I think that the term “post-rock” tends to be overused sometimes in reference to melodic instrumental music with an edge—as if tossing vocals into the mix would let the piece shed its “post” manacles and just be rock. Aftermath from Stratosphere (aka Ronald Mariën) would certainly fall into that category. But if this is rock, it is rock at a slowed tempo, pulled into a soporific laze, like a patch of sun moving across the floor late in the afternoon, and occasionally shaken up with jagged lines. The guitars come in big layers here, piled into humming strata in varying degrees of distortion and texture. Singular elements, phrases just a note or two long, quiety assert themselves in loops against the droning atmospheres. Overall, the feel is warm and calm. Lush chords fill the air, gentle pick-sweeps across the body to send the notes shimmering off. That begins right in the early moments of “Accepting the Aftermath,” and forms a major part of the album’s sonic palette. In places, as on “The Search for Normality (Reprise),” Mariën brings in the sound of bowed strings. It adds a light orchestral tone and a pulsing rhythm to play against the washes. There is also gritty energy here. Toothy distortion spews off the guitar in “The Search for Normality” (not to be confused with its reprise!). It feels like Mariën is twisting his axe’s neck to wring the notes out of it, the resultant throttled noise buzzing in our ears. (You, like me, may find yourself checking your media player at the end of this track. I’ll leave you to see why.) “Confusion” changes the feel, entering on tapped notes that bounce back and forth and showing a certain tension at play in the harmonies and in the way the washes rise and shift, everything grabbing hold of the emotional power of minor chords. The closing track, “When You Think Everything Is Alright,” is surprisingly bright. Not that everything else is gloomy, but there’s an optimism in its voice that caught me a little off guard when I first heard it—and which I came to look forward to in later listens. The melody is very strong here, elements coming together in a sing-along tone and everything simply shining. Some might call it post-rock, but by the generalities of that term and the way this piece feels, I’d lean more toward post-folk. It’s homey and welcoming, then makes an effortless shift back toward distortion to create a great closing vignette for this hour-long ride.
Aftermath is an excellent looping album. Where it slips into more ambient spaces, it’s quiet and unassumingly pleasant. When it raises its voice, you pay attention. The underplayed melodies and rhythms are crammed full of hooks. You may hum along, and you’ll definitely find yourself moving to it. I’ve truly enjoyed the several hours I’ve spent inside the sound here. An excellent, deep-listen-worthy release from Stratosphere.
Available from Projekt.