The Star Pillow - All Is Quiet
The Star Pillow – All is Quiet. Paradigms Recordings, 2014.

The Star Pillow is Italian Ambient-Drone artist Paolo Monti, and I really can’t tell you much more about the band because the press release is in Italian. That’s OK, though, because in a way, I like the idea of listening to their latest release, All is Quiet, without any sort of context.

So, what is The Star Pillow? Well, when track 1, “no more beige sundays” began, I though, “Oh, this is just your standard, minimalist post-rock.” There’s a calming, high-register guitar riff repeating through the track’s 3 minutes, and not much else, but it’s pleasant, and it’s the kind of thing I listen to lately. Then, the second track, trap for freaks” begins.

From this point in the album, the post-rock guitar pulls back, and that droning feedback/bow/whatever-else Monti is using to create that bassy hum joins in. The rest of the album’s nearly 50 minutes sound like that: sparse post-rock-style guitars in the background playing bright, hopeful tones while the drone becomes more and more ominous. The dichotomy is striking, and while it does paint the usual musical soundscapes that I normally describe when talking about post-rock, it definitely makes me feel some kind of way, and I am totally down with it.

By track 4, “equestrian,” the hum has completely taken over. There’s a sort of melody, a sort of pattern to the hum, but it feels so wide, so open, with no real sonic landmarks, or even percussion, to denote movement through the song. Instead of moving forward, I felt like I was floating though the song, letting the sonic tides rock me gently back and forth.

The final two tracks, “we were all going to die” and “still together against the great darkness” are the most ominous, as the low, bassy drone slowly gets louder and higher before coming to a climactic wall of sound.

The Star Pillow’s All is Quiet is moody, atmospheric, and dream-like, and manages to pull of a sense of foreboding without getting loud or confrontational.

All is Quiet is available from Taverna Records’ bandcamp page, or on limited-edition vinyl though Paradigm Recordings.

3/5 stars

-jason

Belle and Sebastian Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. Matador, 2015.

I’m going to be that guy: I love Belle and Sebastian’s old stuff. Tigermilk is a great debut album, and If You’re Feeling Sinister is perfect. The EPs they released back in the late 90s up through th eearly aughts proved that while the band may have been a one-trick (disenchanted) pony, that was a damn fine trick.

By the time of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, the sheen was beginning to wear off, and the bands weaknesses were showing: when they stuck with the twee stuff, they began to repeat themselves, talking mainly about high school and puppy love. When they tries to venture out and do something different, it seemed flat and not up to the standard of the old stuff.

Which brings us to Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, an album that I really want to love. Some tracks, such as “Ever Have a Little Faith” and “Cat with the Cream,” sound like they could have come from one of those early EPs. There’s a certain maturity in these songs, but it sounds like what one might assume the band that recorded “Century of Fakers” might grow into.

However, much of the album trades chamber pop for synth pop, and it just doesn’t really work. Even the synth track that is closest to the early stuff, “Play for Today,” which reminds me a bit of “Electronic Renaissance” off of Tigermilk (my least favorite track from their first album), just seems like a chamber pop band trying to be a synth pop band.

All of this said, it’s not necessarily a bad album. I found myself bouncing along with “The Book of You,” and though much of the album seemed kind of awkward, it was certainly better than 2010’s Write About Love, and at least more coherent than Dear Catastrophe Waitress. In fact, given a few more listens, I’m sure I’d rank Girls in Peacetime somewhere in the middle of their catalog. It’s not an outstanding album, but it’s not a disaster either.

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance comes out on Matador Records on January 20th.
2.5/5 stars

-jason

Nomads - When Those Around Us Leave
Nomads – When Those Around Us Leave. Self-released, 2015.

My favorite kind of post-rock is the kind that has a sort of narrative flow, that creates a setting and guides the listener through it. Nomads’ When Those Around Us Leave does this, but it goes one step further by actually having a written story, complete with time prompts, to let the listener in on what is going on.

The story of the album, about a young man whose strained relationship with his dying father is later replayed with his relationship with his own son, matches well with the album itself: moments of bleak sadness give way to brief glimpses of hope. The minimalist opening track, “Amidst,” is very cold and distant, while the next track, “Sunset on the Range,” strangely enough, sounds like a sunrise: warm and filled with promise. The short story matches with this as the main character, Nicholson, wakes up on a train heading back to his home town and looks out the window as the rays of sunrise warm him. Later in the album, on the title track, bleak minimalism shifts to a melancholy wall of sound as the narrator watches his father die in the hospital.

This isn’t to say that the album requires the short story in order to enjoy it, and while the story does kind of rely on the music to support it, it still works on its own. However, the story proves that the various moods Nomads evoke on the album were exactly what they were going for. Each movement on each track corresponds to an event and an emotion in the story, and they match up perfectly.

I’ve been listening to this one while walking to work in the currently snow-covered Cleveland (where the band also hails from), and much of this album also sounds like a soundtrack for that walk: stark, cold, but with moments of sunshine to cut through the chill. The whole album’s great, but my favorite tracks are the acoustic-guitar-centric “Walking by Lamplight” and “In the Fields of Light,” which takes the listener though a range of emotions.

Nomads’ When Those Around Us Leave is nearly perfect both as a mixed-media concept album and as a soundtrack for the winter.

You can get When Those Around Us Leave for free (complete with the PDF short story) from the band’s bandcamp page.

4/5 stars

-jason

Mike Pace Best Boy
Mike Pace and the Child Actors – Best Boy. Self-Starter Foundation, 2015.

Mike Pace and the Child Actors’ Best Boy tells the story of a guy who is on the cusp of growing up and is realizing that the ideal life he dreamed of is just a dream. The opening track, “Up the Academy,” starts with a piano riff that sounds cheerful enough, though the lyrics betray a sense of dread. Pace sings:

And we hope and we pray
Like we did yesterday
That everything’s gonna be fine
But we’re slipping like a wristwatch
that’s barely keeping time

He has built a life, but he just can’t seem to hold it together. This idea seems to be Pace’s thing – crafting songs full of hope and worry. In the bouncy, catchy “King of Corona”, which the press kit compares to an off-Broadway musical number, he sings:

The water’s rising and I’m going under
Goodbye, Rosie, and the boys of summer
And on the off chance that I off myself
Would you put my things away?

Of course, no where in this song (or on the album) do you think he’s seriously contemplating suicide. The dread here is more neurotic than a sign of actual depression. Pace’s Narrator (or is it just Pace? Are these songs autobiography or fiction? Or somewhere between?) is full of insecurities and fears of rejection, but you get the feeling thought the music that everything’s going to be relatively alright, even if he does have to compromise some things.

The result is an album that is very poppy, at times even veering into dance pop and pop-punk territory, yet remaining surprisingly mature. It’s grown-up music for former indie kids, adult without being adult-contemporary.

The stand-out tracks are the two aformentioned ones, as well as “Fire Sale.” I’m personally a fan of the surprisingly ambient title track, which almost feels out of place on the album but right at home in my music collection.

Best Boy is a triumphant return to music from the former Oxford Collapse frontman, and hopefully it won’t be another six years for him to release another album.

Best Boy will be available January 13, 2015, from the Self-Starter Foundation

-jason

3.5/5 stars

Spiricom - Songs for a Summer Séance
Spiricom – Songs for a Summer Séance. Skean Dhu Recordings, 2014.

This must be my week for non-conventional post-rock.

Another album that came out during my hiatus from To Eleven that I wish I had caught on to when it was released back in October is Spiricom’s Songs for a Summer Séance. Spiricom are a two-piece post-rock band out of Ohio (In fact, lead guitarist Mark Cody grew up a few miles from where I did, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I found out we’ve run into each other). The band is named after a machine that was built in the 80s that would allow the user to talk to the dead, which is thematically appropriate for Séance.

The first track, “Voices in the vortex,” opens with all sorts of weird, ghostly noises as the guitar and drums slowly rise and build over the 1st minute and a half before launching into more familiar rock territory. Notes echo and get lost in the wall of sound, much like, I imagine, spirits trying to get though on the actual spiricom might. It’s style = substance here, and it works.

Track two, “identify the moved objects” starts with static, and again, this is fitting. Spiricom are letting the soundscape tell a story: something inaudible is whispered in a loop behind the guitars, or am I imagining it? Am I hearing things? Of course, this is the effect Spiricom is going for.

“Watching the spirits leave,” the next track, relies more heavily on the synthesized droning and ghostly whispers, accenting them with a minimalist guitar melody. Of the Eps four tracks, this is the quietest, most serene one, but it is not without some sense of foreboding.

Track four, “Song for a summer seance,” brings all these elements together in its 15 minutes and 38 seconds. It is perhaps the most post-rock song on the album, with shades of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, especially in the track’s last 7 minutes.

Overall, Spiricom manage to create some pretty good post-rock without sounding like another paint-by-numbers Red Sparowes tribute band. Anytime anyone can do that, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Songs for a Summer Séance, as well as Spiricom’s first release, Opening the Portal, are available on iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and Google Play. You can check out the band’s website HERE.

-jason