; the hard edge of Gifts from Enola; the melody of Mono; and the flow of Do Make Say Think. And it’s arguable better than many of those bands’ works. Lose yourself in this.– Shooter

MOST IMPROVED BAND OF THE YEAR

Sunlight Ascending
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“‘Leaving My Waiting Room’ is a much more focused sounding album when compared to the band’s 2010 release ’You Don’t Belong Here’. It really just seemed like something just clicked for the band while recording this album and they took their music to the next level. This is Sunlight Ascending‘s best work to date and is an album I certainly wouldn’t sleep on.”IamHop

BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE

Alcest – ‘Les Voyages De L’ame’
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“Despite the fact that I don’t speak or understand french, I still find the vocals found on Alcest’s ‘Les Voyages De L’ame’ to be utterly breathtaking.  Dynamic range, brilliant harmonies, voices full of emotion and the occasional black-metal shriek made this album absolutely shine brighter than the rest.” – IamHop

BEST USE OF NON-TRADITIONAL OR STRING INSTRUMENTS

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Balmorhea – ‘Stranger’
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“I’ve always loved Balmorhea for their ability to make unique music not confined by the restraints of a genre. This album solidifies that motif. You can hear the thought and dedication that went into each track and the musicianship at work. They aren’t afraid to change their sound and take chances, and this album proves that effort pays off.”Bryan

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Fire Spoken By the Buffalo – ‘Air Your Grievance’
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“Fire Spoken By the Buffalo’s decision to incorporate post-punk screamo vocals into their brand of well-rounded post-rock took “Air Your Grievances” from a once highly anticipated album to a tragic mess in my books. The vocals did the band no real favors and definitely turned away more post-rock fans than just myself.” – IamHop