Review Summary: An incredible debut LP from a three-piece band, War of Currents is easily one of the best post-rock albums of the 2010's.
War of Currents is the debut LP of Meniscus, and boy is it a doozie. The band, hailing from Sydney, Australia, has been around since roughly 2005 and recorded an EP in 2007, but this 2011 LP is, for all intents and purposes, their first true album. That's worth remembering as you listen, because it makes its quality all the more remarkable.
In musical composition, there are two routes to make a sound feel "full". Method A, arguably the easier way, is simply to add instruments. A band with fifteen members is certainly going to sound like fifteen people. Method B, the more difficult approach, lies in composition. Meniscus is a three-piece, and War of Currents is not an album where three people recorded a full orchestra's worth, but rather each instrument is used to full effect, shifting focus here and there, swelling and subsiding, never letting one instrument simply act as moral support while another shoulders the load. Three people covering a guitar, bass, drums, and some samples (which are used sparingly), make an album that feels like much more.
There are a lot of words to use when describing War of Currents, and the first one that might spring to mind is DRUMS. The percussion of Meniscus is front and center throughout, driving the songs instead of just keeping tempo. Opener "Room 3327" begins with a Text-to-Speech transcription of an interview with Nikola Tesla (easily one of the most obscure sample choices I've run into), while a vaguely menacing bassline and drum groove stomp along. The sample fades into the background and re-emerges while the rhythm section of the band lulls the listener into a haze, guitars floating atop it all as atmosphere rather than riffs, until it finally explodes in the final 40 seconds. War of Currents has begun.
From there, War of Currents continually switches gears. Songs may have their builds, their high points, their denouements and bridges, but none sound anything like one another. Some are uplifting, some dark, some quick and urgent, others slow and crawling. The album's sonic centerpiece (and roughly in the middle of the album), "Fight Club", begins with an almost out of place electronic drum loop beneath a sample of Ghandi's "On God" speech, but that quickly changes to the live drum kit, a dreamy guitar melody dancing atop it. In a five minute song we're treated to several distinct movements, finalizing in the heaviest section of the album and indeed one of the heaviest sections I've heard on a post album that wasn't considered metal.
Production once again deserves a good bit of recognition. Every instrument is bell clear and powerful. The guitars have just the right amount of reverb, the bass rumbles and roars, and those drums... oh, those drums. Each cymbal's character is highlighted, the snare's whipcrack and the toms' tribal swirling, the kick's thump. It all comes out crystalline, and mixed so that the listener isn't sitting at the back of a hall but rather amidst the music, every tiny nuance able to be picked out.
Album-closer "Infant" is, in some ways, a review of the rest of the album, putting together all the elements seen throughout aside from a vocal sample. We hear all of the instruments getting their time to shine, like a band playing catch with the spotlight. Then, at the 7 minute mark, something amazing happens: vocals, shouted and howled far back in the mix as though they were screaming to be heard, only briefly before vanishing once again. This is a band that knows the meaning of doing more with less. Listening to War of Currents without reading up on the band and its production, one would be forgiven for thinking this was the creation of a veteran band with a half dozen or so members rather than the debut LP of a three-piece. That's the kind of impact this album has.
War of Currents is certainly not without its faults, chiefly related to the EDM-style drums that pop up here and there or that its lineage is easy to trace, chiefly Sigur Ros and Massive Attack, but that would just be nitpicking. Meniscus have created a titan of post-rock, an album that deserves a spot on any best-of shelf. Whether or not future releases can keep the pace (side note to Spotify users: the album "Tired Eyes, Fragmenting Skull" is in fact by Commodore Meniscus, a wildly different band) remains to be seen, but War of Currents has set the bar quite high indeed.