Frank Booth – Constructs EP – 83%

Constructs cover art

Frank Booth is a 4 piece band from Grand Rapids, Michigan who describe their sound as Post-rock meets shoegaze. The band features ex members of Lights at Sea and Paucity, two other post-rock bands from the Grand Rapids area. With little information on their facebook page, I took to their twitter to find out more about the mysterious band. From there I unearthed that the band has plans for both an EP and a full length album next year and intends to do some touring. Not a bad start.

Even though the band mentions shoegaze in their description the EP is pretty barren of any traces of the genre. There are no vocals to be found on this short 3-track 15 minute EP and their work comes off as thickly distorted post-rock rather than shoegaze. I guess one could make the connection to the shoegaze realm by the band’s use of thickly distorted undertones and layering to bolster their sound. ‘Constructs‘ opens with “Blackout” which kicks off with breakneck drumming and a high-pitched guitar circling out control. My particular favorite moment of this track is the incorporation of ear-piercing guitar screeches towards the end of the track.

Macena” has a much more refined sound and  begins with clean guitar work in the left channel and distorted wailing in the right channel and an ultra thick layer of bass in the middle head space as drums keep a rhythmic beat. As the track progresses the two sides shift just before giving way to a quieter moment on the song, or a moment of clarity if you will. Drums push the pace as the track gears up for a big post-rock finale and guitars rev up one final time for the big push. A well executed and tight sounding track.

The EP comes to a close with “How to Breathe Fire”, which occupies nearly half the EP’s length at around seven and a half minutes long. In this track spiraling crescendo guitars come and go as the layering underneath plays a mellow tune. As expected distorted guitars appear about a minute into the track but at a much more relaxed level and pace that spans throughout the entire track. This is by far the band’s best work and shows their musical range and serves as a proving point that the band doesn’t need to rely on heavy distortion as a crutch. Bass is extremely prevalent and plays a big part in Frank Booth’s sound throughout the EP and is never lost in the mix. This can most likely be attributed to the fact that the guitars and drums were recorded live.

In so many ways this album feels a lot like X Suns self titled release they put out earlier this year which also employs the philosophies of heavy distortion meets creative, explorative and spacey guitar work. Sonically the tones on the EP are great but as with any self release the equalization is missing that fine level of engineering polish that we’ve been spoiled on by the likes of genre giants Russian Circles and Explosions in the Sky. Still, the EP holds its own and is a great starting point for a new band whose members have a proven history of musical prowess and moderate success in the post-rock genre. 10-26-12

Pay what you want on bandcamp: http://frankbooth.bandcamp.com/

Australasia – Sin4tr4 EP – 90%

Sin4tr4 cover art

Over the course of my life I’ve been fortunate enough to journey through many different genres of music. As a teenager I found nu-metal just like everyone else did around 1998. From there I slowly moved onto the heavier styling of Melodic death, which led me down the dark path of death, doom and black metal. About this time I also discovered post-metal bands like Isis, followed by Pelican and Jesu. As my love for these bands grew and my tastes matured while I aged into my adult years, I began to drift away from death metal mostly due to my increased dislike of harsh vocals. As a younger man, the violently loud vocals were a beautiful thing. As an adult I realized that anger without purpose is petty and pointless and found much of the death metal I previously enjoyed lacking in emotion. Still there are times when I want nothing more than a double bass pedal and the sick riffage of a down-tuned guitar to blast through my headphones and invade my ear canals.

That is how we arrive at Australasia. The one particular thing that truly captures 100% of my attention these days are bands that are able to take uncommon or unlikely combinations of genres and make something truly beautiful with them. Well Australasia has done just that with their latest release ‘Sin4tr4‘, a 7-track 22 minute musical odyssey that combines ambient post-rock with harsh blast beats and melodic death metal. While there are elements that are definitely post-metal to be found here as well, the band has no problem stepping up a notch above that by pealing back the more textured heaviness to create a more straight forward melodic death sound. This is most evident in the intro track “Antenna“, which opens with about a minute of ambient post-rock until the double bass and down-tuned post-metal guitars come sweeping in. That is until something beautiful happens. The  guitars blossom into fullscale melodic death metal mode with absolute mind-bending riffs. This transformation is truly a beauty to behold.

Spine” follows the same formula and has an absolutely captivating ending where synths cascade down through powerful  guitars as the track comes to a close in a very electronic fashion. “Apnea” is next and is a stark departure from what we’ve seen so far on the album. In this ambient and spacious track that features electronic beats rather than drums, beautiful female harmonizing vocals completely change the mood. “Scenario” manages to do a good job transitioning the album back to the blast beats and post-metal before ending in an italian language sample. “Satellite” is a mind expanding ambient track that really wanders amongst the stars and shows that the band is more than capable of producing softer post-rock without their signature heavy side.

A curve ball is thrown in the mix with “Retina” which opens with these gawdy funeral parlor like organs and synthesizers. To be perfectly honest the intro to this song really caught me off guard  and rather than enjoying it I just keep pondering what it’s purpose is. luckily however the track eventually delves into the heavier side of the band and perhaps features their best work yet as guitars are on point and drumming is as technical as it is brutal. The EP comes to a close with “Fragile“, which slowly builds up by adding piece by piece to the mix as what I think are cars pass by in the background but I can’t be certain. This track is as straight forward post-rock as it gets and you can definitely tell there is a strong european vibe to it, particularly during the ending.

While I highly enjoy this EP there are a few nuances to be found that detract from the experience. At first listen the range in different sounds found on the EP will make it feel as though it’s more a collection of songs rather than a fluid and well-planned EP. This feeling vanishes after a few listens but I feel it’s still relevant to mention. Secondly, while I know it’s an EP, some of the tracks feel far too rushed and the fact that they managed to cram 7 songs into 22 minutes is still something that boggles my mind. Lastly, the intro to “Retina” is far too out there and just comes off feeling out-of-place.

To be perfectly blunt, I have yet to hear a single band that sounds remotely like Australasia and their debut EP has managed to capture my attention and has garnered a ridiculous amounts of plays in the week or so that I’ve had it. For uniqueness and creativity the band deserves an A+. For this EP however, it’s not the best I’ve heard this year, but it’s awfully close. An extremely solid debut from perhaps the next big Italian band. 10-24-12
Free streaming via bandcamp: http://australasia.bandcamp.com/

Album available for purchase via Itunes or amazon MP3: http://www.amazon.com/Sin4tr4/dp/B008IMXFYA

Band website: http://www.australasiamusic.com/

Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson – Small Changes We Hardly Notice EP – 89%

“Don’t throw out your winter clothes; the way our glances froze, it just might snow”

‘Small Changes We Hardly Notice’ is the unassuming new EP from the Norwegian post-rock band Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson. Youth Pictures… started their musical career in 2005 with their debut album, ‘Unnoticeable in a Tiny Town’, that featured epic track durations and spoken-word samples overlayed by expansive soundscapes. With this they accrued a small yet dedicated fan base, to whom the intelligent and forward-thinking music appealed. A lot has changed in the last 7 years however; namely, their style has been stripped back and refined to comprise more concise indie-rock songs, with a heavy focus on lyrics and vocal delivery. This — coupled with the fact that Youth Pictures… chose to sign with popular “emo revival” label Count Your Lucky Stars to release this EP — might have been cause for concern. Fortunately, the band’s experience with crafting dense and atmospheric post-rock has not been relinquished, as every moment in this EP is awash with a sense of delicacy and warmth.

With its combination of soft vocals and shoegaze-inspired aural passages, the closest comparison that could be made with regards to ‘Small Changes We Hardly Notice’ would be with The Appleseed Cast, circa ‘Low Level Owl’. This is the type of music that isn’t instantly astonishing; the band tends to defer away from hook-laden melodies and catchy refrains in favour of a more warm, layered sound. As such, upon my first listen I might have gone so far as to say that this EP is nice, yet forgettable. But I kept coming back to it, and it’s because of the inherent (I’ve said it twice before and I’ll say it once more) warmth that emanates throughout the 23-minute run-time of this EP. Even if it’s not inordinately exciting (there are screamed vocals, however they’re so unobtrusive that you’d be hard-pressed to notice them at first), this release is comforting to the utmost.

Many bands of the post-rock arena aspire to take you somewhere you’ve never been before. Listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor evokes a feeling of isolation, loss and loneliness. Sigur Ros might break your heart. It’s good to feel like this sometimes; it enables you to connect and resonate emotionally with the music. Listening to Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson maintains a much-needed balance. This is winter music. But it isn’t the kind that places you in a desolate blizzard, or slaps snow in your face and makes you feel alive. ‘Small Changes We Hardly Notice’ instead brings you inside, wraps you in a blanket and sits you in front of the fire. It rests your pulse and puts a smile on your face. It’s cosy, and that’s perfectly fine.

Available for $4 or more at Bandcamp: http://countyourluckystars.bandcamp.com/album/small-changes-we-hardly-notice

Empire of the Sea – Skywatchers EP – 81%

Skywatchers EP cover art

Formed in 2010, Empire of the Sea are a four-piece post-rock band from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Their latest release is a 4-track EP called ‘Skywatchers’ that clocks in at around 25 minutes. This EP has a lot going on for it and shows a band experimenting with a wide range of sounds and ideas. I’ve listened to this EP extensively over the last two weeks and as I sit here writing this review, I’m still on the fence about how exactly I feel about it.

The best starting point would be to discuss what I do like about on the EP. I really like the chill atmospheric vibe the album presents through the first two tracks. The album maintains a solid flow even throughout  its spiraling crescendos  build ups in “Mother Hawk” and even through the quick tempo of “Father Owl.” Guitar work is on point throughout the album and is a solid combination of post-rocky distortion textures, power chords and bluesy solo work, which is particularly excellent in “Father Owl.”

These two tracks are good, but Empire of the Sea really start to show their range on the latter two songs on this EP. “Sister Sparrow” brings the tempo down a notch and is a much more ambient track that presents a huge field of sound into a tight package. My favorite moment in this track is when the guitars start to rev up a couple of minutes in. The front guitar layer that roams freely in the higher end of the mix really gives the rest of the distorted layers a strong level of depth and purpose. This track just builds and builds to no end and that’s really one of the bands biggest strengths. The track goes on to make a stark transition and end in a completely different direction than what it built up to.

The first time I heard “Brother Crow”, the EP’s final track, it instantly reminded me of some of the earlier work of The End of the Ocean, particularly their track “We Always Think There Will Be More Time.” Both tracks have this really dreamy after vibe going on for them. This track also has a ridiculously strong build up that should more than satisfy those into the heavier side of the genre.

That being said, this EP suffers from two big flaws that can hamper any release. First, there is the disappointing overuse of cymbals to be found absolutely everywhere on this album. Even during the much quieter, slower build up in the intro to “Sister Sparrow” cymbals crashing completely overshadows the guitar work to the point where the slightly distorted layer is completely covered up and even the main clean layer must fight for its spot in the mix. I’ve never been a fan of bands relying on crashing cymbals just to ratchet up their sound wall and Empire of the Sea is guilty is charged.

Secondly, while the four tracks are technically sound and Empire of the Sea have presented themselves as knowledgeable musicians, the music here lacks defining characteristic to them. I’ve listened to this EP no less than 10 times and to be completely honest I’m not confident I would be able to identify any of the tracks if one of them were to come up if I hit shuffle on my ipod. I think this harkens back to the fact that the band themselves have said their tastes and talents have grown significantly as has their sound. This is something that a lot of younger bands struggle with in their earlier releases.

Still, I think that “Skywatchers” is an excellent starting point for the young band. I have no doubt in my mind that they have all the musical know how to take this band to the next level. Time will tell if they can put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and I’m guessing that they will.

Available for free on bandcamp: http://empireofthesea.bandcamp.com/album/skywatchers-ep

We’re All Ghosts – We’re All Ghosts ep – 79%

Self Titled cover art

We’re all ghosts is a 4-piece post-rock band from Baltimore, Maryland who released this self titled debut EP through bandcamp in August. Beyond that, they are a relatively unknown band even to Postrockstar, with only around 125 likes on Facebook and a bandcamp page as their only real web presence. After snooping around, I learned that the band just began playing shows back in July, so they’re a fairly young band.

The 5 track, 26 minute EP kicks off with “It Doesn’t Die”, a gloomy track that slowly builds upon itself in familiar post-rock fashion. Ambient synths and clean guitar slowly works its way up spiraling guitars laden with excessive amounts of feedback constantly increasing in pace and tempo while cymbals flood the mix.  “Houses” brings the sound levels back down with a really chill vibe. spiraling guitars of the crescendo variety swirl in the background while a thick distortion layer covers the front. From here the album transitions to “Bless Them Back in”, a short but sweet relaxed track that is moody and a little on the experimental side with its tones and short harmonies.

“People Eating People” is the band’s longest track at nearly 7 minutes and is the most focused and mature track on the album. Strong distortion guitarwork clogs the sound stage as drumming gets increasingly faster and more intense. When the track peaks it slows down immensely, only to rise with clean guitars and the overwhelming presence of brilliant sounding synths that sound far more full and of much higher quality than the rest of the instruments. The album closes with “Dead is Dead” which sounds like the band’s best attempt at recreating their own version of Russian Circle’s “Death Rides a Horse”. The similarity between the two tracks is downright eerie and I’m not sure if it was by intention of design or purely coincidence. The only real noticeable difference is that the valleys in “Dead is Dead” are more ambient and nowhere near as technical.

The mixing throughout the album has a real low-fi feel to it and while I’m sure that it probably wasn’t an intended effect, it’s still nice. The album is badly in need of proper mixing and sound engineering and even though it’s understandable that these types of self-funded releases can’t afford all the bells and whistles that the bigger name post-rock groups can, it’s still disappointing to not be able to fully enjoy the band because of things like improper equalization and questionable mixing (the drums and cymbals are always far too loud.) . That being said, it’s tough to argue with a free EP of a young band who should only get better with time. 10/2/12

Free on bandcamp: http://wereallghosts1.bandcamp.com/

Review Round Up #4

té – Oto no Naka no ‘Keiren Teki’ na Bi wa, Kannen wo Koe Nikutai ni Otozureru Yasei no Senritsu EP80%

té_2012
Japanese post/math-rockers are explosive and aggressive in this EP which features 3 new tracks and a live show recorded earlier this year. Bold, heavy and rhythmic would best describe the three new tracks, which are the only tracks on the EP I am reviewing. Furiously breakneck sets a ridiculous tempo that textured guitars of all varieties struggle to keep up with in the first track. In the second track we have a much slower smoother tempo indie-rock like feel with dark tones bursting at the seams in complex layering, creating an enormous wall of sound. The main riff is cutting edge and catchy as the band manages to sneak in some scaling spiral guitar layers embedded deep within the mix as well.  The final new track begins space-age esque electronica before evolving into a groovy blend of muddy bass and textured guitar crescendos while a single high-pitched clean guitar swirls around the tornado of sound. always manage to impress me and these new tracks are no different.  9-27-12

Available for a staggering $19 at http://zankyorecord.bandcamp.com/album/te-official-merch

SinobolaSinobola81%

Relatively new onto the scene, the Ukrainian 4-piece Sinobola’s self titled album is their first full length and the follow-up to their 3-track “Ideas EP”, reviewed just last month by Bothra, a postrockstar guest reviewer. The 6-track 28 minute album is a highly impressive effort that steps upon new territories by being a very bass centric album. Superb lush guitar tones in “Walls of Horizons” and “We Were Confused Because the Universe is Silent” really help the two tracks shine as the best of the bunch. “Speak in Whispers”, the closing track on the album, showcases a refined and mature sound that tells me this band is nowhere near reaching their potential. Even though the album manages to make a lot of noise and ratchets up the intensity here and there, it never reaches levels loud or intense enough that it interferes with the laid back vibe. There are a few technical qualms I have with the album in terms of mixing and a few areas that sounded a bit muddy, but those can be overlooked and are minor nuances that don’t really hinder the album much. In many ways the album has all the markings of a young band throwing themselves into the fray while still developing their sound. 9-27-12

Available for free at their Last.fm page: http://www.last.fm/music/Sinobola/Sinobola

A Place of OwlsThe Oceanic Tomes –  78%

The Oceanic Tomes (ft. Blake Tanberk) cover art

A solo project based on Minneapolis, A Place of Owls has had a firm grasp on both my ears and my heart from the moment I heard “Inviere”, their 2010 EP. When I saw this release on bandcamp, I instantly noticed the track lengths and hoped for the best, realizing I had to prepare for the fact that “The Oceanic Tomes” most likely wouldn’t be a return to the edgy, aggressive, short and to the point songs that I had grown fond of. Even though the release is a collaboration with music theory instructor Blake Tanberk, I was still caught off guard  by the minimalist ambient stylings found throughout the record, a stark departure from the band’s previous work. Those looking for wailing post-rock guitars of despair will be met with long drawn out moody passages of deep ambiance painting a picture of a journey through the pitch black depths of the blue unknown. A soundtrack for deep soul-searching best enjoyed in a dimly lit room or under the relaxed sedation of heavy eyelids. Those expecting post-rock may need to wait for a future release. Those willing to dive into the 45 minute journey will be rewarded with enough space to let their mind roam at will. 9-27-12

Pay what you want on bandcamp: http://aplaceofowls.bandcamp.com/album/the-oceanic-tomes-ft-blake-tanberk

Pray for Sound – Monophonic EP – 87%

Monophonic cover art
“Monophonic” is the debut EP of Pray for Sound, a solo project from Massachusetts. In an interesting twist of affairs, the EP is partly result of hearing loss sustained by Bruce Malley (aka Pray for Sound), who used his medical struggles and hearing loss as inspiration to channel his creative and emotional sides while creating “Monophonic.”
The five track 27 minute EP cuts right to the chase with “Stereophonic” as a short intro screams for attention at maximum decibel levels. With something of a somber light-hearted feel, the track delves into a softer valley before climbing uphill in volume as it chugs along with walls of textured distortion guitar intertwining with spiraling dreamy guitar work and relentless cymbal crashing. From here we’re treated to “Tympanoplasty”, a spacious track that opens with eerie piano amongst rich bass that occupies the low end of the mix. Guitars roar in the background like waves in the distance. I love the minimalist slow down halfway through the track as the highly layered piece becomes just one guitar layer at one point before ascending upward again as it comes full circle.

Retrogression parts 1 and 2″ occupy the next two tracks and is a prime example of how multiple part songs should be. While part 1 is atmospheric and moody, part 2 is a whole different animal, combining marching order drums with ear-splitting post-metal riffs. The contrasting styles of the two tracks is quite beautiful really. Part 1 brings the sound levels and vibe down with a quiet ambient passage allowing for part 2 to shine as the heaviest and most explosive track on the EP. The album comes to a close with the title track, clocking in at just under eight minutes. A beautiful arrangement of high-pitched clean guitars combined with the slow-paced drum work and prominent bass really makes this track stand out as the most polished highlight of the album. When the track hits its stride over six minutes in an overwhelming amount of sound floods both channels as the EP makes one final push to win over the listener with a huge closing that feels reminiscent of how the album began by commanding attention at peak volumes.

In terms of mixing and audio engineering “Monophonic” is as good as it gets. Sound staging is large and the arrangement of instruments is always solid, allowing both guitars and keyboards a chance to shine without neither getting swallowed up in the mix. occasionally the drums do tend to get lost amongst the heavier distortion layers, but that’s forgivable given that I’d also complain if the cymbals were too loud so I guess this whole point is really more of an observation if nothing else.

Pray for Sound feels like a post-rock band that has been around for a very long time despite this being their debut work. The EP treads upon familiar ground for a large majority of the time while still managing to create a few new tracks of its own. I can tell that this is an EP that will remain on my ipod for a very long time. It’s a rock solid addition to any post-rock collection and well worthy of your attention. 9-26-12

Pay what you want on bandcamp: http://prayforsound.bandcamp.com/