Review Summary: It shouldn't be possible to make post-rock this good after only a few months as a band, but somehow, Damascus have done it.
Even though you've never heard of them, Damascus could easily be post-rock giants. It's no surprise that you haven't really heard of them - they literally only formed at the start of 2011, but have already released one LP (Salutations, Distant Satellite!
) and this EP, Of Whom I Always Think
. Not too shabby for a bad with under twelve months of existence to its credit, especially when you consider that both albums manage to hit the nail on the head when it comes to delivering the post-rock sound.
While the former wins the runtime war, Of Whom I Always Think
easily wins the battle of content. Showing an element of progression over a period of months that is generally reserved for a span of years, this EP shows Damascus bringing their brand of post-rock from a simmer to a boil by smoothing out transitions within and between songs, refining their mastering process to achieve a good musical balance between all elements of each song, and by dialing up the musicianship and writing songs which are simply more enjoyable.
A lot of it really boils down to the little things, though. Especially in post-rock. Precise, but technical, high-in-the-mix drumming that leads the music is a given in the genre. But the little pieces of flair - a quick roll before continuing a steady rhythmic pattern or a a quick crash in the middle of a fill - make the drumming here all the more enjoyable. It doesn't hurt, either, that the album is framed by playful and light stickwork almost reminiscent of a much more technical version of a child drumming on a desk with pencils. The drumming is inviting enough to bring the listener in and catchy enough throughout to keep them entertained, which is more than can be said for much of the drumming in the industry today, which focuses purely on keeping the guitarist on beat.
Bass, the all-too-often neglected element of the rhythm section, also finds a welcome home on Of Whom I Always Think
, creating a smooth, but bubbling undercurrent for the rest of the music to ride. There's absolutely no shortage of deep, jazzy grooves in notable sections such as the midpoint of opener "Ambition," where the rapid bass rhythm goes as far as to overpower the rest of the song for a time, leading, but never overwhelming the track.
Of course there's plenty of guitar as well, and it varies from a low crunch (think Isis) to the light, almost harplike harmonics of "Schematics" to the Scale the Summit-esque tapped riff in the same song. But unlike so many bands that tend to fall into the "instrumental" genre, Damascus manage to pull off the post-rock sounds by pulling all things together equally, allowing parts to fade in and out with the poignancy demanded of a genre dominated by slowly, but steadily building rhythmic patterns and an overlay of breezy guitars and keyboards.
Damascus manage to keep the sound fresh by switching up the pace while keeping up a steady back-beat. That is, throughout the album, the drumming keeps the listener familiar with the track, while new elements flood in and out, accented by the subtle variations on that rhythmic pattern tossed in from moment to moment. It also doesn't hurt that the sense of energy and fun engendered by the lead guitars throughout the album are also encapsulated by a small, but purposeful "woo!" during one of the primary patterns of closer "Interference."
If post-rock were as big as pop, Damascus would be an overnight sensation. Not only is Of Whom I Always Think
a well-crafted piece of post-rock, but the growth seen from Salutations, Distant Satellite!
provides a lot of hope for an even better release next time around. And that's saying a lot, considering how much value there is already to this 25.5 minute name-your-own-price treasure of an EP.