Collapse Under the Empire’s meteoric rise to the top of the post-rock genre can be compared simply to the way a NASA shuttle launches into space. From humble beginnings of “systembreakdown” in 2008 to last year’s monumental “Shoulders & Giants”, my favorite post-rock album of 2011, the German duo have ascended at a rapid pace, never once looking back. Through constant progression and evolution of their music they have solidified their rightful spot among the very best of this genre.
My first introduction to them was through the hype that “Shoulders & Giants” received prior to its release last year. After being hung up on the album for well over a week and quickly getting caught up on their discography, I felt ashamed of myself for not knowing of their greatness sooner. Now they’re back with “Fragments of a Prayer”, their fourth album in as many years to go along with numerous singles and EPs.
The album begins with the title track as bassful rattling begin to the fill the channels. Layers began to pile a top of one another as this spacious ambient track slowly transforms before our ears into a strong opener that feels welcoming and familiar. From here the album transitions to “Breaking the Light” which doesn’t take long to pick up a head of steam. Excellent crescendo based spiraling guitar work competes for the spotlight against the keyboards while cymbals crash around them as the three flood the mix. When the track slows down we’re treated to a hypnotic beat that we’ve come to expect from C.U.T.E.
Next we have a smooth transition to “In the Cold” which brings the volume down a level or two with a slow build up. Beginning as a slight fluttering, the guitars slowly ramp up until they occupy the majority of the sound stage in a multitude of layers. “180 seconds” begins with an elegant keyboard layer amongst booming drums and an influx of electronic sounds. The track maintains it’s aggressiveness as a pinch of guitar work is thrown into the mix down the line. “Closer” keeps the vibe going with its entrancing combination of keyboards and spiraling guitars. The keyboards have just the right amount of bass that allows it to really stand out on the lower end of things while guitars generally occupy the mids and occasionally the highs. This track is without question one of the most interesting post-rock tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. There are times in the track where you can feel the intensity move up a notch. It’s such a blatant obvious progression step up and yet it works so brilliantly and sounds undoubtedly unique.
“Distance” is the sixth track on the 10 track, 47 minute album and is captivating and expansive. Gorgeous spiraling layers of guitar work stand out amongst a backdrop of well mixed cymbals. The contrasting highs and lows of this album fill every inch of the sound stage. “Opening Sky” is a relaxing ambient passage that leads to “The Beyond”, the longest track on the album at just under 7 minutes. Keyboards fill the high-end amidst a sea of electronics as the track begins with an epic build up with synthesizers. This track as whole is just as fun as it is creative and is second only to “Closer” as my favorite track on the album. The keyboards in this track are as catchy as they come and the synths are vibrant and well-arranged.
Given the feeling of epicness behind the previous track, “When the Day Fades Away” has something of a second coming vibe to it. Layers of guitars mesh with keyboards in a shroud of somber bleakness. This track just oozes raw emotion particularly around the 3 minute mark or so. The album concludes with “The Great Silence”, which opens with gorgeous low-lying bass amidst the high-pitched medium tempo keyboards. This track feels like a throwback to some of the bands earlier work in that it feels loud and heavy but mild in pace. Layers shift about like a lake after a violent storm. The heaviness I mentioned can be credited partly due to the monstrously loud sounding cymbal crashes found in this track. A great closing number to one hell of a powerhouse of an album.
In comparison to “Shoulders and Giants”, “Fragments of a Prayer” is a much different animal. While last years release felt like more of a point A to Point B album, it really feels like the band took a sandbox approach with this album. “Shoulders & Giants” had amazing catchy songs that had particular beats and layers that sucked you into the well grooved album. “Fragments of a Prayer” is a much larger album that always seem to offer something new after every play. Songs seem expansive, incredibly deep and I’m never quite sure where the focal point of my listening should be. The album feels less raw and powerful but more mature and textured, a trade off I find fair, while being a bit more on the experimental and ambient side.
What is impressive to me is that Collapse Under the Empire continues to churn out extremely polished albums year after year with no signs of slowing down. The continual progression and maturity of their sound will be what defines the band’s success down the line. C.U.T.E is already a band walking the fine line between pleasing fans of their older work while further developing their sound. Those hung up on the band’s 2011 sound will undoubtedly think this album is inferior to “Shoulders & Giants” but I don’t think that is the case at all. The albums are simply too different at their core for me to choose between them, much like how “Shoulder’s and Giants” sounds nothing like it’s 2010 predecessor “Find a Safe Place to Be.” “Fragments of a Prayer” is an album that commands attention and is a must listen to album of 2012. 9/24/12
Available in MP3, CD, and Vinyl through the band’s website on September 28th: http://collapseundertheempire.com/shop/