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’

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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.

Roundtable Review – And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures

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Artist And So I Watch You From Afar
Album ‘All Hail Bright Futures’
Genre Post-Rock / Math-Rock
Buy/DL bandcamp
Web Facebook | Sargent House
Label Sargent House
Release Mar 19 2013
Rating Excellent

After a short hiatus, we’re back with yet another roundtable review. This time around  Shane, Shooter and myself (Iamhop) are taking a look at the much anticipated ‘All Hail Bright Futures’ by And So I Watch You From Afar, the band’s third full length.

Shane: Everyone’s favorite creepily named Irishmen are back with a new album, and oh, it’s a great one. They continue to defy easy genre classification, by just providing awesome, infectious, instrumental jams. They don’t have the crescendos, the build-ups, or any of the “cinematic” stuff, they don’t really have the math rock angle going on, they just play what they love, and it comes out awesome. I mean, they use a steel drum for crying out loud. Who else has the balls to do that?

They do slow things down a bit here and there, like on “The Stay Golden Pt. 3 (Trails…)”, and the following track, “Mend And Make Safe”. While the former is a short little mellow track, the latter is a little less bouncy version of classic ASIWYFA, which reminds me a bit of The Dismemberment Plan (in a very, very good way).

In an album so full of highlights (the chant on “Ambulance” is pretty damn awesome, for example), it’s hard to really find anything “wrong” with this album. If I had one bone to pick, I’m not that into the first 3 minutes or so of “Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka“, but the track finishes strong. The final track, “Young Brave Minds”, is probably the stand out track to me, which is a difficult thing to say given how great everything else on the album is.

Every time ASIWYFA puts out a new album, I wonder how they’re going to top it. Well, they’ve topped ‘Gangs‘ here, in my opinion, and of course, now I’m wondering how they’re going to top this. Excellent.

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IamHop:  And So I Watch You From Afar is one of those bands you really need to see live to truly appreciate the energy that flows through the band’s barrage of musical insanity . While technically sound, the band really does thrive off the unrelenting energy they bring forth into creating a chaotic and rambunctiously fun sound. When I saw them open for Russian Circles last summer, I expected a solid show. What I didn’t expect was for them to completely tear the house down and take all the air out of the room in the process. At the end of the night, people were talking about ASIWYFA, not Russian Circles. I have to hand it to them for their ability to create highly catchy mathy post-rock that never settles  falls into grooves and is constantly out to surprise the listener. You truly never know what to expect when you listen to one of their albums.

Which leads us to their latest effort ‘All Hail Bright Futures’, released earlier this month. The album picks up right where their 2011 album “Gangs” left off. Everything you’ve come to expect from the band is present and there are no real surprises to be found throughout the album’s 12 tracks. “Big Thinks Do  Remarkable” is a fantastic jam that kicks things off and never quits as it pushes forward. It’s just too hard not to chant along the track. “The Stay Golden” blends crazy electronic elements with more chanting and guitar work that simply flows on all levels. “Young Brave Minds” is the only song over 5 minutes to be found on the album and is there to reassure us that all the members of ASIWYFA haven’t developed ADHD and suddenly lack the attention span to create a great song longer than 3 minutes. While it is the best song on the album, the shorter tracks are really what sells the whole thing to me. Obviously this is an album that flows brilliantly without a dull moment to ever be found.

In comparison to their previous two releases, ‘All Hail Bright Futures’ is a much more solid album from  front to back. While their other two albums are home to some truly epic tracks that are must listen to post-rock essentials, their biggest fault is that both tended to taper off in energy and had trouble maintaining my interest after the initial rush of musical intensity the first few tracks brought to the table began to die down. That problem is nowhere to be found on this album and is a highly enjoyable experience from front to back. Mark this one down as “Excellent” in my book.

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Shooter: And So I Watch You from Afar channel Battles in their latest bid to become recognized as the most fun not-quite-post-rock band in the post-rock circuit today. ‘All Hail Bright Futures’ focuses this band’s pop sensibilities into one hard-and-fast ride, such that it’s incredibly difficult to not be excited by the infectious hooks that seep from the get-go. The riffs are quick and packed with energy as you’d expect, yet there’s also a sense of patience that was at times missing in previous albums. No longer do songs hurriedly shift from riff to riff — each melody is allowed to repeat for long enough for the hooks to really attach. The now-prominent use of vocals aids in making each motif more memorable, yet it also lends a somewhat cute and fun edge to the music. And So I Watch You from Afar have always stated their case that post-rock can be a blast, but it’s never been more convincing than it is here. ‘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. Excellent

Huldra – Monuments, Monoliths

Monuments, Monoliths cover art

Artist Huldra
Album Monuments, Monoliths
Genre Post-Metal
Buy/DL Bandcamp
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Label Independent
Release 12 January 2013
Rating Very Good

While I’m not really the biggest fan of the deep, growling vocals, Huldra have enough going on to make it work well, and for me to really enjoy it. That said, being greeted by those vocals alone can be a bit of a shock, but it certainly pays off. The debut full-length (the band previously released the ‘Signals From the Void‘ EP, and a split with fellow Utah band Dustbloom) by this Salt Lake City quintet is heavy on the sludge, and heavy on the Isis influence. There’s no rip-off here, by any means, though – Huldra brings enough of their own immense songwriting talent to make things truly unique. In addition to all of the post-rock/sludge/whatever influences, there’s a bit of psychedelia that creeps in here and there, mostly through some of the bass lines, which creates a wonderfully eerie mood.

The phrase “roller coaster ride” is used a lot to describe post-* albums, and in this case, it’s especially fitting. The opening track, “Monuments“, is a relentless assault (albeit with some underlying melodic guitar riffs) that runs it’s course before diving straight into the much more subdued and melodic “Twisted Tongues and Gnarled Roots“. This is where some of the first instances of the previously mentioned bass lines can first be noticed, and they have sort of a Tool feel to them. The song ascends to a truly beautiful ending, with frantic guitars and driving drums leading the way for the last 2 minutes.

Noctua” acts as a somewhat calm, breather moment, before Huldra launches into the epic 12 minute “Ursidae“. The track builds and builds over the course of the first 8 minutes or so before really kicking into its full strength, and it’s magnificent when it does. It’s one of the top moments on the album to me, and really shows how talented these guys are. The follow up, “Thousands of Eyes“, wastes no time getting right into the heaviness. Sludgy riffs, pounding drums, and fierce vocals greet you almost immediately. The aural assault wanes after about a minute and a half, leading to some clean vocals and melodic guitar work, before picking right back up. Admittedly, I’m not much of a fan of the clean vocals here, they fit the mood and tone, but… I just don’t think they’re very good. The rest of the track is really remarkable, though, so it’s just a minor setback.

Another transitional, ambient track, “Damnatio ad Bestias“, follows, further showcasing Huldra‘s understanding of setting a mood, and their great ability to do so. These interludes, as it were, give the album sort of a living feel to it, as though you can feel it truly rising and falling. “As Above, So Below” is one of the most instrument heavy songs on the album, with the vocals not kicking in until near the end. The brief burst of energy and vocals gives way again to a slower, melodic pace that rounds out the song.

My absolute favorite track on the album is up next, “Is This The End? This Is The End”. Even the initial riff lets you know that you’re in for a hell of a ride, and once everything else kicks in shortly thereafter, things get really good. To me, this is a near perfect sludge/post-metal song. The builds and breaks, the melody and mayhem, it all works together so well here. There’s one reeeeally weird element to the intro, but I don’t want to give it away. I want to see if anyone notices and agrees with me.

I may be in the minority here, but “Monoliths” is an incredibly beautiful track. Not only musically, but the inclusion of what sounds like a theremin perhaps, which creates noises that sound remarkably like whale songs is absolutely gorgeous. Overall, the track just has a haunting, beautiful feel to it, and despite being the most “experimental” track, it really is one that I can listen to over and over.

One final “breather” (“Auctoritas Non Veritas Facit Legem“) leads into the nearly 13 minute “The City in the Sky“, which provides Huldra with another opportunity to really explore their talents. The shorter songs on the album are good, of course, but I feel like the longer ones are where they truly shine. The interesting part of that is that the “shorter” songs still typically approach the 10 minute mark. There’s something about throwing in another two or three minutes that really makes the “long” songs stand out to me, but it may very well be that I just enjoy long, flowing songs.

All in all, it’s a really great album, with only a few minor flaws to me. Huldra are a fairly young band, in terms of how long they’ve been releasing music, so I’m very excited to see where they go from here.

Light Bearer – Silver Tongue

Silver Tongue cover art

Artist Light Bearer
Album ‘Silver Tongue’
Genre Post-Metal
Buy/DL bandcamp
Web Facebook
Label Halo of Flies/Alerta Antifascista/Moment of Collapse
Release Feb 8 2013
Rating Must Listen

For those who haven’t heard, or heard of, Light Bearer before, the London based sextet may prove difficult to pin a genre name on. Post-rock? Yep. Progressive metal? Yep. Drone? Yep. Post-hardcore? Yep. I think you get the point. The entirety of the band’s output is based around a story written by their vocalist, Alex CF (previously of Fall of Efrafa, currently also handling vocal duties for Momentum and Eleleth), which was influenced by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the Book of Genesis, amongst others. Hardly a stranger to singing/writing for a band with a literary focus (Fall of Efrafa’s discography was based around ideologies from Watership Down), Alex turns his focus here to the casting out of Lucifer from heaven, the story of Adam and Eve (Eve, of course, being representative of free will), the establishment of the church, and finally the war against God. Where ‘Lapsus‘ told the tale of Lucifer’s casting out from heaven after refusing to bow to humanity, ‘Silver Tongue‘ picks up with Lucifer rising from the void, atop the tower of Dis, to spread the message of truth and free will. Acting as the light bearer, he passes the metaphorical truth to Eve, herself an ancestor of humanity. The lyrics and storytelling here are absolutely top notch, and to me are a major part of what sets Light Bearer apart from other bands treading similar waters musically.

It’s rather difficult to fully describe an album with this much depth and intelligence, especially without relying on all of the cliches that could be so easily applied – epic, beautiful, haunting, crushing, etc. This album is all of that, and then some. The album opener, “Beautiful Is This Burden“, rolls along peacefully for the first 5 minutes or so as a string and horn laden intro, before the guitar, drums, and vocals kick in, bringing an extra depth and beauty. There are so many layers and sounds here, that now, upon my 6th or 7th listen, I’m still discovering little things in the background. Lee, the member responsible for the soundscapes, has really done a phenomenal job on this album, and it becomes immediately apparent here (especially if you listen through a quality pair of headphones).

The journey continues with “Amalgam“, a much darker and heavier track than it’s predecessor. Here is where some of Light Bearer‘s sludgier elements really shine, the hammering guitar riffs crashing headfirst into some of the more melodic picking. The darkness carries through to “Matriarch“, with it’s mournful cello arrangement, and the whispered echoes of the clean vocals. It’s a darkly beautiful moment, and fits the theme of the record (especially this song) very well. The song ascends as it tells the story of the first Eve, as she begins to fathom free will, and gain an understanding of the world around her. “Clarus” follows up with an almost hymnal, choir-like quality, and acts as something of an interlude. The shortest song on the album, it consists entirely of swirling background sounds and haunting clean vocals (see, there’s one of those cliches).

The mythology of Eve accepting the forbidden fruit is told in “Aggressor and Usurper“, and the confrontational tone of the song meshes nicely with the story, and the building hostility between God and Lucifer. This track, lyrically, also see Light Bearer working in an aggressive anti-sexist stance, one which truthfully is carried through the hole album, it just becomes much more evident here. A three minute piano interlude in the song leads to one of the most explosive moments on the album, as the hostility comes to a head and the Authority begins to show his anger.

Oddly, the intro to the final track, “Silver Tongue“, sounds nearly like a radio friendly song of sorts, with its gentle, melodic strumming, and background tambourine. This carries through for about 2 minutes, before the full strength of the song comes rushing forward. Quite possibly my favorite track on the album, this nearly 20 minute opus wraps up the album very nicely. It’s sometimes difficult to fathom the idea of something heavy being ambient and beautiful as well, but this song is just that.

‘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. I know it seems especially odd to be focusing so much on the lyrical content of an album on a post-* blog, but as I said, the story is really a very vital part of what makes Light Bearer such a powerful band. That’s not to say that the music is a secondary force by any means, but especially in the flood of fantastic post-metal releases we’ve seen over the past few months, the ability to tell a cohesive, flowing story with great effect absolutely sets Light Bearer apart from their peers. Conveniently, all lyrics (and explanations) are available on the band’s website.

For any fans of atmospheric post-metal, this is an absolute must listen. It’s pay what you wish on their bandcamp page (with physical releases on vinyl, CD, cassette, and a “special edition” to follow), so what have you got to lose? – Shanexedge

Long Distance Calling – The Flood Inside

Artist Long Distance Calling
Album The Flood Inside
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Longdistancecalling.de
Web Facebook
Label Superball
Release 4 March 2013
Rating Average

The German five piece Long Distance Calling return with their follow up to 2011’s ‘Long Distance Calling‘, and a few things have changed – Out is founding member Reimut von Bonn, and in is a new keyboardist/vocalist, Marsen Fischer. The band has worked a bit with guest vocalists before (John Bush of Armored Saint & Anthrax, and Jonas Renske of Katatonia for example), but Fischer is a permanent addition, though his vocals are not found on every track. Another move from a band that is always evolving, it seems.

The lead off track on the album, “Nucleus“, shows perfectly how Long Distance Calling refuses to fit into a tidy little post-rock label. Everything is moving along at the sort of pace most post-rock listeners are used to – build-ups, melody, atmosphere – when out of nowhere at about the 4 minute mark, a solid 2+ minutes of blues guitar riffing, courtesy of Henrik Freischlader. It works very well with the rest of the song, even if it may come as a bit of a surprise.

Fischer’s vocals are first featured on the next track, “Inside the Flood“, and in choosing him, Long Distance Calling has gone for sort of a hard rock feel. The vocal style is reminiscent of Mike Patton, without nearly as much range. I always give bands credit for pushing themselves and trying something new, it’s just that sometimes, it doesn’t quite work. While Fischer is no doubt a talented singer, his vocals combined with the lazy, repetitive riffing (save for a 2 and a half minute segment that’s a bit too cheesy ballad for me) make the song little more than a sub-par hard rock song.

Ductus” is up next, and starts off with some calm, slow guitar picking, accompanied by a quote from Twin Peaks. The song picks up steam a little as the quote ends, and despite a few really out of tune guitar notes, things move along comfortably with the inclusion of some electronic elements. The pace switches about halfway through, and the song is dominated for a few moments by some heavy, rhythmic, almost tribal sounding drumming. Things tend to draw on a bit long, and I feel like this song could have been a minute or two shorter, honestly. It even ends with the cheesy, dramatic pause followed by a single loud guitar note (you know, the way bar bands end their cover set).

The best part of the following song, “Tell the End“, comes in the last 20 seconds, with an American Psycho quote. Otherwise, it is, sadly, another boring, repetitive song. “Welcome Change” features a few guest vocalists, Vincent Cavanagh from Anathema, and Norwegian singer/songwriter Petter Carlsen. Carlsen’s soft, delicate vocals are a big departure from Fischer’s hard rock style, yet they are even more powerful. Cavanagh is really only featured on the chorus, which strikes me as kind of an odd move – bringing in a guest vocalist for such a small part. The song works as a pretty good prog song, and actually is a bit of a welcome change, if only for the difference in vocals.

Waves” is an electronics heavy track, and is easily my favorite track on the album. It’s very simple, but good. Some solid guitar work, and excellent drumming, propel the track forward, but sadly things fall very, very flat with the following track, “The Man Within“. The intro drumming is top notch, but as usual on tracks with Fischer’s vocals, the music gets repetitive and very boring. There are more out of tune guitar notes here, and although there are some explosive moments on the track, it’s overall a rather predictable track.

One of the other high moments of the album is “Breaker“, a track that starts off with almost a stoner feel to it, and moves along nicely through a series of peaks and valleys, proving to be one of the more interesting tracks on the album. The album closer, “Black Hole“, starts off with an electronic, almost dancer feel to it, before progressing to a melancholic sounding end.

Ultimately, while I applaud  for branching out and taking chances, I think the album falls short. While they’re seemingly moving in a more prog oriented direction, I just don’t feel like they’ve quite gotten there yet.