Oftentimes, a complete change in sound and a long delay between full-length albums marks the death knell of a band, or at least a rebirth. After a long brainstorming session -- during which the band lost a guitarist, put out an EP without that guitarist, and gained another in time for the latest record -- Metavari has returned, and the Metavari you hear on Moonless is not the Metavari you heard six years ago, during the release of Be One of Us and Hear No Noise. This time around, the quartet from Fort Wayne, Indiana, seems to have found its niche in the instrumental world, eschewing the grand sonic explosions commonly associated with post-rock in favor of analog and electronic sounds and samples.
Metavari Press Photo
Sankt Otten - Engtanz Depression
The genre formerly known as post-rock has had a long, convoluted, and troubled history. It was originally used in print by the rock critic Simon Reynolds to describe bands like Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, who were bringing in elements of less whitebread music - disco, African rhythms, jazz, krautrock, and Jamaican dub -- and extending their structures to more widescreen classical formats, and blending them with the primal fury of rock 'n roll. Post-rock may have also been the last and greatest victim of co-option and conformity (or can at least share that honor with dubstep), before finally succumbing to postmodern dissolution for good. What became of post-rock? Oh-so-serious dudes in black clothes with long band names, mindlessly aping Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky, turned what could have been the most promising mixture of head and heart, guts and chops into a marketing cliché. Thankfully, the German instrumental duo Sankt Otten rewind the clock with Engantz Depression, and make us reassess the possibilities of blending rock instruments with electronic music for a compelling hybrid that takes post-rock back to its roots, to begin again.

 

Kiev Band Interview
Bands navigating today's music industry are prone to micromanaging and deeply scrutinizing their every career move, but Orange, California's Kiev are not so cynical. Guitarist and vocalist Robert Brinkerhoff -- who introduced himself as "Bobby" at the start of our phone interview -- believes his band prefers a "slow burn" approach, with grassroots, hand-to-hand fan interaction. Kiev's grassroots tactics, which they're perfecting while promoting their debut full-length album, Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth, entail "sticking to your guns and making music you want to make, and knowing that it takes getting people in a room. It means playing shows to all different types of audiences, and hitting the road. It means doing things you love, which for us means making live performance videos, sharing them, and hoping that people get turned on to them in a genuine way and want to share them, as opposed to just being sort of click-bait or a sort of spectacle that gets popular really fast and then dies off really fast."
Good Romans - Open This Door, Never Look Back
When most people think of jazz, they either stop at Duke Ellington's sophisticated big bands, or possibly make it as far as the edgy, revolutionary architecture of bebop, if they're hip. This extremely limited viewpoint overlooks the fact that, in its essence, jazz is essentially improvised instrumental music. On Open The Door, Don't Look Back, the Finnish duo Good Romans strips the influence of jazz down to its bare RNA, pointing out its role in nearly every underground, avant-garde movement since. They manage to trace a very tenuous line from Django Reinhardt to Supersilent, which is a very abstract journey, if you missed the connecting steps. Using a very concise palette of electric guitar, drums and abstract electronics, Good Romans take you on a guided tour through nearly every genre that jazz has touched, from instrumental post-rock ("Smiling No"), to harsh freeform noise ("Moha Rave") and droning ritualism ("Hardanger"). They cover a lot of ground, but there is smart sequencing here, with miniature soundworlds strung together like a string of pearls. Some of the cuts are harsh, like a splash of cold water. This seems intentional: the intention is to shock, to make you pay attention and make you listen to some sounds you had not previously thought of as music.
thisquietarmy Hex Mountains Denovali Records (2013)Hex Mountains is a black mass, that rends the veil of consensual reality, plunging the listener into a twilight afterlife of elder gods and ancient wisdom. It's good to have post-rock back. For years, it seemed that all the genre could produce was ham-fisted Mogwai knock-offs that lost the emotional subtlety and expansive listening habits of the original movement. Imitators with long names sucked the marrow right out of post-rock's bones until it was an embarrassment, a shell of its former self. People forgot how thrilling it could be to combine the crushing weight of metal with the sonic possibilities of electronic music, and the weird eeriness of drone. The Denovali Records release of two albums from Montreal drone alchemist Eric Quach, who has released over 50 albums under the name thisquietarmy, suggest that this is about to change, and that it is again okay to appreciate epic instrumental rock 'n roll; people are finding new and interesting things to do with the format. Hex Mountains suggests a new phase in Thisquietarmy's extensive catalog. After touring with heavyweights like Year Of No Light and Deafheaven, Eric Quach wanted to turn up the intensity. He shattered the traditional isolation of TQA's somnolent soundscapes, to enlist members of Alashan, Northumbria and Monarch. It's some of his most pummeling work to date.
Portland's MusicfestNW has always had one of the more diverse festival lineups around. A large part of that is because -- rather than jamming thousands upon thousands of people asses to elbows in a huge field on some farm somewhere -- MusicfestNW puts the action into venues scattered around Portland, setting the population loose. It is less of a festival and more a set of well-curated shows that all just happen to take place on the same weekend. Accordingly, I skipped around town to see multiple acts, my favorite of which were Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Roseland Theatre, Mount Eerie at Aladdin Theatre, and Frank Fairfield at Bunk Bar.

Mount Eerie

Mount EerieThere are few constants in life, but one thing that can usually be relied upon is that every Mount Eerie performance is going to be different from the last. At this year's MusicfestNW that may or may not have been the case considering Mount Eerie opened for Bonnie Prince Billy two nights in a row at Aladdin Theater -- but if you caught one of those sets, it was probably quite a different affair from the last time you saw Phil Elverum perform. Elverum is an adaptable performer. Aladdin Theatre is a sit-down venue, and a Bonnie "Prince" Billy show necessitates a fairly muted and low-key scene. Sure, the sold-out crowd was buzzing, but they were buzzing about as much as you can for a headliner that plays Americana and folk. Mount Eerie's performance switched to match that feeling in the air. On stage, it was just Elverum with an acoustic guitar flanked by two female singers, singing backup vocals and doing verbal renditions of some of the instruments on his songs. It was a change from sometimes noisy and fairly abrasive solo shows. The chatter overheard afterwards ranged from people wondering who the hell Mount Eerie was to those wondering what the hell Mount Eerie was doing. It was an odd set from Elverum for sure, but a bold one, and one that he hit right on the button. Sometimes -- especially with Mount Eerie's recent sounds -- it's easy to forget how soft Elverum's music is at times (see: “Through The Trees", below). This particular performance was one that seemed a little bit out of left field, but it was one that worked as well if you appreciate the variety of Elverum's music. Editor's Note: We should probably also mention his upcoming November 2013 LP, the ironically-titled Pre-Human Ideas, which features auto-tuned versions of songs from his recent LPs. Yeah. Seriously.
After their Earth Tour of 45 countries in 90 days, you might think the members of Horse the Band would loathe each other to the point of disbanding. After such a frenetic pace of travel, the close quarters of their interactions, and the meager financial compensation paid to them, what incentive is there to endure? To enact the Kauffman-esque humiliation upon their audience they are known for: that is the incentive. And now here in 2013, absent record label and foregoing a new album since 2009, Horse gladly take on bonus levels for touring outside of the US. It has become increasingly clear: American audiences no longer excite Horse, and our incessant need for retro gaming nostalgia is exactly what drove them to other shores. We could have been a bit more appreciative that they didn't always write lyrics about video games, and from our folly, Europe has capitalized. Along for this particular tour is UK band Rolo Tomassi, past tourmates of Horse who also call themselves admirers of the band. When asked about watching Horse address the audience on tour, keyboardist James Spence sums it up in a very apt description, joking that they are "a mixture of entertaining and terrifying." "Having spent a fair amount of time around them offstage," he continues, "it starts to make way more sense. I appreciate their honesty and that they're unafraid to be themselves at all times." The tour's Berlin date meant a brief homecoming before departing to Russia for Horse's Lord Gold (Erik Engstrom), who now calls Berlin home base. It would also be the end of the road for Rolo Tomassi, whose upcoming tour schedule has them visiting Japan and Australia this fall. Between the matched amount of enthusiasm for animated keyboard playing between both bands and Horse's outlandish hilarity, the show at Berlin's Magnet made evident that Horse's fun on tour is exponentially higher when not playing at home.
August 12th, 2013 @ Magnet in Berlin, Germany PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSH CONNOLLY (ROLO TOMASSI) AND MATT CARTER (HORSE THE BAND)