Hanan – Sonder (Inspirus, 2014)

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“Sonder” is one of those funny words that seems to have grown up on the internet in the past few years, seemingly to fill an apparent hole in the English language; defined as being “the realisation that each passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own” it’s often found overlain on evocative B&W gifs and accompanying pseudo-philosophical meanderings on Tumblr. Despite being a rather intriguing concept in reality, its flagrant overuse as a word in recent times has made me a little tired of seeing it. I had not seen, however, someone attempt to use the word and create an album centered deliberately over this thought; that was up until Hanan came along. Rather bitesized at just a shade over 33 minutes long, Hanan attempt to capture this fleeting realisation in their Post-Rock sensibilities.

I apologise for any cynicism in advance but over the course of several listens this album has increasingly revealed itself to be shallow and rather uninspiring across its duration, ironically suggesting ideas of self-awareness and the desire to move away from the norm but still languishing in fairly predictable Post-Rock frameworks, a genre that never seems to want to progress (in my eyes). There’s a number of instances of this not being a wholly Post-Rock record actually, largely through the latter part of the album; “Widdershins” takes its name seriously and provides an interestingly electronic deviation with its skittering mechanical sounds and jumbled glitch scattered throughout, grating and stuttering against the mainstream. It’s something of an outlier sonically, although closer “Scoop” is another similar bastion of Ambient sound in the album as it slowly sends downtempo pulses of shimmering instrumentation out of the darkness, sounding tired but not resigned. “Wolfsbane” is perhaps the last antithetical track as it cruises in on beds of softly shifting drones and threateningly discordant piano lines, albeit tempered and unusually delicate in their presentation. All of these pieces unwind at a nice, consistent and delicate rate, and are pleasant musings.

The other tracks are, what I would call, relatively unsurprising when it comes to all things Post-Rock, perhaps with the exception of the beautiful intimacy of the opener “Buttons”, which seems content enough in its little details as it spins minimal piano tinklings against oscillating synth pads and sparse, lightly processed guitar chords. “Parsimony”, the second track of the album, really does define the stereotypical sound though as it rolls out its repetitive, staccato guitar leads and lightweight, cymbal-splashy percussion. Admittedly it does lead out on some rather nice, delicate movements towards the end as playful synths complement more grinding guitar drones, resistive of the previous aggression. But pieces like “Philistines” are every bit as dull and repetitive as the monotonous arguments they tout, with aggressive but distant guitar once again carrying the splashy percussion in endless, barely migrating loops, and “Pay Attention” taking advantage of the overused crescendos that Post-Rock is so desirous to include at every opportunity, destroying its initially quiet and neat, downtempo guitar in favour of a heavily processed, grinding climax in its closing minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that this is a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m sure there’ll be more than a fair share of individuals who really appreciate this record and its instrumentation, but every time I give Post-Rock a chance it seems to throw it back in my face and just not supply anything that taxes the genres parameters and remains content to regurgitate the same tropes that really have been done to death at this point. Hanan at least seem to recognise this in some capacity as they try to evade the predictable in the final few tracks and appear to hover on the edge of indecision in a number of others but it still ends up being disappointingly sluggish and dry. It stays true enough to its concept at the least, for which it can be commended, but I found myself pretty disenchanted with this overall.

 

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Closer – In Search Of Life (2014)

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The new self-released album from Liam Daly’s Closer project with In Search Of Life. 

It’s been some time since I heard an album take to that beautiful crossover realm of Ambient and Post-Rock; Jasper Tx’s final album An Index Of Failure was probably the last one to really capture me and to say that this album is perhaps up there with it in quality is an enormous compliment. The opener “Interception” actually has something more akin to a Hammock sound all things considered (and the album as a whole), and moves forward at a crushingly slow place across its luxurious 9 minute span. Slow, reverbed piano forges the centerpiece of the track, rolling round and around as delicate drones and flutters of light guitar ripple and crest in its wake. It has a lightweight and easygoing, pleasant air to it that’s just a pleasure to listen to, counterbalanced and juxtaposed against the dark opening of “We Are Silently Roaring Through Space”. The comparatively noisy ambience of the opener has been torn away and we’re left with a dark void, a hole in the heart of the track as the pianos toll distantly and lifelessly, muffled in the expansive vacuum of space. The distant lights of stars and galaxies become smeared as liquid currents of rushing guitar drones and white noise washes fill the hole that seem to go on forever, but it isn’t all empty and hopeless for the second half becomes more empowered in its stuttering lo-fi riffs. Eventually its cavernous sound dies away mournfully and we’re left with a brief moment at its end to sit in silence and contemplate the Universe.

“Someone’s Soul Is Drifting” wafts in on heartwrenching currents of piercing drone, slipstreaming effortlessly into a space filled with carefully placed piano strokes and the light notes of drifting, distant, supplementary violin and faint guitar. It’s absolutely more harmonious and beautiful that its predecessor but in a mournful way, one that hints at loss and the hope in some kind of life after death, an ode to something lost. The piano is always an extremely expressive instrument and I often think of it having quite a resigned and wistful sound, and the sudden clarity and lack of obfuscation draws attention to that aspect of its sound even more so, especially in the sparse closing seconds. Followup “The Sense Of Being Stared At” I suppose continues to reinforce this idea of hope in an afterlife as the sheltered and distant piano returns with the expansive serenading guitar. It’s an extremely melancholic track despite this, wallowing in loss and the inability to interact with those passed once more, of being continuously reminded of their absence.

“Who’s Riding The Airwaves Tonight” arrives on enigmatic reversed tones, the guitar and piano being rolled back into their respective instruments and repeated one after the other, cycling with the same casual regularity of the radio waves of its namesake. There honestly is extremely little I can say about this track; it proceeds at an easygoing and unconcerned pace, slowly allowing fresh snippets of texture into the soundscape and breaking out of its lowkey beginnings to something entirely more ambitious; the piano riffs delicate and repetitive, the lush guitar introduced to fluff out the empty backfield and ensure our continued hypnotic state. It peters out into an enigmatic darkness as we bookend the album with closer “Return Signal”, opening to rushes of white noise and encrypted static. It’s the most unusual track of the album in that regard, and it’s kind of disappointing Liam left it so late to swing a slight curveball into the mix as it buzzes energetically. The slow guitar picks and rich, distal piano project a certain hopefulness across the air, the guitar especially, louder and clearer than ever before. “We hear you, everything’s fine” you can hear it say as it all falls away to that basal noise, the chaotic language of the Universe.

Listening to In Search For Life can be quite a struggle at times; there’s a strongly emotional component of this album that is extremely resonant with me. Its title raises the question; is this the search for extraterrestrial life, of scientific endeavour, or is it the search for life here on Earth, the effort to regain some sense of humanity back into oneself after loss and death. Its broad vistas of sound leave lots of space for interpretation as well as personal reflection, even if they can be a bit cumbersome and poorly progressive at times. It’s certainly not an instrumental powerhouse, nor an overly unique project, but it does tug on the old heartstrings with excellent frequency.

 

Umber – Sunshine Young (2013)

Despite what I say, there’s always an album that I regret not hearing sooner. It’s inevitable, really, that I’m bound to find albums from the year passed that I love and wished I’d heard earlier in the year so that they could have made it onto the list.  I tend not to worry about it, but since Umber’s debut came out all the way back in April, I feel a little ashamed that I hadn’t heard it sooner.

Sunshine Young casts a warm, Post-Rock meets Ambient look at the world not too far removed from the work of Helios and their album last year Moiety. These delicate little affairs always catch me off guard and I knew instantly this would be a great album right from the opener, the title track. Soft drone laps assist the distant workings and rattlings of city life, thumps and voices squirreling away in the background, before taking off true to its Post Rock roots with a more driven but rather simplistic and naive outlook, cruising easily through the whirling hustle and bustle in a protective blanket of youthfulness. It’s chased up by further field recordings early on in “All The Ships”, the chirruping of birds these oases of calm nature within the drab urban sprawl. Much of the track is devoted to keeping this peaceful, secluded atmosphere alive with gentle drones, eventually tumbling into guitar lead melodies  with subtle violin hints towards the end.

“Through Rocks & Fog” is something of a more uncomfortable and more unsettling movement, with electronic scrapings and rustlings permeating the dense backfield whilst the fore is dominated by quivering and thrumming drones. There’s little movement through the fog other than the creaks and cracks and we become uncertain as to what we’ll find ahead, what life has in store for us once we pass through these golden days of youth. But there is a blissful reprieve in one of my favourite tracks perhaps of this year in the stunning “The Warm Calm”. Whilst it makes no allusions to the fact that the future could potentially be a dark and unknown place, it soothes our uneasy minds following the wavering, oscillating electronic with vast swathes of thick, suppressant drones and careful, pandering violin strings. It’s a soft voice of calm logic to ease our restless minds and it just keeps on growing and making sure that every last ounce of self-doubt has been permeated by this nepenthe.

“Gött Mos” wants us to move away from these clearly distressing conversation topics and embrace the fun side of life again with more easygoing blankets of glacial drone accompanied by field recordings of far off and heavily muted children’s voices shouting and laughing and playing. A heavy current of luminous guitar drone forms the gripping core of the track at first, before it goes “All The Ships” on us and slips back into its Post Rock mindset and ekes out some acoustic instrumentation in the latter half, those hazy memories of our childhood replaced by a more mature and somewhat wistful reality. It slips naturally into closely titled “Sunshine Youth” but unlike the title track it has a blearier feel, the melodies more steeped in reverb and slower than before. Everything just sounds increasingly more distant and nostalgic, the years racking up and the gulf separating childhood and adult life growing with each moment. What we would give to go back and relish those innocent moments again.

Finally closer Öpik-Oort is introduced to lead us out on the closing recordings of the previous track. It’s curious that the closing track be named after the cloud of comets that enshrouds our Solar System, it seems like such an odd choice, but when we consider what it is, the exiled remains of our Sun’s distant youth, the leftovers of stellar birth, it fits into place nicely. Its overlapping violin and drone work in tandem to create a largely syncopated sound that holds onto the fragments of our childhood, pushing them to the fringes of our minds but also where we occasionally get visitors and fleeting memories flung in as pulses of activity.

This is a really beautiful little 30 minute release; there’s seems to be something of a push lately to condense content and meaning into nice, bitesized packages and this album seems to be another one. It shares our feelings on the value of childhood through maturity, the desperation we seek to cling onto those easier and more naive times, but the importance of ultimately letting go and reminiscing only when it’s needed. Heart-warming.