May Your Heart Be The Map

by Epic45 (2007, Make Mine Music)

The title of Epic45’s latest is more than just a little apt. The duo of Ben Holton and Rob Glover (with help from Matt Kelly and July Skies’ Antony Harding) may be inspired by long, meandering traipses through the rural English countryside, especially when it is transfixed in the glint of summer twilight or caught up in the thrall of a winter chill. And they may fill their album artwork with photos of such landscapes.

But the twelve songs that make up May Your Heart Be The Map aren’t at all concerned with geographical accuracy. Rather, as the album’s title implies, they are much more concerned with charting the way these countrysides imprint themselves on the heart and the memory—when they are seen, not through cameras and binoculars, but through nostalgia, melancholy, and homesickness, or what C.S. Lewis might have described as sehnsucht.

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The Glass Bottom Boat

by Carta (2007, Resonant Recordings)

Any group deciding to make a foray into the realm of instrumental post-rock has to know that they’re going into what’s essentially a saturated market, one in which it will be very difficult to differentiate themselves from the countless Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor! clones who beat them there.

However, San Francisco’s Carta do stick out from the crowd.  But unlike many of their peers, they abstain, for the most part, from the usual clichés and standards of the genre.  That is to say, you won’t find too many slowburning build-ups in which guitars churn and string arrangements slowly move towards critical mass until the entire band erupts in an apocalyptic climax.  Something which, quite frankly, has been played out quite a bit over the past few years.

Rather, like acts such as Unwed Sailor, Windsor For The Derby, and Early Day Miners, Carta take a much more subdued direction.  The focus here isn’t on sturm und drang, or trying to overwhelm the listener with one grandiose arrangement after another.  Instead, the nine musicians who make up Carta (on this release, anyways) focus instead on simply crafting strong, intricately layered songs that are just that—songs, and not merely epic-length, multi-movement compositions.

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Non Resurgam

by Henry Flower (2004, Dreamland Recordings)

According to the notes for Henry Flower’s Non Resurgam, the EP’s four songs were created by improvising guitar lines through various effects boxes, then processing them with sine waves and found sounds.  Which might lead one to believe the songs are cold, academic, avant-garde pieces.  Which couldn’t really be further from the truth.

Sure, you hear those sine waves and found sounds, but they’re not really the primary focus here.  Rather, they exist more in the background, coloring the pieces and filling in the spaces between Flower’s delicate, crystalline guitar meanderings—which prove quite evocative at times.

The title track emanates forth a cascade of echoing, delayed guitars, gentle as a fine spring rain or sunlight filtering through the trees to dapple the ground beneath.  “Dreaming Of Oxygen” is a bit darker and more sparse, with soft guitar strums trailing behind like contrails against a vast sky of deep background pulses and oscillations. The EP closes with “Secret History,” another understated guitar-centric piece that seems custommade for soft, breathy female vocals a la Ivy’s Dominique Durand.

Cam Butler

by Cam Butler (2004, Dreamland Recordings)

The Proposition proved, beyond any shadow of doubt, that Australians knew their way around the western film genre.  And Cam Butler’s self-titled EP shows that the folks down under certainly know their way around western film music, particularly the cinematic scores of Ennio Morricone.

It’s tempting to imagine that Cam Butler (who also plays in Silver Ray) composed these four songs while wandering about the barren, blasted beauty of the Outback with nothing but a sleep roll and a weatherbeaten poncho to his name, and only his horse and the ghost of Sergio Leone to keep him company.

That would all certainly explain the way in which “Today, Troubles Seem Far Away” bursts forth like the first rays of sun breaking over the horizon, washing over the desert rocks and sand in waves of red, orange, and gold. Not to mention the brooding glory of “So Long Friend”, and how its string arrangements, sparse Les Paul guitars, and skeletal drums conjure up distant, lonely, parched landscapes full of dangerous, desperate men.

Meanwhile, try listening to “Brothers & Sisters”, with its ominous drums and slowly building arrangements, without feeling the sweat run down your face as your trigger finger starts itching for an old-fashioned gunfight at high noon.

This is a truly gorgeous release, instantly captivating from the very first sun-drenched, sand-blasted note—which makes it feel far more sweeping and epic than its twenty-three minutes might indicate otherwise.

Afraid To Dance

by Port-Royal (2007, Resonant)

Thanks to the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, A Silver Mt. Zion, and Mogwai, when most people hear the term “instrumental post-rock,” they instantly start hearing long, slow burning epics replete with searingly gloomy string arrangements and ominous field recordings that eventually arrive in thunderous, apocalyptic climaxes.

And yet, the term “instrumental post-rock” could just as easily apply to Port-Royal’s latest CD, Afraid To Dance.  Many of the earmarks are there: sprawling compositions that seem less interested in where they end up than in how they get there, an overall pensive and moody disposition, and enigmatic samples that pop up here and there.

However, the Italian quartet eschew much of the sturm und drang that Godspeed et al. made their stock in trade.  While there are plenty of layers and walls of noise, they never reach the epic, stirring heights that one might think, but almost always prefer to lie in the background.  As such, there’s not quite the emotional intensity and intimacy to Port-Royal’s music that can be found in even Godspeed’s most overwhelming moments.

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