w/ Captain Sergeant Major & Opiate Sleeper
Friday 19 January 2018
Photos by Joseph James
Photos by Joseph James
This is a guest post from Aaron Edwards, better known as Foofer. Aaron has written about music for many years, getting his break on Postrockstar (where he had the weekly column Foofer Fridays), before writing for Echoes and Dust, and now Arctic Drones. He lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two young children, and hosted me (Joseph) when I was travelling through America in late 2017. I emailed him recently asking if he would like to tell us about any underrated bands who deserve more attention, so he graced us with his writing to promote Boise locals Midnight Legs // Marathon Lungs.
First and foremost I would love to thank Joseph for letting me come out of my cave and show him how it’s done. This past year has been crazy in a lot of ways, and I think everyone knows how easy it can be for good releases to slip under the radar or fall through the cracks. Midnight Legs // Marathon Lungs is definitely one of those. 99 times out of 100, a début album from a new band is ignored. And it only gets worse in states where the population is less than the number of cows (or potatoes).
Being from my neck of the woods (which I don’t get to say very often) means that they were on my radar from day one, basically. I went to their album release show, and they were kind enough to supply me with my own copy of their CD. For weeks it was all I could play in the car. Their bandcamp page says “We’re not sad. We’re contemplative.” and it’s crazy how true it is. I’m not usually in the mood for ‘Aesthetic Medicine’ unless I’m already inside my own head, or have a long car drive ahead of me. I cannot and will not ever claim to fully understand lyrics, but I can say that I probably do more thinking due to their words moreso than their music.
There’s something raw about the music that’s so appealing. There’s a very strong Slint vibe in a lot of their sound, but they also have a tendency for sounding very Post-Rock, with their bass-heavy melodies and twinkly guitars. However they don’t fall prey to post-rock pratfalls, how they do more strumming than tremolo picking. It’s a breath of fresh air for someone who’s listened almost exclusively to post-rock this past year. Imagine if Slint had made something a little more melodic and peppered it with screaming, and you’ll be close to imagining ‘Aesthetic Medicine.’
Considering that this is a début album for a local band that’s all DIY, the production is surprisingly solid. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered locally and it still sounds better than some of the local stuff that was mixed and mastered elsewhere. Even the acoustic guitar sounds how it should, I can even play it on my phone speaker and it won’t suck.
Overall, I would recommend this album to all the sad bois out there. Since this release they’ve added a keyboardist, so you can look forward to another layer of depth, and another mind to add to their potential which adds up to more than the sum of their parts. It’s not exactly within my wheelhouse of music, I didn’t even think to write about them until Joseph asked me if there was anything I’d want to bring to attention from this last year. However they’re from my neighborhood. They make good music. And while it didn’t make it to my year-end list on Arctic drones, I appreciate what they’ve made and I’m excited to hear more of it.
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.
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.
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
I don’t especially like it when bands sneak by me like some silent stranger in the night. There’s just so much instrumental rock out there these days that it’s easy to miss a few here and there. I’d like to believe that I have my finger firmly placed upon the crescendoing pulse of post-rock. How Teller got by me beggars belief. To my credit they’ve only released one EP back in 2013, but this band hosts a member of Swedish post-rock band Ef (Emanuel Olsson) and was produced by Daniel Juline (also of EF). “Hello Scotland” is one of my favorite tunes of all time. This isn’t about Ef, though. This is about Teller’s first full-length Strive Recess Echo. An album seven years in the making.
Someone should really do a study on the effects that Scandinavia has on music. There must be something in the water. This is a part of the world that’s raised bands like Immanu El, Moonlit Sailor and Oh, Hiroshima. Not to mention Lights & Motion, who this blog is very fond of. I’m starting to believe I was born in the wrong part of the planet. Sure, I get to brag about post-metal sojourner’s Minsk, Russian Circles and even Tortoise. There’s just something about the sound that comes out of Scandinavia that just gets me.
Teller isn’t new to the game. As I’ve stated before, they have a member from Ef and indie outfits The Gentle Act Incident and Shiloh. Drifting through the band’s history I learned that Teller is actually an idea that’s been around for almost 15 years. From what I can gather (whether this was intentional by the band or not) is that they’re more than a group of writers and thinkers. They’re friends. The act of communing as a group to write music was almost secondary to their desire to just be in the same room as one another. To hang out. To have fun. I can really get behind this idea. The band’s desire to just be with one another and write has translated very well musically speaking.
Let me get this out-of-the-way first and foremost as I feel it’s the big elephant in the room: you can hear Ef all over Strive Recess Echo. This isn’t bad thing at all. I almost welcome it. But there’s a ton on this record that sets them apart. Yes, this is another instrumental rock album, but one that houses some incredibly infectious melodies.
One of the first things that really struck me as I was listening to this record was the musicianship. Teller are impossibly talented musicians and composers. And the group of folks they brought in for strings and brass are well deserved of any praise. I haven’t heard trumpets used this brilliantly since *shels. The horn sections nestle themselves perfectly among the driving guitars adding just the right amount of texture. There were ofttimes while listening that the song would drop and I would get pumped for the horn sections that wailed away with violent abandon. I’m not trying to take anything away from the guitar, bass and drums. Teller have managed to write some insanely gorgeous parts where you find yourself swaying lazily only to be brought back to the real world as they hit a crescendo. Your heart drops into your stomach.
You’ve been here before with other post-rock bands, but it just feels different. Teller doesn’t stick around very long on any one phrase. Just when you’ve fallen in love with one part, they switch it up and you find yourself traversing dark tunnels of eerie ambience. There are even some ghostly vocal undulations peppered throughout. The use of strings are sparse but always seem to be put in the exact moment when you want to hear them. Any one that’s a fan of pg. lost‘s early work will be right at home with Teller. A word of warning: If you go into this record thinking it’s just another loud/quiet/loud post-rock band, you’re going to be left wanting. Sure, they employ these ingredients with aplomb but Teller has a sound all their own.
In my past reviews I’ve often stuck to a particular theme in my writing to try and convey what it is about the record that I do or do not like. I’ve decided to forego all the poetic ramblings for a more straightforward approach. That isn’t because Strive Recess Echo didn’t inspire me in any way. It’s because I wouldn’t be able to do the album justice. It’s been four years since Teller’s last release. Whatever they did in that four years obviously worked. They noted that during that brief hiatus they were trying to find out who they were musically. Where they fit in. Instead, I believe they carved out their own little niche.
As the genre ages it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out. Teller does just that. I’m reviewing this album late. Strive Recess Echo came out in November completely DIY. Had I listened to this album while it was still 2017 I would have had no problem putting it in my list of best albums of the year.
Hey Teller, I know it’s only been a couple months since the release but can we have some new material already?
Erik Banck – Guitar, Vocals & Art work
Torbjörn Henrysson – Guitar
Emanuel Olsson – Guitar, Vocals & sound engineer
Richard Svartz – Bass
Gustav Kronqvist – Drums
All recordings were done by Emanuel. The album was mixed by Filip Leyman. Daniel Juline produced.
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!