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Monday, July 30, 2012

Foster - Emerald Lights, Fast Cars EP REVIEW

"Incredible B-Sides dude...

-Austin Lovelace"

Wherever you are reading this, it’s probably safe to say that you could use a quick refresher (fresher in this case?) on this project. The best place to start would be to look more into the influences they show. Explosions in the SkyMogwaiRussian CirclesSlintMaybeshewill, and Talk Talk. This band steeps itself pretty deep in the style of Post Rock, a genre whose participants names read off like a Dr. Sues book and have the same effect as a child’s parents hoped reading to their kids would. Fans of this kind of music get lost in their own world when they put their headphones in but other listeners, sadly, just fall asleep. I don’t think I could explain it better then the title of an album by Swans, “Soundtracks for the Blind”.

I could list off bands I love from this genre all day, but to do so would waste your time and dilute any point that could be made about this band. Post Rock has separated itself as a genre from anything else but the influences they take from Rock couldn't be clearer; bands like The Moody BluesLed Zeppelin, and Swans are big ones. This band, however, separates themselves further away from the genre’s past because the sound palette this band uses pulls directly from their predecessors (listed above). While continuing the tradition of bending guitar strings to get out every sound possible, they never crossed the path of one that I would associate with their genre’s Classic and Experimental past. Every sound they use is an extension of the sounds Post Rock essentially invented but what keeps them from completely detaching themselves from their Rock roots is their strong connection with Indie and Classic Rock song writing.

Most Post Rock bands let their music do the talking and their voices are either absent completely or so immaculate that they feel just like another cord in the string section. Foster chooses to keep pinned to lyrics and verses, which is what warrants the Slint comparison (and Talk Talk, I almost forgot Talk Talk). I have never really been that big of a fan of Slint, which is sacrilegious to most Post Rock fans; the point of mentioning this is that Foster corrects the problem I have with that band. Slint’s vocals have always felt emotionless and they just hung off the end of the songs, like a broken eraser, while Foster does the opposite. There isn't a moment on this album where Tanner VanBaal’s vocals don’t feel genuine in what he’s talking about. Their vocal delivery soounds somewhere between sole artists like Bobby Womack and ambient like Jónsi (of Sigur Rós), almost like the singer of Talk Talk (I can’t forget Talk Talk). The combination is a beautiful addition to the instrumentation but I can hardly understand a word. “Staying right by your side, I’m alive” is the indication that the sound is more important then the lyrics anyway and that’s what I get from them but they do leave me wondering whether it’s the production or the singer mumbling that confuses me.

The problems I have with this album start with the production. Another comparison to make with Slint is the production style which unfortunately is something I don’t think Foster was able to turn around. Almost all the bands in this style have immaculate production but this album just like Slint’s “Spiderland” has an Indie Rock, on the edge of "lo-fi", kind of recording. I never liked that kind of recording with Post Rock because I like to use my “peripheral hearing”. All of my favorite bands in this style force you to go deep into their songs to find sounds hidden in the mix, and that creates a sense of depth in their music. That is still possible because of the stacked instruments, that do sound dence, but they don’t make you work for it. It takes away from them because they use a sound pallet adapted from bands who do use the immaculate production style. I am a frequent listener of music like this though, so I do have to recognize that the production might be the reason new listeners might be able to grab on to this easier than where Foster started.

1. Mexican Radio

This track starts out with a short build into a heavy, Mogwai sounding, riff that goes in and out of a few Russian Circles inspired bass lines, before hitting a groove that reminds me a lot of the more melodic Mogwai tracks like “San Pedro” or “The Sun Smells too Loud”.

2. Voices

My least favorite track on the album starts with the kind of echoey riffs that I’ve only heard from Foster but the vocals are so awkward over the intro and the chorus that it makes it hard to keep moving through the track. When I heard the short solo work Shane Cahn lays down over the songs transition (which is catchy as hell) it kept me going through the track. It is nice to hear the female voice on this track though...

3. Hand-Picked Lemon

The riff that I couldn't stand on the previous track is used here in a very nice groove. This is one of the few tracks that is constantly changing and introducing new sounds; it gives me the feeling and depth I expect from an Explosions in the Sky track (and Talk Talk). Though the riffing on the bridge, intro, and solo/transitions still reminds me a lot of Mogwai they are still sounds I’ve only heard from this band (correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like they are messing around with the necks of their guitars).

4. Chupacabra

By this track I can tell they love messing with the guitar sounds that either annoyed me or got me really involved but from here on out they do a great job of it. This is easily the catchiest song on the album with lyrics I can actually hear, they make me want to sing along, “I wonder where they’ve been”. They also lay down a vocal melody that is catchy as hell with guitars squealing behind it, before it breaks into a heavy bass line. The breakdowns all over this track sound a lot like Maybeshewill with their Post Metal style and it leads to some really fast riffing to end the track right! They sound pretty fun on this track which only a few bands like And So I Watch You From Afar or sleepmakeswaves (and Talk Talk)play around with.

5. Necklace

The instrumentation on this track hits all at once and and really builds a beautiful noise under the most emotional vocals on this album. This song lacks some individuality but it really makes up for it in a real sentimental feeling and a great almost Godspeed You, Black Emperor type of outro starting when the band yells “1, 2, 3, 4”.

6. Top 40

This track hits the same way as the last but it had a few nice transitions with the echoing sound coming from each instrument at the same time and ending with a really tight drum roll and loud guitars that again remind me of Mogwai at their most melodic.

- Austin Lovelace

The Note Pad:

Other Post Rock bands: Slint, Talk Talk, Explosions in the Sky, And So I watch You From Afar, Maybeshewill, sleepmakeswaves, MONO, Russian Circles, Do Make Say Think, Godspeed You,Black Emperor

Other bands you might like: Pink Floyd, Swans, The Moody Blues, Rush, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Queen

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