Review Summary: An accessible, up-lifting post-rock release that shows technical maturation in some aspects from their previous release while showing a slight regression in terms of dynamics and subtlety.
You.May.Die.In.The.Desert shows an interesting progression in their second LP release International Waters, bringing some tightness to their sound that I felt was lacking in their debut LP: Bears in the Yukon. The general mix in this release is louder and, to my ears, crisper as well. The playing is much better synchronized; the band's members seem to have matured musically in the sense that they are able to deliver a more "polished" sound. Guitar tones are crispier, crunchier; trading a slightly distorted tone in for the cleaner, almost jazz-style tone that can be heard in Bears in the Yukon. The drums employ a quicker, punchier, and overall tighter technique as well. All of this helps maintain a clear and polished sound despite the noisier mix and sound that's delivered on this album.
Unfortunately, this technical evolution plays a large role in what I consider to be the album's predominant shortcoming; the songs just aren't as interesting. A lot of the dynamics and subtlety that abound in Bears in the Yukon are eschewed for a bigger, louder, and less fluid sound in International Waters. This is made apparent simply through the opening tracks of each album; Ocean Hijinks' smooth and detailed opening crescendo is traded for a pounding, reverb-soaked and overall more spacious plateau.
Now I'm not going to compare each album track-for-track, but it becomes apparent over the next few songs that International Waters isn't going to climb as smoothly and ambitiously as Bears in the Yukon. Rather, it hits a certain level of intensity and plateaus throughout the majority of the album. Sure, periods of quickening tempo and rising intensity of ambient noise leads the listener to hope for what may be considered that characteristic post-rock crescendo; but these crescendos often stop abrubtly and never regain momentum. The number of times I felt essentially blue-balled while listening to this album, only to have some release a bar or two later was both frustrating and intriguing. In fact, this delayed-release tactic may be what kept me listening throughout the entirety of the album.
Another frustrating factor to me was what seemed to be a near complete dismissal of the bass in this mix. The loudness and ambient messiness, so to speak, that this mix showed seemed underwhelming despite its slightly chaotic texture due mainly to a lack of bass. Sure, the bass is there, and at times has some interesting riffs and progressions, but its role in the overall mix is undermined by its lack of tone and texture. It's also slightly overshadowed by the use of some pretty consistent ambient electronic noises. These work on the level that they enhance the washy, spacious sound that the band seems to be going for on this release, but they also serve to wash-out the mix and take away from the dynamic sound I've YMDITD produce before. As a result, the sound seems to lack that strong, thick flow that can be heard in their previous release.
Whether or not You.May.Die.In.The.Desert's trade-offs in this album can be considered an overall improvement or regression is difficult to say; they've certainly delivered a different sound in this release. The feel is darker and more chaotic, but at the same time more spacious and at times, more intriguing. The clarity and tightness in their playing also seem to have matured, which offsets to messier mix to a certain degree. However, they seemed to have lost the warm, detail-oriented sound they'd engineered previous to this release, making this LP less musically interesting to me as a whole.
I'd suggest this release if you enjoy a louder, moodier brand of post-rock as opposed to the warm, dynamic and uplifting sound of Bears in the Yukon.