MONO: You Are There
This Is Your Captain Speaking: Storyboard
Those offering last rites to the post-rock genre may want to hold their breath, if groups like Sickoakes, MONO, Daturah, and This Is Your Captain Speaking have anything to say about it. While not deviating drastically from the Godspeed You! Black Emperor-Mogwai template, all four make compelling arguments for the form's vitality on their latest releases.
On epic pieces like “The Flames Beyond the Cold Mountain,” MONO (Takaakira 'Taka' Goto, Yasunori Takada, Tamaki, Yoda) tills similar fields to Godspeed—mournful guitar delicacy slowly escalating towards blistering climaxes of majestic grandeur—but the Japan quartet sidesteps predictability by downplaying the loud-soft concept during placid, string-laden pieces (“A Heart Has Asked for the Pleasure,” “The Remains of the Day”) that MONO further sweetens with glockenspiel tinkles and pretty piano melodies. A few things impress immediately: the group's nuanced handing of dynamics—climaxes are worked towards incrementally rather than appearing abruptly—and its commitment to not only epic intensity but peaceful quietude; in fact, the prayerful lament “Are You There?” eschews loud passages altogether for passages so astonishingly beautiful the composition rivals the fifteen-minute “Yearning,” a stately dirge of scalding guitars that swells into a wailing crescendo, as the album's peak.
The German five-piece Daturah mines similarly epic territory in three long instrumentals (Ralf Bördner's samples of poetry recitations lend the music an extra dimension, though the texts are near-indecipherable and function more like atmosphere). Daturah's twin-guitar attack (courtesy of Mathias Heng and Flo Ebert) allows the group to offset reverberant chiming figures with Benni Möller's heavy undercurrent of bass sludge. In the opener “Shoal,” the group works towards its first peak slowly but, when the piece ascends at the eight-minute mark, the all-consuming roar is remarkable—a huge noise, certainly, but also a euphoric and carefully calibrated one, a slow-motion wave of dense fuzz that doesn't crush so much as lift one up gently for the ride. Spurred on by Patrick Bellinetti's martial drumming, haunted guitar lines glide through the upper stratospheres of “Warmachines” until a detonation gloriously transports the music to another level entirely, until the piece ultimately ends with a pealing guitar theme. “Lovelight” introduces a more becalmed and lyrical ambiance that's more understatedly nurtured though equally affecting. Dramatic, emotional, sombre, awesome, gargantuan, melancholy—to experience its full impact, play Daturah loud.
How apropos that the debut album by Melbourne, Australia's This Is Your Captain Speaking was recorded in the library of a primary school, given the degree to which the trio generally opts for unhurried restraint instead of the genre's stereotypical soft-loud dynamic. In the opening “Gathering Pieces,” for example, the band eschews bombast for elegance with the focus on the chiming guitar lattices Nick Lane and Aaron Trimmer weave throughout its eighteen-minute duration. Oh sure, the album includes its share of epics but they're so labeled more because of duration than anything else (though “Lift” does rise to an anthemic roar). Mention should also be made of David Evans who provides tasteful drum support but also brightens the mood with an occasional metallophone tinkle and, yes, typewriter (“6pm,” “Angels”). References to kindred spirits like Mogwai and Godspeed are as inevitable as they are unavoidable but TSYCS casts its own atmospheric spell, so to speak, especially when guitars bring a hymnal quality to “6pm” and build to a blissful crescendo in “A Wave To Bridget Fondly.” You'll remember Storyboard most of all, though, for the suppleness of its intertwining guitar melodies and the group's confident handling of its material.
Swedish instrumental outfit Sickoakes contributes its own distinctive take on the genre with its Seawards debut. Though the nucleus of Sickoakes' sound is guitars, the sextet's sound is instrumentally broader than the other groups' with orchestral flourishes, saxophones, field elements, and glockenspiels dropped in amongst the six-string rawness. Fashioning the album as a travelogue of sorts, each piece segues into the next, with the seven pieces highlighting particular moods and directions (compare the scalding attack in “Oceans On Hold” to the delicate filigrees colouring the reflective interlude “Missiles and Mammals”). Certainly the group establishes a distinctive presence at the outset when a warbling guitar cry gently cascades over a soft base of horns, drum brushes, and an out-of-tune piano (“Driftwood”). Such a restrained prologue naturally prompts anticipation for the heavier attack that quickly arrives in “Taking the Stairs Instead of the Elevator,” the first of three longish pieces dominating the album. A swaying pulse emerges over which guitars aggressively chime, the mood slowly darkening as the layers accumulate and the increasingly hazy sound intensifies. By contrast, the group's prettier side is showcased in the lulling coda “Leonine.”
But Seawards' natural focal point is the twenty-eight minute “Wedding Rings & Bullets in The Same Golden Shrine.” Following a gentle four-minute opening, part two begins as a funereal dirge and slowly builds—a glockenspiel theme here, a piercing guitar mass and bowed cellos there—with the group deftly navigating its way through multiple episodes, much as its Montreal counterpart does. It's both a compliment and a criticism to note that the second part might easily have occupied one of the four sides of Godspeed's 2000 release Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven! without a given listener realizing that one group had traded places with the other. Seawards nevertheless impresses as well as signifies a further expansion to Type Records' encompassing stylistic range in its still-young catalogue.