by Allister Thompson
Sonder is an album on a new label, Inspirus Records, from Minneapolis (never been there but I did play a gig in Mankato once…), and Hanan is a project that makes “post-rock”. Yeah, yeah, I know. Well, actually, I don’t know. Unlike myself, you are probably not sick of this amorphous genre and its amorphous sounds and influences. So many lazy bloody bands who realize they don’t need a singer and that you can get away with a ton of lazy shit by using a delay pedal and playing real slow. I mean, people have been doing that stuff for 40 years, but now it gets a ridiculous name to distinguish itself — “post” rock? In what way is it post-? Are there not drums and a bass guitar? Doth it not rock?
We interrupt ourselves mid-rant to tell you that, since I don’t write negative reviews, this album actually, almost justifies the existence of the rest of the genre! How so? you ask. Well, it’s the smell of competence and good taste that hangs about Sonder. Not too sexy-sounding, perhaps, but to a musician who’s owned a Boss digital delay since 198-whatever (or was that 199-whatever? I hope so), this delightfully varied instrumental rock album is a real breath of fresh air that despite the grumpy beginning of this review is a genuine pleasure to my ears.
By good taste I mean that Hanan knows how to arrange a tune; how to create proper a mood; and there’s palpable emotion in these pieces, no detached slackerism or hipsterism in sight. By competence I mean that they can actually play; everything’s not disguised in waves of reverb and delay; there are even some (plenty) of fast bits. An aficionado might inform me that it’s not genuine “post”-rock then, I guess; there are elements of progressive rock in here, math-rock, hardcore, and ambient as well, amongst the ponderous bits. Or said aficionado might inform me that plenty of post-r0ck bands play like this, and I’m grossy misinformed. Perhaps!
In fact, in places the playing and tones are almost a grittier version of Dredg’s sound (Dredg is a rather underappreciated modern rock/”post”-metal band with killer guitar sounds and playing, as found on their Catch Without Arms album) and new wave touches that go all the way back to Wire, Television and King Crimson circa Discipline, as well as some fun modern math-y bands like Battles. Pretty impressive comparisons, I’d say, though I will admit up front that while I know my Sigur Rós from my Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Hockey Coach, I do not possess an intensive knowledge of the genre; all I know is I get post-rock submissions up the wazoo but spend much of my time listening to Mongolians play horsehair fiddles. That makes me sort of a fake, I guess.
Anyhow, let’s dive into Sonder, which is primarily the brainchild of a Zack Sieger.
“Buttons” is an excellent opener, an atmospheric slice of pure guitarbient that is very pretty and I encourage Sieger to consider a full recording of this sort of thing at some point. The piece builds up in a lovely fashion. “Parsimony” is a nice piece of energetic but spartan neo-psych that sounds far more 1984 than it does 2014, calling to mind Kiwi legends The Clean more than any band of modern mopers, and even includes a Church-y chime guitar mid-section (I will reference The Church till the cows come home whenever I like something; it’s my prerogative).
Things get more interesting on the really cool “Phillistines”, which mixes the preciseness of a Battles with a grittiness worthy of the post-hardcore world of Hüsker Dü and the iciness of Wire or Magazine. (I’m kickin’ out references left and right!) There’s some really nicely arranged and played lead parts in this song — definitely a highlight track.
Hanan wisely dials things back at this point for the creepy “Pay Attention”, which is where things get the most “post”-rock; you fans of Sigur Rós and the ilk will certainly like this one, which has some sweet volume swells (I think they are, anyway). Anyway, very purdy and tranquil, just the way I like things.
There’s an awesome segue into another slice of vintage “college rock” (pronounced “callage rack” in mid-America), the even grittier “Pay Attention”. This track totally sounds like it’s opening for The Replacements on the campus of some state callage in 1988.
“No Face” changes the vibe some more with a mix of psychedelic keys, gently reverbed guitar and electronic beats. Very well done. “Frost State” is the most rockin’ of the tracks, with heavy noise guitar backing some surprisingly adept lead lines — almost danceable in a Gang of Four sort of way.
“Widdershins” is certainly not a word I ever thought I’d see used as a song title (in fact, I only know the word from youthful readings of E.R. Eddison’s bizarro fantasy novel The Worm Ouroboros, but I digress), but it’s also another pretty union of ambient guitar with experimental electronics.
The album concludes with two moody, sparse pieces, “Wolfsbane” and “Scoop”, which sounds exactly like it could have come off a Helios album (oops, there’s another post-rock reference that swooped out of me psyche).
There’s not a duff track on this album, which is a free download (though it would be nicer if you “named your price”). Yep, that’s how it is these days, folks, we give our shit away so you will actually download it. Enjoy your halcyon days, music listeners, they may not last forever.
Also available on an LP, just like mama used to make.
This is, hands down, one of the best “post-rock” albums I’ve heard. So good, in fact, that I declare it full rock indeed, and I am the better for listening to it.