Album Review: Ranges – Cardinal Winds

Ranges Cardinal Winds
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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.

CJ playing guitar for Ranges in Lyon

CJ playing guitar for Ranges in Lyon

The albums often have amazing physical elements as well, especially with the two most recent albums, The Ascensionist and BabelHandmade 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…

Ranges Hard Style

L-R: Joey Caldwell (guitar), Wilson Raska (art direction), Jared Gabriel (bass), CJ Blessum (guitar, band dad). Front: Me (Joseph aka Baggins), Mark Levy (NYHC drum legend)

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.

Ranges dunk!festival 2018

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.

Mark playing drums for Ranges in Lyon

Mark playing drums for Ranges in Lyon

“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.

Joey playing guitar for Ranges in Ypsilanti

Joey playing guitar for Ranges in Ypsilanti


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.


Ranges links:

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

Bandcamp: https://ranges.bandcamp.com/

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

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

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBJg41ELchEChCEtIRKz4NA?app=desktop

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rangesmusic

 

 

Joseph James (Baggins)

Live Review: Jakob at San Fran, Wellington (June 2021)

Jakob Hiboux San Fran
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Jakob

w/ Hiboux
Saturday 5 June 2021
San Fran, Wellington

Hiboux San Fran Bern

Hiboux San Fran Tom

More recorder!

Hiboux San Fran Declan

Hiboux San Fran Duncan

Hiboux San Fran Lester

Local post-rockers Hiboux have gained a lot of great support slots over the years – Alcest, Tortoise, Head Like a Hole, and recently, Mono. But it seemed overdue that they’d get the chance to play with Jakob.

Something I like about Hiboux is that they’re not afraid to play with the lighter shades of music. They’ll get a good groove happening without resorting to loads of riffs and distortion. It’s quite refreshing for me, as someone who likes to listen to lots of heavy music. Their music is meticulously crafted and you can tell. I couldn’t help myself though, and heckled them with a shout of “more recorder!”. I got a few laughs, but I meant it, I love the sounds they come up with and would happily listen to more.

Jakob San Fran Jason

Jakob San Fran Jeff

I’d actually flown to Auckland after work on Friday to see Jakob play at The Tuning Fork, so you you may as well give that review a read too. It was the same deal in Wellington: Jakob playing their legendary opus Solace from start to finish. They even played the same two encores, “Blind Them With Science”, and “Resolve”.

I’ve seen Jakob play here at San Fran at least half a dozen times now. Many times it has been their own gigs, and I’ve seen them support Russian Circles twice and co-headline with local doom heroes Beastwars. They’ve gone on record stating that San Fran in Wellington is one of their favourite places to play, and considering a Jakob gig at San Fran is never shy of perfect, it’s understandable.

Jakob San Fran Jules on guitar

Jules on guitar

One punter was getting extra into it, waving his arm up over his head like you see people do at hip-hop gigs. I have no idea what was going through his head, but he began to try and crawl up onstage from the side, earning him a few menacing looks of disapproval from Maurice on bass.

The lighting was especially cool at this gig, with each member of the trio standing with LED panels directly overhead. It looked like the stage fog was actually coming out from these panels too.

Jules from Spook The Horses came up for a stint on guitar, the same role Jason from Sora Shima had played the night before in Auckland. There were a few gasps from those in the crowd who knew Jules and were surprised by his appearance, which much have earned him major cred amongst his friends.

I don’t have too much extra to say that I didn’t cover in my review of the Auckland gig, but it was still a real treat seeing them play the same set another time. The bass was louder this time, which was good. All though it was earth-shatteringly loud for a period, making the room shake and causing the band members to cast alarmed looks amongst themselves and dial a few knobs on the speakers.

I think everyone there had a great night. A few of us had been to Auckland as well and it was still a treat.

Sam from the band distance with the set list.

Words and photos by Joseph James

Live Review: Jakob at The Tuning Fork 8th Birthday Celebration

Jakob Tuning Fork
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Jakob

w/ Proteins of Magic
Friday 4 June 2021
The Tuning Fork, Auckland

The Tuning Fork Jakob

It’s been quite some time since our Aotearoa instrumental heroes Jakob have treated us to a gig. They opened for Alice in Chains in Auckland back in March 2019, but I went to Download Festival in Melbourne to see AIC, so it’s definitely been a few years since I’ve seen Jakob last play

.And what a way to emerge after such a break, playing their seminal record Solace in full to celebrate the 8 year anniversary of Auckland venue The Tuning Fork.

This was my first time at The Tuning Fork and I thought it was a great venue. Nestled in the wing of the march larger Spark Arena, TTF offered a better setting for those medium tier acts. Nice and long with a bar situated at the rear on the side. It was an ideal size for a gig of this size, feeling intimate but not too tight for the sold-out crowd. Festoons were strung across the ceilings, and although they weren’t on until the end of the night, I thought they looked great.

Proteins of Magic Tuning Fork )

Opening act Proteins of Magic started the night with her haunting music. Maurice from Jakob was gushing to me about her, saying how he’s been listening to her music heaps lately, and that she’s got some serious cred as the former bassist for Dimmer.

She used her synth with some backing tracks to create a sparse sonic base, and then built upon it using a looping pedal, adding layered vocal harmonies. Oh, and she rocked out on flute. Not something that you see at most rock gigs. She cast a spell upon us during her set, with layered vocal on vocals and otherworldly sounds.

Proteins of Magic Tuning Fork

Damn, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy seeing Jakob play. There are moments where I just shout out loud because it’s so good, an exasperated cry. I can’t put it into words easily – I’ve been raised not to discuss my feelings like all New Zealand males – but their music stirs something deep within that I can only react to by tipping my head back and making weird noises. Am I possessed?

Ask any post-rock fan around the world, and Jakob’s album Solace is regarded with much reverence. Post-rock is a genre that initially was about surpassing the boundaries of rock music, but has in many ways become stale and uniform. But Jakob have always managed to sound like themselves. And they stand out. You’ve got to be pretty good if bands like Tool and Isis are inviting you on international tours.Jakob Tuning Fork

Those opening notes of “Malachite” signaled that something special was about to unfold. The guitar builds, layer upon layer, slow and moody. The drums are primal and repetitive. The rumbling bass ties it all together. It’s mesmerizing and enveloping. And then they’ll unleash the distortion pedal. And the world unfolds and fall back on itself. You get knocked back by a sonic wall of fury. And you welcome it because it makes you feel something that you can’t describe, but at least you’re fully alive in that moment.

“That’s enough of that”, they joked, “We’re far too old for that kind of carry-on!”

They’ve got a great sound. I love watching them and seeing how it all unfolds. Watching guitarist Jeff Boyle letting the notes rise and swell and he deftly picks the strings and rolls the volume knob in one motion. Watching how Maurice Beckett – the once hairy behemoth – now shorn but still a beast of bass – drums and shakes on the body of his instrument to unlock those deep rumbling tones within. Watching how drummer Jason Johnston creates that percussive pulse by laying into his toms. Watching how the trio all communicate with each other onstage with knowing looks that only comes from years of playing with each other.

Jakob Tuning Fork

I’ve tried to emulate their sound myself. Johnston sometimes plays with mallets, and with the snares wires thrown off, opening up the cymbals and giving the snare drum a deeper hollow sound, as opposed to the usual “crack”. I copied this when recording a single for my own band, aiming to replicate Johnston’s style. The guy who mixed the single promptly sample replaced my drums and undid all my efforts…

Jason Lurman from the band Sora Shima came onstage for a guest spot during the song “Everything All Of The Time”, playing the guitar line first recorded by Tristan Dingemans of HDU. Lurman was clearly having the time of his life, grinning from ear to ear and rocking backward and forward as he held an e-bow to his guitar strings.The guys all exchanged a bit of banter onstage which caused a few laughs.

Jakob Tuning Fork

As you have probably gathered, I’m a big fan. There’s something special about a Jakob gig. That album, Solace, deserves a spot in the pantheon of the greats, and seeing masterful musicians deliver those songs in a live setting is something to behold.

They left us with a passing comment: “See you again soon, hopefully with a new record!”. We all responded with cheers.

Words and photos by Joseph James

More photos to come

Premiere: Sora Shima – At the Edge of Hope Is Despair

Sora Shima At the Edge of Hope Is Despair cover
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Sora Shima were staples in the New Zealand post-rock scene for some time. They shared the stage with royalty like Jakob and Mono, and put out some great music.

The band slowed down and fell into a hiatus about five years ago. You know the score – guys get a bit older, work commitments start taking over, suddenly they have families, and the band goes on the back burner. Their last release was the 2014 album You Are Surrounded.

I remember in late 2016 my friend David Zeidler (of Young Epoch fame) asking me to recommend some post-rock acts from my neck of the woods for an A Thousand Arms compilation, which were relatively new at the time.

From memory I suggested Jakob, Sora Shima, Hiboux, Into Orbit and Kerretta. Three of those acts made it onto the first edition of Hemispheres (Hiboux featured in the following edition).

Chatting with Jason from Sora Shima, the fresh surge of interest in his band as a result of that compilation inspired him to revive the band and get things up and running again.

They’ve had a handful of gigs in the past year and have been working on new material and getting back on track. Out of nowhere they’ve dropped two fresh songs.

“At the Edge of Hope Is Despair” is a brilliant return to form. A guitar line at the start reminds me of Tides of Man – which can only be a good thing. And the drums sound immense – really full and vibrant and spacious. So many drummers try to emulate that sound that John Bonham gave us in the song “When The Levee Breaks” and Sora Shima have come darn close. All the instruments come together in a searing, triumphant crescendo that leaves you panting for more. I’m reminded of the recent Hubris album.

“Loss” is more cinematic ambient, full of mournful swells and dense textures. A nice counterpiece to the first track.

Sora Shima

There’s no story behind these tracks, no waffly bio. It’s just shy of 7 minutes worth of music. But it’s damn tasty and exciting to have new content from such a great band. Keep an eye out on the Shora Shima Facebook page for some news being announced in the next week.

While you’re at it, buy their back catalogue off Bandcamp. They’re only asking for $3 for their entire collection, which is criminally underselling themselves.

 

EP Review: distance – over time

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Sam Butler is likely best known for his time as the bass player for Banks Arcade. Recent life changes have signaled time for new opportunities, allowing Butler to explore different avenues.

He put the word out last year, wanting to start a post-rock group. I even had him over at one point for a jam in my bedroom. But a shift to the sleepy town of Nelson put those plans to rest, so Butler decided to see what he can do on his own. The result is the over time EP, put out under the moniker of Distance.

The timing seems slightly comical, considering all the jokes circulating about how we are about to get flooded with bedroom albums and solo projects due to the covid 19 lockdown period, but don’t worry, this is actually quality output.

Butler shares with me about the inspiration behind the EP. The immense Nelson Pine factory plant in Richmond is responsible for producing a lot of the MDF, plywood and timber that we use in our part of the world. You can see the constant plume of “steam” churning out from it’s chimneys at all hours.

Butler noticed this during a commute to work one day and it got him thinking about the water cycle. One thing led to another, and before long he’d formed a song in his head that revolved around the concept of water. Wanting to extend himself, he expanded upon the theme, introducing other elements of nature, and in the end settling on five elements he loved about New Zealand: water, trees, sky, mountains and people.

Most post-rock music is instrumental by nature, leaving the music open to interpretation by the listener. But I do love when post-rock artists use an overarching concept to influence and inform the songwriting process. It can result in a more interesting final product, which invites the listener to interact with the themes and messages of the music on a deeper level. Take Ranges, hubris. or Lost in Kiev, for example.

distance over time Sam Butler

“coalescence” is the original water themed track that jump-started this project. Butler shares that “throughout the song, raindrops fall, coalesce, create puddles, rivers and streams, and then finally join the ocean, where they crash about in the final climax.” Guitar notes with plenty of delay and thunderous drums echo within a sparse chamber before sharply plucked bass and monstrous layers of guitar consume everything and engulf you. I especially love the blink-and-you’ll-miss-em drum fills towards the end of the track.

It’s clear that Butler is a fellow believer, having paid his dues at the altar of Jakob. The rolling bass line in “coalescence” and the hollow snare tone on “tectonic” – there’s no mistaking where he drew key inspiration for those aspects of the music from.

Butler utilises wonderful field samples, of rolling water, of crashing waves upon the shore, of tranquil birdsong, of people chatting. These recordings lend themselves to the concept that anchors the music, as well as adding an georgeous textural layer to the sounds.

I just adore the birdsong in “undergrowth”. The music contains tribal percussive elements and grunty riffs that sound like the lovechild of Jakob and Tool.

The heaviest track is “firmament”. It sounds crushing and huge, a dense slab of noise which threatens to overwhelm everything.

One of the better known Māori whakatauki (proverbs) is:

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

It’s a nice touch naming the final track “(treasure)”, knowing that the working title was “People”, making me guess that the name is alluding to the whakatauki.

The track is very much a nod to the origin of ambient music: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. We hear hustle and bustle, distant sirens, people connecting. Similar to “Coda” from Pillars’ outstanding 2019 record Cavum, it’s a touching track that explores mundane yet magical aspects of life, and a brilliantly soft finish to a great collection of music.

This is an extremely promising release from Butler, and certainly exceeds all expectations in terms of quality, considering it’s a lock-down bedroom project. Looks like I missed a grand opportunity, given that we could have teamed up to start a band when he lived in Wellington. That aside, over time is well worth your attention, with well crafted songs that sound great, and an understated concept of gratitude that we would all do well to remember in trying times such as these.

distance over time


distance links:

Bandcamp: https://distancenzl.bandcamp.com/album/over-time

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkFeC2SN-QY

Spotify et al: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/distance2/over-time