Throughout 2020, stirring music continued to emerge.
Below, check out five standout post-rock releases that deserve more attention. The list includes The Escape Artist, Lai Delle Nubi, Nostra, Ramper, and Zealand The North, who are from across North America and Europe and whose music ranges from shimmering ambiance to heavier but still meditative and piercing doomgaze.
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The Escape Artist – Wildbright
Washington, D.C.’s The Escape Artist sound piercingly contemplative on their swirling new post-rock record, Wildbright.
Settling in to the world of the band’s sometimes rather meditative music feels like sitting alone in an isolated forest at nightfall. The group’s understated persistence feels subtly life-affirming, like a musical reflection of the haze of underappreciated sound that might spread across late-night surroundings. On a more thematic level, there’s a sense of emotional self-assessment within the strong yet decidedly pensive rhythms, as if venturing through the wilds of one’s own thoughts by the light of a metaphorical flickering lantern.
Much of the music feels rather somber, but this element definitely doesn’t feel overwhelming. Instead, there’s more of a slightly enlivening sway in the rhythms as if — to take a cue from the cover art — a sense of monotony is just beginning to dissolve, with wonder taking its place. (The cover art features a woodland creature whose antlers have grown well beyond normal lengths.) The slowly paced but growing rhythms feel like peeking into a world of illustrious possibility.
After an opening segment hinging on particularly pensive, restrained guitar, the album’s opening track “Cloudburst” gets somewhat more intense, but the underlying rip current of somber self-awareness remains firmly in place. There’s no sense of instability here — the melodies are, quite simply, consistently poignant, even if subtly rather than overwhelmingly so. There’s a striking sense of earnestness in the music’s pull, which never lets up. “Nocturnal,” the record’s second track, features a broader breadth as it proceeds, with a gently laying blanket of shimmering tones, while the rhythms of “Polaris” have a slight kick to the point that listening to the track feels a bit like sitting around a campfire in that teeming, otherworldly forest. There’s sort of a post-folk vibe — swagger shines and the music feels strong, but The Escape Artist remain very meditative.
Wildbright is available via Astral Cloud Records.
Lai Delle Nubi – Dione
Lai Delle Nubi present an emotionally stirring journey into a musical great beyond on their concise but poignant two-track release, Dione.
Lai Delle Nubi sound inviting — their brand of post-rock feels familiarly structured, with crescendos billowing across each of the tracks on Dione, and they present waves of subtly majestic instrumentation alongside these elements. While piercingly self-contemplative, the generally mid- to lower tempo melodies feel unmistakably strong, with a steady, consistent performance, and this strength really amplifies the melodies’ impact. Dione feels immersive, like a vibrant and rather full-fledged sonic world.
The group’s flowing melodies feel broad and extended, and thematically, the music’s expansive breadth makes Dione feel a bit cosmic in scope. Fittingly, the group has explained that they drew broad thematic inspiration from the Cassini mission to Saturn, and, without any lyricism, Lai Delle Nubi seem to strikingly reflect this idea. Their music feels poignantly pensive and richly expansive, lending the listening experience a feeling of peacefully journeying towards a horizon. The fog of shimmering and gently reverberating sound feels intriguing and inwardly propulsive, like looking out across a watery expanse — on, perhaps, a strikingly beautiful but stark planet. The music could be a soundtrack for exploring some unfamiliar but illustriously rich environment.
“Farewell to Dione,” the EP’s opening track, slowly builds with starry keys alongside fluttering drum hits and guitar rhythms, eventually arriving at a genuinely heavy (but still focused and poignant) conclusion, while the EP’s closing track, “Grand Finale,” feels at least temporarily a bit more drum-centered, which keeps the experience moving along smoothly. Each of the songs are substantive — at over 7 and over 6 minutes, respectively — and the band present a world of rich instrumentation in which to rather peacefully sink.
Dione is available via Shunu Records.
Nostra – Law of the Tongue
The Riga, Latvia-based post-rock group Nostra sound majestically compelling on their succinct but freshly powerful two-track release, Law of the Tongue.
The group sounds a bit mathy and a bit heavy, but they’re consistently rather straightforwardly propulsive and brightly powerful. Their music feels vigorous — although Nostra never sound particularly overbearing or unhinged, the organic vibrancy in Law of the Tongue feels rather unmistakable. The songs burst with emotionally illuminating energy, like a subtly mesmerizing portrait of firework-like bursts of color spreading across a sunset-drenched sky.
Although there’s an enlivening ragged edge, Nostra’s music consistently feels very strong, and this strength builds the emotional experience of the songs. Within the grounded yet consistently forward energy of the group’s powerful melodies, there’s a feeling like an exploration of some forgotten or underappreciated terrain thanks to the rich textures. The consistent forward push within the songs feels subtly electrifying.
Nostra say on the Bandcamp page for Law of the Tongue that they’re supporting the Latvian Fund for Nature with the album, and in a broad thematic sense, the music seems to connect to this ambition. As if subtly teeming with life, the group’s songs feel broad rather than overtly shined up or whittled down, while an understated but persistent musical flame guides the songs along.
Opening track “Grus” features some of those mathy textures, with a wistfully intricate vibe, and the song gradually intensifies across its latter half, a trend which continues on the follow-up song, the record’s title track. The title track gets particularly heavy, but there’s still a shimmering, forward energy that makes the record’s world feel promising, even if tumultuous.
Ramper – Nuestros mejores deseos
Granada, Spain’s Ramper present a stirring portrait of contemplative melancholy on their new album Nuestros mejores deseos, which translates as “Our Best Wishes.”
The group performs a kind of shoegazey, slowcore-infused post-rock, gently moving between compellingly propulsive performances and gentler, restrained segments of shimmering sound.
Ramper don’t sound overbearingly morbid or downtrodden, although the meditative element of their music feels unmistakable thanks to their consistent return to a rather slow tempo. Nuestros mejores deseos carries a kind of subtly bright vibe, like a musical reflection of a beautiful sunset or a gentle snowfall. With their straightforwardly compelling yet pensive melodies, Ramper sound like they’re exploring an emotional space where a kind of wistful sadness floats along the edge of brighter moments, as if suddenly realizing some of the limits of our human experience. These limits, and the haunting tones within Nuestros mejores deseos, don’t erase brighter moments of poignancy — like the brass instrumentation that Ramper occasionally present — but the subtly refreshing emotional breadth feels wide.
The title track, which opens the record, begins with a few minutes of a smoothly staggered brass cacophony before moving into a subtly shimmering fog of sound, with a slight bass thump and fluttering drum hits. Follow-up track “Niña en vela” gets slightly more intense, but the billowing pensiveness remains unmistakably striking. Going on from there, “Amalola” gets a bit heavier in an understated doomgaze or classically post-rock sense — but again, the softly swaying undercurrent of close-to-the-chest self-contemplation doesn’t cease. The album’s closing track, “Murga,” gets intense, but the music remains piercingly poignant, like a sunbeam streaming through a window.
Zealand The North – Brightness of an Endless Light
The Austin, Texas-based post-rock group Zealand The North sound richly poignant on their entrancing latest album, Brightness of an Endless Light.
Listening to the majestically shimmering record feels like somehow swimming through a rejuvenating pool of some kind of otherworldly light. The group gravitates around a mid-tempo energy, and their songs feel relatively straightforward, without any overpowering sense of rhythmic unease. The melodies that the band perform within their extended, peacefully flowing songs feel grounded in an accessibly contemplative yet richly and genuinely bright energy. There’s a kind of organic-feeling and subtly soulful vibrance in the band’s sound, as Zealand The North rather consistently seem like they’re pushing towards an area of brightness and catharsis.
The emotional experience of the album seems to reflect scenarios like slowly pushing a slim, solitary boat along towards stars up ahead or sitting quietly in the aftermath of a rainstorm, as the sun slowly re-emerges and gives the surroundings a kind of subtle shine.
Zealand The North sound somewhat shoegazey at times, and they mostly stick to gently compelling performances of a soft variety. The band present a lot of rich instrumentation in which to immerse in addition to familiarly styled post-rock crescendos, like those that appear on “Organic Structure.” The immediately preceding track, “Endless Light,” carries a bit of an edge, and — moving back through the opening half of the record — preceding track “Come Promise” carries a slightly cacophonous energy, like celestial post-jazz.
Overall, throughout all of the markedly smooth progressions and transitions, Zealand The North sound inviting.