Sometimes in life we lose sight of what we came from and who we’ve become. Natural and organic change is a gradual experience that can be rapid at times, slow to a crawl at others or come and go in spurts. As a music reviewer, nothing is more satisfying to me than to be able to chart the progression of a band from album to album. I need to see forward progress on each subsequent album to truly enjoy a band’s work and get an understanding for what they’re trying to accomplish and where I think they might be headed.
I’m not sure where This Patch of Sky is headed and I feel that might be the biggest compliment I can offer to the Oregon 6-piece. Having followed the band since their 2011 debut ‘The Immortal, The Invisible’, I can honestly say that I feel like a proud parent that has watched their kin grow up before their eyes to begin heading down a path to fully realize their potential. With their fourth release in as many years, TPOS have transformed from an eccentrically aggressive style of post-rock that attempted to lure in listeners with catchy hooks and flashy guitar work to what is now one of the most complete and full sounding post-rock bands in the world.
Generally I’d do a track-by-track breakdown of the album right here, but instead I want to do something a little different. I want to compare three songs from this album to three songs from each of their previous albums just to illustrate how far the band has come. Let’s start off with the intro track, “Time Destroys Everything, But Our Foundation Remains the Same” that begins with a serene grace period, slowly building forward, accumulating layers and playing on emotions before peaking around the five-minute mark with a burst of spiraling crescendos amidst a wall of rapidly progressing sound before tapering off into a beautiful cello ending. Now let’s compare this to “A Fire Through The Dark”, the opening number of 2011’s ‘The Immortal, The invisible’ . This song is ultimately the song that put TPOS on the map for me with it’s quick pacing and layered guitars chalked full of aggression and power. It’s a damn fine track with a killer ending, but in comparing the two tracks, the repetition found in the latter of the two immediately sticks out. Repetition is simply no longer present in TPOS sound, catchy hooks are a thing of the past, showing us just how much the band has learned about songwriting and structure in just four short years.
For my next comparison I chose my favorite track on the latest album, “The Winter Day Declining” and “Cities Beneath”, my favorite track on their 2012 effort ‘Newly Risen, How Bright You Shine”. Again with “The Winter Day Declining” we have another soft, minimalist style build up with synths occupying the majority of the soundstaging amidst building cello, light offerings of keyboard and an occasional cymbal tap here and there. As the track picks up a head of steam and fully comes to fruition we experience an overload of sound as guitar clashes with cello for center staging in an overpowering yet blissful calm. Meanwhile with “Cities Beneath” our ears are met by a full on attack of raw guitar driven post-rock, occasionally making way to let drumming shine through during brief moments of the song’s low key moments. What ultimately sets this track apart for me from the rest of the album is the strong finish that includes some chanting vocals and screams that compliment the music perfectly. The most distinct difference between these two tracks is that we notice with “The Winter Day Declining” that there isn’t one one instrument that dominates the sound spectrum, whereas with “Cities Beneath” lives and dies on a full on assault of guitar layers.
Lastly I wanted to compare two tracks that share a lot of similarities in structure, purpose and really are just two tracks that stand out above the others around them, so I chose to compare “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” with “Heroes and Ghosts”, the title track from last year’s release. With “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” we’re induced with a slow build up that covers over half of the song’s seven minute duration before being treated to a strong finish of spiraling crescendos, cymbal crashing and a dominate guitar that feels like a throwback to the band’s earlier years, albeit not nearly as raw and far more controlled. With “Heroes and Ghosts” we’re also given about a three and a half-minute build up before things start picking up, but when listening to the songs sequentially back to back you’ll immediately recognize that even though the two tracks share similar parallels, the pacing on “Heroes and Ghosts” is much quicker than it should be and the heavy breakdown the track works towards, while immediate and overbearing, simply doesn’t have the lasting impact nor does it feel as smooth as the breakdown found in the newer of the two songs. For what it’s worth however, “Heroes and Ghosts” does outclass “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” in the outro department.
I make these comparisons and breakdowns because to truly understand what This Patch of Sky has become, you have to understand where they’ve been. Individually it is very difficult to pick apart their albums because the band simply knows how to deliver a damn fine record in relatively short time spans. However when you start comparing the new to the old, you quickly realize how the band has improved upon flaws that wouldn’t otherwise be audible without making these comparisons. Obviously the difference from the first album to their latest album is night and day, but even the differences between the last two albums are distinct and noticeable as well.
I think what sells me the most on this self-titled album is that unlike last year’s ‘Heroes and Ghosts’, this album is complimented with a lead-in album that makes the further progression in the band’s ever changing sound not nearly as dramatic. If you break down TPOS’ catalog, you realize there is a turning point where the band’s sound blossomed so significantly that it likely caught listeners off guard the first time around. Their catalog works best in pairs, as their first two albums synergize well with complimentary styles, as do their last two albums. With their first two release, TPOS looked to blow the listener away and melt ears with raw guitar work, overbearing heaviness and emotional yet somewhat easily digestible songs. Over their last two albums we’ve watched the band evolve with a more methodical, purpose driven sound complete with complex overtones and emotion that sustain over several tracks rather than just drift from song to song. These two vastly different styles had a clashing point, that being the jump from 2012’s ‘Newly Risen, How Bright You Shine’ and last year’s ‘Heroes & Ghosts’.
With ‘This Patch of Sky’, that clashing point has is non-existent as anyone familiar with the band’s scope of work should have known that their sound was heading in this direction. Maybe not. Maybe I’m just a little too privileged. I remember the first time guitarist Kit Day messaged me through Facebook absolutely stoked about practicing with their new cello player Alex Abrams. Even though I knew what the band was cooking up with their self titled, I think even I’m a little taken back by how damn well they put together all the pieces. There is no doubt in my mind that Alex’s contributions to the band’s sound will be what will make or break this album for a lot of people, it’s simply far too predominate not to be. You’d have to be crazy to not see how dynamic the band has become simply by adding one instrument.
There isn’t much else for this reviewer to say. This album is awesome from start to finish. A breath of fresh air? Your damn right. This Patch of Sky continue to set ridiculously high standard for themselves and never stop striving to push their limits as musicians. “The Winter Day Declining” remains the high point of the album for me with it’s hypnotic textures of serene calmness under overtones of gut wrenching agony.
If there was ever an album that warranted a six month grace period before reviewing, this would likely be it. In all honesty after a dozen listens I’m not even sure if I’ve managed to take in everything this album has to offer. I’ve struggled immensely to put my feelings about this album into words. Worth the wait? Definitely. The band’s best work? Easily. The high point of their career? I doubt it. A 2014 must listen? Without question.
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