Review Summary: Sleepmakeswaves combine static and sonic euphoria to produce a unique, dynamic, and adventurous second offering.
The concept of post-rock as a dying, increasingly uninspired genre has been done to bits, but there's a reason for that. I've hunted around Bandcamp for days on end, listening to the opening of a few songs and then, almost exclusively skipping the rest of the album and jumping to another. Sometimes I'll even go so far as to download an entire album, but that usually results in the first two tracks gathering one or two plays a day and the rest of the tracklist going untouched. I don't think this is solely based on my musical attention deficit. I'm genuinely intrigued by the first few tracks, sometimes listening to them over and over again, but as a general rule, I don't think I'm alone in saying that post-rock as a genre seems to have reached a standstill in its characteristic sonic exploration.
And yet despite the claims of post-rock becoming stale, it still manages to move forward. Some of the more established bands like 65daysofstatic have moved into the more electronic side of things. Pioneers like Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky seem to have mellowed out, just a little bit. Newer, more mainstream-oriented bands like Mayland are sidestepping rather than moving forward, per se, focusing on the vocal-less aspect of their genre, redesigning themselves as “instrumental garage rock” or “post-progressive” rather than the umbrella “post-rock.”
And sleepmakeswaves? Well, sleepmakeswaves has never really been a band hiding behind subtlety.
Sleepmakeswaves has never disappointed me, either. Upon my very first stream of in today already walks tomorrow, I was captured. I've since purchased their entire available physical catalogue. My copy of Love Of Cartography was a bit more of a hesitant buy (solely due to the Australia-to-Canada shipping) but I knew, upon my first listen of “Something Like Avalanches,” that this was an album I had to have, and will never tire of.
First and, at least to me, foremost, about Cartography is the surprising lack of sleepmakeswaves' trademark lowercase. Whether or not this was a conscious choice, it does portray a more commerically-minded direction for the Aussie quartet. Don't get me wrong, that's not a bad thing! In fact, the production on this album, even tighter than that on ...and so we destroyed everything, is absolute dynamite.
For example, on lead single “Something Like Avalanches,” which begins with twenty seconds of pure electronics, it's almost like hearing a completely different band. No longer are the beeps and buzzes subdued as they were on their previous offerings. Nay, sleepmakeswaves has let go of any electrophobia they may have held. The electronic elements immediately draw comparisons to Sheffield electrocore moguls 65daysofstatic (likely a conscious choice, as the two bands are fairly close and have toured together on several occasions) but sleepmakeswaves manages to hold on to their own musical identity despite this synthesizing of sound, keeping them apart from the hundreds of Explosions clones strewn across the post-rock cutting room floor. This is a band that is unafraid of using electronic elements as melody; evolving and modernizing their sound and yet maintaining hold of Kid and Otto's dynamite guitars, Tim's versatile and tasteful drumming and Alex's excellent bass work that makes them who they are.
As incredible as “Avalanches” is, it's only the ninth track on the album. Leaving the lead single so late in the tracklist has worked for bands before (See “Drawing Maps From Memory” by North Atlantic Oscillation) but it certainly requires an energetic and attention-holding beginning. Looking at some of the track lengths (“Emergent” clocks in at over eight minutes, and it's only the fifth cut) I was worried about potential for boredom, or at least some moments of drag, but the only song I was really left questioning was “Singularity.” It's a one-minute sonic palate-cleanser that sets the mood for “Emergent,” but I had to listen to it several times to really get a feel for its relevance in the album.
I struggle to choose a top three, or even a top five. There's not exactly a "(hello) cloud mountain" on Cartography, although that's not to say there aren't songs that catch the post-rock newbie's attention. In terms of immediacy or radio potential, I have to recommend “Traced In Constellations” (which wouldn't feel out of place on an And So I Watch You From Afar album) and “Great Northern.” The former is probably the most action-packed song on the album, an urgent opening calming down, although never slowing beyond a brisk jog. The latter is, in my opinion, at least, the strongest standalone cut on the album. It's driving, melodic, and features some brilliant piano work as well as some moments of synth/guitar cooperation that leave the listener breathless. While sleepmakeswaves claims that “Great Northern” was named for one of their preferred gig locations, it's not hard to imagine an adventurous escapade to the top of the world, marching through ice and battling the elements.
I'm not going to go into too much more detail regarding song structure or anything like that. When it comes down to it, this is an album that must be experienced for oneself; a shout in the dark, pleading for you to hear its message and give it a listen, if not fifty. Sleepmakeswaves cannot be stopped, and Love Of Cartography proves that post-rock is not dead, and will never die, so long as the quartet continues to write, record, and most importantly, play.
"How We Built The Ocean"
"Something Like Avalanches"