Late Night Venture – Pioneers of Spaceflight (2012)

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3rd full length LP from Danish Post-Rock outfit Late Night Venture, Pioneers of Spaceflight.

This week has been crazy, really crazy. My body clock is all messed up, my stress levels have reached new heights and various courseworks have prevented my from listening to/reviewing music. I feel pretty drained so I’m not going to go into detail over these guys (sorry!), and I have a steadily forming backlog so I’ll make this brief. Advance warning, this is a fucking terrible review but I don’t have the mental capacity to care at the present time.

There are some genres which I really struggle to talk about; I’m not sure I quite made the point clear when I did my Caspian review (nor indeed my GY!BE) that Post-Rock is not a genre that I can write about easily. I often have to be in a specific mood for it as well. I’m not perfect, I have musical prejudices and the one genre that falls under my “Kinda Tiresome” listing is Post-Rock. Now, this isn’t a sleight on any of the bands that subscribe to this genre, especially not Late Night Venture, and I can tell you objectively that these guys are talented and have an innate musical understanding, but to my cynical ears I don’t really hear anything new or interesting.

This is the point where people start to pick apart my argument and say “well who exactly do they sound like?” and make me feel bad because I can’t point fingers or name names, all I retort with is a meagre “well it’s just this generic sound, you know?”. And it is; wailing feedback, eclectic guitar riff solos, prominent percussion and semi-predictable builds/”drops”. I can’t pin down exactly what it is, it’s just a nagging familiarity. This is obvious on the 2nd track “Peripherals”, which has such a quintessential Post-Rock sound throughout but especially in its closing moments as it rises up into an elaborate flourish. Vocals make an interesting appearance for the first time in “House” and I suppose it’s not unpleasant, especially as it helps neutralise the surprisingly emotionless instrumentation.

Well now, I have to talk about “Birmingham” given that’s where I live. Some nice xylophones work their way into the textural palette once more (since the opener) and after a terrifically slow build it eventually gets going and picks up some drive and determination and then goes…nowhere else really, it just sort of slips by before petering out. “Hours” takes a bit more of a Shoegaze stance, stripping back a lot of the textural information once the vocals kick in but clocking in at 8 minutes it starts to push the limits of my attention span for this music. I just find so much of it quite vapid; there’s a lot of skill and technique being put on show but I never really feel anything from the instrumentation alone, which does comprise a good fraction of the album. “Trust” manages to strike a good balance between them and the vocals though, it’s probably one of the better tracks. The penultimate “Glitterpony” chases it up with a somewhat more downtempo feel as well, it’s a good combo.

I don’t really know what to say; it’s about as far away from a terrible album as you can possibly get but for me it just doesnt push any buttons. I’m fully aware that this is a terrible review and I apologise.

 

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Saåad – Confluences (2012)

Recent LP from a new discovery Saåad, a French ambient and drone duo.

And no, I have no idea how to pronounce that.

Confluences is a concept album forged around the meeting of two French rivers, the Aríege and Garonne, as exemplified by a fountain (the St. Michél fountain). Naturally water and its many distinctive tones are a big feature in this album, which revolves around field recordings captured from not only the fountain but the water courses themselves. They are not alone however, as they are supplemented greatly by thick and complex drones and guitars, specific phases of sounds that last for 5 minutes apiece to separate the singular track into 4 parts.

It’s been raining all day here, that same kind of dismal, frustratingly consistent rain that has almost no variation in its velocity, rate or pitch, the kind of weather that keeps the sky an ashen grey and forces it to get dark at about 2 in the afternoon. It’s kind of appropriate (perhaps even ironic) that I’m sitting here listening to an album that mirrors these sounds whilst doing a hydrogeological project (or was at least); at the right volume I can scarcely tell the difference between the water running off the roof above my head and the rain pattering the ground outside, and the gurgling field recordings emanating from my speakers. It’s an album that follows a molecule of water or a mote of silt along the course of a river, from its underground beginnings as it wells up to form a trickle of a spring, to the development of a stable stream to a broader, slower river channel which merges with its sister course into a single entity, as demarcated around 10 minutes in as a rising tumult of churning water samples. The course then continues to its final destination, the sea, where it meanders and fragments into a myriad of channels as complex field recordings dominate before disappearing into the surf.

I like the way that Confluences is not confined to this idea of these two very specific river systems meeting, however. If I turn the lights off now and allow the music to blend seamlessly with the rain outside I can imagine a different kind of confluence, one of the natural meeting the deeply unnatural, the urban landscape. Water gurgles through guttering, small pools form in imperfections on the impermeable concrete surfaces, rivulets braid and wind their way down the roads towards culverts where they make their own rivers, human designed rivers. The samples on Confluences could have been taken out in the heart of the countryside or right here, outside my house, but what is important is that it makes no difference either way; water is water, wet is wet, the same rules still apply no matter if we are look at the river (macro) scale or the road (micro) scale, the natural or the artificial.

If you bought the limited edition cassette you’d be greeted by a bonus B-Side track “Spiritual Dilution”, which is perhaps even more transportive than the first; comprised solely of field recordings it’s difficult to describe how it can be both deeply meditative and relaxing yet somehow on edge and disturbing. Soft pulses of drone ebb and flow under the rushing water as generated by pitch pedals to create an unsettling atmosphere and things seem to puncture the water’s surface throughout; hands and feet, perhaps, or maybe also some unnameable creature wading and splashing through. Lying here in bed immersed, lights off, I wont lie to you it is extremely unnerving and chills me to the core, and I’m in love. I’m often thoroughly disappointed in Field Recordings albums but this track delivers everything I could ask for.

I’ve been listening to this album all day and I am deeply concerned for my 2012 Top10 right now, I seriously think we have a competitor near the top. It’s not often I say this about an album I’ve just met but I’m absolutely floored by this release. This is Drone and Field Recordings at their most refined.

Caspian – Waking Season (2012)

4th feature length LP from Post-Rock outfit Caspian, Waking Season

I guess I give Post-Rock more stick than it deserves sometimes; half of the time I feel like bands are just treading well explored ground ala Sigur Ros and GY!BE, and the other half I feel like the music doesn’t belong to the genre at all. It’s a bit hit and miss for me really, and when in my background reading I saw comparisons between Caspian and GY!BE it gave me motive to pause and put it off for a little while.

Unlike the mighty and seemingly infallible GY!BE, however,Caspian do something which I greatly appreciate within this genre; bitesized tracks. With the exception of two, most of this album falls around the 6 minute mark and in doing so prevents the melodic wankery going too far. Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with having long tracks of course, but they can feel very cumbersome and demanding sometimes.

Title and opener “Waking Season” is perfectly titled; awakening from a drone haze it opens its eyes, ready for a new day. The morning has started, the sun is rising and if you strain you can just hear the birds tweeting; it’s bright, optimistic and hopeful for what’s to come. “Procellous” starts abruptly- we don’t have time to mess around in the mornings- with its initially unassuming reverbed guitar work and choppy vocals but it soon picks up and gets rather animated in its riffs and percussion before dying away to some very delicate piano. It’s like a whole 20 minute Godspeed track in 6!

It welcomes in the stunning 10 minute “Gone In Bloom And Bough”, one that builds slowly, almost excruciatingly from a fantastically simple guitar riff into increasingly intelligent and complex textures, all of typical post-rock origin. Buried vocals just about carry on the wind; not sufficiently to be heard but enough to be appreciated for their emotional delivery. It’s very much in the vein of Hammock, especially the second half which relies a little more strongly on acoustic guitar layers before throwing itself back into another ridiculous build.

Delicate piano underlies the somewhat abrasive and certainly more uptempo “Halls of the Summer” which is nicely counterbalanced by the lightweight “Akiko”, something more akin to an electroacoustic track (also seen some people consider this to be more ambient but I think that is something of a stretch, even if it does terminate peacefully with some baby laughter). Again, what is and is not considered Post-Rock is a confusing topic and I don’t think I will ever understand.

But whoa, “High Lonesome” is on its way in on a rising wall of feedbacked guitar and vocal coos, growing strongly and slowly and infiltrating every crack and crevice with its beautifully precise atmosphere, one that invokes images of a countryside slowly being revealed as the Sun burns the morning mist away as it segues effortlessly into the rhythmic drums of “Hickory ’54” and its tinkling xylophone. Once again that hopefulness returns but this time with a more youthful and somehow innocent sound with its more delicate tones.

Ambient and Drone certainly do have their influences, I wont deny, and they come to the fore especially strongly on the penultimate “Collider In Blue”, which runs in a similar vein to “High Lonesome”, but acts as more of a brief interlude than anything else at only 2 1/2 minutes long, welcoming the final act “Fire Made Flesh”. There is something of a menace in the continuing drone, the shuddering electronic beats and the mysterious and ethereal vocals that makes it feel like something big and bold is about to occur, and while it takes perhaps 4 minutes or more to materialise it hits hard, throwing out very metal influenced guitar riffs and super dense textures that just rise and fall and overlap in a temptingly random yet perfectly executed manner. The curtains finally fall and the album departs with a parting blast of noise.

In many ways what Caspian bring to the table is novel and interesting but I just can’t shake the fact that Post-Rock never seems to do anything fundamentally different. People say that there have been Post-Rock “waves” and this is probably true, but in each of them it feels like there have always been a few key artists to pioneer sounds and everyone just gravitates around them. I kind of have a problem with a genre that limits its scope to such a degree and despite their attempt at diversifying, I just can’t help but feel pretty uninterested in this release by and large.