Immanu El – In Passage – 87%

Immanu El released their 3rd album, ‘In Passage‘, in 2011.  While this isn’t exactly a “new” album at this point, I still felt like they needed some exposure and are worthy of it. From Sweden, this 5-piece band mainly revolves around piano, guitar, bass, and Claes Strängberg’s falsetto.  Per Strängberg’s guitar work reminds me of Explosions in the Sky: relatively clean, usually articulated. Claes Strängberg’s vocals remind me of Jónsi’s.  I actually prefer Claes’s tone over Jónsi’s at times.

The first track, “Skagerak” shines.  It opens softly, giving way to solid piano chords and faint off-set drumming in the background.  Claes Strängberg’s voice, slightly over-dubbed, hauntingly leads into a stronger drum beat.  Throughout Skagerak, a strong stum beat is ever-present and drives the song through the slower verses and the exploding chorus.  The tenderness with which Strängberg sings when combined with the high-range guitars create an exceptionally motivating and ethereal piece.  While not necessarily a bad thing, some of Immanu El’s works can be a bit depressing.  And yet Skagerak makes me tremendously happy.  When the chorus hits, it always makes me grin.  Skagerak is not only motivational, it is also intelligent in its execution.  The e-bow or keyboard around 5:10 is genius; it adds the perfect amount of contrast and color.  Overall, it makes a wonderful first track and introduction to ‘In Passage’: tender, busy enough to be engaging, and dynamic.

Now, on to “Conquistador’s” very nice opening.  The reverbed guitar plays around while the clean guitar takes the foreground.  This intro is the more successful part of this song.  However, this song takes a while to develop.  The guitar—especially the reverbed one—is still fantastic, but seems a bit stale by 3:50 when the song shifts.  Again, the guitar hits some very nice moments, but this shift still doesn’t seem like enough to make this song memorable.  “The Threshold” is also a “nice” track in the sense that there isn’t anything terribly wrong about it.  However, there is also not much which is spectacular about it either.  I do dislike the violins though.  They make the song seem whiney at times.  Instead of going right to their next note, they tend to slide up to it as if a guitar were playing with a slide.  I feel that they would be less whiney if they did not do this.  However, this may just be personal taste.

“Comforting Dawn’s” introduction presents itself as promising.  It has a sound effect which reminds me of a blend of Sigur Rós’s Starálfur and Travis’s 12th Memory.  As soon as the end of the intro ends at about 1:10, and Strängberg hits the upper range of his falsetto, I realized that this song would be better than the couple preceding it.  Both the wispy background noises, and the off-beat piano take turns.  The noises add tenderness while the piano contrasts with strength.  Eventually the duel resolves into a wall of sound with twinkling, guitar peeking out.  And of course, all this complete with the same godly falsetto which carries “Comforting Dawn” to its conclusion.

“Into Waters”  is another “nice” track, though I dislike the marching feel which is really present from 1:30-2:30.  I do feel the song improves noticeably at 3:40, with the breakdown at 4:15 being very well thought out.

Have I mentioned that I like Strängberg’s vocals?  The intro to “To An Ocean” is simply beautiful.  The way he pronounces “ocean” carries so much emotion and power.  However, the rest of the song is unspectacular once again.  And yet, I feel that if the first half of the album were switched with the second half, I would still like the first part of the album.  This hunch lies in what I see as reoccurring similarities in ‘In Passage’, and to some degree, in Immanu El’s previous works.  I believe artists should have their “sound”, but I feel myself getting bored with Immanu El at times.  By the time I reach the end of this album, I am tired.

While “To An Ocean”, the next track (“While I’m Reaching For You”), and pretty much every Immanu El song is gorgeous on its own, together they lose some of their impact.

Even so, the biggest problem I see with Immanu El is how buried Strängberg’s vocals are.  In almost every case, they are overdubbed or hidden by a wall of instrumentation.  For how amazing it is, I wish the levels were higher and his voice, only his without effects.  Luckily, Immanu El delivers, at least partially, for their last track, “On Wide Shoulders”.

It starts with just piano and vocals.  Clear, pure, raw vocals reaching high into the clouds.  The drums come in and his vocals return, this time overdubbed.  But somehow, it’s alright.  It sets up a  nice contrast to the beginning and I no longer feel suffocated by the thickness of his altered vocals like I did in the song before.  At around 2:50 the guitar rings like a bell.  Towards 4:10 the song gets more momentum as it reaches its close.  Eventually, after a finale (at least for Immanu El), the album closes on a positive note.

‘In Passage’ seems to like being difficult.  While almost every song is very good—enhanced by the wonderful guitar and beautiful vocals, the album as a whole did not entirely impress me.  Apart from a few key tracks, nothing stands out.  It all blends together into one mush of guitar/piano intros and over-dubbed vocals which smothers what is arguable one of Immanu El’s biggest assets: Claes Strängberg’s voice.

‘In Passage‘ is good.  It just isn’t memorable.  Even when compared to other works by Immanu El, they all seem to carry an over-arching sound, which is too similar.  While, I agree that bands have a certain sound, I want to see Immanu El doing more experimentation.  And yet, almost every track is still beautiful.

I don’t recommend this album as a holistic experience—it loses it’s impact.  I do recommend it for individual listening, though.  I usually avoid cherry-picking from albums on a song-by-song basis, but for ‘In Passage’, I make the exception.  I would give this album a “Good”, or an 87%.

Available in MP3 for $11 or CD for $14 at CDBaby  here

Bands official website can be found here

All shall be well (aasbwalmotsbw) – ROODBLAUW – 79%

ROODBLAUW cover art

Written by Jerome Marshall

All shall be well (and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well) aren’t overwhelmingly concerned with sweeping you off your feet. Much like their name implies, they’re more interested in soothing you.

Spanning five songs and 40.8 minutes, ‘ROODBLAUW’, All shall be well’s debut EP, is a thoroughly enjoyable cohesive piece of minimalist post-rock. And man, is it minimalist. After listening to the entire EP three or four times, the only word my brain wanted to use to describe ‘ROODBLAUW’ was “deliberate” and I think that’s exactly what the band wants. Each song is carefully crafted and delivered at an ambling place, and there aren’t many exceptions to this rule. While listening to ‘ROODBLAUW’ your ear might start to want release and explosive dynamics after so much build up, but All shall be well just won’t give it to you. At least not in the manner you expect.

The first track, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters Our Music Is All Awful Noise And We’re Just A Bunch of No-Goods” comes in at 7:09 and there isn’t one excess note. It takes nearly three whole minutes of subdued organ chords before the listener gets to hear anything that might pique their interest. Eventually the organ fades away and is replaced with warm, softly reverberated guitar licks gently laid over plodding drums, but the song’s pace doesn’t ever pick up.

“Mothers” tapers off and we’re again treated to classic saccharine post-rock guitar work in the song “There will always be at least a thousand things you don’t know.” The production on ‘ROODBLAUW’ is incredibly tight and leaves all the instrumentation feeling very close, creating an intimate experience for the listener. This track is easily the strongest example in my opinion. “thousand things” flows at a slightly quicker pace than “Mothers” but, much like the majority of this release, still refuses to rock harder than hammock.

By the time you get through the next three songs, you’ll understand that All shall be well are exceptionally good at resisting the temptation to explode into grandeur the way most post-rock bands do. They choose to slowly swell their instruments at such a gradual pace by the time it gets loud you don’t recognize it much. “History Is Ever Ours For The Reliving” showcases All shall be well at their loudest but it still displays control and precision rather than passion.

ROODBLAUW’ is far from perfection. At times the subtle dynamics and torpid song flow grow monotonous to the ear and the band’s refusal to experiment with song styles makes the individual tracks flow into each other a little too well. Quite often I would have to double-check the song title when I was listening because it was difficult to distinguish between the songs. But it’s still a worthwhile listen and a solid effort from a new band. Just don’t expect to be lifted to your feet while experiencing this album.

That in mind, this EP is perfect for calm drives, writing to, and any other relaxed activity, which I don’t think the band would have any problem with me saying.

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