The Snowfields’ first release in 7 years comes out on Field Hymns today. That’s right, today. That should be all you need to know, because I find that there really is no way of going wrong with a Field Hymns release. But if you do need some more convincing, after listening to the track “Inner Peace has Jass Hands” above, then please read on.
I think the element that really sets this album apart from most of the analog synth stuff that I have heard recently is the guitar on this one. That is the element that really pulls me in. The Snowfields have really captured that “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” vibe, especially on tracks like “Inner Peace Has Jass Hands.” It’s kind of haunting, but also deeply affecting. Imagine “Wish You Were Here”-era Pink Floyd mixed with more recent Boards of Canada.
“Diet Rainbow,” however is probably my favorite track on the album. The guitar adds a particularly emotional edge on this one, with a guitar tone that is perfect for cutting right through the synths to take center stage. It really just creeps in there in the background, shimmering through the haze. That little guitar riff immediately brings to mind the opening motive of the song “Shame” from The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Adore” (their best album). The tone of a gently plucked guitar ringing through the distance under a few layers of synth. That one little detail really makes the track.
There are plenty of gems on here from the catchiness of the songs described above, to those that border on ambient like “Two Tone Emergency” and the slow, dramatic growth of “Golden Twilight.” All around, another really solid release from the good folks at Field Hymns.
The most difficult part about writing anything about a post-rock band is that each song is such a journey, and the albums seem to be massive offerings. It’s more about the journey than it is about the little pieces that make them up. Mono, throughout “The Last Dawn” manages to weave together extended sections of tranquility with blasts of euphoric noise. The slow unfolding of each track (as is usually the case) relies on short repetitive melodies that are built up in every way possible. This, of course, is not exactly out of the ordinary. Post-rock tends toward the slow-burn, slowly blending in element after element until the full fabric is complete. It’s a lot easier said than done.
There are many moments on “The Last Dawn” that sound close to Explosions in the Sky’s treatment of guitar, with open string voiced chord extensions are carefully articulated. Mono makes extensive use of a piano as a complement to the quieter guitar parts.
What it all really boils down to is a series of beautiful moments. Specifically, the moments of martial drumbeats and roaring guitars strummed wildly. After so much waiting and placidity, once the album really opens up, and it does so at only a few key moments (which isn’t to say that it should happen more often. On the contrary, the pacing is maybe the most important thing to listen to here), it’s something that gives the listener pause. Those moments are made all the more explosive and awe inspiring in that Mono has made you wait for them. As much as “The Last Dawn” is a collection of songs, it really is more about the journey across the entire album.
And the journey doesn’t end with “The Last Dawn,” the album was recorded simultaneously with their other new release “Rays of Darkness.” The albums are counterparts, but aren’t to be thought of as the same entity. “Rays of Darkness” stands in near opposition to the hopeful, sometimes joyous nature of “The Last Dawn.” Both of these albums are currently available on LP and CD through Temporary Residence Ltd.
The track listing here might be a bit close to irrelevant from my view, because I think that it may just be better to focus on the entire album as a single entity. That sort of listening really works well for the album. It’s just one long instrumental psych-rock journey. Sure, there are the elements of kraut-rock that tend to pop up in these sorts of albums, but by and large each song is one sprawling landscape of alternating chugging power chords, delicate melodies and fuzzed out bliss with the occasional sudden harmony shift that will really grab your attention.
Great guitar tones throughout, usually a generous layering of reverb and ever so slight delay tinges the quieter moments. On the other hand there is the deep satisfying crunch of thick, heavy, almost pitchless super low fuzzed out bass that helps to really boost the more raucous parts of songs. Each song just continuously drives towards a seemingly never attainable goal, propelling itself headlong into the next track. Reverie starts out as a mass of amorphous sludge with rattling retro-futuristic synth sounds buzzing through the speakers, panning from one side to the next amidst a growing dense cluster of various guitar noises and feedback. It’s a nice little break before “Strange Wave Galore” comes in at full-thrash level. And just when you thought things couldn’t get, or wouldn’t get, any more heavy, “The Sweet Confusion” starts up and just keeps on thrashing for nearly 6 minutes.
I should probably mention at some point that the band is from the Netherlands, and that their album, “Strange Wave Galore” came out back in February on the band’s Bandcamp page. It’s available as a download from that site, of course, but it is also now available for order on ultra-limited (200 copies) clear vinyl, as well as black & white splatter vinyl. If you are interested more in saving a few bucks than getting the clear vinyl then you may want to head over to the Permanent Records site, as they have some import copies that are most likely cheaper than having vinyl shipped overseas.
Heavy, unrelenting drones of guitar riffage that are spread out over an extended jam. That is how I would sum up the sound of White Hills’ “H-p1” in one sentence. It isn’t totally fair to sum things up in one nice little phrase though as the songs on the album actually cover quite a bit more ground and honestly can’t be summed up succinctly.
The same way that Queens of the Stone Age’s early material would take one riff and pound it into the ground with unrelenting repetition, so do the tracks here. I’m reminded more of two bands that aren’t Queens of the Stone Age while listening to this album, both of them based in Chicago: CAVE and Vee Dee. CAVE’s basis in heavy sounding kraut-rock that sounds like it is going to crush you beneath its weight combined with Vee Dee’s garage rock goodness.
The opening track “The Condition of Nothing” is basically the same fuzzed out guitar riff that shifts between 2 chords throughout. There are some vocals that bring the track into a bit of A Place To Bury Strangers territory with the sound of guitar based industrial music that is sinister and sneering with tinny production placed up against an absolute wall of guitars.
“No Other Way”, which clocks in at nearly eleven minutes, takes the same formula, minus the vocals. A heavy riff is repeated throughout while an echoed melody provides a bit of variety. In the course of eleven minutes the track is developed subtly with a background hum that slowly creeps up eventually taking center stage as everything else begins to fade. These shifts and changes that occur over the extended jams contrast with the sheer repetitiveness that the listener is sure to be focusing on and drawn towards. Admittedly the riffage does lock in to a hypnotic groove, allowing the listener significant time to focus on different aspects of the track.
Following “No Other Way” is “Paradise”, another lengthy track that functions in quite a different way. This time the drums are the primary focus while scattered, spacey sounds pop up at various times creating a much more varied fabric that spasms and percolates to the end.
Out of the extended jams and the stoner-rock minimalist development comes the garage-rock sound of “Upon Arrival” that gets to the point straight away. Psychedelic garage rock with vocals that sound like Alice Cooper and simultaneously provide White Hills with the best opportunity for radio play. There is an honest to goodness verse/chorus/verse structure with a real guitar solo that pulls us back out of kraut-rock groove of repetition.
As a testament to the truly varied nature of the album the latter half moves even further away from riff based rock and into more ambient, free form electronic free form improv with a trilogy of tracks that seem to develop and bleed into one another. “A Need to Know”, “Hand in Hand” and “Monument” could form one giant song, just as the band seems to be doing earlier in the album.
Pulling things apart and putting them back together, exploring different sounds and themes while remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of heavy psychedelic music seems to be what this album is all about. They take ideas presented and flesh them out on other tracks, they run them into each other and play them on top of each other, helping to make sense out of their seemingly disparate interests. This all makes total sense with the truly epic titular track that closes the album at an astonishing 17+ minutes with a truly evil sounding riff that seems to tie together all of the ideas presented in the album. I’ll even give them bonus points for sporting a few extended guitar solos in one song and throughout the album.