As the editor of a publication with a fairly well-advertised inbox, over-zealous post-rock press releases from budding labels and artists are amongst the most common items I receive, each busting their ‘cinematic’ guts a little more violently than the last as they attempt to convince me just how ‘captivating’ and ‘beautiful’ it all is. The problem with such a cocksure approach isn’t the hyperbole — promoters should promote, after all — it’s that it sounds so fake; it’s the musical equivalent of a second-hand car salesman looking you in the eye and promising 50 miles to the gallon on a clapped-out 2002 MG ZR when I know it can only do 19. Give me context and give me artwork, just don’t give me a preemptive list of emotional reactions from a thesaurus.
It’s a blunder amplified by the fact that so much post-rock is so fucking boring. Who can tremolo the hardest as we race towards a predictable explosion in the sky, I wonder? Crescendo after crescendo of spoon-fed, flat-packed emotion. Fortunately, the magnetic spirit of bands like Slint, Talk Talk and GS!BE lives on in a few, glistening softly in the breezy air as it fights the tide of the sonic bildgewater that surrounds. One such gem is All The Bright Lights, an unassuming trio from North Carolina that succeed in creating genuine feeling because they have the audacity to write songs that differ in style, tempo and direction without giving me an audio guide in what to think. ‘The Wind & The Waves’ is not tremolo or crescendo-free, but it is tethered to natural environments and expands with a real liberty that isn’t forced, predictable or made with the intention of evoking a specific emotional response.
There’s plenty of stargazing on ‘Steps’, as a winding guitar slides and slithers atop the reverb and celestial lyrics before making way for mid-tempo percussion and heightened vocal highs that sound more like Midsummer than they do Sigur Ros. If that doesn’t exactly sound atypical to the type of post-rock I’ve just been lambasting, it’s because it’s not. We’ve heard these ingredients before — many times, in fact — but they feel somehow honest, not rushed or pinned into a corner as if scrambling to meet a secret criteria. ‘People Made of Wind’ follows in a similar vein, building with walls of hushed cymbals and wiry guitars that dance around the glacial sparsity of the kicks and snares to create a patient, thoughtful dissonance.
Any suspicions that All The Bright Lights only deal in melancholic slow-burns are eradicated by the time ‘Versus The Dark’ rolls around though, with its gritted-teeth bass-line riff and war-mongering drums snarling as a multitude of guitar licks and scattershot shrieks come and go at will. It’s not pretty, twinkling or even in-keeping with what surrounds, and that’s okay — such a change in intensity is exactly the kind of contrast needed to highlight the subdued ambience of tracks like ‘Feathers’ and ‘Three Keys’, which rather than rush to reliable genre tropes, hold their thoughts and drift into conclusions that feel completely natural, even if a little curtailed.
For all the careful movements that ‘The Wind & The Waves Makes’, there are several moments where the band allow for fleeting euphoria. The title track meanders for a while before smashing together a few tectonic plates to form haunting chants of “You are peace that overcame / to the sound of wind and waves” that swells over frantic snares and cymbals and, gasp, tremolos. It’s about the story of Jesus calming the storm after being woken by his disciples, neatly reflected in the flickering quiet of the track’s conclusion. Closer ‘Still Beating’ is the band’s ‘Mogwai Fears Satan’ moment, a clattering mish-mash of what came before — a feral release, bookended by reflective ambles and gentle bobbing. These isolated patches of controlled aggression are rare in a genre that feels the need to give you a ‘pay off’ for every five minutes of deliberation, and consequently become integral to a narrative structure that encourages you to think for yourself.
It’s a shame that so many feel the need to wrap their music in empty promises and vapid PR waffle to drive up the number of clicks and listens, because at its heart, instrumental music is a genre fixated on tangible feeling perhaps more than any other. With ‘The Wind & The Waves, All The Bright Lights appear to feel the same way. It is captivating and it is beautiful, but at the risk of undermining every word I’ve written about music, don’t take my word for it, because there’s no substitute for a good pair of headphones and an open mind.
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