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

https://i2.wp.com/s.recordshopx.com/cover/normal/3/34/340481.jpg

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

https://i0.wp.com/s.recordshopx.com/cover/normal/3/33/332633.jpg

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

2012 Year End Review Round Up

Orbit Over Luna – 京都​/​奈良 – Kyōto​/​Nara EP – 87%

京都/奈良 - Kyōto/Nara cover art

Orbit over Luna is the work of Shannon Penner from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is a primarily an ambient instrumental project that occasionally crosses into post-rock territory. Penner lists all the usual suspects you would expect to find as his influences: Hammock, Boards of Canada, Sigur Ros, the list continues. ‘京都​/​奈良 – Kyōto​/​Nara’ is Orbit Over Luna’s latest work and is the brainchild of Penner, who pulled inspiration from a recent trip to Japan to create the 5-track 22 minute EP. As you can probably imagine the EP is littered with Japanese influence ranging from instruments commonly found in Asian music to just the overall relaxed pacing and musical flow. I won’t pretend that I’m deeply versed in the field of asian music, but it doesn’t take deep knowledge of either of those to realize just how deeply intertwined this music is with traditional japanese culture. The relaxing nature of this EP makes it a short yet sweet musical journey.

I also want to mention another EP by Orbit Over Luna released earlier this year, ‘The Wind Alive like a Heart Beating’. This 3 track EP is available for $3 on the band’s bandcamp page with all proceeds going to the Ovarian Cancer Society. In addition, Shannon is matching all donations received. All in all this seems like a fantastic deal that is going towards a good cause. That is something I can always get behind.

available for $6 on bandcamp: http://orbitoverluna.bandcamp.com/album/ky-to-nara

Orbit Over Luna on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/orbitoverluna

==============

Tales of Murder and Dust – Hallucination of Beauty – 85%

Hallucination of Beauty cover art

Tales of Murder and Dust are a 6-piece band from Denmark that have been together for about 5 years now. Describing themselves as a “dark experimental mixture of Psychedelic rock and shoegaze”, the band employs the use of non-traditional instruments. With one EP under their belt, ‘Hallucination of Beauty‘ is their first full length release and is a deep record oozing with eastern influence and clocks in at around 40 minutes over 8 tracks.

To best describe Tales of Murder and Dust’s sound, I would liken it to the slower styling of Earth mixed with the somber bleakness and sometimes dark feel of Jesu’sAcescension‘ album. The electro-accoustic guitar work is also eerily reminiscent of the work found on ‘Ascension‘ as well. While not directly post-rock, the band does borrow some post-rock influence such as the spiraling crescendos found in the background of “Hypnotized Narcissist”. Vocals are generally of the shoegaze variety with heavily filtered or echoed effects. ‘Hallucination of Beauty’ is an extremely well built album that flows exceptionally well and never fails to maintain the listeners interest. For that the band should be extremely proud. Tales of Murder and Dust are definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Name your price on bandcamp: http://talesofmurderanddust.bandcamp.com/

Tales of Murder and Dust on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/talesonline

==================

Like a Paperplane – Light EP – 88%

Light cover art

A four-piece from Florence, in the heart of the Tuscany region of Italy, Like a Paperplane released their short yet sweet 4-track 20 minute EP ‘Light‘ earlier this year. Like a Paperplane‘s sound revolves primarily around guitar-centric post-rock with most songs featuring leading guitar tracks that draw the listener’s attention rather than layered drone guitars. Ideally you would place Like a Paperplane somewhere in the God Is An Astronaut region of the post-rock genre. Just enough crescendo based work to be considered somewhat heavy, but primarily post-rock that you would consider “pretty” akin to Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros, etc.

Each of the four tracks on this EP are distinct in their own rights. “#8” features prog-rock guitar work that swirls throughout the track while “Light,now” is a more straightforward crescendo-core third wave post-rock track. “Basement” builds upon itself and goes through several peaks and valleys amidst multiple tempo changes. “Memories” has Collapse Under The Empire / God is an Astronaut written all over it with its relaxing and laid back aura.

Although short, ‘Light‘ is the perfect kind of EP you can put on in the background on repeat and forget about as it replays itself multiple times over. It’s an impressive little EP with a big heart that leads me to believe big things are ahead from this talented italian post-rock band.

name your price on bandcamp: http://likeapaperplane.bandcamp.com/

Like a Paperplane facebook: http://www.facebook.com/likeapaperplane

Postmadonna – INTRODUCING POSTMADONNA (ep) – 90%

INTRODUCING POSTMADONNA cover art

(IamHop note: Please welcome Tim D. to Postrockstar. Tim is a musician who currently plays bass for Seattle-area band Syas (http://syas.bandcamp.com) . Going forward, Tim will be bringing us music reviews and coverage of bands discovered through his involvement with the local music scene. )

If you believe that first impressions are the most important impressions, then introductions are a large portion and are thus of great importance. ‘INTRODUCING POSTMADONNA‘ by Postmadonna is a fantastic introduction that leaves a lasting impression of incredulous awesome.

The real gem of this too-short EP is “Whose Absinthe Is This?”; it has easily become my favorite song to listen to after a beer or two. It’s a stellar example of music that is as catchy as it is complex. It’s dense enough to stand up to repeated listens, yet still offer some new sound or feel each time. You can also tune out the intricacies and just enjoy the groove and immediate melody. From the background vocals and well-placed harmonic here and there, this is a song that was not written but crafted, that must have been thought out and pieced together with the overall grand view in mind. Each instrument has its’ time to shine, much like jazz; there’s a time and a place for spastic drums, there’s a time and place for bass to pop up and dance around, and there’s a time for delicate guitar work. This tune has all of these and then some.

“Shroomiverse II” is a too-short song that is just fun to listen to; it starts with a gallop that leads to a beautifully dreamy bit and ends with an otherworldly conversation with no one in particular. The EP is bookended by a mathy 8-bit sounding instrumental, and an acoustic/string section sing along that are nearly polar opposites stylistically but they play together well.

‘INTRODUCING POSTMADONNA’ is well worth the price of admission. This is a solid outing of songs with catchy melodies that aren’t afraid of nerding out, technically challenging music that will get stuck in your head after only a few listens. You can download it for free but really you should toss these guys some money so they make a full length!

Pay what you want on bandcamp

Postmadonna on Facebook

Lowercase Noises – Passage EP – 88%

Passage cover art

Andy Othling might be one of my favourite guitarists of all time.

Bedroom musician Andy Othling — who goes by the musical pseudonym Lowercase Noises — has spent the better part of the last four years pouring his heart through his guitar and into the souls of any internet-goer patient enough to listen. Not one to shout about himself, Andy lets the beauty of his gentle, wistful passages do the talking. The music of Lowercase Noises is guitar-based ambient/post-rock that is as calming as it is heartbreaking. I’ve never connected as strongly with the sound of a guitar melodiously swirling as I have done with some of Lowercase Noises‘ past works. Some; not all.

Lowercase Noises was birthed as a YouTube project — a series of one-take ambient recordings based around Andy; his guitar; and an incomprehensible number of delay and loop pedals. The simplistic and floaty nature of his music was something with which I could wholly identify; conjuring sensations of loss and love that I had thought were long behind me. These recordings were compiled and released under the title ‘Ambient Songs’; a collection of recordings that to me revealed itself as one of the most touching and honest ambient releases I’d ever heard. Lowercase Noises is at its most powerful when a silent dialogue is made between the listener and Andy’s sole six strings. It’s breathtaking.

Sometimes though, I find that Lowercase Noises strays too far in the direction of post-rock, using synthesised drums and computerised elements akin to outfits such as The American Dollar or Arms and Sleepers. Such aspects take away, I feel, from the organic, emotional force that (I thought) could only be conveyed by a man and his guitar. As such, full lengths ‘Seafront’ and ‘Carry Us All Away’ often escape my interest. These albums are beautiful in their own right, but are slightly hampered by a constructed, mechanical quality that leaves me wanting. Given recent leanings towards a more toned-down, minimalistic approach with ‘Migratory Patterns’ (a concept album about a lone-roaming whale) and ‘Vivian’ (written in honor of Andy’s newborn baby daughter), I was hoping that Lowercase Noises‘ new EP, ‘Passage’, would satisfy my longing for a strictly guitar-based ambient masterpiece. Was this naive of me?

Yes. Who am I to claim to know what it is that I want from a musician? What makes Andy Othling an artist — and such an inspired one too — is his ability to draw sincerity and elegance from venues unconceived of by I or anyone else. ‘Passage’ makes the most of the banjo, harmonium, cello and keyboard; as well as assorted (real) percussion and, of course, the guitar. This is the most complex exploration into fresh sonic territories thus far attempted by Lowercase Noises, and yet it also appears to be the most refined and comfortable of all of his releases. I was surprised to find myself so captivated by the deep, layered composition of tracks such as “Prevailing Winds” and “Passage”. This man is not just a brilliant guitarist; he’s a phenomenal composer and multi-instrumentalist. With the inclusion of the banjo in particular, much of ‘Passage’ is more upbeat than many of Lowercase Noises‘ previous offerings, but when executed as perfectly as it is here that’s nary a bad thing. There are moments that recall the slow, airy ambience of earlier releases (namely “Beauty into Wreck”), and these balance the EP as a whole, nicely complementing the more experimental movements.

I would not forgive myself had I failed to give a special mention to the second track on this EP, “Roaring Forties”; and particularly cello-player Shannon Harden. From its unassuming opening, this song’s endearing keyboard, pensive guitar-work and glorious strings slowly assemble themselves into one of the more memorable compositions released so far this year. A drenched, repeated electronic motif (I don’t even know what to call it) chirps in the background as you’re eased into this song, and the same sound holds your arm while you’re led floating outside of yourself during the track’s final moments. There’s something about that noise — never skipping a beat — that leaves me with a feeling of true fulfillment. I felt something akin to this when I first heard Hammock‘s “Ten Thousand Years Wont Save Your Life” earlier this year. “Roaring Forties” is breathtaking.

Outside of the second track, a part of me still hopes to feel that connection that I felt when I first heard “Ambient Song #10”; something that moves me in a way that no other music can. I didn’t quite get this with much of ‘Passage’, although what I did get was a wonderfully enveloping experience that was nothing like that which I had expected. The music here is more intricate than ever before, meaning that there’s more to discover, and more reasons for it to grow on you as you attach yourself to each new sound. If you’ve loved everything that Lowercase Noises has released up until this point, then there would be no reason not to love ‘Passage’. Even if you haven’t, you’ll still likely really enjoy this.

Available for $5 or more at Bandcamp: http://music.lowercasenoises.com/album/passage

Paper Armies – Together – 87%

Together cover art

Paper Armies, the name given to the musical creations of Jason Calhoun, is something of an oddity in the “one man band” world. While a great number of said bands release records rather often (Cloudkicker released three albums in less than a year, Good Weather For An Airstrike has released three albums this year, etc.), Calhoun has released just 3 recordings since the 2009 inception of Paper Armies – 2010’s self-titled debut, a split with Desert of Hiatus in 2011, and this newest EP just released earlier this month, “Together”. 

If you’re already familiar with Paper Armies, you have a good idea of what to expect here. For the uninitiated, however, Calhoun’s music is a little more difficult to neatly label than you would expect. On first listen, you could very easily classify it as simply ambient, but there are layers here, some more subtle than others. Touches of post-rock, shoegaze, minimalist classical, and ambient all combine to make a beautiful release, one that, in Calhoun’s own words, should be listened to “at a high volume in a quiet space”. The opening track, “Together”, slowly builds up in such a way that you hardly notice the fuzz getting louder and louder, swelling like a wave until it quietly fades out. “25,000,000 years” is perhaps the biggest example on the EP of the shoegaze influence, not unlike something that could be crafted by Kevin Shields. The track develops into a haze, leaving you feeling sort of like you’re sitting and watching a fog roll in. The shortest song present, “Removal”, struck me immediately as having a drowned out, underwater feel to it. That’s not to say that the music is lost anywhere, it just truly creates a feeling of being underwater. You know how voices sound very fuzzed out and wobbly when you’re underwater in a pool? Like that. The final track on the EP is the appropriately named, “You Can Feel Unwanted Anywhere”. Starting out with an almost remorseful sounding guitar tone, the track leads into a beautiful, yet lonely feeling, cloud of fuzz and reverb. It’s a perfect way to end the recording, and really wraps up the overall feel quite nicely.

What Calhoun has done here with his latest Paper Armies release is create music that can easily set varying moods, depending on the listener. It can feel lonely for some, comforting for others. Like a dream, or like laying in a field gazing at the night sky. Given the natural beauty of his hometown of Ithaca, NY, I’m not surprised at all that this EP evokes a very “snowy forest” feeling, and does so quite well.

You can name your own price both this EP and the full length ($4 for the split) over on bandcamp – http://paperarmies.bandcamp.com/

Spurv – Blader som faller til jorden og blir til nye trær EP – 96%

Coming to us from Olso, Norway, Spurv is a melodic post-rock band that create deeply emotional music due in large part to the way the band incorporates rich cello and violin into their sound. Despite being formed two years ago, ‘Blader som faller til jorden og blir til nye trær‘, which roughly translates to “Leaves falling to the ground and become new trees” is their debut EP and was released earlier this year. From what I’ve gathered the EP has been well received by other post-rock outlets so I was eager to put it under the microscope.

The album begins with “Store oyne, men uten gevir” and opens with a fluttering guitar and a bow instrument telling a somber story. Less than a minute into the EP I could immediately tell Spurv is a band that creates finely crafted music with deep emotional connection. The intensity increases as spiraling guitars trend upward with high pitched squeals. The song really hits it’s stride about 4 minutes when a catchy guitar riff layers itself over a clean guitar that is playing a more straight forward post-rock meddling. Spurv does an amazing job at transitioning between their peaks and valleys and this song does not disappoint in the least bit as it makes one final strong push.

The first time I listened to “Gamle årringer” (Old Growth Rings) I felt as though someone had taken my favorite elements of Explosions in the Sky and blended them with everything I love about Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This breathtaking track is everything you could ask for in a post-rock song. It starts from a crawl with spacious bow and guitar work before snowballing into an all out frenzy of distortion guitars and increasingly intense bow work. The true reward this song offers are the intricacies within it that you tend to pick up on after multiple listens. This is the type of track that commands your full attention and with good right too.

“Med enormt håp” completely changes up the EP’s pacing and style with aggressive guitar work and faster tempo than the previous two tracks. While a somewhat repetitive distortion guitar occupies the lower end of the spectrum, traditional spiraling and clean guitars bring flavor and texture to the song. The EP wraps up with “Jeg våknet av en gren” (I awoke from a branch) and is a much different animal than we’ve come to expect from Spurv. While the track still opens with guitar murmurings and their signature bow instruments there is no distortion guitar to be found, as the track features primarily a clean guitar that echos in the distance amidst the rest of the layers. As the intensity builds spiraling crescendo guitars began to form in the background. This is when you realize that the band has essentially reversed their formula. The spiraling guitars are chalked full of distortion and swirl in the background waiting to pounce while high pitched guitars wail away in the front of the mix. Drumming is on point and leads the way as the EP prepares for it’s last stand.  And as it marches forward and realizes it’s full potential as the EP comes to a close, you are left with the satisfying feeling that generally accompanies a great ending.

‘Blader som faller til jorden og blir til nye trær’ is a strong contender for my favorite EP of the year. It’s length is just right for an EP chalked full of melodramatic music at the highest possible quality. The level of craftsmanship in Spurv‘s music is simply off the charts and the way the band is able to draw the listener in with their deep thought provoking and emotional music is something that we rarely see from young bands, let alone on debut releases. I have big expectations for these Norway Post-rockers in the future. This is a must listen to EP of 2012.   12-1-12

Available digitally for free via the band’s soundcloud page: http://soundcloud.com/spurv1

Available on CD for about $17 at: http://www.tigernet.no/shop/browsefull.php?aid=14892

Spurv on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Spurvinnen?ref=ts&fref=ts

EF – Delusions of Grandeur – 90%

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of EF’s new EP Delusions of Grandeur is that, in the span of less than thirty minutes, it makes you seriously contemplate what is going on with this record. This is in no way a bad thing. EF uses everything at their disposable (guitar, drums, horns, vocals, you name it) to draw you in and keep you listening. As post-rock fare this album is magnificent. The buildups are gorgeous and the crescendos, mouth dropping. This is a band that knows how to make beautiful songs and they do just that.

Once a band has that ability to craft beautiful music, they can stick with it and see what happens (Explosions in the Sky). Other bands invent and alter themselves musically (This Will Destroy You). What EF is doing is something that resonates with the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album; they are using their music to speak. They have the crescendo down. They know the perfect spot to amp up the delay and then kick in the distortion. Those are old concepts. The music has become a conduit of message. But what is that message and is it worth hearing?

What this first track does beautifully is take a sense of personal crisis and suffering and paint a landscape of music around it. The lyrics creep in on painful little waves and speak of “Hollow scenery” and “Falling Autumn leaves.” The sound of the vocals is enough to indicate the sense of loss. The second track is laid out in quiet rumination. Nothing too epic, nothing too subdued. We ride through the thoughts created in that first track.

And then we arrive at the conclusion of this trilogy of tracks. This song will most likely be hailed as the best on the album and for good reasons. The slowly plodding melodic melancholy continues as the track unfolds. A voice creeps in over a minimalist piano melody, telling a story about him as a boy with some other boys who find a hurt foal. As the story unfolds, the narrator drowns the foal, ending its misery. These words are made unbelievably powerful by the slowly rising music placed behind it. The minimalist piano is accompanied by softly chanting voices and clean guitars.

At the end of this debatebly cliché story, we have a story of a boy becoming a man through his decision to drown the foal. The rest of the track grows into the heaviest riffs so far. The chanting choir returns and the guitars blare. The last few minutes of this track are post-rock at their finest. Music made and fused with strong emotion.

This EP by EF shows the ways in which post-rock continually evolves. Is the music itself something brand new and unheard of? Absolutely not. But what the band has done is take a half hour of sound and carved out a story that is not necessitated by words, but by music. Eliminate the vocals and the music keeps the message. Lyrics here are a non-essential guidepost. This isn’t the world’s most original story, but EF fills it with a level of emotion that is almost shocking. When you listen to this EP, do nothing but listen to it. Put aside the world for a bit and let EF tell you a story. 11-9-12

Available on vinyl through Pelagic Records: http://pelagic-records.com/vinyl/

Available digitally on Itunes and streaming on Spotify.