Album Review: Gregory Tan – Sky Threader’s Journey

Gregory Tan Sky Threader's Journey cover
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It’s quickly clear that Gregory Tan usually writes soundtrack music when listening to his latest album, The Sky Threader’s Journey. While 2016’s Far and Away was an ambient/post-rock styled release, The Sky Threader’s Journey sounds more like a video game.

As you could expect from the album title, Tan tries to take the listener on a journey with his music. We watch as soldiers prep for a grand battle; take in the grandeur of the bustling courtyard in King Arthur’s Camelot; feel the air rush past as we fly through the sky, riding on giant eagles. Or at least those are some wild interpretations… To quote Tan: “each piece takes the listener on a thematic adventure of sorts.”

“As a composer, it is just my desire and dream to capture emotions and transform them into music,” Tan writes, “but I would also want for this music to serve a purpose that goes way beyond the celebration of an individual’s creativity.”

Gregory Tan Sky Threader's Journey

Electronic tones on this album give it a dated feel, like a polyphonic ringtone, which probably explains why I imagine computer games when I listen to it. Plus the drums feel tight and rigid, making me guess that they are also programmed. This is offset by more traditional instruments. The blend of orchestral instruments like violins juxtapose against the inorganic computerised tones.

Tan is a prolific musician, a composer by profession. I find it intriguing when people who write soundtrack music decide to compile some of their works for release as an album [examples include Brad Couture, Rhian Sheehan, Christoffer Franzen]. Why choose these particular songs? What message are you sharing? Is there a cohesive theme that sets these tracks apart from the many others you’ve written?

Regardless of his reasonings, Tan is clearly proud of his work. It is tight, intricate and detailed – certainly more fleshed out than his last EP. Simultaneously going classical and modern, Tan has created an epic listen.


Gregory Tan links:

Bandcamp: https://gregtanmusic.bandcamp.com/

Website: https://www.gregtanmusic.net/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gregtanmusic

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/gregtanmusic

 

Joseph James

TRACK(S) REVIEW: U137 – ADAM FOREVER/THE GREAT LEAP

U137
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Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything; It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful. – Aristotle

There are as many ways to deal with pain or loss as there are stars in the sky. Music was handed down to us through the impossibility of timeless epochs by our ancestors. The importance of music throughout our history on this planet cannot be denied. Pre-history man used it as a means to tell stories, mourn the fallen or in ritualistic rites. Paleolithic humans would blow through bone flutes, clap their hands, bang rocks together, hum, whistle or roar.  Music and rhythm is an indelible part of human evolution. We take it, as we take life, for granted. It is almost unfeasible to imagine our short time on Earth without it.

The post-rock and cinematic instrumental genres are difficult to explain. I’m often asked what it is and usually I’m bereft of any explanation. I can never quite define it. “Why do you insist on listening to music that seems to be so damn sad all the time?” is one question I’m often faced with. The answer is easy: catharsis. There was a study published in Frontiers in Psychology that posits that we tend to listen to sad music because it elicits positive emotions. Aristotle suggests that when we overwhelm ourselves with undesirable emotions the music acts as a tool of purgation. There is a gap between what we perceive as emotive in the song and what is actually felt. That gap is what is so difficult to explain.

Oftentimes, as listeners we rely on the musicians to provide us with ablution through their music. Sometimes we forget that the musicians themselves may be writing to deal with their own pain.

In 2013 Swedish post-rock duo U137 released their debut album Dreamer On The Run. According to record label Deep Elm the album has over 40+ million plays on Spotify alone. Dreamer On The Run was a gem of an album. Fronted by Oscar Gulbrandsen and Adam Tornblad of Moonlit Sailor fame, U137 writes texturally deep and spiritually honest songs that dive right into the heart. It’s the kind of music that plays at the edges of that emotive gap highlighted in the study above. On November 17th U137 will be releasing a two song “single” Adam Forever / The Great Leap. Sadly, the release will be bitter-sweet. U137 and Moonlit Sailor lost drummer Adam Tornblad in May of this year after a long struggle with substance abuse and depression. This is Oscar Gulbrandsen’s catharsis:

“Writing Adam Forever was very difficult but also provided me with some much needed therapy. The feeling and sound in this song is my love for Adam.”

 

U137 by Kristoffer Midborn

left: Adam, right: Oscar, credit Kristoffer Midborn

Adam Forever is Oscar’s farewell tune to a man he’s known for over two decades. This is Oscar’s goodbye song and a way to show his appreciation for a man he obviously dearly loved.

Adam and Oscar began writing music together in their teens and would eventually start ethereal post-rock group Moonlit Sailor in Borås, Sweden. Borås is known to go weeks without sunlight. An important fact to note as you can hear the peaceful tranquility of night dot the landscape of their musical library. In Adam Forever you can hear the hope of a new day in its opening notes. It’s almost a lullaby in reverse. It’s a song that reminds you that no matter how bad things get you have to shake off the dark, greet the morning with a smile and know that you’re 13 billion years in the making. But it is also a song that reminds you that the impossibility of you, you’re entire existence, is short and fleeting. It’s a song that reminds you that you’re loved and have the capacity to love. It’s a song of reclamation and reverie. It’s a song that begs you to celebrate what time you have with the ones you cherish because it all has to eventually stop. It stops but it does not end. Much like U137, Adam’s unfortunate passing isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning.

Adam Forever is the kind of track that’s difficult to un-hear. The synth-like strings swell and crash coupled with a tenebrous piano part that manifests the emotive gap. The guitars create a stable foundation and echo for eternity. Just as things begin to look too bleak the drums pound a crescendo and the song takes on an air of penance. You can’t help but feel completely and utterly redeemed.

You can hear Oscar all over the second track The Great Leap. It opens with a frenetic neo-romantic string section that would make Wagner roll in his grave. Beneath all of this are lush and verdant whole notes that surge listlessly in contrast to the dynamic strings. The song finally drops about halfway through with a guitar part that could make your heart melt. It’s exactly the kind of track you’ve come to love from U137. But there’s something more here. As good as Dreamer On The Run is, you can’t help but feel like U137 is beginning to truly ascend. Another full length will be on its way and The Great Leap, though written two years ago for U137’s second album, gives listeners a lot to get excited about.

I don’t know what happens to us after we die. There are countless pages written on this subject that I better leave to minds greater than mine. I know that we aren’t the tenacious, unbroken and resolute beings we pretend to be. Everything comes to an end, but there are those of us out there that leave an enduring and unforgettable footprint behind before we go. I can’t help but feel that Adam Tornblad is one of those people. Through his life we’re left with music that will ride on waves to the farthest reaches of far space and beyond. Would that we could all profess as much. Adam is gone, but his gift remains. Goddammit, Adam, thank you.


U137 links:

Pre-order – iTuneshttps://itunes.apple.com/us/album/adam-forever-the-great-leap-single/id1291175783

Pre-order – Deep Elm Digital: http://deepelmdigital.com/album/adam-forever-the-great-leap

 

ALBUM REVIEW: MMTH – PATERNOSTER

MMTH Paternoster cover
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There seems to be a general consensus within the instrumental rock genre that as it ages it risks falling prey to the very traits that make it so great in the first place. Bands that attempt to force change risk alienating fans. At the same time, the fans alienate the band by not demanding growth. It’s a delicate yet necessary symbiosis. Pushing the envelope just to say you’ve pushed the envelope achieves nothing. It’s counter-intuitive. Change is good, but change for the sake of change is not. Growth as a band has to be organic. There’s still a lot of room in this genre for bands that just want to write what they feel. It is for this reason that I enjoyed Germany based instrumental band MMTH so much. And this surprised me.

As far as first impressions go MMTH has to be happy with their initial DIY release. Paternoster is filled with great moments. Thematically, the band doesn’t stick with just one emotion. There are great moments of sludgy gloom peppered in with uplifting phrases of retribution. I may even add there are occasions where the band will drop right into indie groove. You’ll find yourself bobbing you’re head in time with a beast rhythm section.

I can appreciate what MMTH has done with this record. You can tell they’ve put a lot of love into the production. Both the sound quality and the mix are well done. The band even released a cassette tape replete with some pretty stellar art.

There’s a lot of diversity on this record. One moment you’re trudging knee deep through a swamp of thick and cloudy chords as on Big Mouth. The next you’re staring out the cargo bay door into the endless reaches of space. The highlight for me on Paternoster would be Pogba is the New Zidane. It starts out with a lonely piano part with guitars quietly humming in the background. The drums start an almost marching cadence which instantly gave me the impression of a convict of old marching to the gallows.

While the sound from song to song is different, there is one thing a lot of them have in common: driving and distorted guitars thrusting their pulsing violence into your earholes. These guys have to have a background in classic rock. As stated before there are parts that really groove and punch you right in the nose. Extra kudos have to be given to the drummer and bassist. These two really know how to carry a tune and seem to compliment each other well. If I had one complaint throughout this album is that there were times when I was begging for the needle to drop and hear an intensely distorted and loud rock breakdown. I wanted them to set their guitars to kill.

There’s a lot to like about Paternoster. The band doesn’t try to go out of its way to be something they aren’t. I’m not flooded with busy or overwrought guitar work or rhythm. Every note seems to have its place. Most importantly MMTH doesn’t come off as overzealous. For a first record I think they’re on the right track and can’t wait to see what they come up with next as they all grow musically.

MMTH


MMTH links:

Website: mmthband.com
Bandcamp: https://mmth.bandcamp.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mmthband/

TRACK REVIEW: THIS WILL DESTROY YOU – KITCHEN

TWDY Kitchen
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This Will Destroy You has had a strange year-and-a-half. Gone are long time bassist Donovan Jones whose work on bass and keys elevated TWDY’s already sonorous sound to next levels, and drummer Alex Bhore, a talent that made me believe in drums again. The band has since been able to fill this void with Jesse Kees and Robbi Gonzalez, two talents in their own right.

While TWDY fans eagerly await a new record and see what, exactly, these new additions bring to the table in a songwriting sense, This Will Destroy You hasn’t been resting on its laurels. Tasked with creating a soundscape for Chef Jordan Kahn’s new experimental restaurant experience Vespertine, the Austin based band would appear to be the perfect fit. Eschewing the more vanilla restaurant event that a lot of us are used to, Vespertine hopes to throw everything you’ve ever learned about the dining experience on its ear. It’s part art project, part gastronomical experiment. As with most higher end restaurants Chef Jordan Kahn wants to create an atmosphere. Enter This Will Destroy You, a band that eschewed the more traditional limitations of instrumental rock to create their own atmosphere.

Magic Bullet Records released “Kitchen” to the public on October 13th. “Kitchen” is the first track you’ll hear upon entering the restaurant. It is the tip of the spear so to speak and sets the stage for your dining experience. The band’s last two records saw them shed the mantle of everyday-post-rock and set out to create something they could call their own. Over the last two albums the band’s tracks have become darker and dripping with post-apocalyptica. “Kitchen” is in direct contrast to the mushroom cloud melodies and discordant yet controlled chaos of Tunnel Blanket and Another Language. This newest track is the silver lining. It’s the sun breaking through a blanket of purple clouds in a last ditch effort to hang on to the day. It’s a beautiful piece that hearkens back the band’s earlier days. “Kitchen” is full of hope and retribution, but there’s tragic despair there as well.

The opening notes hold on forever and act as the curtain slowly drawing back for the big reveal. Small layers of guitar are gently added on, careful not to tip the balance. The tones are soft, warm and cloyingly inviting. Everything swells languidly and every note seems to be just at the tip of your tongue. Eventually, a tiptoeing pizzicato emerges as if it’s crawling out of the dark. It’s the perfect amount of movement in a song that moves like quicksand. The way it all comes together evokes the imagery of soft colors dancing on the floor as light pierces a stained glass window. You’re filled with billowy joy, but there’s a ghostly edge there just out of reach that also fills you with the uneasy feeling that the stained glass window could come shattering to the ground at any moment.

I’ll probably never be able to visit Vespertine, but if “Kitchen” is any indication you’re in for one hell of a night. The track is subtle and invitatory, which is perfect as it’s the sonic set piece for your evening at the restaurant. We may be a long way off from a new full length from TWDY, but “Kitchen” does a magnificent job of sating any hunger pangs for new material.


This Will Destroy You links:

Label: http://www.magicbulletrecords.com/site/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/magicbulletrecs
Bandcamp: https://magicbulletrecords.bandcamp.com/album/this-will-destroy-you-kitchen
Band: http://thiswilldestroyyou.net/

Ranges Ascensionist Tour Update 4: Wichita, Colorado Springs, Billings

Ranges Hard Style
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Tour Day 14: Thursday 12 October

Kirby’s Beer Store, Wichita, Kansas

w/ Honey Cloud

I can’t believe it.

It’s finally happened.

After two whole weeks, CJ has finally decided to rest. He asked Jared to drive from St Louis to Wichita. The dude with more longevity than a ultramarathon runner has reached his limit.

I’m excited for Wichita. Jared attended university there, so I imagine lots of his friends will be attending. Staying with his friends in Minneapolis was a fun time, so I hope there will be a similar party tonight.

We listen to the band Kansas on the way to Kansas, and then I put on Fleetwood Mac. It just feels right to listen to classic rock today. This is followed by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Queen.

Kirby’s, the venue is a tiny bar opposite the university that Jared studied at. Emphasis on the tiny. It is plastered with stickers, posters and graffiti, and there is no lock on the door of the bathroom. Jared tells me that he used to work there.

Loading in is interesting. There’s barely enough room for four musicians to stand onstage, let alone with amps and drums taking up space as well. I spot a poster advertising a Staghorn show stuck to the ceiling. I send it to Alan from the band, having met him in St Louis a few nights ago. He loves it, but is shocked to hear that Ranges fit on the stage.

The band play well tonight. They play a 40 minute set rather than the usual 30 mins. The extra song is awesome, with thrashy drum parts. Why don’t they usually play that song???

But things fall apart after the set. There’s an argument between some of the band members, with accusations that some members didn’t put in as much effort as usual. I personally think the set went fine. It’s a telling sign that we are all getting too worn out from the long drives and inadequate sleep. It doesn’t help that the next band plays horrible, erratic free-jazz. That crap is enough to put anybody in a bad mood.

Jared loves catching up with all of his arty friends from grad school, and one couple hosts us at their house that night.

Tour Day 15: Friday 13 October

Triple Nickel Tavern, Colorado Springs

w/ Eyelet, Blind, the Thief, Euth, Shiii Whaaa

I had thought that we were due to play Denver tonight, going off an old tour poster. Turns out that gig had fallen through and we had a gig in Colorado Springs instead, a few hours drive south of Denver.

We stop at a shopping mall on the way to the venue. We’re all running low on clean clothes so a few of the guys grab buy some fresh gear to prolong the illusion of cleanliness. I buy a New York Yankees baseball cap to please Mark. He used to write for some baseball publications covering the Yankees on their way to the playoffs, so insists that I rep his team. He’s as pleased as punch once I start wearing it around, especially when the game is on at the bar later in the night.

We eat at El Taco Rey, just around the corner from the venue. It’s one of the meals I’ve had on tour. The food tastes outstanding, and it’s affordable too.

Triple Nickle Tavern reminds me of Triple Rock in Minneapolis. There’s a distinct punk feel to it. Lot’s of bands are playing tonight so it’s a struggle to find enough space for everyone to put their gear.

Shiii Whaaa start the night off well with their fun punk style. The following two bands are horrible, with lots of screaming, so I head outside to chat to Sam, a Ranges fan who has driven for over an hour to get to the gig.

My highlight of the night is the last band, Blind, the Thief. They play upbeat math rock, similar to Toe. It’s fantastic. I love dancing to energetic music so I make sure to get my fill.

Tour Day 16, Saturday 14 October

Shooters Bar, Billings, Montana

w/ In Rapture, As The Crow Flies

Everyone is in good spirits today. The last night of tour! The guys are keen to get back to their families and sleep in their own beds.

I sleep during most of the drive up through Colorado and Wyoming, but when we stop for gas I notice that we are in the middle of a snow flurry. It snows in New Zealand, but usually I need to go up a mountain to get to it, so it feels novel to experience it here.

Shooters Bar in Billings feels more like home. Good old Montana, with plenty of red necks wearing trucker caps and no sales tax – one place in America free-er than most.

Joey’s wife and daughter have made the drive to Billings to see us, and CJ’s sisters come to the show as well.

First act As The Crow Flies are from Bozeman as well. They play awesome, stomping southern styled blues rock. The use a truck exhaust pipe as a mic stand, and Mario the singer plays a sci-fi looking guitar that he built himself.

Following act In Rapture are a sight to see. They play industrial tech metal. They’re good, but their sound mix lacks punch. And although I like to see musicians getting into it as they play, the way they moved onstage felt forced. The girl on keys actually ran out into the audience and started pushing people to start a moshpit. The music was good, and if they spend some time refining their tone and mix they’ll sound great.

I know the guys in Ranges were excited to finish. We were so close to home. They dedicated their final song of the tour to me.

We finish the night with shots and beers (a double shot of mountain dew for CJ because he was driving). Joey is dropped off somewhere in Billings where he is staying with his family for the night, and the rest of us get back to Bozeman around 2am.

As hard as it was sitting cramped in a van day in, day out, as tiring as it was pulling the late nights, as grotty as it made me feel eating pizza and gas station food for many meals, I’ve had the time of my life.

In the past few months I’ve traveled from the east coast to the west coast of America, and then met up with Ranges and driven most of it all over again. I’ve seen some amazing places, but more importantly, made some amazing friends.

dunk! was incredible. Truly memorable… well… the parts I was sober for. Certainly a great time.

And the guys in Ranges are the best. It is hard saying goodbye and returning to New Zealand after having lived in such close quarters with them for two weeks. It’s crazy that I can count them as some of my closest friends after only having known them for a short space of time.

I’ll wrap up my tour blog with something absurd, an in-joke within the band that sums up our journey well:

Greets and great times.

Joseph James

 

Ranges Ascensionist Tour Update 3: Syracuse, Columbus, St Louis

Ranges FOAM St Louis
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Apologies for the lack of images. I’ll update this post with photos when I get wifi access.

Tour Day 11: Monday 9 October

Spark Contemporary Art Space, Syracuse, New York

w/ Man Mountain, Against The Giants, Machine Moon, How To Disappear Completely

The drive from Vermont to Syracuse is incredible. I lived in Maine for a few months earlier in the year, and it feels good to be back in beautiful New England. Upstate New York is aglow with autumnal hues. We drove through winding country roads, past glassy ponds, and through misty groves of vibrant deciduous trees. Joey put on Young and Courageous, the Tides of Man record. It seems like the perfect soundtrack for this beautiful drive. Joey and I get watery-eyed. It’s crazy how closely attached we feel to the guys in that band, considering that we’ve only known each other for four days.

I was up into the early hours of the morning hanging out with some of the musicians from dunk! in the Junius hotel room, so wasn’t feeling too crash-hot due to limited sleep.

We arrived in Syracuse and unloaded the gear into the venue – an art gallery similar to the one we played in Minot, although this one was bare.

I asked CJ what he was thinking, going from playing the biggest show of his career to the smallest. He sad he was happy for it because the pressure from dunk had been lifted off his shoulders.

We walked to a nearby pizza joint a few blocks away. It was chaos. We had to order from one place and pay at another. The staff didn’t even seem to know what was going on. I sat down with my laptop to sort through photos I’d taken at dunk!

After pizza we walked back to the venue, and I realised that my wallet was absent from my back pocket where it usually lives. I searched my bag thoroughly, emptied out my pockets and asked the guys if they’d seen it.

After turning my bag inside out a few times, and retracing my steps and searching the pizza joint, I came to the conclusion that my wallet was stolen. I spent the next hour sat in the van ringing banks to cancel my cards and trying to do some damage control for when whoever had my wallet was trying to get access to things with it.

I can’t comment on the bands that night. I was too absorbed in my own little world and took some time out in the van. Not a good day for me.

Tour Day 12: Tuesday 10 October

Spacebar, Columbus, Ohio

w/ Man Mountain, Deprecator

Thankfully I still had my passport on me, and was able to withdraw the rest of the balance from my American bank account. It wasn’t much, but it should last me the rest of my time here if I’m not stupid.

Local band Deprecator played a fun set of thrash metal, with some Slayer thrown in for good measure. It was a refreshing change from the music I’ve listened to over the past few weeks.

The End Of The Ocean live in Ohio, so we met up with some of the band at the show. The bar had ginger beer – my personal favourite – so I bought a round.Then Tara from TEOTO bought a few shots, then I had a few more beers on the band tab. Before I knew it I was buzzing.

Ranges did their usual thang. You’d think that after seeing them play the same stuff for 11 nights I’d be sick of it, but I still love watching them play. I’ve seen them enough now that I’m confident I could step in for Mark on drums if he should go Spinal Tap on us and spontaneously combust or fall off a stage.

Man Mountain were great. I posted a status on twitter: “Man Mountain: 100% bearded, 100% awesome”. I still stand by that drunken statement. It was lots of fun dancing along to their music. They have a foot pedal that sets off flood lights during their heavier passages of music. It’s simple, but adds so much to the experience.

After the show we headed down the street for a few more drinks at the bar Tara works at, and some pizza from a connected pizzeria. I covered my slice in unicorn sauce. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but it tasted amazing.

A homeless guy asked Mike from Man Mountain if he was from ZZ Top, clearly because of his impressive beard. Mike played along completely straight-faced. I just lost it.

Fun times!

Tour Day 13: Wednesday 11 October

Foam, St Louis, Missouri

w/ Man Mountain, Staghorn, CaveofswordS

One thing I adore about this scene is the DIY mentality. Ranges print their own merch and record their own music. Mark built his own snare drum. Jared made coffee cups to go with the deluxe edition of their album.

We met another band in St Louis with a similar mindset: Staghorn. Staghorn also has a printing press, so do their own t-shirts and even screen printed some posters for the show as souvenirs for us. On top of that, they even make their own amps!

Their set revolved around a dystopian comic that the band had written, with the narrative coming through the PA on a back track. I’m a sucker for spoken word samples in post-rock, and I also subscribe completely to dystopian texts, so this was the best of both worlds.

As well as drawing me in to the music, the band looked amazing. Their own custom amps look unlike most I’ve seen. They also had two lights that included salt lamps and spotlights. Allan on guitar had a balaclava/turban wrap around his face and head, adding to the sci-fi imagery. And they had a harmonium – like a piano with bellows – which was new to me, and great to watch.

Man Mountain, as usual, killed it. Those dudes are super talented and I wish them all the success they deserve.

CaveofswordS ended the night with their unique electro/darkwave/synthpop. It was quite the set up, with plenty of synths and modulators and things with buttons that I couldn’t name. The music was fun and depressing at the same time.

After the show most of the people in bands hung around outside. It was our last night with Man Mountain, and sad to see them go. Jacob the drummer and I bonded over an intense love for Into It. Over It. Bryan the guitarist told me about how he got into post-rock by listening to Lowercase Noises, which prompted him to experiment with his own ambient sounds, and later join Man Mountain.

I’m not sure exactly what time we left the venue, but apparently about ten minutes later there was a shootout right outside where we had been, resulting in a police officer being shot!

Words and photos by Joseph James