Album Review: Europa – Small Steps

Europa Small Steps
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It’s instantly clear that Florida act Europa have paid plenty of time and attention to the production of new record Small Steps. Their music, comprised of many complex layers and glitches, travels along wildly erratic paths, despite being easy to listen to. Think along the lines of Circa Survive and Coheed & Cambria crossed with Postal Service.

If I had to pigeon-hole them, I’d lump them in with prog-rock. The songs take wild twists and turns, switching time signatures, veering off onto new tangents, and throwing all kinds of effects at you. And they have a 14 minutes song, which counts as an automatic entry into the genre by virtue of its length alone.

Turns out this was a deliberate move. Cory Worsley shares: “The prevailing theme for use when writing this record was progress. Progress musically, personally and in the world as a whole. It can be easy to look around the world and feel perplexed as to the state we’re living in but this album was a way for us to remind ourselves to take steps in the right directions and that each and every step is important. We have to start near if we’re to go far.”

Europa cover a lot of the spectrum. Take “Lag” for example. Sublime acoustic guitar switches to frenzied tapping and choppy keyboards. And that’s only in the space of a minute. Some songs feel like lullabies, whereas others are fully fledged rippers. And, just when you think you’ve heard all they throw something new at you. The title track is a wonderful piano piece, a peaceful closer that gently lowers you back down to earth after taking you on an interstellar ride.

The vocals are an instrument in their own right. The fuzzy auto-tuned warble is a throwback to Postal Service. Those auto-tuned parts are real ear-worms, with the softly cooed lines like ‘settle down’ or ‘let go’ burying themselves deep into your psyche so that you’ll catch yourself humming along for days. Tracks like “Paths” and “Criminals” have throatier singing, with more aggression, and the intensity increases when we hear anguished screams in “Redesign”. Kristen Peluso guests on a handful of tracks too, which was a great move, because she has a wonderful voice that serves to add more to the variety of timbres.

Small Steps is an ambitious venture. It almost ventures into rock-opera or musical territory, due to the expansive sound, interludes and reprisals. This begins to make sense when you look through a recent playlist Santiago Mesa put together for Alt Dialogue and see that he’s been listening to the Hamilton musical a lot. Or maybe I’m drawing false conclusions… Who knows? But it’s an epic sounding album with some structural similarities to musicals.

Themes and motifs threaded throughout the album give a cohesive and well thought-out feel, which is refreshing in this current day of singles. More and more acts are resorting to pushing out EP’s and singles to cater to people’s short attention spans [This is an interesting discussion in itself. With the nature of streaming, it pays to have singles featured on playlists, but at the same time, albums gain more streams than EPs. But I would suggest that frequent, shorter releases are becoming more commonplace than long albums]. So it feels like a powerful and deliberate statement when a band releases an hour-long album.

It’s good enough that nobody would believe it’s a debut release. Debut full-length, yes, but they already have a few EP’s under their belts. The production is clearly of standard that comes from plenty of time spent tweaking and playing in the the studio.

I imagine that Europa are extremely proud of this release. It’s a solid album, showcasing a wide breadth of talent. 

Europa. Image: Brian Macaione

Europa links:

Website – discovereuropa.net
Facebook – facebook.com/discovereuropa
Instagram – @discovereuropa
Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/artist/08wB1vbFRcknKXhhX8Puj3#_=_
Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPhWcFChXo8l9UbnaPtxNPA
Twitter – twitter.com/discovereuropa
Bandcamp: https://europa.bandcamp.com/

Joseph James

Album Review: The Dark Third – Even As The Light Grows

The Dark Third Even As The Light Grows
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You’d be forgiven if Auckland act The Dark Third haven’t popped up on your radar yet, but that is soon to change. Formed in 2013, they underwent a number of changes, before gaining relative success in 2017 by playing support slots for both Tortoise and Alcest when each of those bands played in Auckland. On August 19 they will release début Even As The Light Grows.

The Dark Third have created a hazy brand of music that eludes easy description by drawing on a range of styles including shoegaze, post-rock, prog-rock and black-metal. Their style reminds me of other dark post-rock acts that offer similar moody output, like Coma Recovery, The Swan Thief and Blueneck.

They name check prog-rocker Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame) as an influence and I can see why. The progressive styling, long songs, and focus on intelligent song crafting over sheer heaviness all bear similarity to Wilson’s own work.

With opening track “The dreams of Lesser Men” a harsh discordant intro segues into hotel lobby piano playing, before transforming into guitar picking. Light floaty segments bookend distorted feedback, but somehow all the parts feel connected. Daniel Hay’s singing sounds weightless and ethereal, but still powerful and emotive.

To me, this strength of this album lies in the second track, “These Things Are Not Inherent”. Primal thumping drums and bass heavy piano chords ground the song, while hypnotic singing draws us in. It’s like Killing Joke minus the aggression. And I can’t get enough of it.

The album repeats itself a lot – not in an annoying way – but revisiting themes across the album through use of reprisals and motifs. Maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to it so much over the past few weeks, or maybe it’s because many of the songs are fairly long, but I keep hearing segments and getting a sense of déjà vu, that the same chord progressions and melodies keep cropping up again. It’s a good thing though, showing that cohesive elements thread through each song to make the album feel like a fully developed package.

Another neat aspect of this release is that the band includes a wide array of instruments that eschew the traditional rock four-piece expectations. Piano, violin and saxophone all offer different tones and textures that defy expectations. When I think saxophone, jazz comes to mind. Well here, it is used in a completely different context. There are 13 layers of sax in “These Things Are Not Inherent”, which all pile upon each other to create a unique drone effect. And speaking of interesting instrumentation, the end of “The Regressor” turns industrial, sounding like a factory in action, with reversed sound effects.

It’s hard to articulate why I like this album so much. I had the same problem reviewing Coma Recovery’s EP earlier in the year. It speaks to me emotionally, which is hard to convey with words. 

Even As The Light Grows is an album of polarities. Dark and light; heavy and soft; classic and fresh. The album art encapsulates their sound well: looking both serene and sharp at the same time. It’s like a good stout: dark, silky smooth and with layers of depth that stay with you long after your sip. Drink it all in and enjoy

Daniel Hay The Dark Third by Mandie Hailtree

Daniel Hay. Image: Hailtree

The Dark Third links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDarkThird/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedarkthird/
Bandcamp: https://thedarkthird.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

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

Live Review and Photo Gallery: Caligula’s Horse at Valhalla, Wellington

Caligula's Horse Valhalla Wellington
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Caligula’s Horse

w/ Clæmus and ELIM

Valhalla, Wellington

Wednesday 1 February

Sadly I missed ELIM’s set, but was able to catch the other support act, Clæmus, who proved themselves a great choice to open for Brisbane prog-rockers Caligula’s Horse. Clæmus have a similar progressive sound, and plenty of energy to bring their set to life. It’s amazing how such talented locals keep coming out of the woodwork. Where do they keep hiding? Anyway, now that I’ve discovered them I’ll be sure to attend more gigs that they play.

This was a last-minute show, announced mere weeks before the event. Caligula’s Horse were due to come to NZ for the first time to support Opeth at their gig in Auckland, and seemingly decided to add a Wellington date the night beforehand, much to our pleasure.

The lads in Caligula’s Horse were buzzing to see such a turnout. And it wasn’t bad, but it was hardly packed either. It was however, a case of quality over quantity. Valhalla wasn’t filled to the brim, but the fans who had shown up were diehards, many of whom sang all along to all the words, much to singer Jim Grey’s delight.

I think Caligula’s Horse strike a great balance. They described their own music as “prog-wank”, but I disagree.Sure, the songs are long, and have noodly solos, but they don’t venture into boring territory like some other prog-rock bands. The solos are interesting, the music makes you want to move, and the vocals are on point.

I’m writing this a few days late, having been out-of-town yesterday for the Opeth gig. So with hindsight on my side, I can safely say that it was worth seeing Caligula’s Horse play at Valhalla. OK, it was worth it regardless, but the Valhalla set was far better than the set that they played opening for Opeth in Auckland. This is not to say that the band played badly in Auckland, but there are only so many songs you can fit into a half hour set when you play prog-rock. A band of this calibre deserves more than 30 minutes to show off their talents on stage. This headlining show gave provided us Wellingtonians the opportunity to see Caligula’s Horse let loose at their peak, and not constrained into a supporting slot.

Something I loved was seeing guitarist Sam Vallen’s grandmother positioned just in front of the stage filming her grandson’s band on her smart phone. I wouldn’t usually expect to see that generation at a gig, let alone at a metal bar late on a Wednesday night! It certainly brought a grin to my face to see a grandmother so proud of her grandson.

It was an absolute pleasure watching the band play, drawing from a music new and old. Half way through their set, my mate turned to me and said “I think that this is the best band I’ve seen play at Valhalla!” I thought about it for a minute, and I agree. Caligula’s Horse are a band worth seeing, and I am happy that we saw them play their own unbridled set as well as an opening set for Opeth the following night.

 


Links:

Website: http://caligulashorse.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CaligulasHorse

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/samvallen

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

 

Words and photos by Joseph James