After hearing the remarkable Winter 10″ LP by Utah slowcore band Coastal, I knew I had happened upon a gem of a band, and anticipated their next release. Winter is a shimmering, delicate, and wonderful release, and garnered our “EP of the Year” for 2002.
So then, when I heard that Coastal would be sharing a CD with California space rockers Midsummer, I was tickled pink. On paper, the match-up seemed exceedingly intriguing: Coastal, known for their slow, quiet, lingering melodies, coupled with the more aggressive and intricate guitars of Midsummer.
And, This Ageless Night, mostly delivers on its promise of being a wonderful listen. I say “mostly” because, while most of each band’s offerings on This Ageless Night are keeping with each band’s reputation for creating excellent music in their own styles, there are a few hiccups along the way that disturb the flow of the CD, caused by each band’s forays into experimenting with new sounds. Still, overall, This Ageless Night is a very, very strong release, and fans of the music featured at somewherecold will like this CD.
Midsummer starts things off with “Ghost”, a bundle of intertwining guitars, a meandering (in a good way) melody, and up-front vocals by Dale Bryson that refer to Thom Yorke, Bono, and Matt Kelly of the Autumns. The drum work is also exquisite (as it is throughout Midsummer‘s half of This Ageless Night). The sound offered by Midsummer is reminiscent of the Autumns, but brighter and cleaner. “Tempests” follows, beginning with a simple piano melody, and explodes into a multi-instrument cacophony of sounds and melodies. The music of Midsummer simply shimmers and reverberates in the ear of the listener, and while Midsummer is not afraid to use odd effects on the instruments and vocals, their songwriting still occupies a prominent place in their tracks. “‘Til Human Voices Wake Us” features the most effects, and Bryson‘s vocals are buried deep in the mix, under a wall of guitars. The highlight of Midsummer‘s set is surely “Silent Blue”, with its hummable melody, and soaring guitars. Bryson gives his strongest vocal performance in “Silent Blue”, as he goes from singing light, delicate background vocals, to a strongly sung chorus. Magical.
Coastal takes over on track 6, and the difference between the bands is noticed immediately. While Midsummer endeavors to overwhelm the listener with intricate guitar work and loud drum parts, Coastal soothes with their simple, quiet melodies. “Sunbathers” opens with a simple piano melody, covered with a coating of beach sounds and other samples. This instrumental song is a bit of a departure from Coastal‘s usual approach to music, yet the result is soothing and satisfying. Next, Coastal offers what to me is the strongest track on the whole CD, the amazing “Still Nothing”. Lead singer Jason Gough finds his microphone, and delicately sings over a picked acoustic guitar, random effects, and the signature brushed percussion of Coastal. The melody is rather simple, but Coastal has as knack for turning ridiculously simple melodies and arrangements into masterpieces. This song alone is worth the purchase of the disc. Coastal then takes an even more minimalist approach on “Starry” and “The End of Summer”, songs which don’t even feature percussion. Both these songs, especially “The End of Summer” would go well with the Winter songs, as they are simple, sublime, ruminations that contemplate the change of seasons. Gough‘s voice is in fine form when he barely whispers “feels like another lost summer”, to close out the CD. With effected guitars, lingering ever so daintily in the echoes of the listener’s head, Coastal again proves their mettle as a premiere slowcore band.
The observant reader will notice that I’ve strategically left off two tracks from my review. It is on these tracks that both bands veer away from the qualities that are familiar to fans of the bands. And, while I have no qualms with a band expanding their sound and trying new ideas (case in point: “Still Nothing”), both “Japanese Beetle” and “All Children Sail Home” miss the mark. “Japanese Beetle” sounds to me like a video game theme from the 1980’s. Midsummer composes the song seemingly entirely out of synths, and the songwriting is nothing like their other songs on This Ageless Night. I don’t understand the song…in a word, it sounds cheesy to me, and is the subject of the “next track” button on my cd player. “All Children Sail Home” fares somewhat better, with a lingering Coastal guitar line, and other interesting effects incorporated into the music. In fact, taken as an instrumental track alone, “All Children Sail Home” would be a stellar track. What makes this track a little off-kilter for me is the spoken word vocals over the music, provided by a member of the talented band Lorna. The vocals take away from the great music being played underneath, in my opinion. But now, I’m getting picky, because This Ageless Night is a great listen, and 8 1/2 tracks of excellent songwriting, beautiful atmospherics, and great performances.
For fans of: Midsummer, Coastal, the Autumns, Low, Ester Drang.