One of the real tests of instrumental music is its ability to convey narrative. Stripped of lyrics, and the natural focal point of a vocalist, the importance of the music actually putting across something concrete and captivating either comes to the fore; or, in the case of ambient music, is all-but disregarded. With Ceremony in the Stillness, the latest album from A-Sun Amissa, that challenge is not only embraced, but met in superb style. The combination of doom-drone influenced auras, post-rock soundscapes, and haunting dark ambience is loaded with emotion, and moves with a sense of story-telling that is too rare in instrumental music. Most records of this style hint at the idea of having a running theme; but on Ceremony in the Stillness, that sense of narrative is impossible to ignore.
There are a lot of contradictions at play during the duration of minus. The new album from Krakow is dense and heavy, filled with that kind of musical and emotional weight that is so important in post-metal being a success. Yet there’s also a kind of grace to it, with moments of deftness contrasting strongly with the moments of skull-crushing heaviness. There’s even moments of outright rock’n’roll swagger, including a solo from Phil Campbell (yes, he of Motorhead). And yet somehow it all comes together in style, bringing together so many different styles and sounds into a remarkably cohesive whole, that is as filled with emotional bloodletting as it is moments of sheer riff-based pleasure.
“Man plans and god laughs”; so goes the old saying. There are things that will happen to all of us that we have no control over, and that will come upon us with no warning, upending the order of our lives and leaving us to do what we can to pick up the pieces and carry on. Aside from the everyday practicalities of coping with a major loss or change, there is the emotional aspect too, which is where From a Father’s Son comes in. When his father was diagnosed with an advanced cancer that would soon take his life, Jimmy Sisco created the Anchorhold project to document that time and his memories. As you’d expect, it’s an emotional journey, and hugely heart-felt, with an intensely personal – yet universal – heart.
It shouldn’t have been this way. Sure, I expected that the second album by British band Rope would be an album full of emotional power; the kind of record that can kindle to life emotions you thought were long-lost to the faded memories of youth. But what I didn’t expect Come Closer Now to do was hit in ways that speak of emotional vulnerability in so profoundly adult, mature ways; to come across like a record made by people who have worked shitty jobs, gone through genuine heart-break and loss, and come through it all with their sense of self both reinforced and adjusted. Somewhere between Self Defense Family, Slint, and Jawbox, Come Closer Now is the album that will speak to your 30-something self in ways that you didn’t think were still possible.
That Level Plane Records is no more is nothing short of a tragedy. Between 1997 and 2009, the label released some of the best underground punk, hardcore, screamo, metal, and everything in-between. Originally set up simply so Greg Drudy had an address to put on the back of the first Saetia 7″, the impact and influence the label would go on to have upon the underground scene was huge. Some of these records have been re-issued by other labels – with special praise being given to The Archivist label for getting so many on Bandcamp – but some might require searching on Discogs or eBay.
As such, limiting this list down to only five releases has been rather painful. There’s so many I wanted to include – so many records of superb quality, so many that meant so much to me, and still do – but there’s a reason this series is called Five of the Best, not Twenty of the Best. So, here we go. Feel free to tell me what I missed or what your favourite records from this excellent label are. Enjoy!
There’s something very English about masking your misery with jokes; finding the absurd in the grim, the mirth in the miserable, the humour in the gallows. On Too Happy, three-piece Tor seem to go all-in on such an idea, with their post-rock being both utterly miserable, but also filled with a twisted sense of humour. Heavily reminiscent of the likes of Slint, this is an album for when you’re at your lowest – so far down in the pits of despair that it begins to seem absurd just how miserable you are. It’s an album that is, by turns, highly uncomfortable and highly amusing, and yet always feels sincere and interesting.
There’s a lot of genre tags that could be applied to Shouldhavebeens, the new album from Swedish band Tengil. Blackgaze, melodic post-hardcore, post-punk, and shimmering post-rock are all part of their sound, and yet no single descriptor feels like an accurate fit. This might suggest a record lacking focus and direction, yet that’s not the case. Instead, Shouldhavebeens is a record full of ambition, using whatever sound it needs to in order to achieve it aims. Throughout, there is a sense of youthful longing and restlessness, making Shouldhavebeens feel like an album fueled by the promise and joy of first (and lasting) love, of a search for belonging, and the knowledge that nothing worthwhile ever came easily.