Friday, April 26, 2013

Sunwølf ~ Midnight Moon

Originally published on A Closer Listen.

Late last year this duo from Leeds wowed us with their solid debut of slow desert sludge and mature sense of composition. With such a quick turn-around on the follow-up, one had to wonder if the B-sides were coming. But Midnight Moon is such an essential component to Sunwølf’s binary star system of albums that, along with Beyond The Sun, they behave like a double album. Both are great.

As with the debut, the heavier tracks come in the first half, but Midnight Moon simply sounds bigger. The production is crisper. The drums are louder, with more noticable fills and flourish. There is a lot of momentum for a band that takes its cues from bands like Earth and Sleep. “Prey To Melancholy” bleeds heavy, with monstrous riffs and bass guitar taking a leading role in dropping the doom. On “Breach” the band chugs into Isis territory. After this song’s delicate beginning, the curtain is drawn to reveal a caged metal bull waiting to be released into the ocean. In other words, you know the eruption is coming long before it does.

Still, while listening, there is a sense of being taken care of, of being held. Never is the distortion out of control; everything is measured. Clean guitars are presented with such audio clarity (think Earth’s Bees Made Honey…) that it is easy to feel we are always in the right place, a pleasing attribute of popular music. Sunwølf could be the first doom pop band in existence! Even in the more ethereal back third, the haze is more of a clear, daytime ritual rather than a lawless opium den. The pair of “Plateau” tracks signify that this band is not just in it for the loud guitars but for the total album experience. The textures Sunwølf come up with are most engaging with topographic drumming, moonlit guitars, and a soft thunderhead of perpetual distortion that would make witnessing an asteroid hit the earth seem pleasant.

The reversed piano notes of the hypnogogic finale “Glacier River” suggest twilight is here, and it’s time to play Beyond The Sun again. Without having advertised it, Sunwølf have created a truly cyclical pair of albums where one inevitably begets the other. They share a style and a narrative arc where the pummel preceeds the peace and peyote, and this is their appeal. Sunwølf makes its music sound effortless. As before, we are amazed how a band so fresh on the scene can sound so polished.

Monday, April 8, 2013

My Education ~ A Drink For All My Friends

Originally published on A Closer Listen.

Fear is one of rock and roll’s greatest sources of power, and to overcome fear is perhaps the human spirit’s greatest triumph. My Education has long been the real deal, never shy to experiment or follow its heart.  It takes courage to risk failure, but now with a fifth studio album it’s easy to hear a band that has thrived on taking risks and is now in full stride.

A Drink For All My Friends has all the features that My Education’s more recent album Sunrise contained. There are big jams, pensive orchestral moments, highly dynamic narrative from song to song – but the element that stands out is the “rawk” factor. Some of these songs are blazing big holes in the soft underbelly of the universe. The pinched squirm of the wah wah guitar is evocative of orgasm.

Once the tea cups are set in the opening post classical “A Drink…” the band enters into “…For All My Friends”. Like setting up camp before a medieval battle the drama is meticulously woven with each instrument added. With a plaintive guitar the tents are erected, a pair of violas calms the horses, the bass and toms load catapults, the vibraphone-esque accents keep the king’s breakfast warm. And once the wah’d lead guitar carves a parabolic path, the signal is given to attack in theatrical fashion. The breakdown at the end of this song will inspire listeners to turn it up even louder. It is cathartic stuff!

It would be easy to rattle off a gushing analysis of each track, but it is the diversity of approach from one track to the next that will either impress or perplex. A confident group of musicians, My Education’s handle on story telling, composition and pacing is supreme. The middle of the album slows into the post-mortem ”Black Box”, a moody experimental piece featuring audio samples from, you guessed it, an airline in trouble. The indistinguishable words are smothered in static and provide a ghostly element to a woozy but affecting piece. My Education also does a great Maserati impersonation! “Roboter-Höhlenbewohner” is a muscular ode to the late Maserati drummer Jerry Fuchs, and one could easily imagine him powering the engine on this one.

There just aren’t many post rock bands that distinguish themselves. If My Education are post rock I hope the next generation is listening because this is an exciting group that just keeps getting better while trying new things. In the world of Austin, TX instrumental bands, Explosions in the Sky became the emotional soundtrack to hold hands to while My Education jams in the dreamland of a Richard Linklater film (even cult movie icon Wiley Wiggins has done a video for them).  The band’s position on the fringe would explain why it hasn’t received similar attention, but there is never a sense that My Education create music that does not move them. We all respect art with sincerity, and this music expresses sincerity with every note. Cheers.