Posts Tagged ‘Post Rock’

Bad Paintings – 28th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

My introduction to Elk came a couple of months ago, when I accepted the invitation to see US touring artist Dylan Rodrigue and travelling companion Sie Sie Benhoff playing a few streets from my house. How could I refuse? I wasn’t disappointed by any of the acts, but that night, Elk were a revelation.

Elk is essentially the project of 21-year old Leeds based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly. According to the accompanying text, his brooding and beguiling work on debut album Beech marries up the sound of Daudi Matsiko, Florist and Talons with the lyrical depth of Phoebe Bridgers. Being unfamiliar with any of these – and pardon my existence in a cultural vacuum – I’m judging Elk in isolation and on their own merit. This doesn’t seem such a terrible strategy. Elk’s music emerges from isolation, but also a place of otherness.

Live, Elk is Joey with his brother, Mikey, and it’s Mikey who’s the mouth and the presence, the chirp and the banter. Joey is practically mute, almost embarrassed. He’s the very epitome of shy and retiring. This comes through in his music, too. And such beautiful music it is, too. Words almost fail. In my review of that live show, I drew comparisons to Sigur Ros and commented on Elk’s ethereal post-rock leanings. They’re in evidence here, too, but it’s perhaps important to also note that Elk don’t share the twee, ersatz fable-like trappings of the Icelandic precursors. Yes, it’s fragile, folksy, post-rock, but it’s very much distinctive and affecting without being affected.

Beech contains just seven tracks, and is spare and concise in every way: the arrangements are minimal and uncluttered, with room to breathe in these inward-facing sonic spaces. These are songs that send shivers down the spine, and yet it’s incredibly difficult to articulate the precise source of their effect – which is of course precisely the key. The best music just creeps up on you, reaches in and touches the innermost parts by subliminal, subconscious routes. The fact the music of Elk is so understated is integral to its emotive power. ‘Stupid World’ begins as a simple acoustic composition, with Joey’s plaintive voice hinting at Neil Young and J Mascis, as much in its sad introspection as anything.

It’s quiet, hushed, the very definition of introspective. And it’s truly beautiful.

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Elk - Beech

Southern Lord – 10th May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

BIG | BRAVE continue their journey by revisiting their roots – as much in terms of principles as sonically. Consequently, A Gaze Among Them is exploratory and dynamic above all else, and herein lies both its strength and appeal: it’s the work of a band pushing themselves, in all aspects of the creative process. and the band pushing themselves pushes the listener, too, leading them through the sweeping vistas imbued with a significant emotional heft. Of course, that’s difficult to quantify, because it’s about the individual. And yet… BIG | BRAVE commutate immediately, transcendentally, and on the basis of their own agenda

Apparently, the album’s creation began with the question “How do we take very little and make something bigger than what we actually have?” Vocalist and guitarist Robin Wattie explains further, “the biggest challenge was to not do what is easiest. i.e. what we knew worked for the last albums or what is, for us, easy to write. With A Gaze Among Them, Mathieu and I put ourselves through the ringer [sic]– I did not want to do what seemed to me to be a ‘logical next step’ in what we could do musically. I wanted to go back to our original concepts and work from there – space, tension, minimalism and voice (finding melody and musicality in pieces that consist of one note for longer than ten minutes, for example) were the primary concentrations I wanted to push.”

The result is – as anyone familiar with their work to date would expect – immense. The emotional power is every bit as impactful as the crushing power chords, which are but punctuation to expansive passages deep in atmosphere.

There is much space and tension to be found both binding and pushing apart the sonic elements that make up the album’s five immense tracks as the drums pound into infinity while the overdriven low-end yawns and surges into peaks and troughs on a scale of a galactic tide.

The nine-minute opener, ‘Muted Shifting of Space’ has all the hallmarks of post-punk melded with shoegaze but performed with the density of hefty sludge, and the raging tempest that explodes in a blistering crescendo at the mid-point of ‘Holding Pattern’ is sublime.

‘Monolithic’ is one of those words that’s slipped into overuse when critiquing music in this field, but it’s apposite in context of the toweringly immense, dense sonic sculptures BIG | BRAVE forge and which cast long, looming shadows into the psyche. There are passages when they sound like a bad, but mostly they sound like something else, something so much greater than the parts. Wattie’s voice is the key defining feature, simultaneously forceful and fragile, calling to mind Cranes’ Alison Shaw as she ambulates and fills the ever-shifting space. It’s a sound that’s haunted, lost, detached, frantic, and other-worldly.

‘Body Individual ’expands that territory, starting sparsely with little more than Wattie; voice ringing out and wrought with an array of conflicting emotions, before a churning mess of noise that builds like latter-day Swans. But the build knows no end: the sound builds, and builds, until it’s all consuming, all-encompassing. It’s something else, and then something else again.

‘This Deafening Verity’ is but an interlude, three minutes of atmospheric organ drone punctuated by distant rumbles of thunder. Robin mewls plaintively, the words unintelligible. It matters not: it conveys so much on its own, inviting the listener to place themselves into the blank spaces, before ‘Sibling’, which prefaced the album’s release grinds its way to the close, a monotonous distorted pulse providing a rhythmic core around which the layers swell from stark to swirling, erupting in dense clouds of nebulous noise around the mid-point. Descriptions and comparisons fall to futility when presented with something this enormous this powerful, particularly when that power stems from a place that’s invisible and impossible to pinpoint.

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Christopher Nosnibor

“Are you a journalist?”

I nod. I don’t like talking when a band is playing. I don’t like other people talking when a band is playing, so why would I do it? It’s rude. And I’m there to watch the band. And so I don’t explain that no, I don’t consider myself to be a journalist or a music journalist, but a writer who happens to write about music often.

She’s already asked me what I’m doing and tried to get a look at my notes – a spidery scrawl barely legible to myself, to which I’d responded by wordlessly waving my A7 pad at her.

Some people just don’t get hints.

Following on from opening acts Steve Hadfield, who’ delivered a set of proficient but slightly static electronica and Dean McPhee, who performed some ethereal, atmospheric guitar instrumentals with the assistance of a bank of pedals that almost filled the venue’s small stage, worriedaboutsatan built their set nicely. One of their trademarks is intelligent structure, and while they’ve woven segments of their latest album’s more delicate parts into their set, they swiftly transitioned from drifting ambience through subtle rhythmic pulsations to propulsive beats, all the while conjuring rich layers of atmosphere. Gavin Miller’s guitar sounds even less guitar-like than ever, as he conjures rippling waves of sonic abstraction from six strings.

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Steve Hadfield

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Dean McPhee

It’s been a long and taxing day, and I’ve consumed more beer than intended, than is wise, I’m switching between tenses, and I’m trying to decipher the narrative of the film projected at the back of the stage. It’s intercut with various black-and-white footage that conveys nothing in itself, but is evocative in its bleakness, and there are flickering light segments, too: beyond this, they play in darkness, visible only in silhouette. Their stage show hasn’t changed dramatically in recent years, but it’s visually striking and effective, and places the immersive music to the fore.

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worriedaboutsatan

Then, halfway through, a couple of women appear at the front and get down to some mum-dancing: fair play, but they don’t need to be exchanging comments about it. I have my earplugs in and am in the zone, perhaps more even than usual in my state of inebriation. It’s the short, chubby one who starts nebbing at my pad – not that I’d have been any happier had t been her taller, slimmer friend.

“Who do you write for?” she shouts in my ear. It’s a shame earplugs only reduce volume and cut top-end rather than muting irritants.

“Me.” I want to tell her to fuck off, but even seven pints in, I’m mindful of manners.

This throws her but she seems to think it’s cool, and she asks yet more questions, and then she starts going on about how she’s worried about my eyesight, writing in the dark and all. I appreciate the concern, but my liver and blood pressure and anxiety are probably more of an issue than my eyes, and besides, I’m wearing tinted glasses at a gig, and if perfect strangers feel the need to worry about anything, I’d say climate change, Brexit, the stranglehold of capitalism, and the simple fact we’re all doomed are more worthy of that worry. Ok, so I don’t appreciate her concern one bit.

Eventually, she leaves me in peace and I’m able to watch the guys bring their set to a triumphant climax to an appreciative response from a home crowd. And deservedly so: the fact they don’t tour often, and when they do, they’re reliably solid, consistently engaging and dynamic in both set formation and performance, and perform with such incredible energy, makes an intimate show like this all the more special.

Burning Witches Records – 20th February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

No, it’s not a reference to the movie. A revenant is ‘a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.’ It’s a fitting title for the Yorkshire duo’s fourth full-length album: having disappeared, mutating into Ghosting Season and perusing solo projects following their initial flurry of EPs and debut album. It was six years before they would return with Even Temper in 2015, and since then, they’ve maintained a pretty strong work-rate. But, not so healthy as to feel like their output is a constant spate, and as such, a new album still feels like an event.

The write-up says that Revenant ‘marks a slight departure from their previous album, the critically acclaimed Blank Tape, by venturing into more synthesiser heavy pieces, based around dark, brooding atmospheres and switching from the bouncing arpeggios and slow, hypnotic rhythms of 10 minute album opener ‘Skylon’, to the jittering, cinematic rush of ‘Making Your Masks’’.

Revenant in fact begins with a brief introductory passage in the form of the soft-focus, minimal, and haunting ‘Hawk’ with muffled, distant voices echoing over almost subliminally-hushed droning notes, before the aforementioned ‘Skylon’, which inches its way in discreetly with subtle rippling rhythms and slowly building layers and textures. It’s a semi-ambient opus that carries heavy shades of Krautrock: the beats are s backed off as to be non-existent, but the pulsating notes coalesce to a steady, insistent rhythm.

Both the shoegazey, post-rock guitars and glitchy, flickering beats that characterise so much of their work, are largely left in the background and are sometimes virtually absent. Revenant is extremely subtle, low-key, and favours muted hues and abstract shades.

‘Strax’ is propelled by a flickering heartbeat, while the wispy contrails of ‘Making Your Masks’ are underpinned with a slow, deliberate beat and definite notes, and it marks the beginning of a closing sequence which sees a growing solidity of form, segueing into closer ‘Wasteland’, which is more overtly structured, beat-driven. The effect is like swirling mists solidifying, a phantom taking corporeal form.

Revenant is very much an album: a beginning-to-end experience. What it lacks in immediacy, it more than delivers in detail: the attention to subtle forms and also the overarching structure is impressive, but, one also feels somehow intuitive. There’s something special and unique about the interplay between Thomas Ragsdale and Gavin Miller, and it’s this which has always made worriedaboutsatan an act without peers, an act who effortlessly amalgamate styles and forms to create a space outside of time-frame and genre. Rarefied and refined, Revenant represents another step in the evolution of worriedaboutsatan, without denting the arc of their developmental trajectory.

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WAS - Revenant

Midira Records

Christopher Nosnibor

The press release informs us that Four Movements Of A Shade is the second solo album by Sarram, and that it ‘features four haunting tracks, that move through different genres like doom, drone, ambient and somehow minimal post-rock, played with just a guitar and some synths. The idea behind that album was to go to the studio without having tracks, just an idea and the mood he had in mind to play an improvisational session. The result was recorded in one day and turned out as a very dark and intense soundjourney. You can feel the temper of the recording session by listening to that record. Sarram recommends very loud volume.’

I can’t recall an album that mentions volume which actually recommends playing at a reduced level, although increased volume can definitely increase or even optimise the level of impact and appreciation, depending on context. Music played and recorded at high volume is definitely best heard at the volume intended: there’s a distinct relationship between volume and frequency, and certain frequencies and notational interplays only occur with the amps up. Many of the bands which stand out as purveyors of dangerous decibels – MBV, Sunn O))), Swans, A Place to Bury Strangers – simply wouldn’t work quiet: and I say that as having witnessed Swans’ show at Leeds Cockpit (no longer in existence) a few years ago. At regular gig volume, they sounded like a band rather than a transcendental sonic force capable of shattering atoms.

Listening to Four Movements of a Shade, the benefits of increased amplification soon becomes clear. It’s got some heft, and while these are countered by extended quieter passages which are often delicate and nuanced, and chime along nicely at ordinary levels, it’s when the crescendos climax that Sarram’s music really needs to be felt vibrationally as well as sonically.

The first movement begins quietly, rising to a bowel-trembling wall of low and mid-range dark ambient droning sonic cloud. Big, barbed, sonorous swells of sound scrape sharp edges, while other aspects of the resonant whirling blackness cast sinister shadows, long and deep: hints of the billowing drone of Sunn O))) build into tempestuous thunder and rumbling, grating storms that cast unsettling atmospherics into the psyche and resonate around the gut, but this is very much a composition of ebb and flow. Nevertheless, while the underlying menace remains undiminished, around the mid-point the darkness yields to dappled sunlight and soft strings, hinting and optimism and freedom. For a fleeting moment, one actually feels somehow lighter, despite the inescapable sense that it’s only the calm before the next storm – an instinctive drag that proves – of course – to be correct. It’s always a matter of when, rather than if….

The album’s second half – comprising the megalithic, fifteen-minute third movement and the final, eight-minute forth – focus on the atmospheric layers and the drifting clouds of drone on drone, occasionally straying into expansive post-rock territory.

If it feels like the grip of darkness is being released, the dying minutes swirl into a deep, dark vortex that leave the listener drained, shattered.

The success – and ultimate power – of Four Movements lies in Sarram’s attention to detail and the compositional awareness: it’s not just the way the crushing weight contrasts with the graceful levity, but the timing of the transitions. Everything is exquisitely poised and placed to yield the greatest effect – cerebral, emotional, physical – and that effect is most moving.

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Sarram – Four Movements of a Shade