Monday, December 26, 2011

The Seven Mile Journey's Notes for the Synthesis

The best album of 2011.

This is easily the best post-rock release since Sigur Rós' last album in 2008. It's as close to perfect post-rock as you'll get from any band not named Godspeed You! Black Emperor or A Silver Mt. Zion, and without a doubt, it's my favorite album of 2011. I can't say how many times I've listened to it. It's done more for me emotionally than any album in a long time. And part of that's due to the environments I listened to some of these songs in. Not only has this album been played more than tany other album in 2011, it's been played during some of my most special moments of 2011.

Notes for the Synthesis pretty much covers the entire emotional spectrum except for joy and happiness. "Departures" starts off as a painfully depressing intro which evolves directly into "Alter Ego Autopsies," which is, from a musical standpoint, the most accomplished track on the album. It represents, over the course of twenty minutes, neurosis, psychosis, mental instability, and a mind that's trying to come to terms with its insanity. It's twenty minutes of structural magnificence, starting out as sounding like something horrific and extremely unsettling, before finally building into something a little more stable. It's just a giant of a song - right up there with some of the more powerful works of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (which I really don't say lightly). "Simplicity Has A Paradox" represents a juxtaposition of desolation and self-preservation. "Transits" might be the most poignant track on the album, which is a piano-led passage of introspection, nostalgia, and something we all fear at some point in our lives... "moving on." "The Etiology Diaries" is kind of an extension to "Transits," signifying the passage of time, reliance of the self, and fortitude. It's super impressive how seamlessly the songs fade into each other.

It should be noted that The Seven Mile Journey limits themselves instrumentally to bass, drums, guitars, and an occasional keyboard. That's an automatic red flag to me. It tells me, like any other record featuring these instruments would tell me, it has the potential to be great, but also a handicap in that it lacks that extra element that could push it over the edge. No horns, no violins, no strings, etc., means almost invariably an inability to compete with bands who've mastered the usage of these instruments with their music. This isn't the case with The Seven Mile Journey, which is a further testament to their artisanship. They don't need that extra element to distinguish themselves from other post-rock bands.

"Transits" -> "The Etiology Diaries" is the most powerful sequence on the album. It's difficult to explain in terms of technicality, but the way the songs move forward is just exceptionally impressive. It's so subtle at times, yet noticeable. At one point in "The Etiology Diaries" I feel like I'm completely unstable emotionally. Like I'm going to lose it. I think music that has an effect of this magnitude on the listener is truly something special.

Overall, this album paints a hauntingly beautiful picture. It's full of climaxes, build-ups, twists, colossal arrangements, juxtapositions, and different sounds that are layered perfectly to mesh together. I don't know how to better explain it. It's just a colossal piece of work. It manages to build suspense and momentum over very long periods of time. This band's career spans over a decade, and this is only the third album they've released. This makes one thing clear... they like to breathe. They aren't in it for the quick kill. And this definitely comes across in their sound. It's the product of a lot of time and a lot of patience. Popular post-rock releases of the year like 'Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will' by Mogwai and 'Take Care, Take Care, Take Care' by Explosions in the Sky are pale in comparison to this masterpiece. Any fan of post-rock who hasn't heard this is missing out not only on the best of 2011, but one of the genre's best ever.

HIGHLIGHTS: "The Alter Ego Autopsies," "Simplicity Has a Paradox," "Transits," "The Etiology Diaries"

Originally written for my 2011 End-of-Year List on

*shels' Plains of the Purple Buffalo

The second best album of 2011.  

It should be known that the last time my #1 and #2 albums of the year would've been post-rock records, had I been making these lists, was 2000. That would have been Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven and A Silver Mt. Zion's He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms… The first being a contender for the greatest album of all time and the second being a top 10 album of all time. My #1 and #2 this year aren't close to that caliber, but they're absolutely excellent albums.

Plains of the Purple Buffalo is a massive, mind-altering, journey that shows how far post-rock/metal can branch off if artists are willing to venture past the confines of the conventional second wave post-rock rut. This album isn't characterized or limited by a single formula. It's melodic, it's intense, it's beautiful, it's soft, it's heavy, it's aggressive, it's enthralling, and it succeeds brilliantly in painting a picture much like the album title and cover art suggest. I probably shouldn't juxtapose with Alcest, but the sound of this album gives the impression it was an "inspiration," much in the same sense Neige claimed Écailles De Lune was an inspiration he acquired after experiencing in a dream a vision of a world where music was ethereal and sounded nothing like the music of our world. But this album does give off some of that ethereal ambiance vibe we got with Écailles De Lune, but in a very different way. One way, of which I'm sure, is the brass. Beautiful brass segments are woven in amongst some of the tracks, as are choral arrangements, both of which result in brilliant atmospherics. One might call this record "easy listening." It's like the air conditioning inside your house that greets you after you've been out in the hundred degree heat all day. "Searching For Zihuatanejo," "Vision Quest," and "Butterflies on Lucy's Way," three of the best tracks on the album, are completely therapeutic. While that's true for a lot of this album, it's not true for all of it though. Some parts of this record are just downright difficult to listen to. One example being the opening track, "Journey to the Plains." Others being (parts of) "Crown of Eagle Feathers" and "Bastien's Angels." All are considerably heavy for post-rock songs. 

Plains of the Purple Buffalo on clear purple vinyl, spinning
on my turntable

Few records can remain captivating and stimulating for a complete 75 minutes. Every track here has something different to offer... something different than the track before it or after it. This album is a journey across a land very different than our own. 

HIGHLIGHTS: "Plains of the Purple Buffalo - Part 2," "Searching For Zihuatanejo," "Vision Quest," "Butterflies on Lucy's Way,"

Originally written for my 2011 End-of-Year List on

Loss' Despond

Pain is something dreaded by nearly every human being. We do all we can to avoid it and forget it and remove it from our lives. We do everything possible to exist without it, yet, ultimately, it's something humanity will never rid itself of. Loss' debut embodies the notion that, as Carl Jung would say, pain is ever present, and as much a part of life as the dance of shadow and light, and that it's something we hate, deny, and fear in ourselves. Loss has just chosen to deal with it and express it. To quote the band, "Life isn't worth living 99% of the time," and that's what Loss tries to convey with their music. And they've succeeded to an impressive extent. The despair this band projects is so authentic it's scary. It's the work of musicians who've truly been there. And it's this that makes it so genuine.

Doom metal has grown on me a lot this past year. A large percentage of albums on this list have been doom albums of some sort or another. But this one is truly exceptional. Despond is one of the most emotionally stirring albums of the year, and the only album even close to expressing such deep depression and misanthropy that burns its way to the heart of the psyche. Novembers Doom, Tombs, The Atlas Moth, etc., have all released doom albums hailed by many metal critics as the best of the year. None of those compare to this. In 2004 Loss released a demo, Life Without Hope...Death Without Reason, which spread fast and caused quite a buzz in the underground. Seven years later, Loss debuts their first album, Despond. Two of the tracks on this album are actually re-recordings of two of the tracks on the demo. These include "Conceptual Funeralism Unto the Final Act (of Being)," and "Cut Up, Depressed And Alone."

This album features ultra heavy bass and guitars, and sparse but steady drums. It's slow, it's melodic, it's tormented. The vocals are anguishing. "Silent and Completely Overcome" features guest vocalist Brett Campbell, from Pallbearer (who's set to release a debut in January), who provides the only clean vocals on the album, and man, they're fantastic. This track is my favorite on the album. "I do not remember depression such as this" will echo in your mind long after it's over. This song also features a brief intermittent section of black metal at 6:10 (when the tempo actually peaks above a crawl) before converting back to megadoom at 6:38, when a crushingly heavy and painfully slow riff finishes out the song. Loss doesn't only include elements of death into their doom, but black as well. The atmosphere throughout the whole thing is super intense.

There are piano-led interludes ("Despond"), which add to the gothic sound of the album. "The Irreparable Act" closes the album with clean guitars, synthesizers, and a monologue in a manner that, despite the lack of heaviness, is just as haunting and depressing as the rest of the album. There's strange eerie guitar work (such as what we hear at 0:35 in "An Ill Body Seats my Sinking Sight" and what we hear at 0:03 in "Silent and Completely Overcome"). One of the most impressive aspects of this album is the way each song is distinguishable. Each song is recognizable. You can tell one song from another. There's very little "meandering," which just isn't the case with 95% of funeral doom. Creating a funeral doom album that's a truly memorable complete body of work isn't an easy task. Loss has done it. This is the metal album of the year. 

HIGHLIGHTS: "Open Veins to a Curtain Closed," "Cut up Depressed and Alone," "Conceptual Funeralism Unto The Final Act (Of Being)," "Silent and Completely Overcome,"
"The Irreparable Act"

The band stated in an interview that they won't stop writing music until they've created the perfect funeral doom atmosphere. And they made it sound like this album is basically just a preliminary glimpse of what's to come. That aside, I have a hard time believing they'll ever top this record. 

Originally written for my 2011 End-of-Year List on