Music InWallved – Orange Album

Music InWallved - Orange AlbumSome countries are just proving to be breeding grounds for talented post-rock bands. The US has its fair share, of course England and Japan do as well. Russia has made quite a presence over the past few years, and any list of countries spawning notable post-rock bands wouldn’t be complete without Iceland (even if only for Sigur Ros, though there are certainly others who are more than worth mentioning). When you go down this list of countries and the number of noteworthy post-rock bands (you know, the list that I just made up about 20 seconds ago), you don’t really see Lithuania on there. Like, at all. If “Orange Album”, the debut from Music InWallved (which has been in the works for 5 years!) is any indication, you might want to keep an eye on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.

The album tells the tale of a final night in your home city, before embarking on a journey to space. While space isn’t anywhere near a new concept in the realm of post-rock, I really enjoy the way this story is told, as stated by the band:

Orange City – A journey through the city, full of memories. Orange Beach – Last evening with friends, family. Orange Sea – A sea voyage with your favorite. Orange Island – The last night before the flight. Orange Base – Voltage and decreasing time. Orange Rocket – Start. Flight. The ultimate goal.

I don’t exactly know how the final track, ‘Phoenix’, fits in to this narrative (I’m assuming it’s tied in to the flight of the rocket, phoenix in flames sort of thing), but given how the final “orange” track goes, I’ve got my ideas (more on that later). Of course, given that the band calls ‘Phoenix’ a bonus track, it may not be tied into it at all. This is very keyboard driven post-rock, and it’s done really, really well. I think that the entire band should obviously be commended for crafting the songs, but I’m especially impressed with the keyboard playing of Edgar Sokolov. While it’s not necessarily very difficult music that he’s playing, it’s just done so well that it becomes the driving force behind each of the songs. That said, I have to admit that one of my favorite moments on the album comes courtesy of bass player Anton Avin at about 2:40 into the track ‘Orange Island’. I don’t feel like you often have the bass setting the tone for the crescendo as is the case here, and I love the way the rest of the musicians come together to pull it off.

By the time the story reaches it’s conclusion, you’ve definitely gained a sense of that last night pretty well. From enjoying the time spent with your friends and loved ones, to the realization that you’re leaving them behind, culminating in the darker, uneasy feeling on ‘Orange Rocket’, the flight of the rocket itself. The tone of this final song is definitely heavier than the rest of the album, as though perhaps there was a problem with the flight…

One of the things that is most striking to me about this album is that, according to the band, they didn’t “learn to play” post-rock. Instead, after creating these songs, they found out that the music that they had written could be characterized as post-rock, which is pretty awesome to me. If you’re not setting out to create a specific style of music, but rather just writing based off of your influences and ideas, I think the final product comes out much better than trying to cram what you want to write into a tidy little genre name. Now, the question is if they’ll be able to avoid that pre-disposed categorization and the trappings that come with it on future recordings. My guess, based off of ‘Phoenix’, is that future music will definitely be a bit more defined by post-rock, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress, and just hope that it’s not another 5 years before they release a new album!

Side note, I strongly encourage you all to visit Music InWallved’s website and poke around a little. Really, really clever.

 

Great Plains – Great Plains

greatplainsWhen I was a bit younger, and didn’t have pesky grown-up problems like bills and rent payments and stuff, I would occasionally go to the record store and flip through albums with the idea that I was going to pick something up based off of the cover art. The idea here was that whatever the art was gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect from the music. Sometimes it worked out pretty well, sometimes… well.. sometimes it was awful. I’d say that, in general, the results were more in my favor than not. I bring this up because the minute I saw the artwork for Great Plains’ self-titled debut EP, that old feeling came over me. Just looking at it, I thought “I bet I know what this is going to sound like, and I bet I’m going to like it”.

 

Fortunately for me, this wasn’t one of the situations where I was dreadfully wrong, on either count.

So, that said, the album art is pretty accurate in giving the potential listener an idea of what to expect – it’s foggy, it’s a little grey, but it’s pretty. Hell, there are even some sounds on the record that sound kind of like birds. It’s almost like the guys in the band looked at the picture and went, “So, this. This is what we’re going to sound like”, and you know what? It’s good. Damn good. It has the fog – the repetitive, droning moments; it has the grey – some of the moodier, atmospheric moments; and it has the pretty – the more “standard” post-rock moments. The beauty of this album to me, though, is the not so obvious influences. The bits of Sonic Youth that I hear in the songs is every bit as important as the Isis. It’s always a great thing to me when a band truly tries to incorporate all of their influences (and is also a great reason why I’ve never been successful in starting a band).

Allow me though, if you will, to sort of step away from talking about the music for a second. Well, not entirely, but sort of. The EP was recorded live, and being a bit of a music nerd (ya think?), I’m highly impressed. Far too often, even in post-rock, bands rely very heavily on recording layers over layers, tweaking things after recording them, and so on. When I discover that a band has recorded their album live, it gives me kind of a warm, fuzzy feeling. So, kudos to Great Plains for having the courage and talent to do such a thing.

The EP itself climbs and descends the way you would expect a lone post-rock song to do. Even a cursory glance at the track times will show you that – short, medium, long, medium, short. Given that this was recorded live, I tend to think that the track listing was intentionally laid out in such a way, but maybe I’m reading into things a bit too much. Regardless, the composition of the songs work fairly well together. My two gripes are the endings of ‘Colder/Brighter’ and ‘Drive About You’. While the ending of the latter just seems a little misplaced, the finale of the former is just really anti-climatic to me. Of course, as with most EPs that I enjoy, I wish that it was a bit longer, but so it goes. In an age of being able to binge watch great TV shows in a fantastic display of shunning your social life, we’re kind of accustomed to wanting as much as possible as quickly as possible. I’ll be more than content, however, to enjoy this EP while I wait for more music from these guys!

 

Roundtable Review: Collapse Under the Empire – Sacrifice & Isolation

Postrockstar is no stranger to Collapse Under the Empire and you probably shouldn’t be either. The post-rock powerhouse duo from Germany have released either an album or EP in each year dating back to 2009 show no signs of letting up. ‘Sacrifice & Isolation’ is their fifth studio album an is the follow up to  2011’s ‘Shoulders & Giants’ as  a two-part conceptual series. We’ve gone ahead and taken the album to task in this month’s roundtable to see if it could stand up to C.U.T.E’s track record of quality.

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With each new installment from Collapse Under The Empire we see these small little changes that have led us to ‘Sacrifice & Isolation’. The raw potential C.U.T.E always possessed has slowly and precisely been smelted into a finely crafted musical object. The production values and mixing process have steadily increased, the way they write songs ever so slightly refined to perfection. The soundscapes they create have gone from these small glimpses of environments into fully fleshed out musical realms of bleakness meets glimmer of hope. Make no mistake about it, this is the new high watermark for C.U.T.E. Like every album that has come before it, their latest work is so blatantly obvious their best work.

‘Sacrifice & Isolation’ is their fourth album and follow up to 2011’s ‘Shoulder & Giants’ as a conceptual effort. Sure there was a couple releases in between those albums, but pay no attention to them. Well, pay lots of attention to them, but right now we’re focusing on the culmination of a three-year musical journey for C.U.T.E. This album is massive in-depth and sound staging, but you probably already knew that if you were at all familiar with their work (and at this point you better be). ‘Massif’ shines as a Massif high point to the album (see what I did there?) while tracks like the title tracks as well as ‘A Broken Silence’ are just more C.U.T.E classics that fall in line with what I’ve come to love and expect from the band.

The deep synths playing ever so lovingly with distant swirling crescendos, the beats that utilize both live and electronic drives, the bleak overtones, the shimmering moments of desperation, the overbearing distress, They’re all here. It might all be a bit formulamatic at times, but like your favorite 1 AM comfort food from Dennys, you keep coming back for more because it just feels so damn right. And while I certainly don’t need carbs or deserts in my life anymore, the idea of being a post-rock enthusiast and not having Collapse Under the Empire in regular rotation is simply unfathomable. Another C.U.T.E classic, a must listen of 2014 and without question an album that earns a well deserved spot on my year end lists. – James

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https://i0.wp.com/i.imgur.com/ONcH7LM.jpgJames may like this album but, unlike him, I didn’t follow this band since their beginnings. I have a hard time getting into this primarily because of the thing James likes the most – The synth. It felt like some sort of 90’s movie trailer on the opening track  and it just never goes away. Every time I expect the band to go all-out-heavy-crescendo-whatever, it suddenly loses its thrill when the synth can’t keep up with the grunge. The keyboard can’t sound very gloomy when it’s practically identical to Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. I may be exaggerating, but that accursed keyboard is the only thing holding me back from loving this album as a brilliant, dark, and brooding piece of post-rock.

As for the rest of it, everything sounds like it’s recorded professionally, and I certainly love their sense of structure and composition. I was falling in love with the intro for ‘Lost’ with its almost industrial-sounding drums. The bassist is no slouch, no matter what’s going on. And the way they build up is well done, even if I don’t care for it. If they went in a more 65daysofstatic sort of direction, or even a sleepmakeswaves direction, I’d be much more content with this, but it has too little electronica for me to feel like it’s supposed to be there. I picture in my head the discomfort the rest of the band members go through when they try to tell the keyboardist that he doesn’t quite fit. So they just let him do his own thing, and essentially play on top of him. – Foofer

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This review comes from somebody who is a new listener to Collapse Under The Empire. By new I actually mean I’ve never really given them the time of day. Every track I have heard has been good, but none have pushed me to go out and listen to this band. So I somewhat reluctantly sat down to give their newest offering, Sacrifice & Isolation a spin.

Sacrifice opens the album and basically delivers what should be a favourite track. The melodies are wonderful; the EDM style build-ups are really well executed, and managing to maintain interest around the same motif for 8 minutes is pretty impressive. However it has not really done anything for me. I find it lifeless, somehow dull. Isolation, if anything, is worse. A meandering bore-athon that has basically caused me to switch off to the rest of the album on more than one occasion. The album proceeds in much the same way. Massif has a promising intro, but fits back into the mold of the previous track. Lost does the same, find a motif, play around with it for a bit with the same tired dynamics and techniques, finish the track.

I love this sort of music because it makes me feel something, unfortunately this doesn’t stir my emotions really. I think the production feels too clinical and robotic. It does not feel like there are two human beings behind it and that is a big turn off for me. Then we have track 5, Awakening. Holy shit! It has taken nearly half the album but here is something that makes me sit up and take interest. Parts rise and fall, tension mounts and then disappears without resolution, you are kept on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next. Shame it just had to end, I really wanted it to go on and on.

From here on the album definitely picks up. The main reason is that there is an improvement in the dynamics that takes away from the clinical feeling of the production. Check out the album highlight, Stairs to the Redemption. The drumming and heavy guitar chords are a welcome relief to what has come before. The subdued track that follows, What The Heart Craves For, has some delay heavy noise elements that I really like. The Path is another great track that rises and falls with uplifting movements, as you would expect and possible tire of from myriad post-rock bands. In this context it is incredibly welcome.

I am going to make a grand assumption that this is probably not their greatest work and if a massive fan of their work disagrees then I think that generally C.U.T.E. are not for me. There are some really great tracks on the album though; it is a shame I had to trawl through the first half to find them.  Must listen: Stairs to the Redemption, The Path   – TenaciousListening

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Within the genre (and sub-genres) of post-rock, there aren’t really a lot of standout bands. Now, I don’t mean that as a way to say there aren’t many good bands, because obviously there are tons. What I mean is that in a musical style that’s defined in great part by usage of instruments only, it’s very hard to set yourself apart. There are countless numbers of bands doing the whole “cinematic” sound, and I like a great deal of them. Problem is, a lot of them sound very, very similar (well, maybe it’s not a problem, but you know what I mean). There’s a small handful of bands that, in my opinion, are doing something different, something that makes them stand out a little. That, to me, is the mark of a really great band. Explosions in the Sky does it, Godspeed You! Black Emperor & Sigur Ros do it, and if you ask me, Collapse Under the Empire does it.

Jumping back to the turntable.fm days, there were times where there wasn’t a lot of chatting going on, if there were just a couple of us in the room listening to tunes while we worked. Without fail, any time a C.U.T.E. song came on, you knew it was them. There was no question. In a sea of bands that are either trying blatantly to sound like other bands, or bands that not only wear their influences on their sleeves, but make a whole shirt of them, it’s a welcome change. As James said in far more eloquent terms than I can at the moment, this is a band that has been constantly evolving since day one, and well, the proof is in the pudding here. While I wouldn’t be so brazen as to say that this is leaps and bounds beyond previous material, it’s definitely a positive, and natural feeling, progression.

Where other bands do the “pretty but sad” thing, and do it well, C.U.T.E. is one of the few that can (appropriately enough, given the title of this album) really make the feeling of isolation sonically possible. Where other bands do “sad scene with snowfall”, they do “everything and everyone I love is gone”. Rather than the sense of loss from a doomed romance or something of that ilk, this is the soundtrack to the terror of abandonment, of being completely and utterly alone. There are moments of hope present, of starting anew (or “freedom”, as the band themselves have stated), but overall, it’s a dark and lonely record. The beauty crafted out of these feelings is palpable, and, like James, I suspect strongly that this will have a solid place on my year-end list. If i have one bone to pick with this album, it’s the intro to “A Broken Silence”. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the music, and just sound like the music from an 8-bit boss fight scene to me. Other than that rather small gripe, I think these two German lads have created something truly fantastic. – ShaneXedge

   

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

Cinématique – Limbo

Reviewed by Shanexedge

Gather ’round, readers. This is a story of a band from Vienna, Austria, and a video game created by a Danish company. There’s technically no connection, just that the newest album by the former (the 4 piece Cinématique) was inspired by the latter – both are named Limbo, and the atmosphere present in both is hugely similar. Having really enjoyed Cinématique’s first album, I was a bit curious when the band said that the new album would be “way darker and more ambient”.  Given that both of those things are elements in music that I definitely enjoy, I wasn’t hesitant, but rather just sort of wondering what they would do with that direction.

It’s been a few years since I was first introduced to Cinématique, and they became one of those bands that went so long between releases that they sort of slipped form my mind, after a decent bit of time spent wondering if they were going to release anything else. In the 2 years+ between releases, the band was still playing shows and writing music, but post-rock being the somewhat sporadic beast that it is, you never really know if that’s going to amount to anything. Fortunately, it did amount to something in this case. Something that is definitely worth the wait, and something that really shows the amount of effort that was put into making it. Having finally had the chance to sit down and listen to Limbo, I’m definitely not disappointed.

Cinématique have created an absolutely fantastic album, and if you’ve played the video game, the influence is undeniably apparent. Muscially, the album is very much an ambient record, with flourishes of post-rock here and there, not unlike Hammock or This Will Destroy You. However, one of the most impressive elements to me is the way the vocals are used, blending in flawlessly with the music, becoming more of an instrument than something layered over top of other instruments. In this regard, there’s a definite Sigur Ros feel, and Cinématique is every bit as successful with the vocals-as-instrument approach as Jonsi and company are. If you’re not really paying attention, and are just sort of lost in the beauty of the songs, it may take a bit for you to realize that those are actually vocals at all.

Typically, when I review an album, I tend to look at it from a track by track point of view – how does this one transition to the next, does this one fit stylistically with the rest of the album, etc. What Cinématique have done with Limbo is record an album that flows absolutely perfectly from start to finish. There is no question of transition from track to track, everything just flows. No abrupt changes, nothing that seems out of place at all. The final track, “White Light”, is undoubtedly the most “typical” post-rock sounding track on the album, and in a way, the preceding 7 songs feel almost like a 44 minute build up. That build up, if you will, works amazingly to lead the listener into that final track, and every single part of this album works in cohesion to create something that sounds absolutely awesome. Knowing the visual elements and amount of artistic presentation the band puts into their live shows, I’m sure that any performance of the songs on this album would be breathtaking.

What this band has done so well is take elements and influences from other bands (as well as other outside influences, the video game in particular), and string them together in a way that creates something rather unique. Are there other bands doing the ambient post-rock thing? Absolutely. However, I think very, very few are doing it as well. Given the progression between their first album and this newest one, I’m incredibly excited to see how the band moves forward from this point. With Limbo, Cinématique have proven that they deserve a position amongst the more well-known bands in the genre, and hopefully they’ll get that due recognition.

    

tags: alternative art-rock post-rock alternative ambient art-rock post-rock vienna wien Wien

ShaneXedge’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 .

Deafheaven – Sunbather

“No real surprise here for anyone that knows me at all (or read my review here of this album). This album has continued to impress me with each listen, and is easily my most listened to record of the year. “

Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty

“If I were to do a tie for first place, this would be side by side with Deafheaven. An absolutely incredible record, and (in my opinion) a big improvement from previous releases. I can listen to this whole album on repeat for days.”

The Fauns – Lights

“Speaking of big improvements, The Fauns really outdid themselves on this release. SOme of the best shoe gaze/dream pop I’ve heard in years. “4 AM” is very easily my favorite song of 2013. Here’s to hoping for a US tour…”

Lumbar – The First and Last Days of Unwelcome

“I won’t get too into the details of this record here (as I could go on and on), but it’s absolutely crushing. Lyrics and music born from the pain that one of the members (Aaron Edge) goes through as a result of MS, it’s NOT an easy listen. Unbearably heavy, both musically and emotionally. Definitely worth a little searching online to find all of the details.”

Light Bearer – Silver Tongue

“I don’t know that I’ll ever not be a fan of the music that these guys put out (whether it’s as Light Bearer, or in any of the various associated acts). That said, I think this album fell a little from the greatness that was Lapsus, but it’s still an incredible record.”

Touché Amore – Is Survived By

“I don’t listen to nearly as much hardcore as I used to, but Touché Amore certainly isn’t textbook hardcore. This is a gorgeous record, everything from the music to the lyrics to the artwork is stunning.”

Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day

“2013 had a couple of very notable bands reemerge from their slumber, and in my opinion, none did it better than Mazzy Star. Granted, the band never technically broke up, they just stopped releasing music. Whatever the case, Seasons of Your Day is a marvelous return.”

Locrian – Return to Annihilation

“Lociran is not an easy band to pin a genre on – black metal, drone, electronic… who knows. With that in mind, don’t expect an album that will play in the background while you go about your day. This is an incredibly complex, attention grabbing record, and should have your full attention.”

Volcano Choir – Repave

“I’m typically a sucker for most things that Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) does, but even with that little tidbit, this album is fantastic. Gorgeous indie rock with touches of folk (of course), and even a hint of post-rock here and there. The guitar work is sparse at times, but absolutely awesome.”

Celeste – Animale(s)

“Another band that’s hard to place into a neatly laid out genre, Celeste is a French “black metal” band that certainly doesn’t fit the mold (none of the band had even listened to any black metal before people started mentioning the supposed influences to them). Heavy, dark, and beautiful, all the hallmarks of a Celeste release.”

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://i0.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’

Deafheaven – Sunbather

Sunbather cover art

Artist Deafheaven
Album Sunbather
Genre Post-Metal | Black Metal
Buy/DL Bandcamp
Web Facebook
Label Deathwish Inc.
Release 11 June 2013
Rating:  Must Listen

I’ve been struggling with writing this review for going on a month and a half now, and in a way that I haven’t yet struggled with writing one. Far from being an unlistenable album that I don’t *want* to review (which, to be honest, I just wouldn’t review), “Sunbather” absolutely has blown me away. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve listened to it since I first got it, and I’ve just struggled with putting the proverbial ink to paper. That said, here goes nothing.

To say this record is a progression and shows more depth as a band since their last full length, “Roads to Judah” would be an understatement. On “Roads“, there always seemed to be a bit of a struggle with the mixing of elements in the band’s sound, though people that have been paying attention shouldn’t be all that surprised at the growth found on “Sunbather” had they heard the Mogwai cover (“Punk Rock/Cody“) that the band released as their half of a split with fellow Bay Area band Bosse-de-Nage. Every mixture that Deafheaven has experimented with, from their demo through “Roads“, has been absolutely nailed on this album. From the black metal blast beats and harshness of the vocals, to the welcome addition of drummer Daniel Tracy, to the ethereal shoegaze and post-rock guitar moments, everything falls into place absolutely perfectly.

The album centers largely around a moment that vocalist George Clarke experienced when he briefly moved back home – driving around a well-to-do neighborhood, he spotted a girl sunbathing on her front yard, and began thinking about the contrast between her seemingly simple, easy life and his own, fraught with mistakes and failures. Clarke has explained that it was a very difficult thing for him to process, and thus it became something of a central theme for the record after discussing it with guitarist Kerry McCoy (the only other permanent member of the band, at least as of yet).

Even the brief interlude tracks here feel like so much more than just filler, they do quite a bit to carry the tone from song to song, and tie things together. One of these tracks, “Please Remember” also features a guest appearance by Neige from Alcest (and a ton of other bands) reading lines from “The Unbearable Lightness of Being“, a passage which Clarke describes as “really important” as it deals largely with insecurity. This again ties in with the contrasting lives and emotions felt at seeing the girl sunbathing, and it also presents itself elsewhere throughout the record. Perhaps most notably in the closing lines of the final track, “The Pecan Tree” in which Clarke declares “I am my father’s son/I am no one/I cannot love/It’s in my blood”. Here he speaks about his actual father, and how he has followed a bit in his footsteps by becoming emotionally detached. It’s an absolutely soul-bearing moment, one that Clarke says he questions “whether or not I should have done it”.

Deafheaven will forever be a band that people argue about, quibbling about whether or not they’re a “true” black metal band, which honestly is something I think the band never gave a shit about. For any listener to do so is to deny themselves of an absolutely incredible record, one that defies (and in some way helps define) genres. Comparisons have, of course, been made to other post black metal bands like the aforementioned Alcest, Amosoeurs, Hate Forest, etc., and while similarities no doubt exist, the bands are all different enough to carry on doing their own thing. 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. Others have proclaimed this album to be a “pinnacle of American black metal”, on par with Weakling‘s “Dead as Dreams“, and while I can’t say that I disagree with that at all, I think that “Sunbather” is far more of a game changer than “Dead as Dreams“, even as much as it heavily inspired other great bands (Wolves in the Throne Room is the obvious one). There’s so much more depth, more to be heard, more to be felt here than anywhere on Weakling’s lone release, and to me, that speaks volumes about what this band has accomplished in such a short time, and what they’re capable of in the future.

Shy, Low – Binary Opposition

Binary Opposition cover art

Artist Shy, Low
Album ‘Binary Opposition’
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Bandcamp
Web Facebook
Label The Subterranea Collective | Fluttery Records
Release Feb 23 2013
Rating Excellent

Richmond, VA has always been a hotbed of musical activity, and I’ve been lucky enough to live in close enough proximity to experience a lot of it. The bulk of the music coming out of the city, however, has been hardcore, punk, and metal (at least that’s what was on my radar), so when I first discovered Shy, Low sometime last year and found out that they hail from Richmond, I was pleasantly surprised. Not that geographical location has much to do with anything, but when a band like this emerges out of a city that’s probably best known for Gwar, Avail, and Lamb of God, it makes you take notice. Anyway, enough rambling about where the band lives, since ultimately it doesn’t matter much.

While I suppose this release is technically an EP, the two songs on here far surpass anything on last year’s self-titled album in length, with both clocking in at over 12 minutes long. Between the length and density of the two tracks, it definitely doesn’t feel like an EP, though. There’s more than enough layers here to make every second of this record truly interesting, and it’s a very engaging listen. While all of the ideas and techniques here are very similar to the ones present on their last release, Shy, Low has definitely progressed as a band. The comparisons to bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mono will come, and are warranted, but I feel like Shy, Low have taken those influences and crafted something that’s just a bit different from the copycat bands. Along with a handful of other bands, like their neighbors to the south in The Farewell Monument, Shy, Low is a great representation of a newer breed of cinematic/orchestral post-rock bands, and ‘Binary Opposition‘ is an incredible well crafted display of that.

The various effects and layers of reverb used by the band give everything a truly massive sound (thanks in no small part to what the band refers to as guitarist Gregg Peterson’s “personal stage”, his collection of various effects pedals), and at times, it’s very easy to forget that something that sounds so huge was written and recorded by just 4 people. This is apparent almost everywhere on ‘Binary Opposition‘, but it really shines starting at about the 6:30 mark on the second track, “Absence“. The layers of guitars just seem to keep piling up, showcasing some masterful work by Peterson and his fellow guitarist, Zak Bryant. The rhythm section of Shy, Low is certainly not lacking in talent either, and that’s made very clear moments later in the same song. As the guitars build back up, drummer Sean Doody pounds out a driving, almost menacing drum line, accompanied by the low end rumbling of Ian Currie’s bass work.

While ‘Binary Opposition’ may not feel like an EP, you quickly realize how fast the nearly 25 minutes of music have passed, and are left wanting more. If there’s one down side to this release, it’s just that. Now, you can also look at the flip side of that, and understand that Shy, Low has created a record so good that you’re left wanting more, which is exactly the stance I’m taking on it. So while I patiently await more new music from these guys (give them a break, they just released this like a month ago), I’ll definitely have ‘Binary Opposition‘ in heavy rotation.