Florist | If Blue Could Be Happiness | Double Double Whammy

Florist
If Blue Could Be Happiness

Double Double Whammy
Street: 9.29
Florist = Mount Eerie + Georgia Hubley + Diane Cluck 

It would be impossible to listen to all of the albums released in 2016, but I do not think it would be far-fetched to categorize Florist’s first full-length The Birds Outside Sang, put out that year, among the most vulnerable and honest albums released. Without waxing poetic, I’d stretch further to honestly suggest it as being one of the most heartfelt and introspective period of songs ever penned and pressed to vinyl.

If Blue Could Be Happiness has more in common with Florist’s Holdly EP than their following debut album The Birds Outside Sang. Gone are the lo-fi textures and bedroom-synth timbres heard on The Birds, instead returning to the pensive, living room folk-tinged laments heard on Holdly and their first few collection of songs.

While The Birds Outside Sang was a cathartic recollection of a long and vexing healing process, If Blue is a brilliant reflection on the everyday tinge of ennui and how it affects someone. With the rare delicacy and honesty you see in other singer/songwriters like Diane Cluck and Liz Harris, this collection of songs could as easily bring you to tears, buckling under the anxiety of existence, as easily as it could bring you to announcing acceptance and unconditional love for the puzzle that is life as well as random and lucky consciousness.

“In a dream I saw a light that was very far away / It hovered over miles of the darkest sea I’ve ever seen,” begins the album after a short surge of lo-fi noise-ramblings, before a gently plucked  acoustic guitar enters, setting the mood for a very thematic and introspective album. “Don’t be afraid is what I’ve always said / But I am afraid, I’ve always been afraid,” singer Emily Sprague states, their lyrical prose already beginning to set the mood for a meek and humble dialog.

The album is scattered with references to the color blue, encompassing its spectrum, the myriad of songs within covering such feelings as nostalgia and sadness to aching hope and curiosity. The question posed in the album’s title shifts the scope of “feeling blue” to a type of resigned, natural outlook on life and happiness, with singer Sprague asking “I never asked to be here at all / So why do I have to face the fear of losing it?,” their voice just as inquisitive as it is acquiescent. “The air is light blue today,” they repeat gently on the second track, “What I Wanted to Hold,” giving weight to a wish they’re sending the universe. Sprague poses the question of why blue is associated with sadness instead of meaning a tiny fire in the dark and a resigned acceptance of life-as-it-is instead, recounting a shift in dynamic, posing the thought to themselves of “If blue could be happiness / Then that’s all I’ve known.”

The last track, “Red Bird,” brings back earlier themes of fear and uncertainty as Sprague recounts memories, perhaps of childhood and relating to a parent, asking, “And if I was afraid / you told me not to be / but were you afraid?” In closing, this track delicately ties together the entire album in a tidy package sealed with a light blue string.

If Blue is a soft and light, yet meditative album, and while it maintains the same gentle dynamic throughout, it seems to shift through a collage of feelings, one moment a feet up on the windowsill feel, and the next a staring-out-a-rainsoaked-window feel, the perfect follow-up to their beautiful debut album. –Ryan Sanford

No Sun | If Only | The Native Sound

No Sun
If Only

The Native Sound
Streets: 01.20
No Sun = My Bloody Valentine + Nothing + DIIV

The definition of the word “burrow” is: to move underneath, or press close to something in order to hide oneself or in search of comfort. If only there were more albums that did this. It’s these kinds of albums that are filled with songs that continue to burrow inside of your mind long after first impressions, growing and filling space with time, the way houseplants do.

If Only, No Sun’s debut LP, does this. If Only is a wall of sound, a blanket of pinwheel noises, its timbre sullen and sunwarped yet sometimes effervescent and airy. The album begins with a few dirty chords before a fuzz-laden guitar reaches out for you and says, “Come with me—we’ll burrow through these memories together.”

Amid the monolith of sound pouring down, there are moments of repose and longing, as heard toward the end of the album’s third track, “Warm,” when vocalist Jordon Strang’s voice shifts, singing out, “I’m not about to leave / I’m just not used to feeling.” As the album progresses, you’re greeted with more of these tired moments. The album’s eighth track, “Ache,” begins as a whimsical-sounding dream-pop number before sliding into a lull that wouldn’t sound out of place on Slowdive’s Souvlaki or Just For a Day albums. The track finally evolves again into crushing riffs, reminiscent of HUM or Cloakroom’s heaviness.

If Only ends with otherworldly bent riffs, musicianship that would bring a smile to Kevin Shields’ face. No Sun are a breath of fresh air, and If Only offers substance and honesty to a new class of shoegaze, a genre so often steeped in tradition that it begins to turn in on itself.

It’s been nearly a year since No Sun released the Warm EP and headed back into the studio to record with Andrew Goldring at Soundcave Studios. It’s been a year well spent, showing refinement and maturation as they cover more musical ground. This experience seems to allow them a sense of freedom to change without fear, just as If Only changes like the color of leaves as it moves from track to track.

If only there were more albums like If Only. It’s fitting that No Sun release this in January. It’s a brilliant soundtrack for the brunt of winter, with spring impending. –Ryan Sanford

Mount Eerie
Now Only

P.W. Elverum & Sun
Street: 03.16
Mount Eerie = Thanksgiving + Low + Smog

In 2017, Phil Elverum, the artist behind Mount Eerie (formerly The Microphones), released A Crow Looked at Me, undoubtedly one of the bravest yet most tragic albums pressed to vinyl as Elverum sought to come to terms with the death of his partner, artist and musician Geneviève Castrée, who sadly passed away in 2016 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Impermanence and the fleetingness of life have been recurring themes in Elverum’s work both as The Microphones and Mount Eerie, and with Now Only he continues this. He keeps the narrative of A Crow Looked at Me alive, but the tone has shifted from devastation to his delicate recounting of his relationship with Castrée and life since. The pain is as real as it was on A Crow, but the days have continued to pass and Elverum shares these moments with us over six pensive tracks.

“I sing to you, I sing to you, Geneviève,” laments Elverum in the opening seconds of “Tintin in Tibet,” the album’s first track, which takes its title from the children’s book by Hergé. Over fingerpicked guitars he tells of how they read the book aloud to one another in French while waiting for a boat, how they sunk into one another, “in love, totally insane.”

Elverum’s penchant for darkness re-emerges on the second track and the album’s single, “Distortion,” which begins with a crushing, distorted guitar riff that is reminiscent of an earlier Mount Eerie album, Wind’s Poem. “I know that you are gone and I’m carrying some version of you around,” Elverum sings. More acoustic guitars enter as he dolefully tells of his youth and first experiences with mortality, another recurring theme throughout his work. This time, however, it is as stark and real as ever. “I do remember when I was a kid and realized that life ends and is just over,” he continues, drawing a line from his youth to the world he now knows, brooding guitars surging in and out as the 11-minute song moves along.

The third and title track picks up where the second left off, with Elverum remembering a hospital waiting room, scanning the faces of the other people there before he shifts into a sing-song lamentation: “But people get cancer die … people just living their lives get erased for no reason,” going on to tell how the rest of us search for ways to “feel lucky to still be alive, to sleep through the night.”

“Earth,” the fourth track, begins as if it’s going to be another upbeat tune in tone before it quickly turns dour, Elverum presenting the moments of having to live while others do not as realistically as must be the sway of emotions in that situation.

Now Only ends with “Crow, Pt.2,” which more than any track on the album is a continuation of the healing process Elverum has described to us. “The baby that you knew is now a kid and when she looks at me with your eyes / The shape of almonds / I am stirred inside and re-emerge,” he sings, gently commemorating his late partner, gravely observing new patterns of life over nylon strings, one of Elverum’s most touching and humbling songs to date.

This is what the aftermath of what real death sounds like after having passed through Elverum’s home, a gentle and touching remembrance to the life and creativity of that which left him. The music of Mount Eerie has always been highly personal and intrinsic, with Now Only acting as a cathartic and therapeutic follower to A Crow Looked at Me. –Ryan Sanford

Snail Mail | Lush | Matador Records

Snail Mail
Lush

Matador Records
Street: 6.08
Snail Mail = Frankie Cosmos + The Raincoats + Flying Nun Records

In the summer of 2016, singer/songwriter Lindsey Jordan, then aged just 17, released the EP Habit, a handful of sparse, sometimes jangly, ofttimes forlorn tracks under the moniker Snail Mail. Between 2016 and 2017, Habit was in constant rotation in my tape player, its six tracks growing on me with each listen. I kept praying, please, don’t break up, please let there be a follow-up. The space between 2016 and 2017 was dreary and awful for a lot of us, and Habit quickly became one of the only things I could turn to when I needed to draw my mind away from everything. At the time it just felt so perfect. Fast-forward one calendar year and my feelings are the same, but I’ve been left wanting more.

This month, Snail Mail return with their first full-length album, Lush, having signed with the legendary Matador Records. Jordan is joined by bassist Alex Bass and drummer Ray Brown. From what we heard on Habit, Jordan’s songwriting showed a natural propensity for both blissful, poppy tunes and scant, introspective numbers, and just as Habit lent favor toward the latter, Lush does the same in Jordan’s now-familiar pragmatic, casual and languid manner.

After a brief, ingénue intro track, the album’s first single, “Pristine,” comes into focus, Jordan’s steady voice accompanying the rhythm section as she moves deftly between chords, tranquil as she laments, “And if you do find someone better / I’ll still see you in everything tomorrow / and all the time.” This mood and subject matter is one comforting certainty that Snail Mail offers us. “Don’t you like me for me? Is there any better feeling than coming clean?” she continues, the album’s lyrical content staying humble and vulnerable, never waxing poetic or overwrought.

“Heat Wave,” Lush’s fourth track, begins in somber fashion with Jordan sorrowfully singing, “Woke up in my clothes / Having dreamt of you,” before an almost Nels Cline–sounding fuzzy lead breaks through the fog and the track finds its tempo. “And I hope that the love that you find / Swallows you wholly / Like you said it might,” she sings defiantly, but with an air of acceptance, before ending with the words “I’m feeling low / I’m not into sometimes.” Such sparse and real lyrics checker the album, making Lush instantly relatable and accessible, with Jordan seemingly keeping no cards hidden, but delivering experiences in a subtle and spare manner.

Lush’s fifth track, “Stick,” is the only song carried over from the album’s two preceding EPs, and is revisioned simply and beautifully. Lush treads the same ground as Snail Mail’s Habit and Sticki EPs, but was produced and recorded perfectly. Where most artists would naively opt for overproduction and enhanced theatrics after signing with such a large and prolific label, Snail Mail instead retain their unique voice and character. Jordan’s voice is brought foremost into the mix while her guitar, sometimes swirling and other times pensive, sits just below with the rhythm section, tastefully threaded as the backdrop for the album’s 10 tracks.

“Golden Dream,” the seventh track, begins with the promise of another bedroom pop masterpiece much akin to “Pristine,” but is broken up sporadically with a whirling chorus before ending abruptly at the track’s climax. The following tracks follow familiar patterns: A mix of upbeat pop numbers delicately mixed with slower, cathartic songs.

Juxtaposing the halcyon of summer and easier times against uncertainty, resignation and the ennui of a lackluster life in the doldrums of an American expanse, Lush is a striking overture and a completely honest collection of songs, the sort of songs that continue to grow over time, like the leaves on trees that eventually offer shade from the overhead sun, a welcome repose to the glaringly bright episodes we have in life. –Ryan Sanford

King Woman | Created in the Image of Suffering | Relapse Records

King Woman
Created in the Image of Suffering

Relapse Records
Street: 02.24
King Woman = Whirr + SubRosa + Royal Thunder

Sometimes, it’s quite clear that music is a chemistry. Just as with screenwriting, you have your tropes. You take a few clichés and throw them into a screenplay and it works. Sometimes.

Take a group of people who all contribute something that, should work on paper: deep female vocals, Orange amps, gated fuzz; and heavy drumming. In this case, take the Bay Area’s King Woman. They make this formula work, and to their credit, it comes across as honest and true.

Kristina Esfandiari fronts King Woman, is formerly of the shoegaze outfit Whirr and who also releases albums under the moniker Miserable. Created in the Image of Suffering is the band’s full-length debut since they signed to Relapse Records earlier this year. Originally formed in 2009 as a solo project of Esfandiari, she eventually added three other members, rounding out the group. To follow up on their previous EP, Doubt, they entered the studio with sound engineer Jack Shirley (who famously recorded Deafheaven‘s iconic Sunbather album), after a much-maligned tour with Virginia’s seminal doom outfit Pentagram and Wax Idols.

In the past, King Woman has been likened to Mazzy Star and shoegaze, but you don’t hear much of that on Created in — especially the former reference. Instead, you get wave after wave of crushing riffs, endless gloom, moping and a very dark offering to a style of music that all too often drapes itself in the shadows.

At times, the album feels a bit tedious, grudgingly dragging itself along with drop-tuned, fuzz-heavy riff after riff, and with Esfandiari’s breathy vocals never letting up, the instrumentation never properly bleeds through. The monotony lets up in the middle of the album with the oppressively solemn track “Hierophant,” which, in turn, gives way to a brief moment of repose in the track “Worn.”

Though albums are ofttimes intended to be listened to front to back, Created ins closing track, “Hem,” perhaps sums up the entire album perfectly and would serve as a perfect introduction to what King Woman are capable of writing. “Hem” gives us the best glimpse of what King Woman have built up to with this album, exploring more sonic landscape than the entirety of the album, offering moments of quietude and repose before burying itself in sludge with Esfandiari’s weighted yet bleak vocals ringing out through the darkness.

Fans of sludge, doom and even shoegaze will like this. Created in offers something different to a vein of music rapidly growing in this day and age as more and more people put away their acoustic guitars and loop pedals and surround themselves with orange amps orange. It’s an album that is almost relentless in its suffering with its production offering a certain varnish that complements Esfandiari’s hopeless crooning and the crushing drums, guitar and bass that endlessly seek to obfuscate. One can’t help but feel that Created in is an album full of wanton suffering. An album that asks questions expecting dreadful answers, an album that defines a period of frustration and exhaustion. Created in is a fine effort by any account, and King Woman can only grow from this in the future. –Ryan Sanford

Cupidcome | Sweet Heart | Self-Released

Cupidcome
Sweet Heart

Self-Released
Street: 01.10
Cupidcome = Skywave + Love Spirals Downwards + Cranes 

Cupidcome’s first EP, Sweet Heart, is a great addition to Salt Lake City’s growing shoegaze and dream-pop family. Showing refinement and growth from their earlier released demos, Sweet Heart’s only real weakness is that it’s a mere three tracks long.

They don’t appear to put too much weight into their namesake, perhaps the most legendary band of the shoegaze genre, My Bloody Valentine. They treat it more as an homage than a roadmap as their sound is very original and not a recreation of the otherworldly riffs Kevin Shields pushed out between the Isn’t Anything and Loveless albums. Instead, their sound comes across as heavily steeped in dream pop and, at times, goth rock—with a good dose of psychedelia. 

Sweet Heart‘s lo-fi recording serves it well, obscuring the fact that Cupidcome are a five-piece band. Subtly shifting between male/female vocals, with driven bass lines, eerie guitars and reverb-laden drums, Sweet Heart at times conjure scenes of The Cure‘s “A Forest” and at other times sounds like the lovechild of Film School and Cranes under the guidance of Oliver Ackermann. There’s not really a band in Salt Lake City doing exactly what Cupidcome are doing, and there’s nothing here that would disenfranchise any fans of this style of music, as broad as it is.

It’s hard to exactly define a band like this. The opening title track shifts rapidly between moments of anguish and declaration. At first, the warped guitar sound gives off the illusion of a psychedelic trip before a Simon Gallup–esque bass line takes charge, broken up briefly by staccato drums accompanied by tambourine crashes, before the bent, driven guitars churn out a steady riff. While this might sound dark and brooding in typical darkwave fashion, the second track, “Electrick,” shows that perhaps it’s more appropriate to label this as an entry into magic realism as opposed to something with intentional gothic leanings.

The highlight of the release, and in my eyes perhaps its most promising, is the third track, “Out Cool,” which is a mixture of yearning, bellowing and perseverance. Toward the end, its lo-fi quality pays the song favors, offering shadowy obscurement to the aching vocals, modulated guitars and steady drums. At nearly seven minutes, it’s a shame “Out Cool” isn’t twice as long, and I’d say the same thing about the release. Sweet Heart is a sign of good things to come. –Ryan Sanford

The National | Sleep Well Beast | 4AD

The National
Sleep Well Beast

4AD
Street: 09.08
The National = The Afghan Whigs + Morphine + Leonard Cohen

Sleep Well Beast, the newest offering from Cincinnati natives The National, sees them return to some of the themes and sounds explored on their last release, Trouble Will Find Me. While still draped in the same demeanor and mood they have established over the past half-decade, they return to some moments that remind us of albums Alligator and Boxer.

Produced by guitar players and brothers Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner at Aaron’s studio, Long Pond, in New York, Sleep Well Beast is a bit less granular as a finished product than past albums but still follows suit as an entry into their catalog of rain-soaked ballads. Dealing with topics of yearning, separation and uncertainty, singer Matt Berninger co-wrote this collection of songs with wife Carin Besser.

The album opens as you would expect it to: dark, cryptic and somber without being maudlin. There’s little sunshine here, and it seems that moving to Los Angeles from New York City has changed little of vocalist Berninger’s tune, as he quietly laments, “Can you remind me the building you live in? / I’m on my way / It’s cold again, but New York’s gorgeous / It’s a subway day.” This juxtaposition of cold yet quietly gorgeous is synonymous with the band.

But Berninger’s move hasn’t changed much for the still-Brooklyn-based band, even as The National’s rhythm section (brothers Bryan Devendorf and Scott Devendorf) have been playing in the band LNZNDRF. We hear the brothers providing a steady yet winding rhythm in the opening moments of the album’s second track, “Day I Die,” with Aaron’s (dare I say) The Edge–esque, delay-tinged and overdriven guitar tone laying a stormy lead over Bryce’s rhythm.

“The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” the album’s fourth track, features what is perhaps the first guitar solo in the band’s 18-year history. It seems immediately out of place on the album before giving way to a humdrum chorus of, “I can’t explain it any other way.”

Track 5, “Born to Beg,” calls forth more New York ghosts, with Berninger singing, “New York is older / Changing its skin again / It dies every 10 years / Then it begins again,” while Track 6, ”Turtleneck,” is a furrow into a livelier and, at this point in time, an almost out-of-character tune, with a Jamie Hince–meets–Marc Ribot lead guitar squealing in the background, while Berninger’s tenor-baritone echoes Nick Cave. The track is about as upbeat as we’ve heard since Alligator’s “Lit Up” and “Mr. November.”

The album’s tempo slows and brings us back to what we’ve come to know from The National. The track “Empire Line” features a synthesized piano reminiscent of The AntlersHospice, with Berninger yearning, “Can’t you find the way? You are in this, too,” almost accompanying the album’s 10th track, “Carin at the Liquor Store,” which may be the first time Berninger has directly referred to his wife outside of the track “Karen.” It shows us that though the two may be happily married, they’re not immune to the struggles that accompany a relationship.

It’s hard to say if Sleep Well Beast is among their best work to date, and it’s difficult to gauge the band’s growth. From the beginning, the songwriting has been mature and full of introspection. Sleep Well Beast leaves me wondering if The National will ever, finally, record the album we look back on and without question herald as their masterpiece. This may not be that album, but it fits perfectly into their catalog and shows that while things have changed, they still have cohesion and the tired brilliance that has sustained them for so long. –Ryan Sanford

Cloakroom – Time Well

Cloakroom
Time Well

Relapse Records
Street: 08.18
Cloakroom = HUM + Failure + Magnolia Electric Co.

Time Well, the sophomore album from the Region-hailing Cloakroom, showcases a sublime mix of sludge and shoegaze, and is a continuation of the territory they explored on their first album, 2015’s Further Out. Having recently moved from Run For Cover Records to Relapse Records, a label perhaps better known for its metal acts, Cloakroom partnered with producer and ex-HUM frontman Matt Talbott again, with whom they recorded their Lossed Over 7” with, and whose studio, Earth Analog, they used to record Further Out at.

You faintly notice guitar player and singer Doyle Martin and bass player Bobby Markos‘ meek use of effects, every part blending perfectly with drummer Brian Busch‘s steady, hefty percussion as it all moves together seamlessly into a soft luster. You hear this on heavier, more grinding tracks such as the third one, “Concrete Gallery,” a plowing, fiery chantey that corrugates into “Seedless Star,” Time Well‘s fourth track. It’s just as heavy as the tune preceding it, but drifts into a spacey yet quizzical outro that gives way to a solo piano piece, a somber type of exit the band has a penchant for, as heard on “Bending” from 2013’s Infinity EP.

While the album bends beneath the weight of Martin’s riffs, accentuated by his Russian Big Muff, there are lull periods on the album, such as “Hymnal,” the album’s sixth track, which marks a distinct turning point in the album, a pastoral and reverent entry, sounding like early Low if they had been raised on a steady diet of Earth just as much as they had Sunday school hymns.

“The Sun Won’t Let Us Go” invokes the ghost of Jason Molina, Martin’s voice dry and wistful, and is perhaps the prettiest Cloakroom have found themselves at as Martin croons, “I ask the sun to let us go.” This second half of the album is just as augur and glumly dutiful as it is a reflective drive down lonely country byways, the trio perhaps wearing the anxiety of influence on their sleeves, reflecting the feel and geography of their native Indiana, the crossroads of America.

The title track is a solemn Mark Kozelek–sounding number, coming across as undemanding and almost without difficult procedure or construction, with the drawl vocals lending themselves effortlessly to the introduction of strummed acoustic guitars atop a shimmering lead guitar. The next track, “52 Hz Whale,” plays its part in the waning moments of the album. It’s a fitting title for a track named after the world’s loneliest whale, with its glacial pace, psalmody vocals and vast guitars.

The rhythm section of Busch and Markos complements Martin perfectly, his voice draped in reverb, as he tempts brilliant glacier-esque glints of sound from his Telecaster that create huge swathes of ear-splintering noise, sometimes flowing at the same pace as a man standing idly on an escalator.

The crushing textures and aural qualities of the band’s signature sound are still intact, but Time Well shows Cloakroom becoming increasingly comfortable with their softer side, covering just as much musical ground as other dynamic bands, ranging from Codeine and Bedhead to HUM and Ride, shaking themselves free of most emo sentimentalities they might have shared with their former Run For Cover labelmates. Time Well, like its predecessor Further Out, is an honest and refreshing album, given today’s saturation of bands with shoegaze and sludge leanings, and this truthfulness in sound and approach should cement Cloakroom’s albums a place in every sonic-loving audiophile’s record collection. –Ryan Sanford

Mogwai | Every Country's Sun | Temporary Residence Limited/Rock Action Records

Mogwai
Every Country’s Sun

Temporary Residence Limited/Rock Action Records
Street: 09.01
Mogwai = Neu! + Slint + Alessandro Cortini

It’s been three years since Glasgow’s Mogwai released Raves Tapes, their last studio album. Since then, Mogwai contributed the music to BBC’s documentary Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, longtime member John Cummings departed from the group, and they co-wrote the score to Fisher StevensBefore the Flood, a documentary about climate change, Before the Flood, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Atomic solidified the band’s recent approach of minimalism-meets-jet-engine synth-rock, touring internationally in support of the film while performing its soundtrack live simultaneously.

Every Country’s Sun, the band’s ninth studio album, brims with anxiety and uncertainty in the face of today’s political and social climate, in much the same way that fellow Scots Boards of Canada‘s Tomorrow’s Harvest rode a wave of apprehension.

The album shares common ground with the Atomic soundtrack than it does Mogwai’s past releases Rave Tapes or Hardcore Will Never Die. For Every Country’s Sun, Mogwai reunited with Mercury Rev‘s Dave Fridmann (Come On Die Young, Rock Action), recording the album in New York. The album’s warm analog sounds impart a thematic, almost nostalgic feel.

Like Fugazi’s The Argument laces together a legacy, Every Country’s Sun does the same. Mogwai wrote the book on instrumental rock, and rather than reinventing the wheel, they grew, leaving behind a classic, groundbreaking catalog. While easy to lump into a banal genre such as “post-rock,” one fixated on predictable build-ups and crescendos, Mogwai instead ride on emotions and tension, continuously setting themselves apart with no equal. At times bleak or serene, and still at other times monolithic or crushing, Every Country’s Sun is what you would expect from a colossal group like Mogwai.

Beginning with “Coolverine,” a Bladerunner-esque dream-synth number, which quickly introduces drummer Martin Bulloch‘s focused, unshaken snare, giving a pulse to the album.

The second track, “Party In the Dark,” is reminiscent of Hardcore‘s “Mexican Grand Prix,” and introduces seldomly heard vocals (one of two tracks in the album), setting the tone for the rest of the album with Barry Burns‘ computer-esque voice softly singing, “Silent and impatient without time / Directionless and innocent,” hinting at the theme of the album.

The third track, “Brain Sweeties,” calls upon the ghosts of The Hawk is Howling‘s “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead,”  changing direction mid-song with a hopeful bassline before giving way to the innocent, meandering “Crossing the Road Material,” which is similar to Hardcore‘s “How To Be a Werewolf,” providing perhaps some of the only curious, uplifting and at times triumphant moments of the album.

Track five, “aka 47,” seems like Aphex Twin is playing beneath guitarists Stuart Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison‘s idle noodling, their guitars warped and crackling like vinyl, reminiscent of Brian Eno and Harmonia.

The hymnal and pastoral “1000 Foot Face” features more vocals, quiet and trembling, before track “Battered at a Scramble” brings back the classic Tubescreamer-into-Muff lead guitar solo. “Old Poisons,” the tenth track, sees Mogwai return to their approach of the late ’90s: jarring chagrin, crushing agitation, building layers of disquiet into a prodigious ending.

The title track is a clerical yet minimalistic effort with overdriven guitars strummed lightly, creating spiralling and darkening delay repeats for the band to play over, providing a bleak end to Every Country’s Sun. Despite the tired, nervous moments, there’s an undercurrent of longing, a kind of break in the gloom that reaches out, full of hope.

Every Country’s Sun is Mogwai’s most carrying and clairvoyant album to date, showing them to be one of the only musical groups who never make old ideas sound tried, always skirting curiosity with nervousness and despair. –Ryan Sanford

Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters | Once We Knew the World Well

Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters
Once We Knew the World Well

Self-Released
Street: 06.13
Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters = MONO + This Will Destroy You 

Salt Lake City–based Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters’ debut album, Once We Knew the World Well, is cinematic, harrowing and at times both frenzied and tragic. The four-piece ensemble utilizes dynamic shifts, tight drumming and a heavy use of effects pedals, creating a soundtrack to what could be a yet-unmade documentary about mankind’s conflict and grief as displayed through the chaos of World War II.

Black Flak—whose name is borrowed from a poem by Randall Jarrell, a poet whose work focused on his experiences while enrolled in the United States Air Force—open the album with the title track, which features short bursts of delayed guitar atop static-filled samples of gunfire and radio communication from World War II, gradually building up before bursting into a soaring, forlorn section that eventually descends. There is a formula for post-rock, and Black Flak have found it, immediately sounding not only inspired by but also at home among other bands like Red Sparowes.

Once We Knew imparts a sense of stark nostalgia, and is as pictorial as it could be, at times capturing the feel of the war Black Flak write of without ever being grandiose or overwrought.

“The Difference Between Surviving and Living,” the album’s fourth track, hails a visual turn. The band implements samples from former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain‘s Declaration of War, the istrumentation sounding akin to Andy Othling‘s musical scores before exploding into a frenzied guitar number accompanied by gradually building drums, eventually evening itself out again.

The album’s fifth track, “From an Infinite Multitude of Individual Wills” (a reference to Leo Tolstoy), instantly springs to life, with distorted guitars providing the backdrop to a ghostlike lead, giving birth to fingerpicked guitars before being drowned out by samples of air raid sirens, once again exploding with faint reverse delayed guitars arcing in-and-out.

Once We Knew is an inspired, engaging debut release, ending with “And There Was a Great Calm,” the album’s most driven track as blasts from the drummer provide the timing and pace for more distorted sections that eventually sound choked, blipping out before more tremolo-picked guitars surge back in, giving way to a triumphant curtain call. These parts disintegrate into radio frequency transmissions and more sparsely strummed acoustic guitars, ending Black Flak’s maiden voyage. You can buy the CD and listen to the music at blackflak.net. –Ryan Sanford