Regular Will Not Fade readers should need no introduction to Ranges. I’ve been covering music from the Montana post-rockers since they released “Night & Day” in 2015. I also joined them on tour across America for their 2017 tour in support of their breakthrough album The Ascensionist, and again when they went on tour in Europe and played dunk!festival the following year. CJ (guitar) and Wilson (art direction) also co-own A Thousand Arms, the screen-printing company come distro/record label responsible for the awesome Open Language and Hemispheres post-rock compilations that come out every year.
Most Ranges releases have an underlying concept. “Night & Day” was a 24 minute song that mirrored the 24 hour day. Gods of the Copybook Headings was inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name. I’ve always liked how their music had extra elements that you could chose to delve into and find deeper meaning in.
The albums often have amazing physical elements as well, especially with the two most recent albums, The Ascensionist and Babel. Handmade booklets for liner notes on recycled paper; ceramic mugs and shot glasses; screen printed b-side records, wall banners, t-shirts, guitar pedals, cassette tapes with riddles and maps, black market currency… Seriously, the band made their own coins which could be redeemed in exchange for exclusive merch items that were only accessible on certain days discovered by decoding a calendar.
Loads of their releases and merch have cryptic hidden puzzles and codes and meanings that hint at upcoming releases or unlocking more secret b-sides. I know Aaron “Foofer” Edwards was the first to decipher on of the puzzles that came with a cassette tape the band released.
So it’s interesting how they’ve approached this record. It seems clear that something is coming. They’ve dropped a lot of singles in quick succession over the past month. But no clear news about what was coming. No album title, no pre-order. I guess they’ve always loved the air of mystique attached to their music, and now they’ve built up a big enough fanbase that they can really have fun keeping people speculating.
They’ve even kept me in the dark – and for all intensive purposes I’m an honorary band member. I’ve been able to listen to the album for a month or two, but they haven’t given me any hints. I guess I can review the music, but any true Ranges fan knows that the music is only one component of a release. I guess information about artwork and physical media will be revealed in good time…
OK, here are some juicy details you’ve been after. You’ve actually heard most of the songs if you’ve been keeping up with their recent releases. There’s the four tracks we’ve already heard; four interlude tracks named after the directional points of the compass; and the title track: “Cardinal Winds”
CJ was responsible for a lot of recording and mixing duties in the past because he ran a studio, The Low Country. For Babel they chose to give CJ a break so he could focus on songwriting, rather than worrying about taking on too much responsibility. They drove down to Texas and recorded with Chris Commons, an experience that they all enjoyed. But the a global pandemic made it harder just to get out of the house, let alone out of the state, so Ranges went back to self-recording.
This album also saw Ranges reduced to a trio of musicians. Jared Gabriel was the the bass player in Ranges for quite a while, but he moved from Montana to Ohio last year to live with his fiancé, so doesn’t feature on this record. Hope you’re doing awesome Jared!
“Deluge” was the first track we heard, featuring on the recent Open Language compilation put out by A Thousand Arms. It’s a great song to create first impressions with, but actually features as the last track on the album. It starts out with a murky sound that makes me think of whale song, and a great bass tone that gives off Kerretta vibes. The guitar line is fantastic. You can always trust Joey to come up with a great melody and it’s what makes this song what it is. Mark plays some tasty rolling beats on the toms that sound thunderous but not overpowering. And CJ brings the swells and ambience. It’s a solid song but watch out: that melody will get so stuck in your head!
The actual album opener “Abyss” (debuted on Everything is Noise) comes in strong and intentional. We’re hit by a barrage of overdriven guitar. I remember CJ saying how he wants to incorporate more tremolo strumming into his playing during the writing of Babel, and I can picture him here rocking back and forward, hands a blur as they flutter over the guitar pickups. Mark is really laying into his cymbals too and you can feel the intensity of his hits.
This subsides somewhat to allow an opening for the melody line. Joey and CJ work well together, both playing just what they need to complement the other. There’s some lush beauty that the two work together to weave throughout the song, a very rewarding listen. “Abyss” is a strong statement as an opener and it works brilliantly.
We have four tracks that I’ll call the ‘compass’ tracks. They serve as interludes, giving breathing space and breaking up the album. They sound like samples of cassette tapes; of needles on record grooves; static on the radio; or of some forms of analogue media at the very least. It’s ethereal and we hear gales of wind howling through “North” atop a speaker crackling. It’ll be interesting to hear how the four ‘compass’ tracks sound on vinyl. Very meta, I assume.
Mark is one of my drum heroes. I have so much love for the guy. I even have a photo of him up on my bedroom wall. He gave me advice when I needed to buy a snare drum, and often recommends music to listen to. My old band just released an album that I drummed on and in all honestly, Mark’s thoughts are the main thing I care about. If Mark approves of my playing then that’s all I need. Mark has a custom drum company named Duradero and if he ever makes me a snare drum I will die a happy man.
Mark had been accused of ‘playing it safe’ in the past, and he openly confesses that it was true. But it’s not true on this album. His playing is just what the music needs. It’s driving and passionate. You can hear the energy of his strokes and how it propels and elevates everything. It sounds great. It’s tight, it’s creative, it’s musical. He’s a beast but his playing serves the music instead of overshadowing it.
“Sojourner” [featured on Heavy Blog is Heavy] feels majestic and powerful, with a pulsing beat. There’s some really cool electronic sounds at play – a wavering, shimmery sound and some warm synth bass – that provide nice textural elements for the guitars and drums to build upon.
Title track “Cardinal Winds” is the song that they’ve saved for the big reveal. I’m guessing that they wanted to keep the album name secret. It commences with a neat percussive sampled intro before launching into the big crescendo sound that is recognisably Ranges. It comes in at just under nine minutes long, so it’s fair to say it’s an epic, comprised of a number of movements.
In fact, there are two other songs of similar length, the aforementioned “Abyss”, and “Solace”.
“Solace” [premiered on the YouTube channel wherepostrockdwells] gives of feelings of solitude freedom, as the name would suggest. 2017’s The Ascensionist was the soundtrack to conquering a mountain, and we return to similar feelings of finding ourselves reckoning with the wild forces of nature here. This is the lull in the album, focused more on ambient textures and tender guitar picking than sheer force or melody. Of course, there’s the obligatory crescendo, but “Solace” is the song that helps you catch your breath.
It’s a shame I can’t comment on the artwork, packaging or merch. Wilson always knocks it out of the park with that side of things. They did such an amazing job with Babel that I’m excited to see what they have planned. I feel that my review is incomplete, but I can at least assure you that the music is worth your time.
These guys are my good friends. I’ve spent 3 weeks in a tour van with them traveling around the world. Of course I have favourable things to say about them. But I truly mean it when I say this is a great album. Their last album Babel was their best work to date, but Cardinal Winds tops it. This record really is a triumph of songwriting. I can’t wait to receive a physical copy and let me neighbours experience it as well when I blast it on my turntable.
Cardinal Winds is out on Friday 27 August. There’s a countdown clock at https://www.rangesmusic.com/ but I’m not staying up til 3am local time to see what happens. I imagine there’ll be some awesome content available to purchase at the A Thousand Arms and dunk!records websites.
A Thousand Arms store (USA): https://www.athousandarms.com/collections/ranges
dunk!records store (EU): https://dunkrecords.com/collections/dunk-records-on-vinyl/ranges?sort_by=manual
Joseph James (Baggins)