Album Review: Ranges – The Ascensionist

Ranges - The Ascensionist banner
Standard

I’ve long admired Ranges, the concept post-rock quartet hailing from Bozeman, Montana. I enjoy the thought-provoking concepts that they use to inspire each of their releases (read my reviews of “Night and Day” and The Gods Of The Copybook Headings for some examples). The packaging behind each release is also brilliant [one of the perks of owning a printing press as a side business]. Their last output was a cassette tape that included a cryptic puzzle in the packaging, which revealed the information regarding this latest release – should the listener possess the time and energy to crack it.

Alas, I did not spend the time cracking said puzzle, as it arrived in the post just prior to my leaving home to travel around the United States. However, another writer more intelligent and articulate than I (Aaron Edwards from Arctic Drones) solved it and shared what he found: the track listing and title to the latest Ranges release, The Ascensionist.

In recent years, members of the band have been busy growing the ever-expanding screen printing/merch/distro/record label/business that is A Thousand Arms. They’ve also released the aforementioned tape, Prelude, and their first vinyl 7″ record, And The People Cried Out For A King. On top of this, A Thousand Arms has compiled and released a number of free post-rock compilations (including Open Language and Hemispheres). Despite all this work filling their schedule, Ranges still managed to find the time to record a new record in time for the inaugural dunk!USA festival in Burlington, Vermont.

Ranges the Ascensionist second pressing


This is music for adventures. Grandiose, epic soundtracks for brave feats. The album title – The Acensionist – and the band name – Ranges – both allude to the mountainous region of Montana where the band lives – references to the environment that inspires the respective members of the band.

Suitably enough, the first time I listened to the album was during an adventure. I had just rented a car in Phoenix, Arizona, and was making my way north to Montana to meet up with the band. New Zealanders drive on the left hand side of the road, but I thought I’d got the hang of American driving when living in Maine a few months earlier. Turns out driving in the low built-up wilderness of Maine doesn’t equate to the hectic five lane roads of Arizona’s biggest city. I freaked out.

I swear the album played at least four times on repeat as I drove from Phoenix to Sedona. I was too terrified to take my eyes off the road to change music, and there aren’t many suitable spots to pull over on the freeway. So The Ascensionist soundtracked my adventure, accompanying my journey through the vast deserts and arid cacti-flecked landscapes.

I revisited The Ascensionist  now and again during my week-long drive north. Passing immense gorges in Colorado, finding fossils and cave paintings in Utah, cruising along smoky mountaintops in Wyoming, and winding through geothermal hotspots in Yellowstone National Park. Epic music for epic times.

I held off reviewing the record though. I try to give music a thorough listening to when I review it, which can “kill” the appeal of the music if I overdo it. I listened to it during that trip, sure, but didn’t pick it apart and analyse it.

On tour, I heard the same set night after night for two weeks. I’m not sick of those songs, but I’m glad I didn’t listen to them too much before the tour either. It was nice going in fresh and picking up the nuances in a live context.

This review may as well be redundant. The album has been out for a few months now, so anyone who was inclined to listen to it would have already formed their own opinion by now. And Ranges don’t need my review for promo purposes – they sold out of records within a week – both US and EU editions. In fact, their second pressings came on sale on Black Friday. But I still admire the work, and I regard the members of Ranges as close friends, so I feel I owe them my thoughts on paper.


When it comes to Ranges, the music is only a component of the overall package. Concept and delivery are also paramount.

Most Ranges albums are concept albums – revolving around a theme that inspired the music. This time around, in a weird meta move, their concept is about themselves. Slightly pretentious, but at the same time neat to see the depth that they delve into with their art. Each track references a previous release. So if you look at track nine, and some of their merch, you may get insight into their next album theme…

And of course, the packaging is something else. Guitarist CJ Blessum and Ranges art director Wilson Raska co-own A Thousand Arms, a merchandising company. So their t-shirts, album covers etc… are all a step above.

The deluxe edition of the record came in 2LP 180g gatefold vinyl – different variants for the US and EU markets. The band made recycled paper with which to create custom booklets containing liner notes. They screen printed album covers and slipmats.

They also collaborated with local brewing companies to come up with special release Ranges coffee and beer. And bass player Jared Gabriel handmade clay mugs to go with the coffee.


 

I’ve written so much already without even touching on the music.

Blustery winds greet us on the opening track, setting the scene. I can picture a lone adventure scaling a peak, buffeted by the winds, slowly trudging through the snow. Soft guitar and mellow bass set the mood, before a swift transition into “Seven Sisters” provides us with harder hitting content that demonstrates how to make an opening statement.

When Ranges play this live, they combine the first two tracks and use a spoken word sample of Howard Simon’s poem I Choose The Mountain. I can’t hear the song without the sample, which is a shame. I think that the delivery sets the mood so well, and adds so much. By the same logic, I feel that excluding the sample from the recording detracts from the potential impact. Not that you’d know if you had only heard the album version… The embedded video above gives you an idea of how it sounds live [and I feature briefly at the 10 second mark].

This is not an upbeat record. But I still feel good when I listen to it. Take the title track, for example. “The Ascensionist” sound sombre and slow. It meanders along, slowly gaining layers and complexity. But when the guitar lead kicks in a few minutes into it, and the drums get busy, and the energy jacks up… well, it’s just grand. Sad, perhaps, but with an underlying glimmer of hope. Liken it to the emotions of conquering a mountain – grueling and hard, but thoroughly rewarding.

“Called Not to a New Religion, but to Life” took me by surprise. Programmed drums! Mark the drummer uses a Roland trigger pad to set off the electronic patterns, before adding his own acoustic beats after a few bars. CJ (guitar) is an absolute wizard, and programmed a lighting rig to sequence in time with a click track, so I wonder if the new electronica element arose from his experimenting with stage lighting? I can see it paving the way for more “glitchy” material in the future, like sleepmakeswaves or 65daysofstatic.

One of the standout tracks for me is “Babylon The Great (Part I)”. I remember they played it in Wichita, which completely took me by surprise. It was at a tiny wee bar named Kirby’s that Jared (bass) used to work at when he was at college. For some reason the guys decided to change the set that night, and played this song. It was the first time I’d heard it live. “Guys!” I said, “that track with the thrash beat… why have you been holding out on me all tour? That song kills! You need more of that higher energy stuff!” There’s something primal about the drumming on this song, with Mark just dominating.

But “Seven Veils” is the album highlight. The busy guitar line that opens is far more interesting than moody swells, and Mark’s beat features small flourishes on the hi-hats that add that extra oomph. But Joey’s guitar melody is the high point of the album – the hook that worms its way into your ear and has you subconsciously humming days later.


Listening to this album unearths fond memories. Memories of laughing along with the guys in the van, of late nights packing down equipment, of sharing pizza and budweisers, of driving through a beautiful mist-shrouded autumnal New York state, of making lifelong friends. To me, The Ascensionist sounds like adventures and friendship. And I think that is exactly what the band was trying for.

The Ascensionist is Ranges’ best album to date. It builds upon, and improves each of their prior works. I cannot remove my personal attachment to the music, but in a way that is an affirmation of quality. Great music evokes emotion.

I’m super excited for the next album. Ranges have done well thus far, but I see them on the cusp of a change. CJ has done well to carry the band this far, and has laid a great template. Now time for Joey to add more of melodies lines, and Mark to let his hardcore roots shine through on drums.

Ranges dunk!USA 2017


Ranges links:

VINYL & CD DISTRIBUTION
http://www.athousandarms.com/ranges (US)
https://shop.dunkfestival.com/ (EU)

FOLLOW RANGES
Website | www.rangesmusic.com
Spotify | https://open.spotify.com/artist/1iqjhf6W2YXUWwa2iKMybf
Apple Music | https://itun.es/us/-srd1
Bandcamp | https://ranges.bandcamp.com
Facebook | https://www.facebook.com/rangesmusic/
Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/rangesmusic/
Twitter | https://twitter.com/rangesmusic
Soundcloud | https://soundcloud.com/ranges
YouTube | https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBJg41ELchEChCEtIRKz4NA

Words and live photography by Joseph James

EP Review: Ryan Beno – Don’t Say Too Much

Ryan Beno - Don't Say Too Much Artwork
Standard

I was given very little information about Perth post-rock outfit Ryan Beno. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if it was the name of a person or a band. But, I guess that is in line with their EP title: Don’t Say Too Much.

Indeed. Why give a self-congratulatory biography when you can let the music say all that needs to be said?

I’ll tell you straight off the bat: it’s a great EP. It’s like good vodka – smooth, chilled and crisp. None of the tired post-rock clichés that leaves me searching for new ways to describe the same things, just solid music.

Don’t Say Too Much feels smart. There is an air of sophistication to it, even if I can’t articulate exactly why. Maybe it’s the slight jazzy feel to some of the tracks? Although I’m no jazz lover, and wouldn’t call this record pretentious.

The drums feel rather samey throughout the EP, but 18 minute running time is short enough that you don’t tire of the same beat. This guy has a set style: steady, busy and syncopated. His light touch and smooth groove does everything he needs.

It’s a cohesive EP, stamped with a distinct mark. But at the same time, there is some pleasant diversity throughout. My personal favourite is the track “PS6”, with 8 bit tones reminiscent of playing Zelda on Nintendo. It’s just brilliant – too short, if anything.

Then we have “Ulterior Motives”, with smooth bass lines and that jazzy syncopated beat. “Black Dragon” feels darker, and less in line with the upbeat vibe of the rest of the tracks. Are they playing minor chords? (I couldn’t say) It’s just a shame to end a stellar EP on a more sombre note.

This is a worthwhile EP. A marked improvement from the band’s 2017 début, Full Moon Thai, with great feel and clarity. Sure, it’s repetitive and sparse, but it’s done so damn well that I could happy listen to more of the same.

Oh, and Ryan Beno, call me when you’ve finished the new Zelda soundtrack. I’m dying for more!

Ryan Beno. Image: Kieran Gibson-MacFarlane

Ryan Beno. Image: Kieran Gibson-MacFarlane

Ryan Beno links:

Bandcamp: https://ryanbeno.bandcamp.com/album/dont-say-too-much

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ryanbenoband/

 

Joseph James

 

Album Review: Beneath The Roots – Chasing Light

Beneath The Roots Chasing Light cover
Standard

Beneath The Roots is the psyedonym of Brandon Enderson of Manchester, New Hampshire. Enderson teamed up with local sound engineer Zach Zyla to record this début acoustic pop-punk album, Chasing Light.

This is a truly raw recording, done in Zyla’s home studio. Not to say that it is poor quality, but you can really hear the steel strings of the guitar hum and vibrate as Enderson strums. It soudns intimate and close. Chasing Light is mostly a standard singer/songwriter affair of one man with a guitar, but each track adds something new to the mix.

We could use more of these small extras. Initially, it just takes switching up the strumming. During “Digging Myself Out” Enderson changes to high-pitched strumming, punctuated with a lush fingerpicked tail. Other moments, like delay pedal accents in “The Cross You Bare”, and the keyboards in “Whiskey Song” also help to make the songs shine.

The simple style works well, but when we hear drums come in during the fourth track it sounds so much better. And a fully fleshed out fifth track makes you wonder if they should have done the entire record as a band. I’m undecided about this. On one hand, the evolution that progresses throughout the album is nice, but on the other hand, the tracks with more production are easily superior.

One of my main gripes with pop-punk is the whiny nature of the vocals. Sure, I like Blink 182 as much as the next guy, and Into It. Over It. can do no wrong, but it’s not a genre I can tolerate too much of. That said, there are some vocal highlights interspersed here. The harmonies in “We Are Divinity” strike a good balance between passionate shouting and musical prettiness.

Some of these tracks remind me of A Day To Remember’s more stripped-back material. Good pop sensibilities, slightly whiny vocals, and calm yet enticing delivery.

Beneath The Roots have done well with this début album. Polished enough to sound good, raw enough to boast guts, and good, simple songwriting that offers just enough technical flourishing to stand out.

 


Beneath The Roots links:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/4o71dQEerL6RkFnOdbdG5s
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/chasing-light-ep/1325220194
Bandcamp: https://beneaththeroots.bandcamp.com/releases
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/beneaththeroots
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beneatheroots/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beneatheroots/

Joseph James

 

Album Review: Masaki Hanakata – HIPPOPOTAMUS / PORT ELEPHANT

Masaki Hanakata Hippopotamus Port Elephant cover
Standard

Last year I travelled to America, where I worked at a summer camp in Maine. My role was to take groups of young girls on hiking and camping trips around the region. Often this required spending hours driving to and from our destination, due to the remote locations of the hikes. Sometimes the girls would bring iPods so they could listen to music during the drive. Sometimes they didn’t, which means I could play my own music, instead of pop hits.

On one drive to Franconia Notch in New Hampshire, one of the girls was going through my iPod and asked me: “Why do you have a playlist called Toe on your iPod?”, clearly amused.

I giggled. “It’s the name of a band. They’re awesome.”

“A band called Toe?!”

“Yeah, they’re Japanese. It’s mostly instrumental stuff, but sometimes there’s singing, or even rap.”

As you can imagine, this was of great intrigue to these girls, who exclusively listened to top 40, and Broadway soundtracks. “You listen to Japanese hip-hop? Why? Can you understand it? Can we listen to it?”

Most people think I’m weird for listening to music without vocals. But music in another language? Unthinkable!

I played on of the tracks (“Time Goes“, from Toe’s latest album), and then left the album running.

Sure enough, word spread around camp that I’m a weirdo who listens to Japanese music – even though he doesn’t understand it – and it’s actually pretty cool. On the next camping trip some of the girls asked about it, and soon enough they were all chanting “Toe! Toe! Toe! Toe!” so I would play it to them.


Maybe I am weird… Well… Ok, there’s no denying it, But why would you dismiss great music simply because it doesn’t have singing in English?

Case in point, HIPPOPOTAMUS / PORT ELEPHANT, a recent release from Masaki Hanakata.

Maybe it is a dead giveaway that I’m a trained preschool teacher, but Masaki Hanakata’s latest release is the most delightful music I’ve heard in some time. He captures the sound of youthful joy.

The two tracks are softly sung, backed by tranquil children’s’ instruments like bells and whistles.

Jimmy Fallon and The Roots have a series of youtube videos that follows this style [Here’s a version of “Enter Sandman” with Metallica]. And on of my favourite composers, Rhian Sheehan, also uses children’s’ instruments in some of his work.

Now, believe me, that when a classroom of children get their hands on instruments it sounds absolutely horrid. When I let my four-year-olds old loose with instruments they will shake, blow, bang and play the poor things with all their might. I occasionally bring a keyboard out, which soon leads onto a small group crowding around and jamming on the keys as much as possible. I’ve had a child who barely stands as high as my waist destroy a drum practice pad when I gave him some drum sticks. He wasn’t trying to break anything, he just got carried away with excitement.

Thankfully, Mr Hanakata has had more training than my children, and appears to have mastered many of these instruments. I am being perhaps a touch facetious when I say these instruments are for children. I do not wish to belittle this wonderful music. But we do not hear the standard electric guitar, drums, bass… that I deem “normal”. We hear instruments that sound hollow and dainty, that I imagine are brightly coloured. Melodica, ukulele, xylophone, bells and the like…

Part of the allure is that it sounds so innocent. It’s not perfect by any means. There are so many layers of sound that it border on gratuitous, but it’s so charming and fun that if anything the unnecessary layers enhance the feel. It captures the spirit of what folk music used to be about: fun and vibrant.

I recommend giving HIPPOPOTAMUS / PORT ELEPHANT a listen. And while you’re at it, follow-up with his other two albums, Breman soundtrack, and Lentment. I guarantee that it’ll brighten your day.


 

Masaki Hanakata links:

Website: http://masakihanakata.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MasakiHanakata

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/masaki.hanakata

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT6NxTrI3UZdvNUSvIWEx3g

Bandcamp: https://masakihanakata.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Will Not Fade’s best of 2017

Will Not Fade Logo jpeg
Standard

What a year!

Every year offers new highs and lows, but for Will Not Fade it has been the best yet.

I started the site during my second year of university, making the most of the downtime between assignments to write about two new records I’d bought. (Shihad – FVEY and Maybeshewill – Fair Youth). The blog slowly gained traction as I continued writing. Most posts received very little attention, but I kept at it, refining my style, making musical contacts, and learning more about the IT side of things.

Believe it or not, we’ve published over 200 posts now – not a bad effort for a small DIY blog. I (Joseph) also made a few dreams come true this year, travelling to America to meet a bunch of musicians I’ve come to know online through the blog.

I met with Jesse from Glacier in Boston for a beer at a brewery near a peanut butter factory. Matt from Aviation and the War hosted me in Chicago for a few days, and we watched the solar eclipse from his back yard. Former Will Not Fade contributor CJ Blessum also hosted me at his house in Montana, and I traveled across America on tour with his band Ranges. I also stayed with Arctic Drones writers Aaron Edwards in Idaho, and David Zeidler in Vermont. It is incredibly gratifying meeting people in person after being “friends” online for some time.

I also met Samuel at a Ranges show in Colorado. He mentioned that he’d like to get into writing about music, and next thing you know, he’s making me look bad with his excellent reviews. It’s great to have someone so passionate on board.

I also teamed up with A Thousand Arms to print a limited run of WNF t-shirts. They turned out great, and I’m proud to say there was fair demand for them. Thanks to everyone who requested one.

Joseph’s best of 2017

Song of the year: Tides of Man – We Were Only Dreaming

This is the sound of happiness. The awesome instrumentation makes me dance every time. I met Tides of Man on tour and feel blessed that I can now consider them friends. I saw them play four sets on tour, and this song was my highlight every night.

His Master's Voice The Devils Blues Woman EP CoverRelease of the year: His Master’s Voice – Woman EP

Filthy, raw blues inspired heavily by Black Sabbath. Hands down the release I’ve listened to most since I first got a copy. These guys are seriously underrated.

Living Colour Powerstation Auckland

Band of the year: Living Colour

This year I interviewed one of my drum heroes, Will Calhoun. Then his band blew me away at The Powerstation in Auckland. I also managed to catch a free Chuck Berry tribute show in New York, featuring a hotshot band assembled by Vernon Reid. And then Living Colour dropped Shade,a brilliant album that treads the line between heavy and soulful.

Live highlights:

There are so many that it is hard to narrow down.

Obviously dunk!USA was a major highlight. Not only was this my first international festival, but I was friends with many of the acts, and had an all-access pass. I may have let the journalistic integrity slide somewhat with my drunken antics, but as far as I’m aware, I’m the only person who wrote a review of the festival, so technically I still pulled off writing the best review. Plus, I think the photos I took were killer.

El Ten Eleven Rough Trade NYC Brooklyn

El Ten Eleven played in Brooklyn, not too far from where I was staying. I had a blast dancing along to their tunes. It’s amazing what two musicians can pull off with the help of technology and talent.

I flew to Las Vegas to see St Paul & The Broken Bones. They played a great set. But headliner Trombone Shorty blew them out of the water. This was a class act. The stage was packed with hotshot musicians, all exuding vibrant energy.

Frank Turner has long been one of my favourite artists, so it was a blast to catch him live in Vancouver. He even previewed a few new songs. There’s few things as good as seeing an artist play some of your favourite songs live.

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never seen Kiwi rock legends Head Like A Hole before this year. Duncan from Hiboux invited me along to a show at Valhalla, and I’m so glad I went. Like their contemporaries Shihad, they’ve been around long enough to know what they’re doing.

And I’m always partial to some outrageous novelty shows, so David Liebe Hart, Guitar Wolf and Chain and the Gang all stand out. Especially Guitar Wolf, who pulled me up on stage to play guitar with them.

David Liebe Hart with Alien singing Salame at Meow, Wellington

2018

Looking forward to 2018, I’m super pumped for Thundercat in March, Biffy Clyro in April, and Royal Blood in May. And new albums from Alien Weaponry, Frank Turner and Tides of Man all sound very promising.

And, of course, it will be awesome to meet many European friends at dunk!fest 2018 in Belgium. I may even make it to Pelagic Fest in Berlin the following week, but we will see…

 

Special thanks to all the readers who take the time to read our content. It is so gratifying when I hear that I’ve put someone on to new music. If you have any suggestions for what content you want to see us cover in 2018 then by all means, let us know!

Joseph James

Album Review: Shipwrecks – Self Titled

Shipwrecks album cover by David Caspar
Standard

German post-rockers Shipwrecks released their eponymous three track EP back in 2015. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but it was good enough to impress.

Without wanting to sound too much like a jaded old critic, let’s just say that it is becoming harder to find bands that truly stand out and excite within the post-rock genre. Shipwrecks managed to do so with just three songs.

Those three songs did them proud, earning them support slots touring Europe with Immanu El and Explosions In The Sky.

Two years later, they’ve followed up with a début album – also self titled.

Recording Shipwrecks is a romantic tale of a band locking themselves away in a remote cabin to write and rehearse. They’re a band that sticks to a DIY ethos to do as much as they could in-house. The guitarist oversaw recording and producing. David Caspar, the drummer collected earthy mixed media to make the striking album art. The band used old vintage equipment to capture those warm, rich tones. It almost sounds like a wholesome movie montage.

Not afraid to take their time, the band craft their build-ups. Because, as is the case with most post-rock, this is about long songs full of crescendos.

I find it difficult picking a stand-out track. All of them offer similar things, each with their own little nuances. Long, deliberate, and full of hope. Except the song “Maelstrom”, which feels more ominous than the rest of the tracks. It sounds like you’d expect from something with that name. Listen carefully and you’ll hear murky depths, with something deep underwater bubbling away.

I love the drumming on this album. Regular readers will know that I often focus on the drumming because I am a drummer myself. And this is my style of playing: hard hitting. Not fancy or technical, but packing a punch. Hit with purpose and allow the music space to breathe. There are distinct moments I hear that make me smile, like the when Caspar hits the bright ride bell *ping!* in “Monument”, or playing *dahdahdah DAH* around the kit in “Home”. And of course, he loves to throw in plenty of snare rolls.

As much as I love running a music blog, I find it hard to come up with new ways to describe music. I listen to (and write about) a lot of post-rock and so much of it blurs together. Some quiet picking, rising swells, big crescendo… Which band is this again? And without wanting to unfairly name names, I feel that some of the major players in the scene have released fairly uninspiring and forgettable records in recent years.

Shipwrecks have done well to stand out in a saturated scene. Only two releases in, and they already have a reputation.

Like their name suggests, when you stumble upon Shipwrecks, you’ve found something special. Like a precious sunken treasure, offering knowing references to a rich past. Building upon their influences, Shipwecks offer something familiar, yet not contrived. Nothing groundbreaking – just done well.

Shipwrecks. Image: Mirka Scheuer

Shipwrecks. Image: Mirka Scheuer

Shipwrecks is available via Sportklub Rotter Damm and Maniyax Records.

USA buyers can order through A Thousand Arms 

Shipwrecks links:

Website: http://shipwrecks-music.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shipwrecksmusic

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/shipwrecksmusic/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT02cwVPZTmCavhADv3qOoQ

Bandcamp: http://shipwrecks-music.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James