In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.
It’s been nearly seven years since the duo of Rob Glover and Ben Holton last graced us with a new collection of perfectly pastoral post-rock. But epic45 have returned with a new album titled Through Broken Summer (coming soon from the Wayside and Woodland label) that, as the duo describes it, “is about, in part, returning to the place where we grew up from birth to our early twenties. From a personal perspective, it’s sad to see the place changing; new houses, the disappearance of old landmarks etc and the sadness of our childhood homes, strangely quiet now. But on a wider scale, it’s the palpable sense of cultural and political stagnation too. It’s a very insular place now, the community more fragmented than ever before.”
Given epic45’s political discontent, agitprop this most certainly is not. Epic45 are, above all else, masters of melancholy songwriting, and “Outside” is no different. Dreamy guitar lines, hushed vocals, blurred synth melodies, field recordings — all of these elements are present, and make for a beguiling listen. The sort of fractured pop that makes you want to take long strolls through the countryside.
For whatever reason, I had the impression that 2015’s Pale Horses was mewithoutYou’s swan song. There was a sense of finality to that ambitious album which made me think it was the last we’d hear from Philadelphia’s favorite (and finest) emo/post-hardcore sons. But mewithoutYou has continued to stay busy; they released a live album last year and an EP earlier this summer and announced a new full-length album due out this fall.
Much like Sunny Day Real Estate, mewithoutYou have been moving steadily beyond the “emo” tag ever since their formation. Yes, their music packs a crazed intensity, with relentless guitar assaults and frontman Aaron Weiss’ blistering vocals. But they’ve also woven psychedelic, folk, and Middle Eastern flourishes into their songs, and Weiss’ ornate lyrics move past the tortured poetry frequently associated with the genre, delving instead into frank religious themes and apocalyptic imagery.
“Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses)” is a darkening storm cloud of a song, thanks to the band’s churning guitars. Meanwhile Weiss half-sings, half-intones references to Sufi poets, the Bible and other sacred texts, and 1984, and weaves them together to touch on some pet themes: the vagaries of religious faith and expression and the unknowability of God. It’s not as immediately in your face as songs like “Torches Together,” “January 1979,” or “Red Cow,” but it’s proof that 16 years into their existence, mewithoutYou’s music has lost none of its power.
Petrol Girls describes themselves as “raging feminist post hardcore,” and the music on their latest EP, The Future is Dark, more than lives up to that description, from singing defiantly about surviving sexism and misogyny to crying out for solidarity. “Sister” is a clear highlight, and essentially serves as a manifesto of sorts as vocalist Ren Aldridge proclaims “We will decode this world together/We will write our existence in/Because the planet will not survive/In the hands of toxic men.”
But here’s where the “post” bit in “post hardcore” comes to bear. One minute, Aldridge is screaming out against the patriarchy while backed by her bandmates’ jittery, urgent music; the next, she’s singing almost fragilely about unity and the need for connection. That sort of versatility is just as important to the potency of Petrol Girls’ music as their full-bore intensity. If you’re looking for some bracing new music that’ll light you up like a livewire, look no further.
In addition to composing imaginary soundtracks, Ruptured World’s Alistair Rennie is also an author of weird fantasy and horror, and those literary tendencies manifest themselves on Exoplanetary in the form of diary recordings, as an astronaut recounts a deep space exploration mission gone horribly wrong. Yes, Exoplanetary is a concept album — or, as Rennie puts it, “ambient evocations of a real-life futuristic drama in the face of alien estrangement and a prevailing aura of existential persecution.”
But even if the theatrical stuff isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you can appreciate Rennie’s skill as a composer and arranger of dark soundscapes. “The Sunken Valleys” uses vast sweeping synthscapes to conjure up a sense of alien foreboding, but also a sense of awe. But other tracks, like the aptly titled “The Shimmering After-Blasts of Psionic Traces” build up a sense of harrowing dread and anticipation, as if ancient cosmic horrors are lurking just beyond your headphones — this is definitely a “headphones album” — and waiting for you to drop your guard so they can make their move.