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’

Moving Mountains – Moving Mountains

Reviewed by: Shooter

So I’ll address the elephant in the room. Moving Mountains are not a post-rock band. This is why this review is going to be a short one. That it’s even here is merely to pay some service to fans of this band’s past works. Moving Mountains is a band with such celebrated and diverse albums under their belt (such as the groundbreaking post-rock/post-hardcore hybrid ‘Pneuma’), so it would be a misstep to overlook the way in which such a band has chosen to mature and adapt.

Speaking of past works, then. I have never agreed with much of the disdain leveled towards Moving Mountains’s last LP, 2011’s ‘Waves’. It may not have been an outwardly “post-rock” album (a point belabored by many) but still it had an atmosphere and craftsmanship that hinted of a group with a proud back-catalogue of forward-thinking, experimental rock. It was an accessible post-hardcore record experienced from behind a veil of dense, muddy and beautiful fog — one that I happened to love. The band’s post-rock leanings were tangible, if subtle; but even that is beside the point. That ‘Waves’ harbored any aspects of post-rock at all is inconsequential to its quality. I’m not going to slate an album for not being “post-rock” enough. I will if it’s poor. ‘Moving Mountains’ — the band’s purportedly final album — is poor. Yes I have now joined the ranks of the nay-sayers.

‘Moving Mountains’ is an acoustic-centric rock album with conservative dynamics, some moments of pretty instrumentation and lots of warm production. Never does it edge even remotely close to the extremes of anything. For one the screams are gone, along with any breadth to Gregory Dunn’s vocal capacity. What we have here is 40 minutes of adult contemporary music. It’s inoffensive, and the sort of thing that you’d play in the car when you’re giving your mother a ride to Zumba. There are elements to be enjoyed, of course; this is a band of talented musicians who know how to please the ears. The song “Eastern Leaves” comes together in a really satisfying way, with evolving layers of vocal motifs overlapping a gratuitously singable melody that subtly references “The Cascade” — a standout track from the aforementioned ‘Waves’. “Hudson”, too, features one of the smoothest and more satisfying changes in tempo and rhythm that I’ve heard in a while. It is a moment that gives some clue as to what this album could have been had the band embraced their heritage a little more. But that’s about it. Two songs that I have any notable memory of after having heard this album many, many times. It’s pretty a lot of the time, but bland for most of it.

Bands can either end their career with a bang or a whimper. ‘Moving Mountains’ signaled a band that was running out of steam, their passion waning, with an undeniable demise being worn upon the sleeve of their last hurrah.

 

tags: Ambient / Rock / post-hardcore

Sigur Ros – Kveikur

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Artist Sigur Ros
Album Kveikur
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Sigur Ros Store
Web Website | Facebook
Label Parlophone/XL
Release 12 June 2013
Rating:

It’s been a little while since Postrockstar last held a Roundtable review.  While our table might be missing a few members, here is what our writers had to think about the Post-Rock legends Sigur Ros’ latest album.

Shooter — My opinion of ‘Kveikur‘ is one that is difficult to articulate. This is nothing new for me, as I have always had a struggled relationship with Sigur Ros albums. I loved ‘( )‘ from the very first note of “Vaka“, however I could never appreciate ‘Takk…’ to any extent beyond passable enjoyment. ‘Valtari‘ I found boring at first, yet after many, many listens it opened itself up to me as one of Sigur Ros’ most entrancing releases. ‘med sud…’ is fun and beautiful, and ‘Agaetis Byrjun‘ is at times transcendent and at others, to me, irritating. I’m probably shooting myself in the foot here by saying that my opinions on this band tend to contradict most others’ and often my own, so take what I say with a pinch of salt. That said, Sigur Ros is still one of my favourite bands, and one that I love to talk about.

Kveikur‘ continues ‘Valtari‘s’ trend as being once more the band’s most confident and well-crafted album to date — this is quite comfortably the most that I have ever enjoyed the production on a Sigur Ros album. ‘Valtari‘ was, despite its softness, Sigur Ros‘s most dense album, with its layers upon layers of lifting melodies and textures. ‘Kveikur‘ is just as dense but in a different way; it will rattle your bones with its aggressive, deep and grinding sonic attacks. The opening to “Brennistein” is the perfect example of this, and it stands as one of the highlights of Sigur Ros’s career. It shows a different side to a band once seen by many as nothing more than sweet and gentle sound-makers. Sigur Ros channel Nine Inch Nails‘s industrial vibe on this song, yet it still finds the time to soar beautifully in its extremely singable bridge.

Beyond the aggressive opener that is “Brennistein“, Sigur Ros still manage to explore many other spectra of sound and genres of music on ‘Kveikur‘. “Hrafntinna“, the second track, recalls the band’s most earthy and triumphant moments from the likes of “Takk…”, yet it innovates and molds itself to the tone of the album with its glistening percussion. Then there’s “Isjaki“, which will not only become known as Sigur Ros’s definitive “pop” song but also by many (me) as their best in over a decade.

Unfortunately, for me the album misses almost as much as it hits, and this is almost exclusively due to the vocals. ‘Kveikur‘ is, instrumentally, Sigur Ros’s greatest achievement, and the vocals themselves are just as controlled and transcendent in their performance as they have ever been. But hitting the right pitch with an angelic sound is not all that is needed to make vocals work — they have to suit the music. Many times on ‘Kveikur‘ do Jonsi’s vocals feel disconnected to the music; lacking any memorable melody and failing to meet the rhythm of the instruments. On the title track (a great song, admittedly), Jonsi can be heard cramming extra syllables into a single beat, and on the following “Rafstraumur” his voice lacks any poetic rhythm and the lyrics (although their content unbeknownst to me) sound hamfisted, during the opening verse in particular.

This gripe with ‘Kveikur‘s vocal melodies does not ruin an album that is otherwise impeccable, but it does at times take me out of the experience. Regardless, ‘Kveikur‘ still contains many of Sigur Ros‘s most sublime moments, and it would be foolish to not give a listen to the latest in the discography of one of the most creative and forward-thinking bands of our generation.

——-

Erich — While I’ve always enjoyed Sigur Ros, I’ve never joined the cult of die-hard fans that they’ve rightly gained. I own all their albums and I’ve listened to them steadily over the past ten-ish years but I never got caught up in the hiatus drama, and I wasn’t ever afraid that they were “over.”  All that being said, I’m really glad Jonsi and co. returned, and even more glad that after a slight false start with “Valtari” they released “Kveikur.” I feel like the sound has finally evolved in a significant way since the Flood produced  “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust” in 2008. The more percussive, digital, and almost out of place rhythmic  figures are what really make “Kveikur” stand out for me.

I respect Sigur Ros for always being themselves, despite the successes and trials they’ve dealt with. As a big Cocteau Twins I was never put off by the “Volenska” vocals, since I was used to voice-as-instrument styles. I do find it interesting when Sigur Ros has something to say, even when I can’t understand it.

All in all, this album may alienate some fans…which is probably a good thing for an honest band that happened to get trendy a few years ago.  While I won’t be listening to “Kveikur” 24-7, blasting it out of the back of my vehicle (despite the fact that I think Jonsi would be a great name for a rapper) I enjoy them just a bit more then before. If that’s not an endorsement of “Kveikur” I don’t know what is. I say Very Good.

———-

James — I’m going to forgo the long spiel where I don’t say a single bad word about the album and show undying favoritism because Sigur Ros is beyond being just a band to me.  Instead, I’m going to opt to run down where I think ‘Kveikur‘ belongs amongst Sigur Ros‘s catalog of work.

1. ( )
2. Takk
3. Valtari
4. Ágætis byrjun
5. Kveikur
6. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
7. Von

Gasp! I showed my true colors and revealed I’m not a big fan of ‘Von‘ .  I think Kveikur is amazing for what it is, a stark departure from the norm and a step in a different direction for a band who largely went back to their ‘Ágætis byrjun‘ and ‘( )’ days, satisfying a large chunk of their fan base in doing so. I don’t think the album has the same timelessness qualities as my favorite Sigur albums, but it will certainly stand out just as well if not better. There will be those who swear that this album is Sigur Ros’ attempt to reinvent their sound and set trends, but I don’t think that sort of thing has ever appealed to the band. Shrouded in mystique and mystery for their first few albums, we’ve really had a chance to see the band open up musically and personally the last three years and ‘Kveikur’ is an extension of that. I don’t think that the guys would have been comfortable enough to release an album this daring near the ‘Með suð’ era of their career. I firmly believe that the Heima documentary and Jonsi’s solo success did wonders for the band in terms of the band losing that ‘untouchable’ status and opening up as people and not just virtuoso musicians. For that, I celebrate the release of Kveikur as a fantastic addition to their accomplished discography. Excellent.

Nathaniel Noton-Freeman – Seabirds

Seabirds cover art

Artist Nathaniel Noton-Freeman
Album ‘Seabirds’
Genre Post-rock / Instrumental
Buy/DL Bandcamp
Web Facebook
Label Independent
Release Mar 3 2013
Rating Solid

This had to happen at some point. Nathaniel Noton-Freeman‘s music has until now been entirely composed using nothing but acoustic guitar tracks built atop other acoustic guitar tracks. ‘Whorl’ demonstrated that intelligent songwriting and delicate-yet-complex musicianship is in itself enough to captivate and inspire. ‘Whorl’ was unique and therefore intriguing, but beneath all of this it was evident that, by restricting his vessel to acoustic guitars alone, Nathaniel was imposing seemingly unnecessary boundaries upon his music. ‘Cairn’ took this restricted philosophy even further by limiting the songs to a single layer of acoustic guitar. It seems now that the shackles have been dispelled.

And the results are mixed. There’s no way of avoiding the fact that upon shedding its “gimmick”, Nathaniel’s music would be destined to lose some of its unique appeal. This is somewhat true, but that doesn’t mean that what we’re left with isn’t still worthwhile and entertaining post-rock. I love the arpeggiated synth sounds in “Op. 1 – Fishes” — the track carries a joyous energy that is often absent from soft ambient/post-rock music such as this. Nathaniel’s music carries the positive aura that often comes only with more upbeat post-rock bands such as Moonlit Sailor, whilst maintaining the delicate wistfulness and romance of more ambient bands such as Helios. It’s in the approach and composition that allows Nathaniel’s music to stay within its niche.

On the other hand I still feel that Nathaniel has more to learn and room to grow with this style of music. ‘Seabirds’ marks the first time that this artist’s music has had such a strong focus on pedal effects, and it appears that Nathaniel perhaps got a little too excited when exploring these new territories. The delay effects that permeate many of the instrumental layers simultaneously are overbearing. There’s often just too much going on at any one time. This doesn’t become a problem when ‘Seabirds’ is enjoyed quietly and in the background, but when close attention is paid, perhaps with headphones, then the production flaws become apparent.

But don’t read too much into that, because Nathaniel’s music is just as delicate and enjoyable as it ever was, except that he now brings to the table a greater palette for crafting music, and the result only serves to make me even more excited for what’s to come. The songwriting and musicianship is all there with ‘Seabirds’; there’s a sense that the production was slightly off the mark, however that’s something that can easily be worked on for future releases.

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

Welcome to the World, Blake

Andy Othling of Lowercase Noises was recently blessed with his third child. As with Marshall in 2010 and, later, Vivian in 2011, Andy has composed a piece of music to coincide with the birth of his newborn child, Blake.

Blake cover art

I was going to review this. I reviewed Lowercase Noises‘Passage’ EP in November of last year. ‘Blake’ is different, though, and I don’t think that this an album that I have any right to critique — nor one that I particularly wish to. While listening to ‘Blake’ for the first time, I had in my head bullet-point impressions that I would intend to include in a proper review of the album. It wasn’t until the song “Taken” — in which a home recording can be heard of Andy’s wife discussing with (I believe) Marshall their excitement for the arrival of their newest gift — that it dawned on me: ‘Blake’ wasn’t written to be broken down, judged and objectified. It wasn’t written for us. It’s something much more personal than that.

But any new Lowercase Noises release is still worth talking about.

Like ‘Marshall’ and ‘Vivian’ before it, ‘Blake’ is an album with more ambient inclinations than might be found in some of Lowercase Noises‘ other works (including last year’s ‘Passage’). This is music written for a baby, and so soft and calming sounds are perfectly suited. Here, Andy isn’t necessarily aspiring to push his artistic explorations into new territories like he did with ‘Passage’ (which is why I don’t think this should be critiqued in a traditional sense); he simply wishes to make music from the heart that can truly mean something to his children as they grow. We’re just lucky enough to be welcomed into his personal life such that we can witness the birth of a family heirloom.

Listening to ‘Blake’ got me thinking about the sentimentality of music. How music can be something so personal to one individual; be such a catalyst for memories and nostalgia. The sounds we hear as we enter the world and grow up in it are instilled within us; as influences to mould our future selves, and as checkpoints to take us back to times once cherished but perhaps oft-forgotten. In a recent video posted to YouTube, Andy told us that what inspires him as an artist is the desire to release his creative energy, and hopefully to bestow it upon others. It’s his way of expressing himself. And that’s what makes the art of music so special for this particular musician. The albums that Andy writes for his children are not just a chapter in his musical career, but a way for him to express his love and excitement for his children. To instil their earliest memories with imprints of their father’s passion.

And that’s why Andy’s music is wholly something special.

To download ‘Blake’ on a name-your-price basis, click here.