Review Summary: For the first time in 2011, my iTunes genre OCD has failed me.
You know that feeling you get when you hear music that you just can't categorize? Maybe you don't; maybe this only applies to my fellow iTunes genre OCD brethren, but we've all experienced the feeling to some capacity. It's when valid comparisons are just barely out of reach and an excessively long micro genre tag is right on the tip of your tongue, but nothing ever actually comes out. This is what obscure ambient/shoegaze/post-rock/post-metal/drone/god-knows-what act Windmills By the Ocean
have done with their sophomore effort, creatively titled Windmills By the Ocean II
. In the album/EP's sub-30-minute runtime the band takes the listener on a psychedelic trip through numerous microgenres and styles, only to plaster an utterly befuddled expression onto the face of the listener by its end.
The first thing you need to know going into this is that it is repetitive and it is minimalistic. If your attention span is already dozing off at this point, it's time to forget about even trying this album. There are no showoffy scales or bombastic blastbeats to keep you occupied: Windmills By the Ocean
rely entirely upon a beautiful, naturalistic atmosphere to enthrall the listener. In a way, II
could almost draw comparisons to some Cascadian black metal acts in its extremely nature-oriented feel. Everything from the song names, the soothing mood, and a few scattered samples (the beginning of Azure
is a prime example) point to a record inspired at least in part by unrefined natural beauty. All of the album's 5 tracks have a similar new-age-y (except non-gay) ambient backdrop that arguably serves as the music's focal point: especially in tracks 2, 3, and 5, the guitars, bass, and drums serve to accentuate it rather than to overpower it. It is soothing, calm, and beautiful, and is what, in the end, makes the album into what it is.
For the most part II
is instrumental, with its focus being on creating a sense of atmosphere rather than any vocal work. The opening track (Pagan Sun
) and the closer (Occul
) both have an extremely spacey, near indecipherable, pushed-back-in-the-mix clean that, like everything else on the album, serve as just another factor contributing top the music's atmosphere rather than as the music's focus. Other than some near-unnoticeable female vocals on The Circul
, this is as far as the vocal work on this album goes. For many, this could make the record into something boring and monotonous, and to be fair, there honestly is not much that happens here. From the metalgaze-y Pagan Sun
to the eerily God Is An Astronaut-esque Star
to the epicly spacey 10-minute closer Occul
, this is not music for active listening: in fact, it could be argued that giving this too much brainpower would detract from the overall listening experience. But, in the end, II
is not something you listen to as actively and with as much attention as you would other music. It is music that you throw on while riding in the car on a rainy day, or zone out to after a hard day at work, or just fall asleep to. Everything here is spacey and far-out, transporting your mind into a relaxed and meditative state that is so utterly separate from the hustle of everyday life that you might not actually like this at first. True, it is abnormal, it could be considered dull, and it's not an easy listen, but I can promise you: it is so worth it in the end.