Review Summary: An interesting take on the common mix of post-rock and screamo.
Since the initial mix of post-rock and screamo there has been the persistent issue of bands resembling each other in major ways. Bands essentially end up breaking into a couple largely similar varieties of the style. You have bands, such as City of Caterpillar, who have taken an influence of long steady build ups to fantastic crescendo type releases. That style has been popularized within the general post-rock genre by bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, while the climactic releases are something that has been happening throughout the emo genre since at least the mid 90’s. Some bands also take a less traveled path while mixing their screamo and post-rock. Instead of working their way toward vicious pinnacles they sustain a relatively mild post-rock background while playing their music. The second route is a much less frequently traveled path, and when you look at, for example, France’s output over the last decade, in terms of screamo, it becomes easily apparent that the more crescendo driven style is vastly more popular.
Men as Trees do something seemingly unique. Instead of dedicating themselves to a particularly dominant style over the other they have sought to find a median, a bridge, between the two. While the style is certainly an interesting concept, the question of its practicality remains. Part of why the two predominant styles have thrived is due to a predictability that is typically found amongst them. The idea of reaching a crescendo and releasing all of your energy and emotion in that one explosion of chaos and intensity is something that is extremely logical. Men as Trees’ approach is much different. There can be no denying that there are build ups toward moments of intensity, but at times these moments will pass with mere instrumentation, and on the way back down the band seems to realize that they have just missed their cue, and proceed to try and recapture a past moment. The goal of any build up within music is to create an atmosphere of tension and emotion building to a single point before tearing it all down, before harnessing it. Men as Trees do not always release their tension as their moments of greatest intensity, instead they sometimes let an opportunity pass and allow all of that energy to pass with it. This can create an interesting feeling for the listener. It is clearly unique, it is clearly their own, but after rising for eight minutes, from near silence, to an expected pinnacle, only to have it taken away can be wholly unsatisfying for the listener.
An apt comparison to Men as Trees might be one with Germany’s June Paik. June Paik shift from ambient post-rock to “emo violence,” a mixture of screamo and powerviolence, within seconds. The comparison to Men as Trees is that they too shift from post-rock to general screamo, but they do it much more slowly. Their shifts are typically done over a much longer time. Every shift from loud to quiet is done over many long minutes, but because they never swell with the intensity of others it doesn’t ever feel as if they ever peak. Every little change in volume is done purposefully, and with spacing, over time. It makes the moments between the intensity seem fairly dull in comparison. It leaves the listener wondering if it is necessary to build up for so long in three of the four main tracks, when in the one where they chose not to they manage to deliver a product with the same emotional intensity. Fortunately, within the album format it all becomes clarified.
The sampling of the man who describes his longer-than nine month solitary life in the tundra provides an atmosphere to the album. It does give the impression of things being largely sparse, largely empty, which is what most of the instrumentation seems to suggest. Yet, the upbeat feeling that the two guitars provides also gives a sense of freedom and life. There is an interesting dynamic between the two. When comparisons between the concept of the album and the music are made it seems as if that is how it should be. The softer sections are calm and quiet, just as they are bleak they seem to make perfect sense within the context of the album. Coupled with the lyrics that consist mainly of feelings of isolation, of loneliness from vocalist it becomes clear just how important the ambience is: what it symbolizes. The lyrics themselves are delivered in yet another unique way for the genre. Instead of a typical high pitched scream the vocals seem to be trapped mostly between a scream and a yell. It is a voice that travels around quickly in terms of its pitch. It drops from low spoken words, to squeals, to yells and once again back to squeals. The dynamics of the vocals are really interesting within the music itself. Such inconsistency of sound is rare within the emo genres, and even where you get vocalists who go from whispers to screams it is rare to hear it happen so abruptly, or randomly.
In all the second full length by Men as Trees is interesting. It shows the ability to deviate from a norm that seems too engrained within the minds of those who play post-rock tinged screamo. It raises question though. The question may arise as to whether or not they should have broken the status quo as they did. To a degree there is a reason that post-rock and screamo have only been mixed in such limited ways. There truly are only so many ways that those genres can express themselves. However, within the context of this album it can be seen that Men as Trees have done something unique, and something great, something imperative to the emo genre. They have captured their essence in the form of sound. They have created an album that is theirs, much more than any Envy clone could ever hope to achieve.