Review Summary: Putting back the rock into post-rock.
With the arrival of their third album, Eleven Miles, Exxasens has finally broken into the major league of post-rock. While Polaris and Beyond the Universe surely had great moments, 10 seconds into the keyboard and delay-oriented guitar intro of Science Will Save Us, we realize that Exxasens has hit it big with this one. The song is indeed a strong opener and contains some of the best moments of the record that can be seen as a key point in their career.
On Eleven Miles, the band from Spain starts to let go of some of the heavy influences of their earlier albums (but kept some for our pleasure in the amazing last song of the record, Casiopea) and focuses on beautiful guitar melodies while still keeping their energetic and stirring sound, thanks to the work of drummer Toni Pinyol. As for the other part of the rhythmic section, Mr. Cesc Céspedes, on bass guitar, delivers much more than what we are used to expecting from a bassist in a post-rock band. Indeed, the record contains quite a few moments where the two of them could have easily played the songs by themselves (starting with the starling second track, Helios).
The quality of the rhythmic section is one of the key to appreciate this album and what differentiates them from other post-rock acts. Sure, they draw a lot from bands like Explosions in the Sky and Caspian on songs like Eclipse - a song that wouldn't suffer from any comparison with these bands - but the intensity and variety of the bass and drum playing does nothing but add a little bit more rock into their post-rock. The unity and independence of the rhythmic section in a bunch of songs (try the wonderful Nebula Seven with it's wonderful bass line and major drumming) makes the ensemble nonetheless perfectly coherent, but is also revealing of the influence of progressive rock on the band. Great songs like the mellow Baikonur would probably be a lot less interesting without the playing of Mr. Pinyol and his adequate use of hi-hat and snare and the band is surely aware of this given the way the bass and especially drums is mixed on the album. Regarding this specific matters, there’s also a link between Exxasens and contemporary prog bands such as Anathema and Porcupine Tree, particularly in the shifting of the moods.
The length of the songs (between 4 and 6 minutes) is another thing that characterizes them on this record. As we're starting to get used to with Exxasens, they get directly into business with their sound and album structure, preferring fast-paced melodies and energetic rythms (Rise Up is indeed a good example with an intro that will certainly please the fans of Maserati) to 7-8 minute songs that slowly progress in intensity like many of their post-rock companions. They simplify the structure, but complicate the playing and the agencement of the instrument altogether, in a result that is quite unusual in the post-rock genre (and which also links them to the prog band mentioned earlier and their relationship to their very own genre). This unique approach results in a record that we don't get tired of halfway through and which doesn't seem like 43 minutes of post-rock songs, but instead a complex mix of different influences blended together in a perfectly fitted ensemble that will take a couple of listens before safely realizing it's one of the very best post-rock albums of 2011.
Notable songs : Science Will Save Us, Baikonur, Eclipse