In installment number three of our ongoing Round Table Review series we take a look at the new album ‘Arrivals & Departures’ from Texas natives The Calm Blue Sea. The album is the band’s first release in four years and the follow-up to their debut self titled in 2008. Before we began, Postrockstar gives a huge thanks to the band and their label for offering this album to our writers free of charge so that we could complete this Round Table Review.
Shooter – ‘Arrivals & Departures’ should be everything that I want in an album. It melds pretty post-rock guitar lines and piano melodies with the kind of delicate vocal delivery akin to bands such as Immanu El, Kyte, or the softer side of Athletics. The sense of texture and atmosphere once perfected by Explosions in the Sky is rarely ever traced with this amount of sophistication (“Pont des Mouton”, for example, sounds so indebted to Explosions in the Sky that it’s uncanny — not a bad thing). But for the first few listens to ‘Arrivals & Departures’, I felt like something was missing. The music floats, but not quite as gracefully as Immanu El‘s ‘They’ll Come, They Come.’ It’s emotional, without quite evoking the level of sentiment conveyed by Dorena‘s ‘Holofon‘. ‘Arrivals & Departures’ is fundamentally mid-tempo, and this serves to ensure that it never offends, yet it never quite excites either. Devoting your full attention to this album might render it a forgettable experience. Take it simply as music to accompany other activities such as reading, however, and you might find it will grow; its melodies and crescendos gradually latching themselves onto your subconscious. Patience is rewarded. Hopefully with their next release The Calm Blue Sea will play more to their strengths, averting focus away from explosions of sound and with a penchant for their softer, more pensive moments. The vocals, too, should be given more space to explore, as they’re certainly one of the stronger constituents of the band’s sound. – 81%
Bothra – With their 2008 self-titled release, The Calm Blue Sea rose quickly to one of my favorite new acts on the scene. “We Happy Few” was the perennial top request in the Post-Rock & Beyond turntable.fm channel that a couple other Postrockstar writers and myself regularly frequent and “The Rivers That Run Beneath This City” absolutely blew me away on several occasions. It is an understatement to say that I eagerly awaited their next installment. We were teased a few months ago with “Mary Ann Nichols“, and it piqued my interest but did not strike me at the same level that several songs from the previous LP did. I figured they were saving the real meat of the new album, ‘Arrivals & Departures‘, for release. On release, I sat with this album several times before forming an opinion on the progression between the two solid records. What I found was that my expectations got the better of me. On this album, we get more of the same – but not in any sort of innovative or comforting way. Sure, there are standout tracks such as ‘Pont Des Mouton’ and ‘Tesoro‘, with their clear melodies incorporating light intricacies of piano, subdued vocals as well as shining guitar work. I just feel that the overall emotion is lacking the punch and subtlety of the first record. The listener is left to meander half-heartedly, accompanied by background music that occasionally morphs into cacophonous crescendos. Still, TCBS does many things well. Their use of vocals in the mix is velvety and discreet, their piano work feels welcomed and they have moments of excellent song structure and effective building of emotion. Ultimately, I’m underwhelmed due to my high hopes for the album, and I feel that many bands have put out similar overall quality over the past few years. What was my pre-release favorite for album of the year ends up in the middle of the road. 83%
James – In so many ways I consider The Calm Blue Sea‘s self titled 2008 debut to be something of a perfect storm. Here you have a band coming from the backyard of one of the biggest post-rock bands of all time (Explosions in the Sky) that just happens to debut with one of the most breathtaking emotional roller coaster ride albums of all time. The album immediately put the band in rarefied air with timeless songs like “This Will Never Happen Again” and of course “We Happy Few”. To say the band set the bar high would be an understatement in my estimation. Some four years later the band has returned with ‘Arrivals & Departures’ and while I will say that it doesn’t reach the mark the band set with their debut it certainly doesn’t disappoint either. The band retained much of the formula from their debut album including the deep piano intros, the sweeping build ups and their ability to make each peak feel like a monumental moment. While some of the piano work such as the short opening track didn’t particular speak to me on the same levels the work in their earlier songs did, the guitar work is as stellar as ever. One thing I do like much more about this album is the much larger vocal presence. The vocals found within “Samsara” are beautiful yet not overpowering and feel well meshed within the rest of the instruments of the song. With its flurry of guitar layering of various styles, “Pont Des Mouton” gets my nod as best track on the album. I also have to mention the album’s closer, “To Approach the Vivian Girls” where the band manages to hit the absolute sweet spot in combining lush guitar tones and elegant piano work with minimalist vocals. All in all it combines to create a relaxed closing track that is a proper ending to the album. Overall I find ‘Arrivals & Departures’ to be a great album to drift away to the back of your mind to that will continue to grow on me as it racks up plays on my ipod. – 89%
Drew R. – To best judge an album, after the first play through I ask myself, “would I play this again and under what circumstance?”. Unfortunately for this Texan band once I have finished this review I will not be listening to it again. Whilst on the whole this album is inoffensive, there is nothing here that hasn’t been done before and done to a much higher standard. The build ups are predictable and pedestrian and sound like tracks that EITS have left on the cutting room floor. Musically the rhythm section is functional, providing a stable base for the guitars to play over but nothing is willing to take a risk. Sadly the greatest tool I can use to engage with albums, emotion, is sorely lacking here leaving me unmoved and apathetic – 55%
Bryan – After listening to ‘Arrivals & Departures’ for the first time, I walked away feeling like I hadn’t listened to anything. Nothing seemed to stand out. When I perked my ears up, the reasons as to why I could tune this out became apparent. The problem with this album is that the transitions between heavy riffs and slowly plodding piano parts are abrupt and sloppy. Right as I was sinking into a track, the guitars would start blaring and the drummers would beat the hell out of his set. Of course, this is the post-rock paradigm, but we’ve begun to move on from such easy progressions. Many will love this album because it stuck to the roots of post-rock: quiet, build, explode, restart. If that’s what you want, other bands have done it and done it better. I look forward to seeing how this band continues to evolve because there are moments that I still revisit. “Samsara” is a wonderfully slow build that breaks without unnecessary intensity. The title track emphasizes a minimalist but gorgeous piano that doesn’t devolve into unnecessary noise, and the quiet vocal line still gives me shivers. This band has some good ideas, but they need to move away from the post-rock cycle and embrace their sound. 81%
ShanexEdge – Let’s face it, when any post-rock band releases a record, it’s going to get compared to the heavyweights of the genre. That’s a given, really, in almost any genre. The Calm Blue Sea, hailing from Austin, TX, get it two-fold, as they share their hometown with genre titans Explosions in the Sky. While I can understand making the comparisons, since both bands (and many others) are big fans of the build-up, I don’t think it’s really fair. On their newest release, ‘Arrivals & Departures’, The Calm Blue Sea have delivered an album that, while carrying familiar elements of post-rock, really sets them apart from a great deal of their peers. Sure, the build-up is ever-present, but it’s delivered in a way that strikes me as more cinematic than anything else. This isn’t really a stretch for the band, considering that between the release of their self-titled debut album, and this one, they wrote a score for the 1924 silent film Siegfried, performing it live in a one-off showing off the film in their hometown.
One of the first things you notice after listening to this album all the way through is the increased presence of vocals, though I’m certainly not saying that as a negative. The majority of the vocals here, especially on tracks like “We Will Never Be As Young As We Are Tonight” and “To Approach the Vivian Girls”, are performed in such a way that the vocals themselves become an instrument, and aren’t delivered in the standard verse-chorus-verse layout. This also works well on “Diaspora“, a shorter, almost interlude track, where the vocals are the only thing accompanying a beautiful piano line, creating a wonderful atmosphere to lead in to the following track, “Mary Ann Nichols“. As wonderfully as this track starts off, it really hits its stride at the 4 minute mark, with a build-up that leads into one of the most explosive moments on the album. Showing their mastery of writing a full album, rather than just a collection of songs, this in turn leads right into “Tesoro“, my personal favorite track. What begins with a rocking first two minutes, a la The Appleseed Cast (I know, I know… comparisons), leads to a beautifully droning segment of the song, slowly building up to another explosion of melody at around 5:30. The crafting of this song is so brilliantly done, I almost feel like saying when the build-up hits should be preceded by me saying “spoiler alert!”
If you really must have a comparison between The Calm Blue Sea and their more famous Austin neighbors, here you go – to me, ‘Arrivals & Departures‘ rivals damn near anything Explosions in the Sky has released, and should rightly cement this band as one of the best in the genre, hands down. – 93%
Final Score – 80.3%
Available digitally through Itunes for $8 here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/arrivals-and-departures/id560383959
or grab the CD for just $11 here: http://modernoutsider.bigcartel.com/product/pre-order-the-calm-blue-sea-arrivals-departures-cd
The Calm Blue Sea: http://www.thecalmbluesea.com/