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Tuesday
May182010

REVIEWS: Room 13 and Silent Ballet Band of the Week

Here's some of the first reviews of the new AOE record, they had lots of nice things to say. Plus AOE is The Silent Ballets Band of the Week... woot!

Room 13

12\13

“From This Vantage” begins with the open guitar echoes of the almost ambient ‘Trapped Behind Silence’ and immediately the album wraps you in a warm glow, but when that track morphs seamlessly into the far more bombastic opening of ‘Return To Us’ your heart skips a beat; it is very beautiful, the strings bring layers of sweeping noise and at times this track is slightly reminiscent of The Cocteau Twins ethereal grunginess. Next up is ‘Dark, Dark, My Light’ in which there is a moment that literally makes your skin prickle; more echoes, angelic vocals, throbbing beats and a sweet melody combine.

‘Safely Caged In Bone’ feels initially like a traditional folk song with the echoing strings but it is underpinned by oddly off-beat drumming almost making it sound like a looped sample which is ingenious. TAOE often upset your expectations like this; using instruments traditionally associated with folk and gentle vocals but warping them slightly and adding echoes and odd rhythms they make things far more interesting.

TAOE’s always lovely orchestral-rock tunes will break your heart if you let them; cello and violin mixed with brass and more (as well as the usual guitar/bass and drums) give them the ability to create moments of epic noise (listen to album closer ‘From This Vantage’ for an ear scorching example)as well as the intimate, gentle swirls they do so well. This album gives you the full sweep of their abilities and shows them off brilliantly, making you want to come back for more over and over again.

by Emma Gould

reposted from Room 13

Silent Ballet

8/10

Previously The Ascent of Everest stormed The Silent Ballet's gates with the infectious sounds of How Lonely Sits the City. Despite Ian Nicholls' claim that the Tennessee band was riding the coattails of such esteemed acts as Yndi Halda and A Silver Mt. Zion, The Ascent of Everest climbed all the way to the #15 spot in 2006's end of the year countdown -- no small feat for a band with little more than a year's experience under its belt. Two years later the band issued a repackaged, remastered version of its debut, and a year after a split with We All Inherit the Moon premiered a few new tracks to the world. Other than this, the band has remained relatively quiet. Besides a handful of brief US tour stints, the band has stayed out of the live circuit, and it doesn't seek to inundate its fans with a torrent of meaningless projects. Four years after AOE's debut, From This Vantage is everything the die-hard fan could have asked for.

Let's address the critics first. People wrote off AOE initially because it is a post-rock band in the Montreal canon that failed to find its own voice. Without resorting to ad hominem attacks, let me conjecture that there is a point at which one becomes exposed to so much post-rock that the spectrum of differences begins to bleed into itself and corrupt one's sense of perception. It is times like this when ridiculous claims are made: Caspian sounds like Explosions in the Sky? The Samuel Jackson Five rips off Do Make Say Think? Upcdownc mimics Mogwai? The Ascent of Everest is an A Silver Mt. Zion Clone? Such claims speak more towards the inability of the listener to discern differences than they do the bands being unable to forge something unique; invariably, every two rock bands have something in common, so if people wish to focus on the similarities, they are sure to find justification that all music is uncreative and uninspiring. But what a dull world that would be to inhabit. There's a clear separation between "influenced by" and "imitates," but sometimes it admittedly does take some brain power and effort to pick out the subtleties. Those who decried AOE's mimicry of ASMZ were way too generous to ASMZ and not nearly kind enough to AOE. In any case, From This Vantage should settle the debate once and for all.

Having not listened to AOE in a few years, I was immediately struck by how well Devin Lamp's vocals fit into the music. This is nothing new, of course, as the debut also featured spectacular vocal work by Lamp. As opposed to Efrim's vocals, which can be likened to a bastard, mutated child that is horribly grotesque but sometimes also kind of interesting, Lamp actually has a pleasant voice which we probably wouldn't mind hearing more of. Some back-up female vocals also arise on occasion, courtesy of Casey Kaufman, which is reminiscent of Gregor Samsa in theory but lacks the saccharine quality of Nikki King's voice.  AOE doesn't opt for the full male/female point/counterpoint dynamic that made 55:12 such a smashing success, but the introduction of female vocals (however brief they may be) has a profound effect on the listener.  Lamp's vocals are mixed in a way that make them seem cavernous, befitting the lyrics and mood of the album but ultimately complimenting the music's trajectory through gloomy waters to its surprisingly optimistic and hopeful conclusion. Using a technique halfway between wailing and singing and taking advantage of the cover provided by the instruments, Lamp shrouds his lyrics in a veil  of mystery which takes some concerted effort to decipher. This mystery plays well into the overall atmosphere of the album, and when finally cracked, the lyrics prove to be non-trivial.

The former reference to Gregor Samsa was not unintentional, for there are many things about From This Vantage that remind me of the Virginian's modus operandi. How Lonely Sits the City is a standard post-rock album in the sense that it has its share of "peaks and valleys." There's no shortage of guitar tremolo or lunging strings, and the climatic adventure may be just as exhilarating as the ascent of Everest itself. From This Vantage takes a more sublime approach. If How Lonely is the soundtrack from a day's worth of mountain climbing, then Vantage is here to chronicle a day spent fishing at the local lake. This work is aesthetically less like ASMZ, Yndi Halda, et al. and more like Gregor Samsa, Six Parts Seven, Tulsa Drone, and other like-minded bands who decided years ago that "slow and steady wins the race" and "less is more."

The phenomenon is due partially to a shift in composition in the band and also improved production. The album itself sounds less like a brick wall of sound when the band is trying to make a poignant, emotional statement, and the instruments are given a little more space to be expressive and also distinctive. Such an opening on the production floor allows the band itself to seek compositions that stray away from the quiet/loud formula of old and instead refocus its effort on engaging compositions that don't rely on sheer volume to amaze its audience. If How Lonely is AOE showing its rock roots, then  Vantage is proof that the musicians know a thing or two about composing music and that beauty can often be a much more powerful tool than sheer force. I know it's hard to believe, but sometimes even post-rock bands grow up and shed their noisy pasts.

Opener "Trapped Behind Static/Return to Us" is the only track that can really be charged with getting the heart racing. "Trapped Behind Static" is a short ambient intro to the piece, but it is a suitable first taste of the album as a whole, as AOE is less concerned with big dynamic shifts in Vantage and instead focuses on gradual evolution of sound and exploration of sonic space. Although hardly an "ambient" album in the traditional sense, the layout of the album often reminds me of several landmarks in the ambient field. "Trapped Behind Static" seems to be saying that even if the band is being trapped in a predetermined genre against its own will, it'll still do its darnedest to buck the trend. "Return to Us," meanwhile, starts with a gallop but never gets into a sprint. The instrumentation is tastefully directed; in particular, the strings seem to be maximizing their effectiveness by working within the composition as opposed to being placed over it. This is a general break from How Lonely, where the players functioned in typical post-rock "all or none" fashion. Here AOE demonstrates that it is rising above its peers.

Truth be told, From This Vantage is so far removed from its guitar-rock days that comparisons to guitar-based post-rock bands are inaccurate (and probably always have been). Outside of "Return to Us" it's hard to find the guitar getting much of the spotlight. In most tracks, like "From this Vantage" and "Every Fear," the guitar is delegated to the drone department. Other tracks appear to drop it all together, and the overarching emphasis is clearly on the string instruments. A quick peek at the album's credits affirms this, as there are several credited string players and those given the task of handling guitars are also juggling things like synthesizer, piano, french horn, "electronics," etc. At the end of the day, From This Vantage puts a significant amount of distance between itself and How Lonely Sits the City, and the band can now be recommended for enthusiasts of acts like Strangers Die Every Day, Anoice, and Sunwrae.

If there is one fault with Vantage, it is that the tracks contain less memorable moments than their predecessor, even if the album as a whole has greater replay value. It's for the same reason that bands like 6p7 have struggled in a singles-dominated industry, despite receiving general critical acclaim. From This Vantage may not convert a whole lot of new fans for the band, but it should definitely be appreciated by anyone who follows the post-rock scene.

by Jordan Volz

reposted from Silent Ballet

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