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.
Cy isn’t your typical release. The new album from Polish band Koniec Pola opens with the sound of bells, swirling winds, warped percussion, and, after several minutes, a burst of heavily twisted voices. It gets no easier from there. Stradling the lines between post-rock, post-black metal, traditional folk, and all wrapped up in a defiantly avant-garde mindset and psychedelic atmosphere, Cy is the kind of album that you might get if Negura Bunget and Einsturzende Neubauten decided to do a record together. Based around the concept of a place that is simultaneously real and imaginary, and making use of unique instruments crafted by the band themselves in addition to the traditional bass/guitar/drums set-up, Cy is a unique album, full of adventurous, experimental spirit.
The music contained on the split between Brianna Kelly and Sympathy Pain is the kind of thing that we all need within our lives; something to unwind with, to let go of our cares and worries as we try to find some sort of inner peace. Warm, and comforting, this is a split of soul-soothing ambient and emotional post-rock, that possesses a human touch and tenderness that can so often be lacking in the genres, making this a release to recommend both to those who already appreciate said styles, but also those who aren’t usually fans.
Modern times are feeling increasingly fractured, with public life becoming split in to ever-more divisive categories. Whether it’s in politics or the media, recent years have been defined in large part by division – just look at the politics of Trump, or Brexit, and the rise in authoritarianism in countries like Hungary. It’s as if the world is, after a period of closer unity, moving apart in hostile ways. It’s difficult not to place The Shadows, the second album from Tomorrow We Sail, in this context. Their music blends post-rock with indie and folk sounds, creating something that feels as if it is longing for people to come together, to recognise all the things that unite us, and stop the slow descent in to war and disharmony that we all seem to be moving toward.