Album Review: Winter Dust – Sense By Erosion

Winter Dust Sense By Erosion cover
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I’m going to make a bold claim.

The 2015 EP Thresholds by Italian sextet Winter Dust is one of the best releases you’ll find in the world of post-rock.

I still remember when I first heard Winter Dust. It was during a walk to work on a frosty winter morning. I used to love that time of morning, and used those walks as an opportunity to get into a good frame of mind for the day ahead. It was especially cold. The grass on the park was coated in white crystals, and I blew jets of steam with every breath. I had headphones on and was listening through the new Open Language compilation that A Thousand Arms had recently released.

It was a good collection of songs. I already knew a handful of tracks, from the likes of Tides of Man, I/O, Ranges, We Lost The Sea and Dumbsaint. But many bands were new to me.

The one that stopped me in my tracks was “There”, by Winter Dust.

That night I logged onto Bandcamp and downloaded Thresholds as soon as I got home. Months later a vinyl copy arrived in the post [I believe the first order got lost in the post so they sent me another]. I love that EP so much.

And now we have a follow-up: Sense By Erosion.

It’s exactly what I wanted: Thresholds, but more. Intense emotion, anguished hardcore vocals, sublime instrumental passages and visceral dynamics.

The many Marco’s have exceeded themselves this time. (four of the band members have the same name, along with Fabio and Carlo). Some of them live in separate countries, so I can’t begin to fathom how they managed to write this masterpiece. Yes, the internet is amazing, but nothing can substitute human contact when you’re communicating and creating with each other.

Sense By Erosion starts of as many post-rock releases do: softly building up. The track “Quiet January” quietly loops on itself, building with intensity as dialogue plays in the background. Then, just as it built up, it then slowly decays in waves.

“Duration Of Gloom” continues the build up with a good groove, slowly growing. The playful melody that floats above the main riff is a nice use of treble. Then BAM, distortion and cathartic roaring. I always find it fascinating when foreign bands choose to sing in English. Then again, I can hardly tell what they’re saying unless I pay close attention anyway. These post-hardcore vocals are one of the marked improvements that Thresholds and Sense By Erosion have over Winter Dust’s earlier output, giving the music a huge injection of urgency and feeling.

This song has me sighing with delight. This is what I want: emotional, energetic music that kicks me right in the feels and leaves me winded. Just like with Thresholds, I feel so consumed and swept away by the music. It’s so engrossing: Hard hitting drums, tremolo guitar, and a raw undercurrent. Then, once you think it’s all over, a calm bridge to let you catch your breath and ease you into a false sense of security. Before BAM, back into the intensity. If you listen carefully during the soft outro, you’ll hear church bells faintly ringing in the distance.

If you can’t tell yet, I’m a big fan. Loud or quiet; heavy or soft; sung or instrumental, Winter Dust just nail the mood.

At first, “All My Friends Are Leaving Town” seems like a softer song, although it picks up later on. One passage features a weird reversed effect. Maybe they’ve subtly backmasked messages that brainwash me into loving the music?

“Composition Of Gloom” is the second song with the word ‘gloom’ in the title. Funnily enough, the absence of vocals makes it feel like an interlude, despite the fact that one of the defining aspects of the post-rock genre is lack of singing. That, and the fact that it’s the shortest song.

Again, “Disharmony” is by no means weaker, but the lack of vocals is noticeable. Ironically enough, I found lead single “Cruel Jane” is one of the songs that makes the least impact for me, with the first half feeling soft and meandering. This is not to say these songs are bad, but they don’t offer as much oomph as the tracks from the first half of the record.

Their blurb on Bandcamp states “Our new album is ideally divided in two, the nervous part and the heartening part. It’s a record about leaving people, leaving places, parting ways, losing things.” This makes total sense. And I’m not sure what that says about me, that I prefer the nervous part, but as you can tell, I’m very much drawn to those songs.

It’s a shame that we don’t hear much piano in the mix throughout this album, but they make up for it with album closer “Stay”. After a tumultuous emotional ride, this is the touch of hope at the end of the album to send us on our way in good spirits, with a parting gift of ambient tranquility.

I simply love this album. I feel so strongly about it, but at the same time find it hard to articulate exactly why. I think the intense evocative nature of the music certainly resonates with me in a way that few others can. By taking the beauty of post-rock, the intensity of hardcore and the emotional aspects of emo, Winter Dust have fused their own sound that ticks all the right boxes for me.

Thresholds EP, was an underrated masterpiece. Sense of Erosion is the logical progression: taking all components of its predecessor, and building upon them to create something longer and more fully realised. I had high expectations of this album, and I’m delighted to say they’ve been met.

Winter Dust

Winter Dust links:

Bandcamp: https://winter-dust.bandcamp.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/winterdustmusic

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

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1wcxnlsMklfqJ_QurUuGVQ

Joseph James

Album Review: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto

Tenacious D Post-Apocalypto
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Tenacious D have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re misogynistic, juvenile and crude, but at the same time I do find some of their content funny, and they know how to rock. I guess the same could be said about Jack Black, who has had gold moments throughout his acting career (namely School of Rock), but mostly boasts lemons. He’s a slightly more reliable Adam Sandler, but I still have a soft spot for his work.

Post-Apocalypto is their fourth full length album. Like The Pick of Destiny, it is a soundtrack. It follows a YouTube webseries that has played out over the past month, featuring the songs and snippets of dialogue from the show.

Both Black and partner Kyle Gass are comedic actors, so writing funny songs with narrative suit their strengths. I’ve seen them play three times, and although it can feel slightly forced, the story arc that carries through their shows is fun, and allows them to play with theatrical flair.

The narrative for this record doesn’t quite work though. I still enjoy the skits from their first record, which were silly stand-alone pieces. But the skits on this new album are just snippets from the web series used to advance the story. This should help to provide context for those who haven’t watched the series, but there isn’t enough to fill in all the plot points of the story-line. I think they would have been wiser to have an all-or-nothing approach, and should have left the snippets out, instead of sprinkling an inadequate amount throughout.

Post-Apocalypto (the web series) was a painful watch. Like I’ve said, I’m a fan, so forced myself through it, but didn’t feel rewarded for my efforts. I hesitate to call it an animation, but more a selection of Black’s hand-drawn stills to give visual reference for the audio. It’s a sci-fi series that explored Tenacious D trying to survive in a (you guessed it) apocalyptic wasteland. Along the way they adopt a three-headed dog, battle genital monsters, fight Nazis and travel to space.

Tenacious D have always been crass, but I was shocked at the many gratuitous sex scenes. But then again, it’s exactly what I should have expected – it was just visual this time. It’s a political show too, with The D taking shots at Trump and Nazis. I guess the timing is appropriate, with approaching elections in America, but only time will tell how fast these political and pop culture references will date the album.

The songs are short. It makes sense, they fit within short episodes. And The D have plenty of short, furious songs with impact. But still, this entire album lasts half an hour, and that’s with skits padding it out. They could have at least fleshed out a few of the songs so that the album lasted longer. The title theme offers plenty of potential for extension, but feels incomplete as is.

And they’ve done their fair share of ballads in the past too, but almost all of the songs on this album are ballads, leaving me wondering what happened to the band that once won a Grammy for “Best Metal Performance”.

It’s not all bad though. Black’s voice acting shines through. You really feel for Terminator’s lament in “Robot” (despite the odd Arnie-esque accent). The redneck Nazi’s sound so thick that you really want to believe that they’re all really that dense.

“Hope” is arguably the best of the ballads, and most rousing. The D explore new musical horizons with “JB JR Rap”, rapped in a hoarse voice and complete with an autotuned section. To be honest, most of the album is Classic D, albeit shorter and less rocking.

The D have a long history with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Grohl has drummed on all of their records to date, and the trio have featured in a number of each other’s videos. The first time I saw The D live was opening for Foo Fighters at Western Springs in Auckland, where the crowd jumped up and down enough to trigger minor earthquakes [It sounds absurd, but it’s true!]. Black has also guest starred on one of Grohl’s Probot tracks, “The Warlock“.

As you’d expect, Grohl’s drumming is on point. He’s long been known as a powerhouse drummer since his Nirvana days, and has collaborated with such a range of rock royalty that it has almost become a meme. You can hear unmistakably in the title theme – a rehash of an old unreleased bridge (Rolling Thunder) that the band cut from their song “Rize of the Fenix” (off their last record). “Daddy Ding Dong” also has Grohl written all over it, one of the few stand-out rock of the soundtrack that venture into metal territory, as does “Woman Time”, with awesome Dio-esque vocals.

In short: Post-Apocalypto not a great album. Just as their other soundtrack, Pick of Destiny doesn’t compare well to the other albums, this one feels weak too. It is entirely in keeping with the Tenacious D brand, being puerile and budget, but doesn’t rock enough. Only the most loyal fans will appreciate it, and I doubt even they will revisit it after the initial listens. If you’re interested in it, at least watch the web-series so that you can hear the songs with context. I hope this isn’t the end of The D, but if they do release new music in the future, they’d be best to write without a constraining concept.

Tenacious D links:

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/tenaciousD

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

Website: https://www.tenaciousd.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RealTenaciousD

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

 

EP Review: Suburban Dinosaur – Mountains

Suburban Dinosaur Mountains EP cover
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Suburban Dinosaur is the work of Gonçalo Trindade, a Portuguese guitarist living in Berlin. He deserves applause for his choice of his pseudonym, let alone his music. Suburban Dinosaur: isn’t that just the best name? Trindade is also prolific writer, with this latest EP, Mountains, being his third release so far this year.

Mountains features seven short, calming guitar tracks with light piano accompaniment. This is a slight deviation from some of Trindade’s usual output. His last release sits more within the realms of noise/drone, and I even found some earlier works jarring. But I prefer this ambient direction. Serene acoustic guitar never fails to nourish my soul, and this EP hits the spot just so. The songs feel relaxed, slightly sad and soothing.

These softly picked recordings are intimate enough to let you hear Trindade’s fingers as they slide along the strings. The sparse piano notes only add to the mood, sensitively used to enhance where needed.

Although the EP feels cohesive and boasts the same vibes throughout, there’s enough subtle differences to delineate between songs.  It’s not all entirely acoustic. Second track “Contritum Pecus” employs a delayed loop, almost like a heartbeat. “Heartstrings #1” stands out for its strumming, compared to the other tracks, which are fingerpicked. Whereas “Intertitle(s)” features only piano.

It’s a short EP, but beautiful all the same. Certainly a lovely 20 minutes of music worthy of adding to your collection.

Suburban Dinosaur links:

Bandcamp: https://suburbandinosaur.bandcamp.com/

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

Album Review: Tash Sultana – Flow State

Tash Sultana Flow State
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I often wonder about why certain artists are household names, and why some of the best musicians I can think of are virtually unheard of. It’s not a case of talent equating to fame. Many major stars don’t even write their own music.

The reason I bring this up is because Tash Sultana is huge, but has only just released her first album. One of my American friends suggested that I look her up when I was travelling last year. So I did. I dug her sound – chilled out songs that utilize looping pedals. Next thing I know, I’m seeing her name everywhere. She’s headlining festivals, and even sold out a sizable show here in Wellington [which I sadly missed] a few months ago. How has she made such a name for herself without even having an album out?

Let’s be clear: Sultana deserves the attention. Flow State is a great album, and is all the more impressive when you consider that Sultana recorded every instrument herself. Much like Drax Project, Sultana’s story began with busking on the streets, and has arrived at the point of her ascending to stardom.

Solo multi-instrumentalist albums are nothing new. Mike Oldfield is one of the more classic examples. A more recent high-profile example is Dave Grohl’s Play. And Will Not Fade has covered countless more such projects. But Sultana’s work falls into a different category, partly because she sings, but also because her entire feel and approach stands out as separate from the post/prog rockers. “Blackbird” heads in a different direction (think Kaki King or Rodrigo y Gabriela) but on this album Sultana owns a distinctive sound.

Sultana sets the mood instantly with album opener “Seed”. She shows us that she’s no stranger to guitar as her fingers dance upon the fretboard, masterfully conjuring notes rich in reverb. Her voice is just as great as her playing, transferring from angelic coos to smokey singing.

Lazy campfire strumming lays the base for “Big Smoke”, while a shuffled drum beat extends the laid back feel. Bright finger picking and a contrasting solo allow Sultana to show off the breadth of her guitar playing chops.

I cannot tell you why “Cigarettes” isn’t one of the singles, but in my mind it is undeniably the pinnacle of Flow State. The laid-back groove is simply sublime, but it’s not until we reach bridge that things begin to stand out. A jangly riff and fast paced drums come into play, before Sultana lets loose with a scorching solo that simply rips for a few minutes.

In fact, this appears to be the template for many of the tracks. Mellow for the most part, with a searing solo that emerges during the bridge.

The soundtrack-esque “Seven” is also one of the more interesting tracks. An early violin melody adds Oriental flavours, which stall for a piano segment that transforms into a tense ostinato, with ominous Godspeed vibes. This is a track that takes you on a journey, through a variety of interesting terrains.

“Free Mind” feels a lot different to many of the other songs. It still retains groove, but with synthetic sounding drums it sounds like it has been produced differently to the other tracks, and the polished feel doesn’t sit well alongside the others.

One could argue that an hour is slightly too much. The mellow style works, but isn’t the most memorable – especially when many of the songs seem to follow the same formula. But Sultana does enough to mix it up if you listen carefully. “Salvation” has organ sounds, “Mystik” features horns and sweet, sweet bass lines. “Mellow Marmalade” takes the campfire feel to a new level with acoustic guitar, while “Harvest Love” gives Sultana a chance to show us how well she can wail.

Summer is fast approaching this part of the world, and I can see this being the perfect soundtrack to a carefree day in the sun. But likewise, Sultana’s smokey singing and smooth playing could be just what you need to warm you up in less desirable weather.

Tash Sultana is the whole package. Whether rocking you to sleep with smooth lullabies, or setting you ablaze with furious riffing, she plays with masterful ability. And her voice complements the playing brilliantly. Flow State is worth your attention. Do yourself a favour and give it a listen.

 

Joseph James

EP Review: Toe – Our Latest Number

Toe Our Latest Number EP cover
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To me, Toe are about as close as you can come to a perfect band. They are incredibly talented musicians who create great compositions that appeal to just about everyone. It’s never a bad time to listen to Toe, no matter what kind of mood you’re in. I have a funny anecdote that I shared in my Masaki Hanakata review, which involved me introducing Toe to American teenage girls at a Summer Camp I worked at, resulting in them all chanting “Toe! Toe! Toe!” until I played some of Toe’s music through tinny speakers at the campfire.

Their new EP, Our Latest Number picks up where Hear You (2015) left off. In fact, I feel that the new song “Etude of Solitude” could complete a trilogy started with the 2015 tracks “Premonition” and “A Desert of Human”, following similar sounding guitar lines. “Etude…” is my favourite track of this EP, featuring split tapped poly-rhythms, sparing yet effective use of vibraphone, splendid drumming, and possibly even sitar?

We hear light, airy songs that sound simple, but are deceptively complex. The songs are very repetitive, looping around groovy motifs that gradually evolve. Precise poly-rhythms of noodly guitars sit above concise, dry drumming, loaded with explosive energy, yet exuding chilled out vibes.

Most Toe tracks are instrumental, and when they feature vocals the singing is usually diverse and unpredictable. Hear You had male and female vocals, stunning harmonies and even rapping. By comparison, the two songs featuring singing on this EP are relatively straightforward and calm.

Thanos would love this EP because it feels so perfectly balanced. The playing is busy, but the musicians know where to leave space. The music sounds so clean and articulate due to the fact that there are very little sound effects added to the playing . Most post-rock music is saturated in distortion, reverb, delay etc… so these songs sound fresh by comparison.

That is not to say there are no effects or synthetic sounds utilised. “F_A_R” has a weird sliding sound – almost like a robotic heartbeat – at the start of the track. I first noticed it as I was walking to work a few days ago, and I thought the sound was my headphone cord rubbing against my clothes. The track continues to employ interesting sounds from synths and sequencers to add texture.

It says something about the quality of the music when you love a band so much without knowing much about them. I have no idea what they sing about on their songs that contain singing. It’s hard to keep track of what they’re up to over social media, seeing as most content I find is written in Japanese. I can’t understand what their message is, so I simply let the music talk on their behalf.

The only downside of Our Latest Number is that it is too short, last just shy of 20 minutes. And on top of that, some tracks almost feel like rehashed versions of older songs (compare the drumbeat “The Latest Number” against “You Go”, from 2009’s For Long Tomorrow). But my complacency isn’t justified – I just crave more music from this outstanding band!

This is an immaculate EP, in keeping with their previous output. Essential listening for most math-rock and post-rock fans, and I’m sure just as appealing to anyone who doesn’t usually listen to instrumental music. Just press play, and bask in the music’s genius and clarity.

Toe links:

Upcoming US tour dates:

  • September 07, 2018 – Washington, DC, US @ Black Cat
  • September 08, 2018 – Brooklyn, NY, US @ Warsaw
  • September 09, 2018 – Philadelphia, PA, US @ Union Transfer
  • September 10, 2018 – Allston, MA, US @ Brighton Music Hall
  • September 12, 2018 – Toronto, ON, Canada @ Virgin Mobile Mod Club
  • September 13, 2018 – Chicago, IL, US @ Thalia Hall
  • September 14, 2018 – Minneapolis, MN, US @ Fine Line Music Cafe
  • September 17, 2018 – Seattle, WA, US @ The Crocodile
  • September 18, 2018 – Vancouver, BC, Canada @ The Imperial
  • September 19, 2018 – Portland, OR, US @ Wonder Ballroom
  • September 20, 2018 – San Francisco, CA, US @ Great American Music Hall
  • September 21, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA, US @ Regent Theater

Joseph James