Qualia – “Cast a Light” – 80%, “Songs for Longing” – 85% and “We Do Not KNow What Our Nature Permits Us To Be” – 81%

Qualia is a one-man project from Cambs, UK that has a total of 5 releases since forming in 2010, including three this year alone. In today’s update I’ll be taking a look at all three of those releases.

 

Cast A Light cover art

Qualia – Cast a light

“Cast a Light” was released in April and opens with a strong ambient vibe as spiraling guitars swirl in the background amidst a sea of static. Mighty cymbal crashes give the intro and title track a huge feel to it. The guitar work on this album is just all around aces and it’s definitely a unique release in that I feel has all the characteristics of an ambient release except that static, reverb and feedback can be found everywhere on the album. It’s an album that walks a very fine line between heavy ambient and soft post-rock. There is a firm understanding of post-rock song structure and layering presented here that is far advanced for someone who’s only been making music for two years. The final track on the album, “Memoria” has a lot going on for it and is my favorite track on the album as bassy classic piano plays amongst what sounds like an old film projector in the background. The track is gorgeously layered, properly mixed and is by far the best work on the album.

While the album does have a lot of good things going for it, there are some detractors as well. The production feels very rough and all the mids on the album sound extremely muddy, with lows and mids sounding coupled together on an extremely tight sound stage. Guitars have very little bass to them and drums tend to get lost in the mix. Also, the transitions between tracks can be a little awkward. Overall though a good release that is well worth checking out. 8/23/12

 

Songs For Longing cover art
Qualia – Songs for Longing

“Songs for Longing” was released a month after “Cast a Light” and is a 49 minute album over 6 tracks. The album begins with soothing piano work as a spiraling guitar can be heard in the distant background. Cymbal crashes are perfectly timed and the big moment when the guitars peak feels like a proper and well crafted peak to a post-rock track. The drums play a much bigger part in this track as well, a nice change from the last album. “Hollow Hearts” is a very focused track and the high-pitched wailing of the guitars in the background is an excellent touch. The way the song really picks up in intensity out of nowhere is a welcome surprise. Unexpected pace changes are a reoccurring theme on this album as the very next track Lanterns does a great job almost seamlessly changing at a moment’s notice. “First Day of Spring” shines as 11 glorious minutes of crescendo filled post-rock goodness. The contrasting emotions between the upbeat lighter segments and the bleak heaviness static-filled heavier peaks is just as good as it gets. Like “Cast a Light” this album also ends on a shorter sensual song.

This album is leaps and bounds better than “Cast a Light” in that it is a far more concentrated effort. All of the songs have synergy and feels more like a real album than just a collection of songs. Production feels better as well as mids and lows don’t quite sound so bunched together. Softer guitar tones feel a lot more vibrant and the soundstaging isn’t quite so tight meaning the layers don’t quite run into each other as much. After hearing this album, I definitely prefer the heavier side of Qualia to the more ambient side. This is a well-rounded release that is just an all around great album. 8/23/12

 

We Do Not Know What Our Nature Permits Us To Be cover art
Qualia – We Do Not Know What Our Nature Permits Us To Be

Released in June, this is the longest Qualia effort of the three, clocking in at 54 minutes over 6 tracks, including the nearly 17 minute intro track behemoth “With Open Eyes and Open Minds.” The guitars are the main focus here as the drums are deeply embedded in the mix. “Footsteps” brings the levels back down a few notches with an ambient intro. This track does an absolutely brilliant job of drawing in the listener with a mood as relaxing as watching the sun set amongst water as far as the eyes can see. The guitar layers perfectly compliment one another, the slow methodical drumming is present yet distant and the snail’s pace build up never fully develops. Out of the three albums releases so far this year by Qualia, this is without question the undisputed winner as far as single tracks go.

The album continues to build off its relaxing ambiance with the next track, “I Dreamt I was a Butterfly.” One of my favorite elements to Qualia is the beautiful layers of Piano found throughout his work. Make no mistake, when I say Piano I mean classic piano sound, not eccentric keyboards as heard throughout most of the post-rock realm. “Are We Alive?” features fluttering guitar work and the drums take a more front sounding approach, a really nice change of pace given that drums have largely been overshadowed on the previous two albums. “Breathe” is an acceptable track that sees a piano play over a sea of breathing ambiance. The album wraps with “When We Were Lost, ” a soothing 12 minute closer that showcases a glimpse of vibrant bass and a wide array of guitar layers as the track goes through the peaks and valleys of a standard post-rock track. Combine with just a slight pinch of piano work and we have all the makings of a brilliant track that puts it all together to create a track that is the essence of Qualia.

All in all, I feel like this album is definitely the most mature of the three released this year. My biggest complaint is that you can hear throughout the album that particular tracks were given far more attention than others as particular songs are just of a much higher quality than others. Also, some of the technical problems that I talked about in “Cast a Light” still persist on this album. These types of problems are bound to happen in self-releases, especially given Qualia’s workhorse like mentality, with 2+ hours of music released in the first half of 2012. What strikes me as odd is those problems were nowhere to be found in “Songs for Longing.” Still this release cannot be overlooked and neither can Qualia. With less than 50 “likes” on Facebook as of this writing, I can only hope that more people check out this excellent UK-based band. 8/23/12

Pay what you want for all 3 on bandcamp: http://xqualiamusicx.bandcamp.com/