Record #364: Caspian – Dust and Disquiet (2015)

Strange that despite my affinity for post rock and Caspian’s position as one of the scene’s most consistent voices, it took me until last month to listen to them at all. 
And I’ll admit, I didn’t start with this album (I believe it was Waking Season). My first listen through, I thought to myself, “ah yes, this is good. Borrows enough from Explosions in the Sky and classic era Sigur Ros to be a good listen but not so much so that it’s a blatant ripoff.” It was not terribly groundbreaking or important, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Then someone recommended this record instead, and let me tell you–it blows the other out of the water.

Where as Waking Season was a pretty by-the-book piece of guitar-based, climax-chasing post rock, Dust and Disquiet is a massive work that harmonizes post rock’s sprawling threads into a gargantuan, cohesive statement. The album opens with “Separation No. 2,” a gentle atmospheric ballad awash with tape delay and muted trumpet. “Ríoseco” carries the same mood through it’s opening minutes, and you might be tempted to think the entire album will follow suit. Then, in “Ríoseco’s” third act, it takes a heavy, minor turn, closing as a metal song. “Arcs of Command” adds electronic beats to the fray; “Echo and Abyss” adds vocals. Then, the album collapses into “Run Dry,” a decidedly non-post rock acoustic guitar song, complete with sung verses and choruses. And that’s only half the record.

After wrenching the record from any and all expectations, Caspian continues to explore. The second half doesn’t get quite as heavy, but it is just as fearless. “Darkfield” plays with rhythm with Battles-like exuberance. The title track closes the album with strings and horns. All in all, Dust and Disquiet is an album that not only shows the breadth of post rock, but also Caspian’s mastery of that expanse.

Record #365: Gayngs – Relayted (2010)

Bon Iver surprised some people with their new album, 22, A Million, a glitchy masterpiece that relied more on synthesizers and saxophones than acoustic guitars. Some of us, however, heard Gayngs, the supergroup he assembled to write an album completely composed of 69bpm soft rock ballads all honoring “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. 
Relayted is carried by almost trip hop dated electric pianos and synths, sung by several different voices blurred into one by Vernon’s favorite vocal manipulation techniques. Smooth jazz saxophone and the occasional makeout guitar riff peaks through the haze, betraying the lack of seriousness that the collective took this project.

But don’t let the punchlines keep you from thinking this album doesn’t rip. It achieves its goals with complete gusto. Never once does the album slum it up. Instead, every player commits to the project 110%, even if they’re winking under their Ray-Bans. This album reclaims sounds and styles long judged uncool with deft, unironic coolness. And dude, it works.

Also the only concert they played was called The Last Prom on Earth and was MCed by Prince. And that’s just rad.

Record #363: Fire At Will – Life Goes On (2016)

Full disclosure: I did not buy this record for myself. My friend Curtis is part owner of Chorus of One records and handles their Stateside distro. I designed some promos for him when this record was coming out, so when the vinyl came in, he gave me a copy for my efforts.
That said, I didn’t expect to like it this much. (I didn’t know what to expect, actually). All I had to go on was his vague description of them as a French hardcore band. These days, “hardcore” is a pretty broad moniker, covering everything from early-mewithoutYou-soundalikes to screamy shoegaze bands (I’ve heard plenty of both at local basement shows). Fire At Will however plays the kind of hardcore that I would have loved in high school in the early ‘00s. Teeming with pop punk energy and a great sense of melody, this record lives somewhere between early Thrice and the Ataris–there’s some Rufio in there too. Which, fifteen years ago, I would have flipped for.

Record #362: Analecta – Aes Sidhe (2016)

Let’s disclose the potential for bias right here: the two dudes in Analecta are close friends of mine. Patrick is in my ska band, and we have worked closely putting on shows both at the venue he manages and my own living room. Calvin and I probably have the most musical overlap (both in listening and style of playing) of anyone I know. My band has played more shows with Analecta than we have anyone else (we’re one of two bands thanked in the liner notes). I recorded their first demo over seven years ago (it’s still on their Bandcamp page). I even suggested the final track listing of this album when the limitations of vinyl required the songs be rearranged.
All that being said, I can imagine how you, dear reader, might see a glowing review and think that I’m just shilling for my friends. But I have a lot of friends, dear reader, and some of them make bad music, and you don’t see me writing about them here. My friendship merely lets me see this work in context, appreciating it from a birds eye view.

Because this is not Analecta’s first album: their first, Janus Bifrons, was released five years ago as a three piece. Then, they were a pretty conventional three piece–guitar, bass, drums, maybe the occasional keyboard, and a lot of loopers (this has not changed). Shortly after, Kevin, the guitarist, left (I joked about joining), and Pat and Calvin restructured as a two piece. Lots more keyboards were added, Calvin, who was not a guitarist, now switching from guitar to bass between recording loops.

​By design, their compositions grew more patient and carefully constructed. This album is the culmination of years of regrouping and self evaluation, yet it doesn’t suffer an identity crisis. Aes Sidhe bears no resemblance to a band struggling to find their voice, but rather to a group that’s been through a crisis, found themselves in it, and are screaming more loudly than ever.

Record #361: Emmylou Harris – Evangeline (1981)

To paraphrase Arrested Development, if you’re picking through discarded collections, “you’re gonna get some [Emmylou Harris].”
The legendary country starlet has an absolutely massive catalogue of solo records on top of frequent collaborations and guest appearances (in the ‘00s, she supplied guest vocals for both Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes), and as one of the more popular country singers in the business, her records aren’t hard to come by.

This, her eighth album in twelve years, is made up of outtakes from previous recording sessions that didn’t quite fit on previous records. The result is as disjointed and splintered as you’d imagine. Especially considering how her regular studio albums aren’t exactly the most cohesive projects put to tape.

Emmylou made a career out of her masterfully arranged covers of other artists’ work (which is somehow much more forgivable in country music), and this album is no exception. Moodwise, she has always been the most successful singing mournful, midtempo ballads, and the ballads on this disc are truly spectacular. Opener “I Don’t Have to Crawl,” with its minor key and phased guitars is among the most affecting things she’s done, and closer “Ashes By Now” (both penned by Rodney Crowell) is almost apocalyptic.

But between them sits a number of uptempo numbers–some of them deftly executed “(How High the Moon,” which I know from Les Paul; “Mr. Sandman,” featuring Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt; “Hot Burrito #2,” by her late duet partner Gram Parsons), and some of them clumsier (CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising”; Bill Payne’s “Oh Atlanta”). This makes for an uneven record that nevertheless has a few shining moments.

Record #360: American Footbal – LP2 (2016)

American Football’s 1999 full length has long been a singular masterpiece, celebrated by emo kids and math rockers alike for both the bittersweetness of its lyrics and its deft, intricate compositions. But now, that masterpiece is not so singular, thanks to this reunion album no one ever expected to happen. 
While it’s usually not a good call to judge a book (or album, so to say) by its cover, this one is pretty telling. The first American Football record’s iconic cover looks up at the lighted windows of a second story bedroom in a suburban house, wondering what sort of tiny tragedies were happening in those walls. On LP2, we’re walking inside.

And with the lyrics, there’s no more guesswork to be done. Throughout his various musical projects (and there have been many), Mike Kinsella has never shied away from relational dramatics, but he has never been this explicit. LP1 trafficked largely in nostalgia–looking back at lovers damaged by the trappings and trials of time, wishing things could have gone differently.

LP2, on the other hand, is a portrait of a marriage falling apart. Twin chiming guitar lines open the album, with Mike Kinsella setting the album’s scene: “Both alone in the same house.” It’s a punch to the gut, but it’s nothing compared to the moment when the full band kicks in with the lyric, “I can’t remember if the lock on the door is for keeping me out or you in.”

The term “emo” gets thrown around a lot, usually deriding adolescent laments like realizing that relationships don’t always work out. Here, however, Mike Kinsella is a man in his thirties realizing that his life hasn’t turned out the way he planned, despite his best efforts. This are songs by a man at a crossroads, examining the foundation his life is built on. It’s a brave, vulnerable album that drops a bomb on you as soon as it starts and doesn’t let up.

And musically, it’s just as mature. LP1 has been praised for its odd time signatures and carefully constructed guitarwork. LP2 doubles, or even triples down on that format. Songs often change meter between lines, sounding just as disoriented and scrambling as the lyrics.

If that implies that it’s a mess, I don’t mean it to–a mess would be a band that can’t play that can’t handle such nimble acrobatics trying to anyway. But this is American Football–tightrope walkers and trapeze artists in their element. They not only construct these obstacle courses, but they traverse them with ease.

​If I’m completely honest, I prefer this album to LP1, but that’s blasphemy in some circles, so I’ll settle on saying it is a more mature record that packs the same punch, and let you draw your own conclusions.