Celestial Wolves – Call Of The Void (Released 5th October 2018 via Dunk! Records)
This 5 piece has been fusing metallic riffs to a dynamic and slightly unorthodox rhythm section since their debut five years ago. I say unorthodox only because the bass plays more of a prominent and progressive part than you hear in most post rock music. French band and fellow Dunk! regulars Lost in Kiev is the only other post rock band I can immediately think of who use a bass guitar to such striking effect.
Best of this six track, under 40 minute collection is the trips-off-the-tongue ‘-128, 6 °F’, which builds from a ghostly opening to guitars slowly reverberating and bleeding all over the place. The crescendo is spectacular- it’s just one of those that you want to turn up to chest-rattling volume and be enveloped by. ‘Porcupine Bank’ is another that reaches satisfyingly for the outer sonic limits, while the snappy ‘Bangui’ sees the band go all tech metal on our asses, to reasonably convincing effect.
When Celestial Wolves are in full sonic flight they are a feast for the ears, and certainly live up to their name, and although I respect the desire to experiment and incorporate different playing styles into their music, the album’s short running time left me wanting just slightly more of the former.
Sondrous – Something Like Serenity (Released 3rd September 2018 via Bandcamp)
The clue is very much in the title here, as this is an 8 track collection of laidback, ambient dream pop. Fans of Hammock should be well into this, as it cultivates a very similar, rarefied atmosphere to the Nashville duo, albeit with an even greater understatement in its individual parts. Vocals are hushed and breathed, acoustic guitars are plucked delicately, drums (those that there are) sound far away- the whole album floats along effortlessly and elegantly.
And therein, I guess, lies the only problem I have with this record. Nothing stands out as a moment of spellbinding gorgeousness. There are no huge swells of orchestration, or any front and centre vocals to lift tracks to a stirring peak. They are all perfectly listenable- it is a lovely sounding record, but it lacks moments of genuine beauty, or intensity, that would take this album to a different place altogether.
The Clouds Will Clear – Recollection Of What Never Was (Released 21st September 2018 via Tonzonen Records)
‘Recollection’ adds classic piano (in the vein of We Stood Like Kings), vocal samples and, as the track progresses, a bigger and bolder sound, while ‘Before The Tempest’ has a lovely piano-led refrain and wistful electronics, giving colour and depth.
‘Attack Warning’ sees an unusual contrast between a public service message of impending doom and the becalmed instrumentation, before proceedings draw to a close with ‘Deep Sea Mining’, which strains at the leash but never quite breaks free from its quirky rhythmic arrangement.
The metallic riffs introduced towards the end of each track do seem at odds with the temperate atmosphere of the album, particularly because they tend to just subside, rather than be the calling card for an ensuing sonic maelstrom.
That minor gripe aside, Recollections of What Never Was is a well-crafted, pleasing addition for anyone wishing to enjoy flying in a much less turbulent post rock jet-stream for a while.
Wang Wen – Invisible City (Released 28th September via Pelagic Records/Space Circle)
The album title refers to their home city of Dalian, in North East China, where the permanent exodus of young local citizens to the perceived economic prosperity of elsewhere has left Dalian beginning to feel rather soulless and deserted. So I guess I was expecting a gloomy, Godspeed-style dystopia. And yet, ‘Daybreak’ begins with nursery rhyme xylophone, piano, theremin and the sound of crickets and whistling. Not your typical introduction to a post rock record, and while the track builds in the more traditional style, with an affecting, mournful brass accompaniment, it suddenly breaks down again at the 4:30 mark, and chugs back into life with a nagging motorik beat, stabbing synth lines and some distant riffing. So far, so reasonably chirpy.
A highlight is the beautiful ‘Stone Scissors’, which employs ‘Hunted by a Freak’-style processed vocals and stirring trumpet with an increasingly urgent rhythm and cacophonous guitar to build to one of the more arresting sonic frameworks I’ve heard this year.
An absence of vocals always places a much greater onus on a rock band to deliver a sense of time and place, of light and dark, through an inherent understanding of dynamic instrumentation, and Wang Wen’s depiction of nostalgia for their previously vibrant Dalian, and the bleak, forlorn landscape they now observe, is expertly played.
The album does lose a little bit of momentum and engagement in its mid-section, with the reluctant pace and stark electronics of ‘Solo Dance’ and ‘Bamboo Crane’ sounding a little too much like tracks that didn’t make the cut from Mogwai’s 2014 album Rave Tapes, but the gorgeously elegiac and ultimately dramatic ‘Silenced Dalian’, and windswept ‘Outro’ leave a lasting impression of loss and longing for a once great city.
Waterways – Waterways (Released 18th September 2018 via Bandcamp)
And their style and sound is informed by this unusual brevity. The opening double-salvo of ‘Feeling Cursed’ and ‘Closed Minded’ come out all guns blazing, with pyrotechnic guitar, filthy, metallic bass and a real sense that these guys are not going to be delivering single note drone passages lasting for days in their recorded output.
It is not the finest nor the deepest sounding record you will hear in terms of production, but some of this lack of sheen or heft may be deliberate to give it that extra layer of fuzzy charm, and when it is being offered up as pay what you want on Bandcamp then one really must not grumble.
They are certainly of heavier composition than their listing of influences such as Tides of Man and Athletics would have us believe. Their compulsion to get on with it and the riffing style has more in common with a post-hardcore band like Hundredth than your common or garden post rock band, and this is undeniably appealing in a saturated field.
Not surprisingly, the aforementioned and closing ‘Waterless’ is the closest Waterways come to the standard post rock blueprint with a thoroughly serviceable workout, but it is the spikier, earlier material in the record that holds the most water here.
Bear the Mammoth – Years Under Glass (Released 5th October via Art as Catharsis Records)
Like fellow Australians Sleepmakeswaves and Meniscus, Bear the Mammoth has a playful and progressive edge to their instrumental heavy rock. Opener ‘Eyes Still’ and ‘Noumenon’ represent the act at their ‘post-rockiest’, as evolving, shimmering guitar textures combine with rolling, semi-distant percussion, and build to life-affirming crescendos, although the meandering, mid-section bassline in the former gives a fair indication of what is to be found elsewhere.
As the record advances, the prowess of these 4 musicians gradually reveals itself. ‘Decembering’ has a distinctly loitering pace and nomadic rhythm section, but adds captivating guitar tones to spell out its quality in simpler terms. While the flirtatious flows of ‘Mossian’ and ‘Sank’ would have any self-respecting Math Rock fan tilting their ears in the general direction of.
The album closes in really rather stately, reverential fashion, with ‘Sous Vide’. The track has moments when you think it is going to explode into sky-scraping enormousness, but the band reign it back in, every time.
Not content with yet another collection of crescendo-core set pieces, Bear the Mammoth fit right in with the exploratory aesthetic of Art as Catharsis, whilst cleverly retaining enough essence of post rock to do all of their teasing rather elegantly.