Review Summary: In essence, this is what happens when Godspeed's F#A#∞ meets David Lynch's Eraserhead. And yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.
Few post-rock albums have a better claim to being the genre’s crowning achievement than Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F#A#∞
. A monumental release in every sense of the word, F#A#∞
consisted of somber melodies highlighted by unsettling ambience, with each track containing orchestration, sweeping crescendos and cinematic bursts of grandiose strings and explosive percussion. Yet, it can be argued that the most memorable parts of the album were not those that demonstrated the band’s overreaching ambition, but those shorter sections which relied on minimalism, ambient waves, and noise to further establish the album’s apocalyptic soundscape. This was best displayed in the six-minute long third movement of “East Hastings,” in which radio signals and harsh buzzing play in the foreground over otherworldly ambience and crescendoing ghostly wails. With their debut LP, Shortwave Nights
, Hiss Tracts have essentially taken this concept and stretched it out into forty-five breathtaking minutes.
Yet, it is unfair to compare Shortwave Nights
to a work of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Despite the fact that both members of Hiss Tracts, David Bryant and Kevin Doria, are each well-known musicians who have each gained much experience in the world of Canadian-based post-rock (Bryant with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Doria with Growing), Shortwave Nights
is an accomplishment all of its own. It can best be compared to a David Lynch movie; surreal and dark, but always disturbingly rooted in the real world. While the tone of the album is consistently strange, Hiss Tracts never venture off into the abstract or otherworldly. Each song retains a firm grip on reality, allowing Shortwave Nights
’s sound to be ultimately inviting.
The atmosphere of the album is one of both dream-like melancholy and subtle terror. Throughout each song, conventional instruments are near-impossible to recognize; layers of ambient noise and droning melodies create incredibly vivid imagery. The band’s use of textures to establish atmosphere is perfectly demonstrated by opener “...Shortwave Nights.” The opener begins with harsh industrial grinding, which, over the course of the song, slowly becomes the background to a heart-wrenching melody until eventually fading into nothing but radio static. There is an unmistakable familiarity to every noise heard during each song, whether it be the mechanical grinding of the opener, the twiddling electronics at the end of “Slowed Rugs,” or the chimes at the beginning of “For the Transient Projectionist.” The band uses these layers of familiar sounds to create soundscapes so realistic that the underlying melodies become overwhelmingly heart-wrenching. As layers are piled up and subsequently stripped away, it is easy to become immersed within the music. Each texture adds something unique to its respective song, changing the tone of the entire track either slowly or instantaneously. “Test Recording At Trembling City” begins with a quiet, peaceful drone. Slowly, the drone increases in volume, becoming more beautiful, yet also more unsettling. About five-minutes into the song, a terrifying onslaught of wind chimes burst in. Without warning, the drone transforms into a high-pitched wail, and the song turns into an ugly mess that barely resembles its tranquil beginning. Since the listener is fully immersed in the music, Hiss Tracts are successfully able to achieve different effects with each song while still managing to hold the listener’s attention, no matter how twisted or bizarre the songs may become.
The structure and flow of Shortwave Nights
are perhaps the album’s most peculiar features. No two tracks are completely alike in tone or structure. Due to this, longer pieces with gloomy atmospheres are followed directly by short, chaotic songs. Although occasionally a short interlude will separate two tracks with contrasting tones, they are far stranger than the tracks themselves. One such interlude, entitled “Drake Motel / ‘9 Gold Cadillacs’,” a track which bares a striking resemblance to “BBF3” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, features a harmonica solo followed by a conversation between two men. One of the men, who sounds like he is drunk, rambles pointlessly about his fear of germs and how “The more you love people, the worse they treat you.”
This tracks seemingly adds nothing of value to the album other than to make Shortwave Nights
more of an overall strange and unique experience. The other interludes, along with certain moments found within some of the songs, share this same problem. Each strange moment or section of a song is intriguing in its own way, but interrupt the album’s overall flow, causing the the album to sound slightly clunky and disjointed at times. Despite this, no track ceases to be interesting, and the unpredictability of each track’s atmosphere adds to the fascinating nature of the album.
excels in the same areas as F#A#∞
and other post-rock/ambient albums before it, but in an entirely different way. Hiss Tracts masterfully take everyday sounds and combine them with drones and tragic melodies to forge one of the most unique releases Constellation Records have ever put out. When all is said and done, Shortwave Nights
is not meant to be looked as a conventional album in any way. As suggested by its cover, this is the story of that lonesome microphone standing on the side of a dreary, abandoned road, and all of the strange noises it hears throughout the day.