Album Review: Bandina ié – Synekdoke

Bandina ié - Synecdoche cover
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Copenhagen quintet Bandina ié have spent a long time working on their début album, Synekdoke. Six whole years for six tracks. Spending an average of a whole year on each track is either a sign of stupidity or great attention to detail.
Named after the Charlie Kaufman movie “Synecdoche, New York”, the album feels light and summery.
The introductory title track feels ambient and ephemeral, with light guitar picking, electronic swells, and tapping on the drum cymbals that sound like cicadas chirping in the trees. It doesn’t feel so much like a song, but serves to set a relaxing tone for the album.
“Arjuna” is fantastic. Everything about it makes me think of carefree dancing – the great groove, the way I picture fingers jumping off the strings on the fretboard, the way the drumsticks bounce off the rims of the drums, the way the shaker rattles in time to the beat. It’s a wonderful song, reminiscent of Dorena.
Likewise, “Solipsisten” warms my heart. Sweet guitar picking, a strong beat with a shaker and ambient swells combine to create a thing of beauty.
The reason I love this album so much is because it sounds so fun and lighthearted. I picture a fantasy scene with elves and fairies partying it up in a forest clearing, fireflies spiraling around them, and everyone having the time of their lives.
Not every track is a fun fairy tale soundtrack. A few are more ambient, and “Kazuaya” features a dangerous rhythm that comes close to a rave track. “Ophavet” opens and closes with clinking wooden wind chimes and rustling in the bushes, but features a down-tempo bassline between. But overall the album still sounds like an adventure in the wilderness.
Too much instrumental music is sad and gloomy. And as much as I love heavy music, the music that Bandina ié writes makes me want to celebrate life in a way that few other post-rock songs inspire me to do.
Bandina ié - Synecdoche
Synekdoke is available now (digitally and on vinyl) through Stella Polaris Music.

Bandina ié links:

Bandina ié is:

Johan Carøe (guitars):
Rasmus Boesgaard (guitars)
Simon Ulstrup (bass)
Mads Michelsen (drums, percussion)
Emil Duvier (piano, synthesizers)
Joseph James

Interview: Judith Hoorens – We Stood Like Kings

We Stood Like Kings USA 1982
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We Stood Like Kings are a Brussels-based post-rock quartet who specialise in re-imagining scores for silent films. Their upcoming album, USA 1982 (out 22 September 2017 on Kapitän Platte), was written to accompany American cult movie Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio. The film explores the imbalance of nature when mankind takes over. The original film was scored by Phillip Glass, so Judith Hoorans explains why her band decided to write music to fit something that already has a soundtrack.

Hi Judith. How are you?

Hi Joseph. I’m absolutely fine, thank you. Happy to be here!

Tell me about your personal musical journey. How long have you been playing piano and when did you first discover post-rock?

I started playing piano as a child. My parents really wanted their three children to have a musical education, so we didn’t really have a choice. I first learned violin, before figuring out it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I remember being very afraid of my teacher. Then I switched to piano. It’s only later, in my late teenage years , that I became conscious of how much music meant to me and that I could do something worthy with it. It’s about at the same time that I discovered post-rock through a good friend of mine. The first band I really enjoyed was Caspian.

How did We Stood Like Kings come to exist?

I’ve known Mathieu, our drummer, since a very long time. We were both students at the same boarding school in Aalst, a little Flemish town located between Brussels and Ghent. Our supervisor loved music a lot and even provided us with a rehearsal room. We started writing pop songs, playing covers. A few years later, we had lost sight of each other but met again by chance, almost literally bumping into each other at university. That’s when I let him hear some post-rock, and he was totally up for it. We started a new band, and over the years, We Stood Like Kings took shape with Colin on bass and Phil on guitars.

Who is your favourite film director and why?

I don’t really have a favorite film director. I’m not a movie know-it-all, I like to enjoy good movies and I don’t really watch them the way that I like listen to music (which I do in a more professional way, you might say, paying attention to meter changes, tonalities, etc.). The best movies for me are the ones which make you forget all the things you have to take care of.

What process does We Stood Like Kings go through when deciding which films you’d like to cover?

Of course we watch a lot of movies, and at some point, it becomes obvious which one we should choose. I guess we discussed the choice of Koyaanisqatsi for like, 5 minutes. Our second project for Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World was a bit more tricky, because we knew that the movie was a difficult one and would raise many questions from the audience due to its political nature.

We Stood Like Kings

One your website you include a quote from Godfrey Reggio that includes the sentence “Copies are copies of copies”. How well do you think this applies to your current project?

The way I would interpret your question is that in my opinion, nothing is ever really new. We are all different but identical at the same time. Though I would say that we have consciously chosen a musical direction that was different from Philip Glass’ approach. Bands are always inspired by other art forms, be it music or other kinds of art, and there are always many others doing stuff that’s close to what you do. The only way to make it really personal is to put all your soul in it. Trying to create something to really resonates within you. Therefore you have to find what’s yours and not someone else’s and use it as your strength.  

You’ve covered Berlin, USSR – two lost empires.  And now you’ve chosen the USA. Was that a conscious decision?

Yes definitely. We had the idea of making a kind of trilogy on the subject of fragile empires. BERLIN 1927 is like a snapshot of Berlin right before the outbreak of World War II. USSR 1926 shows a glimpse of the Soviet empire at the height of its power. It was only logical to focus on the USA, the Western lifestyle and how it came to its actual form thanks to the technological evolution of the last decades. How knows how it’s going to end?

How does copyright factor into what you do, seeing as you are playing music to match other artists works?

We certainly have to handle copyrights. The two movies from the 20s are still protected by what you call “screening rights”, which we have to pay for each screening of the movie to the Film Museum who has restored to movie and commercialized it on DVD. For Koyaanisqatsi, we have made an agreement also. Of course it’s never free to use existing movies and one should be really careful about this to avoid bad surprises.

Have you ever received feedback from people who were involved in the films you write soundtracks to? And were you in contact with Phillip Glass at all during this process?

Well, not for our first two albums obviously, because the people who made them are dead now. We have not been in contact with Philip Glass. But we have recently sent our soundtrack to the directing team of Koyaanisqatsi. We are eagerly awaiting their feedback, that’s the least we can say.

Last year was the anniversary for the battle of Somme. I watched a documentary about it which was filmed during the the battle, and a live orchestra played the score in time with the film. Do We Stood Like Kings do something similar?

Yes, it’s what we do. We play live, below the screen, while the movie is playing and we are synchronizing our music with it. Of course there’s just 4 of us and not a whole orchestra!

This work has taken We Stood Like Kings a whole year to write. Talk me through the writing process.

Of course the first step is to choose a movie to work on. That took us quite a long time, as we had to watch tons of silent movies before finally coming across Koyaanisqatsi. But it was love at first sight. Once the choice is made, the next step is to watch it over and over again while trying to decide which overall mood fits in which part. Of course you have to split it up in different parts, and that might be a bit tricky as we have to take into account the fact that the album’s going to be released as an LP (which can’t hold more than around 20 minutes per side).

The musical writing process itself has taken us about a year. It’s a kind a puzzle really. You’ve got ideas and you have to make them match the length of the movie scene you are working on. We can’t just let ourselves be carried away by the music. Some songs were very easy to write, other have taken us months. I think one of the oldest songs we started working on, “Night Owl”, was one of the last songs to be finished. We just tried out dozens of different versions of that one before we felt satisfied.

The album features 11 songs. Had you considered writing a seamless, feature length track instead?

In fact, the album is divided into 11 songs but live, they flow seamlessy into one another. I think it’s much easier to fit in today’s standards to have separate tracks. Movie soundtracks released on CD are also always divided into tracks.

You recently featured one of your songs from the upcoming album on the Open Language Volume II comp that our friends at A Thousand Arms put out. Has this help you reach a new audience?

Yes, we definitely reached new people by being on the compilation. We were also thrilled by the review from Heavy Blog Is Heavy. They seemed to have enjoyed the track a lot.

How are you feeling about the upcoming tour you have planned?

Obviously we are incredibly excited. We just came home from the first 6 shows of the tour. These shows were a kind of test because we’ve added a new light show to our set. Technically, there were a lot of new things to take care of, but it was a success and we’ll carry on that way for the whole tour. We’re super happy to visit a few new countries and cities we’ve never been before, like Ljubljana in Slovenia for instance. We’ve planned several shows in Eastern Europe too, for which we got help from Colossal Bookings. Were looking forward to these as well.

The message of this silent film is implict, rather than overt. Post-rock and instrumental music in general is also often up to the listener’s interpretation. Do you feel confident that your music matches the themes of the film well enough?

Of course, you can’t discuss taste and it’s up to every single person to decide whether our music fits the themes of film. Obviously, we hope that we succeeded to give the movie, which we love so much and has influenced so many directors, a new breath and approach. Our goal is not to try to replace Philip Glass, we simply were so touched by the images that we wanted to express musically the feelings that the movie had stirred in us.

After a show, a woman has written us that she felt our music was more hopeful than the original soundtrack. That it made her believe that our world might still as well be saved. Because if there is no hope, there is no point, right?

You are planning on releasing this album on CD and vinyl, as well as digitally through Kapitän Platte. Do you think the music is best listened to on its own, or with visuals supporting it?

I think we wanted to make music that both would stand on its own and mix up with the screening in a way that wouldn’t be too disturbing for someone wanting to “watch a movie”. For me, the ideal setting for this project is a venue with comfortable seats, a big screen and a nice stage. It’s really meant to be half-concert, half-screening. If people just want to see a movie, they should go to the movies, not the a movie concert. I guess the balance changes in every venue but we definitely don’t hide behind the screen.  


We Stood Like Kings are currently touring Europe to promote USA 1982. Head along to www.westoodlikekings.com and click “shows” for more information regarding dates and locations.

We Stood Like Kings links:

Bandcamp: www.wslk.bandcamp.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/westoodlikekings

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/wslk/videos

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WeAreWslk

 

Album Review: Nihiling – Batteri

Nihiling Batteri cover
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Are you the type of person who believes in the album as a whole? Do you listen to music on shuffle and make playlists from the singles, or listen to entire albums as the artists intended it?

The reason I ask is because for the past few weeks I’ve been listening to Nihiling’s new album Batteri out of sequence. When I downloaded the album the tracks arranged in alphabetical order, and not according to designated track listing, and I feel that somehow I’ve ruined the listening experience.

Not that the experience is bad by any means. But I’ve had to reflect on whether listening to the correct track ordering enhances the album listening experience, or if the tracks need be good enough to stand on their own.


I was taken by “Cellardoor”, the first track I listened to. For first impressions, it certainly had me intrigued. It begins with clicking noises (someone playing the spoons?), and drawn out cello notes. As this progresses the music grows more complex, with multiple poly rhythms that don’t fit work in well together. Despite this, it works. I found myself thinking back to Biffy Clyro’s “Living Is A Problem…”. seeing as both tracks are odd, but undeniably technically proficient.

The real first track of the album, “Ottersong” commences with a minimalist beat and singing that reminds me of Bedouin Soundclash’s Jay Malinowski. Slowly other elements come into the foray – toms and tambourines, more singers, weird glitches. Everyone has their chance to shine, with no shortage of talent fond.The guitars are especially great later in the piece , transitioning from effect laden underwater sounds to searing solos.

But like I said, there is no shortage of talent here. As biased as I am, I find the drums outstanding throughout the album – Rhythmically hypnotizing and dynamically diverse. Not to mention the singing. I’m a sucker for good vocal harmonies and Batteri offers this in spades.


But if you want my recommendation for the first track to start on, try “Power Rangers”. THIS. TRACK. RULES. Honestly, even if my review isn’t going to sell you on the album, at least take the time to listen to this one song. I’ve embedded it in the review here for convenience. The song has two  sublime elements: groove and harmonies. Just give it a listen. Please.


That’s another thing that threw me – the singing is incredible. .Not only was I listening to this album with the songs in the wrong order, but I went in with incorrect assumptions. The press release called it post-rock, but the best songs don’t fit within this description.

I’d class Batteri as eclectic math-rock. As a general rule, the post-rock genre lacks singing. Whereas Nihiling give us layered vocal harmonies to die for. Odd indie Glitches and effects. You can call it post-rock if you must, because I can’t think of any accurate genre classification.

Upon listening to the band’s earlier releases I can understand the post-rock label better. But the band have evolved and embarked into new territory with Batteri. The first half of the album offers experimental prog-rock, and the latter half gives us the post-rock that was advertised.

“Rope” lurks into trip-hop territory. I’ll give the band kudos for atmospherics. Despite the simplicity of it, there is an off-vibe permeating the track, slowly becoming more unhinged as it progresses. The messiness worsens when a chaotic programmed synth à la The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” comes into play towards the end of the song.

“Idiot” goes heavier, with doomy sludge metal that loses intensity half way through, only to be replaced by a snare drum tattoo and less saturated guitar tones.

I highly recommend that you give Batteri a listen. If you do, you’ll hear brilliant musicianship, interesting experimental sounds, great groove, mathy dynamics and vocal harmonies to die for. The first half of the album stands stronger than the reserved post-rock of the second half, but don’t let that stop you checking out this stunning release.

 


Nihiling’s fourth album Batteri came out on Kapitän Platte on May 5, 2017.

Nihiling links:

Joseph James

Album Review: Defend The Rhino – Static Breeze

Defend The Rhino Static Breeze Album Art
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Despite the very pop-punk sounding name, Edmonton’s Defend The Rhino is a solo cinematic instrumental project from singer-songwriter / composer / audio engineer Nathaniel Sutton. With a CV like that, Sutton sounds more than qualified to release an album.

Said album, entitled Static Breeze, is actually the second Defend The Rhino release, featuring ten short tracks that would all fit comfortably within the context of a film.

The album has a somber start ,with soothing waves of soft pads and heartfelt violins, broken up with lingering single piano notes. The second track progresses to using chords on the piano instead of singular notes, and drums add a welcome element.

There are some great elements in said track, “Sound The Alarm”, that are hard to pick up on unless you pay close attention. For example, the bass line at the start is adds awesome feel, but is hidden deep in the mix. Towards the end we hear some brilliant tinkling xylophone that should really stand out, but is again lost and ends up as a minor detail. This is among my favourites on the album because the drum beat and piano ostinato add such energy and liveliness to this song .

The bass notes on “Fade To Dusk” are well captured. I can visualise the thick, dense strings vibrating each time we hear it played. It is here that we are introduced to a ghostly coo that Sutton employs in a few songs – an odd mournful wailing effect that makes the song sound ominous.

Most of these tracks a short and direct, unlike a lot of instrumental music I listen to. They tend to keep the same theme throughout without delineating far from the key melody or beat. The drums especially make the songs appear straightforward, with the same simple beat dominating many tracks. I can tell that they aren’t programmed – there are little giveaways like rapping on the rims in “Dim Lights” and the snare drags in “Fallen Leaf” – but they feel rigid enough that I can tell that the person behind the kit would feel more at home playing another instrument.

“Fallen Leaf” features a funky electric organ tune reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, and “Running In The Dark” just screams David Bowie’s “Heroes”. The latter is the only track on the album with vocals. Hoarse and almost whispered, the singing mirrors Bowie’s delivery of holding back until the chorus, creating suspense as we wait for the crescendo.

This is first and foremost a cinematic piano record. Beautiful evocative, it provokes my imagination into conjuring up all kinds of scenes to fit the music. Sutton includes a variety of instruments and effects to colour in the sounds, making for a varied listen. Static Breeze would be the perfect study album, with pleasant sounds in the background that could help you focus and lift your mood. And of course, it would work brilliantly soundtracking a film, seeing as it is so cinematic in nature.


Static Breeze is due out April 7th through Mint 400 Records,

Defend The Rhino links:

Website: www.nathanielsutton.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/defendtherhino
Twitter: www.twitter.com/defendtherhino
Instagram: www.instagram.com/defendtherhino

 

Album Review: Hiboux – Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up

Hiboux Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up banner
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Local post-rock band Hiboux (pronounced ee – boo. The French word for owls) have worked hard to get to this stage of their career, cultivating a following as they wrote and recorded the songs on this, their first album, Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up.

They struck me as talented when I saw them open for Tortoise last year [Tortoise live review], and this début release has only cemented that opinion.

Before we start discussing the music, I need to draw attention to the title of the opening track: “East Of Seddon”. For those unaware, some of the more major New Zealand earthquakes in recent years have triggered – you guessed it – just east of the upper South Island town of Seddon. I adore the imagery that the title evokes. Does it indicate that Hiboux are at the epicenter of something big? That their music is earth-shatteringly good? Let’s find out…

The track starts of with some gorgeous harmonising guitars that riff together in tandem. Not like thrash metal riffing, but more elegant and leisurely. The two guitarists each deviate ever so slightly with their picking to keep the ostinato sounding fresh. The rest of the band joins in – bass and keys add atmosphere while the drums add urgency. The song meanders and changes – as you would hope from a nine minute epic – and the guitars split to each adopt different roles. But it’s those dual guitar lines at the start that really make this opening track what it is.

Most of the songs follows suit in much the same fashion. Repeated guitar riffs, band comes in, things start to expand. But this is not to say that the music is formulaic. The riffs are fantastic – musical and memorable. The drumming is sensitive – adding to the overall feel with finesse, but not overplaying.

Something that Hiboux excel at is creating memorable riffs without the need for heaviness. Or creating great sound without the need for effects (that I can tell. I hear little reverb, distortion, delay etc but I am not an expert on such things).  And I hate to focus on the guitars so much at the expense of the other instruments, but they really do stand out.

I always wonder how musicians manage to write and remember such long and complex songs. Ranges have a 24 minute song called “Night & Day“, and “Dominion” by Kiwi heroes Jakob rings in at just shy of half an hour. In a recent interview I learnt that Hiboux take months (or even up to a year) to write and refine their epic pieces. It makes sense when you listen to each track. Spontaneous music is great, but it is clear that these songs are not just ideas picked out willy-nilly from a jam session.

Hiboux Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up Band Pic

(Again, I need to go off-tangent here. Look at that photo! How cool is that shot? And, even better, the band is standing on the wall of old army magazine bunker ruins in Wellington, which was burnt down when bank robbers set alight a stolen van that they had parked inside. So much awesome in just one picture!)

Running a music blog is pretty cool, but I find that after reviewing so many post-rock albums it can be hard to come up with ways to discuss music that sounds so similar. Not so with Hiboux, who have done themselves proud with this release. Yes, it is undeniably post-rock through and through. But it also sounds fresh and innovative whilst sitting comfortably within the genre.

I am always stoked to discover great local bands who can sit comfortably beside their musical peers on a global scale, and with Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up, Hiboux have proven that they fit that description.


Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up is now available for download from https://hibouxband.bandcamp.com/ with a limited run of Digipaks available at shows.

Hiboux links:

Bandcamp: https://hibouxband.bandcamp.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hiboux_band

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/hiboux-official

 

Joseph James