In Rotation: The Declining Winter, HTRK, Tobias Svensson, Thousand Foot Whale Claw, WMD (Review)

Pastoral post-rock, ominous-yet-lovely electronic, contemplative electro-classical, krautrock-inspired cinematic music, and glassy dreampop.
Thousand Foot Whale Claw

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

Belmont Slope by The Declining Winter

It’s been three years since The Declining Winter (one of the many projects to emerge from the ashes of the late, great Hood) released their last album, Home for Lost Souls. Belmont Slope is more of the same: pastoral post-rock that re-imagines Bark Psychosis’ gauzy sounds for the British countryside, with a health dollop of melancholy and wistfulness. Indeed, Home Assembly Music describes Belmont Slope as “a love letter to the hills of Yorkshire and Lancashire, a paean to desolate beauty, unattainable love and lost friends.”

Belmont Slope won’t be officially released until this August, but you can hear the first two singles, “My Divided World” and “Later and Later Indeed,” right now. The latter is particularly nice, with Richard Adams’ voice sighing over and against delicately picked acoustic guitar and tapped percussion; meanwhile, drones, forlorn flutes, and even his own echo simmer in the background.

Drama by HTRK

After an extended hiatus following 2014’s Psychic 9 – 5 Club, the shadowy electronic duo of vocalist Jonnine Standish and instrumentalist Nigel Yang — also known as HTRK — are back with two new songs in preparation of a new album coming later this year.

“Mentions” and “More to Enjoy” don’t break from the Australian duo’s usual sound. Ominous electronics, sparse programming, discomfiting atmospherics (e.g., the guitar notes on “Mentions” that echo off into eternity), Standish’s spectral vocals — they’re all present.

But while the music may be oppressive, there’s still something alluring and even sensual about HTRK’s minimal jams. (Standish’s lyrics, which seem primarily concerned with topics of intimacy and obsession, certainly help with that.) What’s more, the duo even allow rays of light to occasionally pierce through the darkness (listen to the final moments of “More to Enjoy”), which gives HTRK’s gloom some interesting shades.

Music for Sketches by Tobias Svensson

If you were to look into the musical career of Swedish composer Tobias Svensson after listening to Music for Sketches, you might be a bit shocked. The multi-instrumentalist plays in a wide range of genres, including experimental/avant jazz, hardcore, and punk — all genres with reputations for getting in your face. However, there’s nothing quite so aggressive about Music for Sketches’ four songs, which blend gorgeous and elegant piano compositions with fluttering, diaphanous electronics and the occasional string flourish.

It’s all routinely lovely music, by turns reminiscent of modern classical composers like Nils Frahm and Max Richter, as well as Aphex Twin’s more contemplative moments. Each song on Music for Sketches is a gorgeous jewel in its own right, such that you want to listen to each song multiple times to make sure you’ve developed a full appreciation before moving on to the next one. That being said, “Float” is especially affecting thanks to the strings that sing out in its final moments.

Black Hole Party by Thousand Foot Whale Claw

I don’t know what musical styles “Thousand Foot Whale Claw” conjure up for you, but when I first saw the band’s name, I wasn’t expecting spacey, psyched-out synthesizer music of the finest variety. But on Black Hole Party, the Austin-based musical collective — which consists of members of Troller, Single Lash, Future Museums, and S U R V I V E — present six epic-length compositions of mind-expanding synth-rock.

The fact that members of S U R V I V E are involved might lead you to think that Black Hole Party hews close to their contributions to the Stranger Things soundtrack. But if you’re expecting nostagia-laden synthwave, you’ll be disappointed. The quartet is more influenced by krautrock and German prog-rock from the ’70s. Case in point: “No Kingdom,” which slowly and expertly takes shape over several minutes until its otherworldly synth-scapes achieve critical mass. Later, the trippy “Naiad” finds Thousand Foot Whale Claw playing with ragged drones and lethargic pacing that recall classic Pure Phase-era Spiritualized.

There are moments when the group’s music meanders a bit too much (e.g., the 10+ minute “Genesis Effect”). But when they regain their focus on album closer “Double Abyss,” with its inexorable rhythms, fiery guitar solos, and sweeping synthesizer tones, the group’s music is about as hard to resist as a black hole’s event horizon.

Ephemeral by Wmd

While the name of Michael Erickson’s project might suggest something a bit… aggressive… focus instead on the title of his latest EP, which is about as accurate a description as you can get for Erickson’s dreampop. Or better yet, go with Erickson’s own description for Ephemeral: “Fleeting moments, reveries drenched in sun-soaked melancholy.”

With hazy guitar lines, subdued melodies, billowing synthesizers, and programmed beats that don’t propel so much as drift, Ephemeral’s five songs are the perfect soundtrack for those summer days where you just want to lie down and watch the clouds float by. Or if you’re more tropically-minded, for sitting on the beach and watching the golden sun set over the waves.

What helps this effect is Erickson’s sense of economy. All of these songs are less than 4 minutes long, which makes them short and sweet. He wastes no time in setting up his dreamy, nostalgia-inducing soundscapes and just as importantly, never lets them overstay their welcome. If you want the mood to last, then you have to put these songs on repeat — and I suspect that once you’ve experienced some of Erickson’s pensive sounds, you probably will.

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