My Bloody Valentine – M B V

Artist My Bloody Valentine
Album ‘MBV’
Genre Shoegaze/ Alt-Rock
Buy/DL Mybloodyvalentine.org
Web Facebook | Website
Label Pickpocket Records
Release Feb 2 2013
Rating Excellent

The simplest way to sum up my thoughts on this album are that it’s almost worth the 22 year wait since their last release ‘Loveless’. I know it’s not fair to compare ‘M B V‘ to ‘Loveless‘, but it’s bound to happen, so let’s get it out of the way early on. And to be fair, some of this stuff has been in the works since 1996, so despite the fact that it took another 17 years to finalize and release it, it’s almost a time capsule of an album. With all of that said, this is a really, really fantastic album. It’s what you would expect of an album that follows ‘Loveless‘, for the most part, with the album opener “She Found Now” sounding like it may very well have been written during the same sessions. The lush, dreamy aura is a little more sparse than anything on ‘Loveless‘ was, but it’s textbook My Bloody Valentine. That really sums up much of the album, though that’s not a bad thing at all. When you have sort of a timeless sound, it works.

Is This and Yes” acts almost as an interlude of sorts, being the most serene track on the entire album, with the lush, ambient keyboard accompanied only by Bilinda Butcher’s haunting vocals. This track kicks off sort of an ambient “section” of the album, and the album itself is really broken up into three sections (the first of which being the classic My Bloody Valentine sound, of course). The follow up track, “If I Am” finds Butcher repeatedly singing “Even if I am loved” over a heavily distorted guitar line, carrying a sense of loss with it. “New You” picks up the pace a little bit, and could have easily found itself on the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack.

The third section of the album, which is the more, umm, interesting section, kicks off with the dancer beat of “In Another Way“, which only sort of gives you an idea of what’s to come. If you’re a long-time fan of the band, you’re probably familiar with the jungle/drum ‘n’ bass ideas the Kevin Shields hinted at in the 90s, and while they’re not found here, this last section definitely has some elements. The two closing tracks on the album show those elements of experimentation, and while they’re definitely the odd tracks on the record, they grew on me.

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, though the final two tracks (“Nothing Is” and “Wonder 2“) do feel pretty out of place. Over all, an absolutely great album, and I only hope that we don’t have to wait another quarter of a decade for more new music. – Shanexedge

Cult of Luna – Vertikal

Vertikal cover art

Artist Cult of Luna
Album ‘Vertikal’
Genre Post-metal
Buy/DL EU / US
Web Official Website / Facebook
Label Indie Recordings (EU) / Density Records (US)
Release Jan 25 2013 (EU) / Jan 29 2013 (US)
Rating Must Listen

The release of ‘Vertikal’ marks the 15th anniversary for Swedish post-metal heavyweights Cult of Luna. It also marks a departure from their long-time label, Earache Records, with the release being handled by Indie Recordings in Europe, and Density Records in the US. The album itself is a concept, heavily influenced by the 1927 film Metropolis (those familiar with the film will notice an immediate similarity between the album’s cover art and the artwork from the film’s poster). The film is set in the year 2026, in a dystopian society ruled by wealthy industrialists, and focuses greatly on the oppression of the workers, and specifically on the son of the master of the city and his ensuing attempts to overcame the classist separations. Great film, and a wonderful concept for a band like Cult of Luna to tackle.

Upon first listen, one of the biggest thing to strike me is how well Cult of Luna captured the feeling of the film with the interlude segments (essentially, the structure of the album is interlude, song, song, repeat) – these segments do an incredible job of setting a tone that’s perfectly in line with that of the film. While not necessarily as heavy, musically, as ‘Eternal Kingdom’, the stylistic progression here is remarkable, and still makes for one hell of a dark, heavy record. There are a lot of varying influences and methods at work here, showing some growth by the band in the 5 years since their last release. This is not an album that can be full enjoyed casually. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it when I’m just driving or whatever, but there is a lot to take in here. A lot of layers, and a lot of little details that I’m still uncovering every time I listen to it.

To no great surprise, the band has done an amazing job of creating an album that is at moments serene and beautiful, and at others dark and brooding. It’s not a terribly difficult task for a band as talented as Cult of Luna, but it’s impressive nonetheless. This is all laid out over the course of the record, but “Vicarious Redemption” is an undeniable highlight, where the band lays out all of these elements with great success in one grandiose 19 minute exhibition. Very few bands can pull of a track that long and still have it be highly listenable every single time, but it absolutely works here for Cult of Luna. By the time the drums kick in and the song begins to pick up a little steam, you fail to notice that nearly 7 minutes has already passed. If you’ve seen Metropolis, it’s very easy to see the scenes presented by this song, and the album as a whole.

One of the themes present on the record, as stated by the band, is machinery, and nowhere is this more evident than on “Synchronicity”. The song borders on being industrial with how it plods along, sounding remarkably like a factory assembly line. You can very clearly envision the gears turning, hammers clanging against steel, and general dark atmosphere of such an environment. This scene clashes nicely with the much more melodic and serene intro to the follow-up track, “Mute Departure”, the first track on the album to really feature any clean vocals. The song does pick up some momentum and ends up getting a lot heavier, which makes the intro work that much better when placed between the rest of the track and the preceding song.

One of the album’s most triumphant moments to me is the build-up of “In Awe Of”, and how well it leads into the album closer, “Passing Through”. This final track is one of the most haunting songs I’ve heard in quite some time, and it makes really great use of texture (particularly with the way the vocals are layered in). It’s a dark and beautiful close to an album that will no doubt find it’s way on to several 2013 best of lists (I know it’s only January — it’s that good). Existing fans will certainly be pleased, and will, like me, be more than fine with the 5 years it took to deliver such an excellent release. A huge thank you to Density Records for allowing me to review such a great record.

Roundtable Review: Lights & Motion – ‘Reanimation’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postrockstar’s 2012 Year End Awards

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

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

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

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

EP OF THE YEAR

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

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

SHOEGAZE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Whirr – ‘Pipe Dreams’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

POST-METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR

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Amenra – ‘Mass V’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

MATH-ROCK ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Mental Architects – ‘Celebrations’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

AMBIENT ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Good Weather For An Airstrike – ‘Underneath the Stars’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

ELECTRONIC BASED POST-ROCK/AMBIENT ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Watermark High – ‘Slow Motion Clarity’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

DEBUT ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Echotide –  ‘As our Floodlights Gave Way to Dawn’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

MOST IMPROVED BAND OF THE YEAR

Sunlight Ascending
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE

Alcest – ‘Les Voyages De L’ame’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

BEST USE OF NON-TRADITIONAL OR STRING INSTRUMENTS

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Balmorhea – ‘Stranger’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Fire Spoken By the Buffalo – ‘Air Your Grievance’
Review | Buy Album | Facebook

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

Staff Picks – ShaneXedge’s top 10 albums of 2012

We continue staff picks week with our residential guru of all things loud ShaneXedge. Shane prefers Shoegaze and the heavier side of the Post-Rock and Post-Metal genres and before writing for Postrockstar was a PR writer for several online retailers including ThinkGeek. He is also a founding member of the Post-Rock &Beyond room on Turntable.fm

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1. Amenra – Mass V
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2. Sigur Ros – Valtari


3. Niño Koi – La Pequeña Muerte
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4. Downfall of Gaia – Suffocating In The Swarm Of Cranes
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5. Crippled Black Phoenix – (Mankind) The Crafty Ape

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6. Balmorhea – Stranger

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7. The End Of The Ocean – In Excelsis

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8. Black Clouds – Everything Is Not Going To Be OK
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9. What The Blood Revealed – Harbour Of Devils
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10. Hypomanie – Calm Down, You Weren’t Set On Fire

Honorable Mentions –
Powder! Go Away – We Don’t Know When It Has Begun, But We Know That It Will Never End
Sleepstream – A Waltz With The Seventh Crane
Time Columns – Mana
If These Trees Could Talk – Red Forest
Colaris – Renewal

Amenra – Mass V – 99%

My love for post-metal is no secret, but I’m also somewhat picky about it. Most of the stuff that falls into this category that’s more on the “djent” (I hate that word so much) end of things is not my cup of tea. The other tricky aspect for me is vocals. When it comes to vocals in post-metal bands (and most metal bands in general, really), it’s really easy for bands to go wrong in my opinion. Picky picky, I know. There’s a lot of aspects that, to me, make a great post-metal/sludge/whatever record, and it’s hard to get them all together in one release most of the time. This makes for a lot of good to pretty good records, but very few that are really great.

My point in all of this is that ‘Mass V’, the long awaited new album from Belgian masters Amenra is absolutely, without hesitation, a really, really great record. The Neurosis comparisons are going to be obvious, perhaps even more so given that this is the band’s first release on Neurot Recordings, and the band has no qualms wearing their influence on their sleeve (they once said that without Neurosis, they “might not have even existed at all”). The fact remains that any band treading these same sludgy waters will automatically be compared to Neurosis, that’s just a given. Rather than emulating the forerunners of the genre, however, Amenra have grown and matured into an entirely separate beast, and this album truly shows that.

The first track, “Dearborn and Buried”, sets the pace for the album, and really shows (as does the entire album, really) how incredibly talented Amenra is as a band – the song is crafted so well that by the time it ends, you’ve failed to notice at all that 9 minutes and 15 seconds have just passed. It’s slow, dark, brooding, and hypnotic, but there’s an intensity and energy here. One that, in my opinion, surpasses anything Neurosis accomplished on their latest album, showing full well what Amenra is capable of. Jumping back a bit to my criticism of vocals, Colin H. van Eeckhout absolutely nails it. When I hear a band like this, performing music that is borderline apocalyptic, I want intensity in the vocals. There’s a full on sense of mania and terror in his vocals, and it plays off of the music so very well.

“Boden” follows, and is an absolutely crushing track. The mood created here is one of tension, and the guitars and vocals blend together in a cacophony of dread. The songs slows pace a bit, with a soft spoken word part, which is then met by an immense wall of doom heavy guitar riffs. This is one of the standout moments on the album to me, and shows just how well Amenra know how to create a scene with music. The following track, “A Mon Ame”, carries on at a much more quiet, droning pace for the first 6 minutes or so, with sparse, haunted vocals barely recognizable amongst the fog. Once the track hits the 6 minute mark, things get heavier for a bit, before slowing back down to another lonely sounding quiet moment, accompanied this time by nearly whispered vocals. As the guitars build back up, it’s an incredibly tense, desolate scene that they’ve laid forth. This is perhaps where Amenra bears the most resemblance to Neurosis, though again, it’s in no way a copycat scenario. It’s simply one great band acknowledging the mastery of another.

In what strikes me as almost a nod to their predecessors, the final track on the album, “Nowena | 9:10” features guest vocals from Neurosis’ own Scott Kelly. After the clean vocal intro, Kelly’s growl provides a great counterpart to the frantic screams of van Eeckhout. The main difference between this track and the other 3 on the album is that once the intro gives way to the explosion of anguish that follows, it never lets up. Where the other tracks had their ups and downs, “Nowena | 9:10” barrels straight through. This is end-of-the-world music, pure and simple. There’s just a feeling of the world burning down evident without any knowledge of the lyrics here, and once you decipher “Novena burns for my brothers at night, a flame that burns the bodies of light” and “Brothers burn, I see the fire in their eyes”, that feeling is cemented.

The final few minutes of the record consist of a crushing repetitive riff and van Eeckhout’s screams, fading out into oblivion. If I had one gripe with this record, it’s that I wish it was longer. Amenra is so incredibly talented at crafting songs that grab you and pull you in that, once this album’s 41 minutes are over, you can’t help but to be left wanting to hear more. All I can do (aside from have it on repeat, which I have been doing quite a bit) is hope that we don’t have to wait another 4 years for a new album. I’ll also keep my fingers crossed for a US tour, as an Amenra live show is absolutely breathtaking. I can’t recommend this album enough (it’s worth mentioning that the vinyl version features different artwork, additional sounds, and alternative mixes), and if you get the chance to see them live, my recommendation is just as strong.

Available on CD for $14 from Neurot Recordings

Available on vinyl (2xLP) for $24, also from Neurot Recordings

Balmorhea – Stranger – 95%

I first found out about Balmorhea sometime last year, thanks to the Post-Rock & Beyond room on turntable.fm, and have been absolutely hooked since then. This seven piece band from Austin, TX (what are they putting in the water there?) takes something of a more minimalist approach to the post-rock genre, and they absolutely nail it. There’s so much more to what they do than the standard post-rock band that it’s unfair to just pigeon hole them into the genre – they’re best described as simply an instrumental band, honestly. They incorporate so many instruments that you don’t often see used in post-rock (banjo, steel drums, melodica), and do so with great success. Couple this with their frequent use of strings (the band counts a violinist and double bass player amongst their ranks), and you have something that really stands out from the fray.

‘Stranger’ is their eight release, which in itself is an impressive number, given that they’re such a large band and put out their first release in 2007. To understand the band a little, you need to take a look at influences. Not just musical, as those are the easy ones to pick out, but the influence behind the name. Balmorhea is a little town in west Texas, with a population of less than 500 in an area of less than half a square mile. I’ve driven past Balmorhea, and trust me, it’s pretty isolated. The kind of town that would afford you a spectacular view of the night sky in the desert. Now, you have a bit of an understanding of the idea behind the band. In fact, their last release, ‘Constellations’, pretty much hit that beautiful, isolated, night sky feeling right on the head.

This album is not nearly as sparse as ‘Constellations’, as the band seems to turn their focus back to more earthly influences. The opening track, “Days”, is a sublimely beautiful song, and still has me wondering if some of the background noises at the beginning are instruments or birds chirping. The steel drums in this track are wonderful, and you really can’t help but smile hearing them. It fades out blissfully, and plays perfectly into the following song, “Masollan”. The first half of the song is a beautiful orchestration of guitar, strings, and piano, and when the drums and bass join in around the 2:30 second mark, they fit in perfectly with the rest of the instruments. Absolutely nothing feels out of place here, and Balmorhea continues to prove themselves to be on top of the game when it comes to these type of tracks.

One of the most cinematic moments on the record is the third track, “Fake Fealty”. From the string intro, to the distorted electric guitar joined by the double bass, everything here is done with great effect. You can really imagine this song being used in a scene in a film, and it’s a damn good scene. As pretentious as it might sound, Balmorhea is definitely a band that you experience and feel, rather than just listen to. “Dived” is such a rush of pure joy, that it produces something of a butterflies-in-your-stomach, first kiss sort of sensation. Up next is “Jubi”, one of the easiest song to pull the isolated American Southwest feeling from. Not that it’s a lonely sounding song at all, it’s incredibly peaceful, and has just enough of a twang in the guitars to bring to mind that region of the country. If you’ve spent any time in that area, the vocals near the end may very well remind you of echoing voices in a canyon, it’s a surreal feeling, and is almost ghostly.

The main riff in “Artifact” gives the song a bit of a mathy feel, and the first half of the track really doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. Not that it’s bad, it’s just a little too chaotic for the overall feel, I think. The heavy use of effects on the second half of the song give it a dreamy, almost shoegaze sound, which is really interesting when paired with the piano. It’s a nice touch, but the first half of the track still makes this song the sore thumb on the album for me. “Shore”, however, is probably the most beautiful song on the album. The title is very appropriate, as the song creates a wonderful soundscape, transporting the listener to a peaceful, remote lake shore. It’s really, really well done, and is a shining example of how well Balmorhea can create a scene through music. The feeling carries over a bit to “Pyrakantha”, but after about 3 minutes, things pick up a little and the serene mood gets a bit more energetic, almost like the sun breaking through a cloud cover. It ends with a celebration feeling, fitting for the picture the song paints.

After the brief (and aptly titled) “Islet”, the album closes with “Pilgrim”. Fittingly enough, this song carries a sense of exploration and discovery with it, like setting your eyes on a new land for the first time. It’s hopeful, dramatic, and beautiful, much like the rest of the album. This band continues to amaze me with every release, progressively getting more and more awe-inspiring. For me, this is definitely one of the top releases of the year. The creative minds behind Balmorhea truly know how to compose a great song, and do so with the kind of cinematic flair that I absolutely adore.

Available for $10 in MP3 format on Amazon

Available for $12 on CD or $25 for 2X LP on Big Cartel

Band website can be found here