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.

 

Jasper TX – An Index Of Failure (2013)

Jasper TX’s 9th and last album under the moniker, An Index of Failure.

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It’s always interesting seeing and hearing what it is that doesn’t make the cut; naturally musicians create a much larger array of tracks in preparation for an upcoming release but the large majority probably dont make the final cut for whatever reason: feelings of inadequacy or non-cohesion with the rest of the album, whatever. What is particularly interesting is that Dag Rosenqvist has decided that the last record he will ever produce under this alias is one of offcuts and deadends from previous works, and it’s surprising not only how well it works but how poignant it turns out to be (hindsight or no).

We start with the aptly titled “Abandon”, a short and delicate 4 minuter and for those of us, like me (sadly) who are not particularly well acquainted with the Jasper TX sound it’s a great and poetic introduction to the album; there are Post-Rock undercurrents in the soft guitar work (something that will come on stronger later on), soft background drones and an eagerly rising stature that take the track from softly spoken beginnings to more confident endings. It’s only a short and soft burst of volume but it’s enough to dispel those feelings of worthlessness. It shift gears into what is perhaps my favourite track of the album and perhaps of this year so far in “In All Your Blinding Lights”.

I just love the name of the track, the premise it presents; “In All Your Blinding Lights”. Is it in reference to the city, the never-sleeping labyrinth of towering glass and steel? The myriad of networked roads and the cars and streetlights that populate it? Or is it more introspective, the overbearing persona of an individual. Personal interpretation comes into play of course as we are made familiar with a piece dominated by guitar-driven drone, barely moving fragments of sound accompanied by buried and processed vocal wails and moans, these organic elements merging and becoming one with the artificial sound of the underlying melodies, one with the lights. It ends starkly, the music fading quickly away to be left alone with the disjointed human moans.

We get plenty of time to mull it over as the truly Post-Rock inspired mid-album beauty “Rivers Flow” eases into existence, its 12 minute duration allowing for the opportunity to ruminate as it effortlessly gears up on glacial piano strokes. Its as slow to evolve and as apparently stationary as its namesake, the still waters in the slow main body of the watercourses and the infinite patience of Mother Nature as she slowly manipulates the landscape. Time begins to speed up as grittier electronics arrive and big drone walls begin to power the track; the humanly imperceptible but cumulative attrition of Deep Time made apparent in one cathartic surge. We are only allowed a brief glimpse, however, before the mournful and isolated piano takes the mantle back and continues its peaceful and isolated work alone; it truly is beautiful.

“A New Language” follows up with an equally slow-moving melody but one that is also inherently darker; distal rain can be heard landing and creaking the gutters while the electronica revs up and carves a vista of slightly abrasive drone, like a dark night punctuated by the smears of falling raindrops. A barely audible, lo-fi wind cuts through the noise, just barely weaving its way between and making it through the dense textures, the wind of time and change, before it too is lost and we move into closer “Days Above The Tide”, what I class as perhaps the weakest part of the album and possibly the least cohesive.

The raw acoustic guitar is a little at odds to the processed electroacoustic aspects we have seen previously but this piece is supposed to be that final optimistic closer, the shedding of doubts and worries above the high water mark as Dag lands on new musical shores away from this project. There are still strong Post-Rock vibes and admittedly it does mirror “Rivers Flow” as it strengthens to a bold crescendo of coarse drone and drums in the core of the track but ultimately it’s the most driven and yearning piece of the album, and I can’t help but feel that it’s just a tad out of place.

But “Days Above The Tide” ends eventually, its guitars and drums and drone reduced to silence and the subsequent termination of Dag Rosenqvist’s adventure with Jasper TX. This “Index of Failures” highlights something important; sometimes we make choices to cut things out of our lives, the tracks that don’t make sense in the context of our existence, and it’s possible that we may regret them, but once it’s all said and done and we come to the end of our days just like Dag has with this project I think we begin to realise possibly how trivial those decisions were in the grand scheme and how foolish we were to spend time agonising over them and languishing in regret. They aren’t failures, they’re just choices; erroneous or not, there’s never any need to add any weight to them. Normally that realisation is far too late coming.