I’ve been listening to quite a bit of post-metal/sludge/doom/drone/shoegaze/post-rock over the Christmas holiday break (well all year really) and among the shit there’s some good and some excellent stuff about. Unfortunately though, most of it has some niggle however small, whether it be aspects like the mix, the lack of variety, dodgy vocals or simply limited imagination. Not always enough to ruin the whole record, but enough to be a small stone in your shoe.
Along comes We Lost The Sea with their second album, “The Quietest Place On Earth”. Over the course of the seven tracks the seven members of the band hold your attention for a full hour and 42 seconds. It will lull you into a false sense of security, disarm you then plunge a sword through you before holding your bleeding body in its arms.
On first listen you can try to second guess what’s coming as much as you want but the album is wonderfully unpredictable with no structure being repeated and no distinct style settled on. This doesn’t mean it’s without identity though, which is part of its splendour. I’ve often written that much of the best music is built on the relationship of contrasts, of opposing forces. In “The Quietest Place On Earth” these forces dance together at times while at others grab each other by the throat. It’s these contrasting elements and the unpredictable but fluid way in the way they interact that provides the record with its identity. This sort of contrast and variety can feel disjointed and out of place, but this record knows exactly where it’s going, even if you don’t.
This isn’t a cheery record and can become quite violent – a Sutcliffe Jügend kind of violence rather than grindcore violence. For example the quieter passage following the magnificent tortured climax in the closing song ‘Day and Night of Misfortune, II) Night’ is aftermath rather than afterglow. Of course it is also so very beautiful in that way only depressing music can be. If you are looking for a theme it’s worth noting the quote and thanks to Colonel Joseph Kittinger, who held the record for highest skydive for many years. The idea of floating to the edge of space before plunging to the ground certainly fits the bill, although the landings tend to feel like there was no parachute involved.
There is no one leading instrument in these songs, nor are there vocals for the most part. The music itself is rich and layered, calling on the services of three guitarists, two pianists plus drums, bass, glock and samples. At times it will be piano that carries the song, at others samples or guitar, and bass and drums get every opportunity to shine. Some tracks are pure sludge and post-metal, others using shimmering post-rock guitar. The third song ‘With Grace’ takes post-rock crescendocore to new heights with the most gradual build-up you may have ever heard as the volume picks up over the course of over ten minutes – the pace quickens too along with some intriguing timing variations. The middle track, ‘Forgotten People’ is more alternative/indie rock with beautiful guest vocals (and lyrics) by Belinda Licciardello.
Apart from ‘Forgotten People’ the vocals are mostly screaming monotone phrases from Chris Torpy and although reminiscent of the likes of Scott Kelly and Mike Armine, are recognisably unique. Building on great composition and performances, what producer Tim Carr has done so well is not let the loud vocals drown out the music. Instead the two forces face off against each other, each finding its power and strength from a different source which in turn creates the impression of melody in the lyrics despite there being none.
The compostitions are thoughtful, the performances faultless. This all adds up to an aural journey packed with emotion, tension, drifting highs and intense, crushing lows that treads an unexpected path. But surely this is not the quietest place on earth? Unless the quietest place on earth is not on earth at all but at 100,000 feet where you don’t know you’re falling at 614 miles an hour. In which case this album most definitely is.