Album Review: Slowrun – Passage

Slowrun
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I want to say the year was 2003.

It was an unusually hot October morning hovering around 2AM.  Stepping out onto my back porch to have a smoke, I peered up into the sky.  At first I wasn’t quite sure at what I was looking.  I can admit to you now that I was actually a little nervous.  It looked completely alien.  Unnatural.  Running down the driveway to get a better view, I was both filled with elation and trepidation.

I stood in the middle of the street and shot my eyes skyward once again.  Before me were beautifully swirling patterns floating listlessly in the dark.  Bright reds and purples suspended impossibly, undulating like airborne waves on an alien planet.  I would learn days later that the sun had experienced a large coronal mass ejection, throwing it’s plasma towards Earth.  I had witnessed an aurora borealis.  And it changed me utterly.

Finnish post-rock band Slowrun knows a thing or two about auroras.  Roiling swells of so many colors, rippling like whitecaps soft enough to sail upon.  The area of Lapland can actually get immigrants moving to the area in search of the mystical Northern Lights.  To live in an expanse so blessed to be able to experience something so magical can make one envious.  In 2003 when I accidentally spied my own borealis (and only due to a once in a lifetime solar storm) it changed my entire perspective on life and the universe.  It shook something loose within me.  I couldn’t shake the experience.  I still can’t.

I bring this up because there are moments in all of our lives where something gets rattled loose; the veil is lifted from our eyes and we begin to see things more clearly.  Sometimes it is one big momentous experience.  Others it’s a series of small earthquakes over time.  Many times it’s a minor, mundane change in our headspace.  Still others it’s a tumultuous life changing event.  This happened to me in 2003.

It happened again in 2007.

I always enjoy hearing how people got introduced to the post-rock genre.  I’m probably considered a later comer.  I first became aware of the genre that would ultimately own almost ever fiber of my being purely on accident.  A lot like how I witnessed the aurora borealis.  I was watching the movie Friday Night Lights.  I didn’t know who or what the background music was, but suddenly the story and dialogue were no longer important.  I didn’t care.  All I knew is that whatever or whoever was playing in the background, it moved something inside of me.  I again felt something rattle loose.  I wanted more.  Again, I couldn’t shudder the feeling.  It was full of hope and moroseness.  Vindication and purpose.  I would soon devour everything the genre had to offer and, 10 years later, I haven’t slowed down.

Slowrun’s 2-song EP “Passage” gives me the feeling of 2007 all over again.  I almost instantly feel nostalgic and start to yearn for slower, easier days.  I’m not the same person I was in 2007 and bands like Slowrun have a lot to do with that.  They are able to capture the genre in a time when it was crawling through my veins and terraforming my soul.  Slowrun doesn’t play overzealous chord progressions chock-full of filler.  And they certainly aren’t in any hurry to get anywhere.  They let their songs build in slow motion upon the reluctant breakers of an aurora.  They build so impossibly slow into a ground swell that once the song breaks you feel swept up as into a storm.  The heavier portions are well measured and few and far between, but never cliche.

Slowrun

A lot of fans of the genre have grown restless with the quiet-loud-quiet recipe of post-rock.  I’ve stated in another review that I can understand their sentiment, but I can also admit that there’s plenty of room in the genus for bands that don’t necessarily feel the need to rewrite the book on instrumental rock.  There’s something sentimental about Slowrun’s writing that I find a bit infectious.  They aren’t going to score any points for pushing the limits of post-rock, but they don’t necessarily need to.  The band has a clear and composed approach to song writing.  Not every band needs to bring a thousand samples and a degree in noise shaping to the table in order to create a beautifully written tune. Slowrun is analytical in their approach.  They’ve come to convey an idea and they refuse to muddy the waters.  This is what I loved about post-rock when I first got in to the scene.  Sure, sometimes it was a bit formulaic, but it was comfortable and safe.

Slowrun has another record entitled “Resonance” released in December of 2015 (listen to the track Introspection).  It, too, is well worth a pick up and deserving of a review.  With “Resonance” the band really shows off its chops.  “Passage” is just that.  A portal into a new chapter for the band.  You can hear a sense of maturity growing in this latest 2-song release.  It’s tranquil but troubled.  It’s clear-sighted and contemplative.  “Passage” is why I fell in love with post-rock in the first place a decade ago.  If you need reminding of what it was about this genre that rattled something loose within you, starting a fire in your belly, you should (re)start with “Passage”.


Slowrun links:

Here for a moment… A Tribute To Maybeshewill

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Leicester post-rockers Maybeshewill just played their last ever show at KOKO in London, supported by worriedaboutsatan and You Slut! [who reformed especially for the show].

I couldn’t make it. Sadly that means I will never see them play live. It’s understandable, seeing as I live on the opposite side of the world. I honestly think that I will miss the band though.

Like I mentioned in my review of their final albumI discovered Maybeshewill through a sampler attached to Rock Sound magazine. The song had a risqué title, and being a teenage boy, I was terrified that my parents would stumble upon the song that I had ripped to the family computer. I wonder what would have been worse – my mum finding a file named “The Paris Hilton Sex Tape”, or the also rudely named “C.N.T.R.C.K.T” from the same album?

I think Maybeshewill were the band that I joined Bandcamp for, so that I could purchase their live album Live At The Y Theatre. It included a link to download the video of the show, but I never actually downloaded it because the file size was 2 gigabytes, and my bloody flatmates always used up the internet bandwidth allowance, meaning that the download was nigh on impossible on the capped speeds once we had exceeded our limits. I’ll upgrade to unlimited internet someday…

As well as loving the band for their music, I also admire them for their DIY ethic. They started their own record label/collective, Robot Needs Home, to launch their own debut EP. I don’t think they ever anticipated growing to the size they are now.

This blogpost from guitarist John Helps aligned so well with my ideals about authenticity, resourcefulness and community. In the liner notes of Not For Want Of Trying they write “this record was performed, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Maybeshewill at various locations throughout 2007. It cost us nothing. DIY FTW”. They proceed to thank friends and family who helped them with the process, stating that “we owe more to these people than we owe to the bank”, and “this record is as much yours as it is ours”. There seems to be more integrity in any artistic project when it is independently run, because the artist needn’t compromise their values to appease any external figures. I try to run my blog by those principles, and consider my work a success, despite never having spent any money on it.

The band’s final album, Fair Youth, was released just as I started this blog. I enthusiastically reviewed it, and although it was not my best piece of writing (being among my first), it taught me a lot about what it takes to write for a music blog (including don’t let your dad leave comments that people will laugh about on the internet!). I stand by what I wrote back then – it is a good album, and one the band can be proud to leave as a parting gift.

Maybeshewill will always be important to me. They were one of the bands that started me on a journey of discovering post-rock. They showed me that music can be exciting without vocals. They combined electronica, samples and brilliant musicianship. They made brilliant music using an indie model.

To quote one of their song titles : “Our History Will Be What We Make of It”. Maybeshewill made a legacy worth remembering

Joseph James

ALBUM REVIEW: COMPASS & KNIFE – THE SETTING OF THE OLD SUN

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Like any other genre, post-rock encompasses a vast array of spin offs and variations.  From the math centric to the ambient, the challenge for those of us with a need to categorize falls in the realm of discovering the correct word to depict both what we hear and how it makes us feel.  I’ve never necessarily been a fan of sticking genres labels to bands since the process seems to be fairly relative from person to person.  One listener’s post-rock is another person’s indie.  However, without descriptors an album review renders itself pointless.  Fortunately for me, Seattle’s Compass & Knife is incredibly proficient at getting right to the point.

Compass & Knife’s newest release, The Setting of the Old Sun, is skillfully written, masterfully performed, and down right good.  The quartet of polished musicians take little time to introduce themselves musically and for those looking for a straight forward, what you hear is what you get record, The Setting of the Old Sun is perfect.  From short ambient intros and bridges to uptempo, in your face choruses, the guys of Compass & Knife deliver a fantastic array of musicianship that is easily digested yet intriguing enough for more than one listen.

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The eight song, almost entirely instrumental album was released on November 17th, 2015, and in a short amount of time was able to garner enough respect to receive some album of the year recognition.  These accolades are absolutely deserved and appropriately administered as it’s blatantly obvious real thought and care went into the production of this record.  What makes this even more impressive is the fact they self-produced and self-recorded this album.

Some listeners might not take the time to explore the production notes of this album, but as someone who produces and records his own band, I can attest to the challenges and frustrations this process presents and am always curious to see who was behind the board.  When self-producing and self-recording, not only will your band be on trial for it’s writing aptness, but your ability to capture your band’s sound and present it as a finished product will also face relentless scrutiny.  While this approach is extremely fulfilling it can also be painstaking.  I don’t know how many times I’ve mixed my own music until my ears could no longer discern one guitar from the next.  When revisiting the final product months later, I’ve found myself wishing the snare was a decibel louder or that I’d cleaned up some mids in the guitars.  Thankfully, bassist Austin Patterson and guitarist Jordan Brokaw did a fantastic job producing and recording The Setting of the Old Sun and should be sleeping very well at night.

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The Broken Bow Sessions – Click Here to Watch

While each song is worthy of attention, the album’s finale, “Drowned in Desire”, clearly surpasses it’s predecessors.  Compass & Knife saved the best for last and exceeded my expectations by putting together an incredibly well thought out, well executed music video to showcase both their musical prowess and their conceptual capacity.  As we enter into an era where anyone can shoot a music video on their iPhone, it’s absolutely motivating to see a band put together an impressive visual to accompany their music.

Instrumentally based music is inherently open ended and it’s usually up to the listener to piece together their own storyline since no lyrical content exists to steer the narrative.  While “Drowned in Desire” can still be interpreted as the listener chooses, the music video adds a deeper dimension to the song that made me appreciate and enjoy the song even more.  And, once again, the fact that they filmed and edited the video themselves will forever keep Compass & Knife at the forefront of my list of remarkable, noteworthy DIY bands.

For anyone looking for a great album to put on the stereo while working, or for a soundtrack to accompany a road trip, I highly recommend Compass & Knife’s The Setting of the Old Sun.

C.J. Blessum

Album Review: SLVDR/MOMA SPLIT 7″

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The strength of a musical community runs only as deep as the dedication people have to support the music contained within it.  And no, I’m not talking about how many people go to your local show or how many likes you have on Facebook, I’m talking about the group of musicians and creative individuals who define your music scene.  The interconnectivity between bands and healthy competition that results in pushing each other’s limits is what makes a music scene great.  I think we all understand that something happened to live music when the internet killed the same video star that killed the radio star.  A lot of things have changed and perhaps made it harder to build a thriving local music scene in this day in age.  It’s really easy to complain about this and yearn for the “good old days”, but I think we also all realize that while technology may be removing some physical human interaction, the benefits or digital human interactions can lead to some great musical coalescence.

I’ve always wanted to start a small, independent record label.  And whenever I’ve felt inspired to do so I am quickly yanked back to reality by the consequences.  Small labels are all hard work with little to no monetary pay off.  We’ve all heard of crimes of passion, well, small record labels are definitely labors of passion.  It may even require some level of insanity to start your own small label.  But these labels are the ones who make life easier for those of us interested in finding new, underground music.  And when a few small labels join forces from separate areas of the world to bring bands together from opposite ends of the world, we get a remarkable split featuring Rio de Janeiro’s SLVDR and Japan’s MOMA.  The logistical feat in bringing these bands together is both commendable and a fantastic testament to the importance of connectivity and interaction in the musical world of the lesser known.

Released by Ohio labels Tightwolf Records and Delayed Gratification Records along with Norway’s Kakusan Records, this three song split is definitely worth listening to more than once.  We’ve all heard the old adage that music is the universal language.  If any actual language barrier exists its is quickly demolished by the musical work of SLVDR and MOMA.  Dubbed “post-math” by some, this roughly thirteen minute split moves very quickly.  I’m a fan of instrumental, post-rock music, but I tend to lean more towards the cinematic, drawn out styles as opposed to the quick-moving, math-centered instrumentals.  Because the word “math” is in the genre titled, I just assumed I would have to think too much, but both SLVDR and Moma do an impeccable job of luring you in and letting you lose yourself in the music.

Each record label has a unique vinyl color for the SLVDR/MOMA Spit 7

Each record label involved has their own unique vinyl color for the SLVDR/MOMA Split 7″

SLVDR kicks the record off with their song ‘Mike 80 and I was immediately impacted by the drumming prowess.  Being the foundation of essentially every musical endeavor, if the drums lack in discipline the result is a horrible recording.  I’ve engineered several recording sessions with a less than competent drummer, and you can immediately tell that the ship is set to sink when the drummer is unable to squeeze a fill in or is trying too hard to do as much as he can.  SLVDR does a lot in very small time frame, but they pull it off beautifully.  Being fairly new to this off shoot of the “post” movement there are several sections of drumming that I just haven’t heard before.  I’m not weathered or versed enough to call it innovative but it is absolutely impressive and is definitely the selling point for me and one of the reasons I decided to review this split.

Like the drums, the guitar bass work is exceptional.  The use of modulating effects is calculated and not over done and beautifully lends itself to filling out SLVDR’s sound which can be difficult to obtain as a three-piece.  I’m a sucker for hooks and the guitar work grabs me for the first time when the band goes heavier at about the 1:30 mark.  Overdriven and straight forward, the simplicity of this section stuck in the midst of ever changing and evolving lines is fantastic songwriting.  These guys are totally capable of filling up a full length with complex time and key changes but taking moments to simplify and grab the ear of the less math inclined enthusiast, like myself, is laudable.  Following a crescendo of gritty guitar and heavy drumming, SLVDR ends with a chaotic math infused outro that ends abruptly, giving way to the piano driven excellence of MOMA.

Japan’s MOMA catches you from the beginning with relaxing piano lines that carry and define their song writing.  Beneath the beauty of the piano lies a solid rhythm section that incorporates numerous time changes and complexities within the music without overpowering or taking away from the gracefulness of the piano.  Initially, I didn’t even notice how frequently MOMA was moving from one time signature to another.  They are truly masters of exploring every opportunity to add or remove a beat here and there while still maintaining an easy to digest sound.

Through the first song entitled “32 Ave“, the guitar work takes more of a backseat to the piano and only adds in a few nicely worked flourishes here and there.  This is not something that is easy to do for many guitar players.  Understanding simplicity and seeing the song as a whole is to some a natural gift, but to others it takes years of practice.  Allowing the piano to dominate the melody in “32 Ave” gives the song a gentle, easy-listening quality that works very well for me.

MOMA was able to fit a second song onto this split called “SUN.  This song allows the listener to hear the playing ability of both the guitar and the bass while still getting a pleasing dose of fantastic piano melodies.  The ability to carefully place a bunch of notes into a small space is a profound skill I’m not sure I will ever understand.  However, like SLVDR, MOMA does this very well and nothing seems too full or overdone.

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While album reviews tend to focus solely on the band or bands involved, I feel it is important to acknowledge the work by the labels involved in putting this split together.  I applaud the effort in bringing two bands from different corners of the world together.  The internet has made this task fairly straight forward but the idea to pursue this split and the trust these labels have earned is remarkable.  For SLVDR and MOMA to toss these labels a song or two and trust that they will nourish and maintain the integrity of their art says an awful lot about these small labels from Ohio and Oslo.

Take a minute or two out of your day and go check out both the music on this split and the great packaging decisions between the three labels.

C.J. Blessum

EP Review: Cloudkicker – Little Histories

Cloudkicker Little Histories cover
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I’m shocked that I haven’t heard of Cloudkicker until now because it’s exactly the sort of thing I love to listen to. The music is a combination of post-rock, metal and djent – think along the lines of Russian Circles, Dumbsaint and Oceansize.

Then again, in some ways it isn’t all that surprising that I haven’t heard of it.

Cloudkicker is a one man project run by Ben Sharp, someone who has taken the DIY ethic to heart. All his music is self-produced and available on Bandcamp for pay-what-you-want. He doesn’t tour (being a one man band) and he’s not signed to a label. He’s not out to make any money from his project either.

The liner notes for a previous album, The Discovery, say “this album was recorded for a grand total of $0, and is therefore being distributed for free.  if you paid money for this you’re a sucker.” His music is also all filed under Creative Commons license, making it available to whoever, for whatever, for free. One label, Blood Music, took advantage of this by printing physical records of releases that Sharp had neglected to make himself, and Sharp was completely cool with it.

I hadn’t heard about Cloudkicker because there is no promotion for the project. Sharp doesn’t care about profiting from his music so he’s not pushing for publicity.

But now I’ve discovered Cloudkicker and I fell like a magpie in a jewellery shop. I love the music, and I have access to a large back catalogue that I can explore to discover musical gems.

Before I discuss Little Histories, I need to mention the Live with Intronaut album. This live album is one that negates many of the points that I just made about Cloudkicker. Because Cloudkicker is a one-man project, there was never much likelihood of live performances. But Sharp befriended the band Intronaut, who in turn offered up their services to Sharp as the Cloudkicker backing band. It didn’t seem possible at first, but in April 2014 it happened: a live tour and a live recording for those who couldn’t make the shows. The live album was released on Century Media due to contractual  obligations that Intronaut were held to, making it the only Cloudkicker release that isn’t fully DIY or available for free.

Little Histories is the EP that follows, released a month after the live album.

Little Histories transcends from the floaty “Parliment”, to the cosmic “Sky Guide”, that includes vocoder, before getting heavier with “Charmeleon”. “Digital Lightening” sounds sinister and ominous, distorted and washy until the articulate riffing begins. The last track, “Hassan” builds gradually, the tension escalates before the music begins to syncopate and layer up.

“Signal/Noise” is a digital bonus track originally released years ago. It won’t be included on a physical release Sharp is planning. A busy drum tattoo propels the songs as it ascends with guitar swells. The song gets fuzzier and the cymbals wash up as song escalates and the guitars soar.

The EP phases well between songs, there is a deliberate progression throughout. Sharp is a pilot and names many of his song and album titles after plane crashes. Although Little Histories isn’t a concept album as such, I like to think of it as a soundtrack for a flight. The flight is going smoothly, until they hit a storm and have to battle turbulence.

Although Cloudkicker is very much a metal project, there is plenty of variety on offer. There are quieter post-rock moments, and chugging djenty riffs, as well. Cloudkicker covers all sides of the spectrum.

This is one man messing around and self recording at home, but most of the music could pass for live instrumentation. I wouldn’t have been able to pick that he uses a drum machine.

If you like post-rock/metal/djent give Cloudkicker a listen. It won’t cost you anything and if you like it there is an extensive discography for perusal at your pleasure.

Joseph James