When the polar vortex broke over New England a couple of months ago, it was swiftly followed by a snowstorm to make up for what we’d missed all winter. I don’t mind snow. I enjoy the disruption. I live off a busy road; it supplies a constant baseline of noise that snow hushes, if not silences altogether. Most of my day in anticipation of the storm was spent in that limbo of conditioned denial and furtive preparation that is the New Englander’s response to any climatological inconvenience. I heard a lot of “these weathermen don’t know what the hell they’re talking about” coupled with “don’t stay out, it’s going to snow”; warnings from people wrapped in scarves and parkas, snowblowers ready to go. I stayed out and wound up driving home in the thick of things, but rather than head indoors right away, I stood in my driveway aware of that silence like a physical thing. I stood there longer than planned. It was a communion I found perfectly reflected in The Woods
later that night.
Comprising three songs and close to forty minutes, A Swarm of the Sun so powerfully evoke this mood--of the particular silence of winter, which is not an absence of noise so much as an overpresence, so large it pushes noise out of mind altogether--that it renders a track-by-track review and the need to trace each musical thread and their intersections futile. A Swarm of the Sun operate within a post-rock framework, which I think is a sufficient overview of the album’s method--tension-and-release, build-and-climax--with the exception that The Woods
delays or sets aside the seemingly requisite release/climax altogether. Rather than sapping or blunting the music, this choice creates a circularity without gimmickry, a roundedness without the easy out of conclusion. The Woods
feels whole and contained. In it, you will find an ecosystem of viola, organ, piano, guitar, drums, and downcast intonations perfectly in balance with one another; a confident, arresting, and thoroughly immersive stasis. It’s difficult to think of other music while it’s on, and the need to note where a track or a movement within the track ends or begins falls out of consideration.
There are swells of volume and a sense of ebbing escalation throughout, but The Woods
derives its power from its relation to silence. It’s never far. For long stretches, the album broods in the low-end, mixing strings into a meditative hum spiked with piano or the debris of more conventional rock instrumentation--muted feedback, delicate cymbals. There is a hushedness to the album that evokes past milestones of the genre even as it imbues the proceedings with a reflective stillness I would go so far as to call novel. Post-rock traditionally has little use for human voices; The Woods
is no different. Vocals are fleeting, present at the beginning of “The Woods” but gone soon after, drawing attention to their own sparsity. There seems to be more to say. More is said in the shimmering haze of “An Heir to the Throne,” but there is again a sense of not having said enough. This lingering unsaid opens like a void, swallowing The Woods
as the album ebbs into silence--the silence inside the runtime of the track, but also the silence of the album having finished. It is not a silence that sits still. It follows the listener to the next playthrough, wider and deeper than the time before. It’s going to snow in New England again before this cold, dry winter melts into a muddy spring, but The Woods
reminds me that the time between snows is only that.