Wozniak is a band that hails from Edinburgh, Scotland and is made up of Simon Cuthbert-Kerr (guitar), James Urquhart (bass), John Sinclair (drums), and Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr (guitar, vocals). The band’s first EP, Pikes Peak, was released in 2014 and was quickly followed up with Auster, there second EP, in 2015. Following that release, the band decided to focus on producing their first full length which is coming out on April 21. Courage Reels is, at its very essence, emotive, moving from the fiery edges of rage to the deep, dark holes of despair. Although this is the case, there are moments of light and hope that peer through the darkness along the way. To pin down the genre that Wozniak is working in is entirely a slippery affair. They move through post-rock forms into shoegaze bliss and then into metal-esque moments with ease as if the genres had no walls or barriers or definitions. Courage Reels is a masterclass in sluffing off labels and doing what feels right and the results are glorious.
Courage Reels begins with “Shader”, an instrumental, post-rock laden, fuzzed-out song that opens with a mid-tempo refrain and then soars at about a minute into this glorious prelude to the album. The track has epic peaks with valleys that allow the listener a moment to breathe until the band explodes into walls of sound once again. The bright guitar hook in the midst of the fuzzed-out noise is incredibly catchy. “Ghosting” begins with an eerie tone as guitars strum somber chords and drums plot a slow, yet perfectly accented dirge. The bass work is exceptional, reminiscent of that metal side of Wozniak’s sound. At about 1:30, the “Ghosting” is infused with fuzz, the drums begin to hammer out lines on the toms, and dissonant guitars ring out against one another. This song, to me, feels a lot like God is an Astronaut, and I mean that the highest compliment. Sarah’s vocals make their first appearance here, recessed and drenched in reverb, playing off of the ghost theme nicely. The build is tremendous and guitars begin to layer and build a huge, dense wall of sound.
“Super Panther”, besides being one of the coolest names for a song, is a ferocious piece, with vibrating and undulating guitars that throb and pump, moving from aggressive swirls to in-your-face fuzz. Again, and I can’t praise James’ work enough, but the bass work is exceptional. John also brings emotive accents to the percussion that is impressive. All of the percussion and bass is enhanced with wah infused guitars, moments of explosive aggression, and incredible tonally powered walls of sound. “Perihelion” is the lead single off the album and has a more structured feel with vocals playing a large part, at least up at the front portion of the piece. About halfway through the piece, the guitars pull back as if to usher in another epic era. Distorted guitars begin to peer into the mix as layers slowly become introduced. The layers are swirling, almost unnerving, tones that are eventually exposed at the end of the track as the rest of the band peels away. A gorgeous 7:38 minutes if I’ve ever heard one. At just over a minute, the drones go silence and beautiful, reverb-tinged guitars play melodies, answering one another over subtly accented percussion. The bass answers them with his own line and dreamy vocals enter the mix. This is the longest on the album, mixing shoegaze elements with an undergirding, long-form post-rock feel.
“Scottish Dancer” begins with deep, rumbling tones and drone-like guitars floating over the deeper bed. The guitars are laced with reverb, delay, and a slight edge of spacy drone to give them an otherworldly fee. The bass is heavy and laden with fuzzy edges. Towards the end, the bass and drones are all that remain as they bring the epic track to a close. “Natsuko”, the shortest on the album, begins with an energetic bass hook that moves into high-hat infused drums and a bouncy vibe-laden with dreampop-esque guitars. It’s one of those bright moments peering out of the darker clouds of Courage Reels. “Erebus” begins with a heady bass-line and then is joined by sparse drums and jangly guitar. Another guitar joins the mix and creates a dense back-curtain for the rest of the band to float over. There is both a lightness and darkness to this piece and the title does hint at the darker side. Erebus can refer to the primordial deity and personification of darkness in Greek mythology. Having this track right after “Natsuko” is brilliant and the contrast striking.
“Crush” begins with that wonderful stylus on vinyl sound and then is overpowered by fuzzy guitars and thumping drums. The bass work, again, is awesome with fuzzy tons wrapping around the notes. Vocals are deeply recessed in the mix as Sarah almost talks to the listener through the dense flurry of sonic textures. The finale to Courage Reels, “Death Suit”, begins with organ and strumming guitar. Bass joins in and there are really no layered affects here. Just guitar and bass playing bare and clean. Percussion joins and slightly reverb/delayed guitar joins in to add bright touches. Wozniak really plays with tones and textures as they move from one part of the piece to another, adding more fuzz or reverb or spaciness. They also play heavily with volume, moving from quiet, reflective moments, to fuller, more expressive plateaus. As the title of the track indicates, there is not necessarily a somber feeling but more one of contemplative finality, a surrender to the inevitable. The build hits a mighty peak at about 6 minutes and it is magnificent.
Wozniak’s debut hits you like the sun hitting the ocean, all fire and steam and destruction and beauty amid the combustible tidal waves of glorious bliss. The first quarter of the year has seen a number of incredible releases from various bands and Courage Reels adds to the immensely incredibly music that has come out so far in 2017. The band has truly produced a genre-bending masterpiece that moves from post-rock to shoegaze to dream-pop and places in-between. Courage Reels is out on April 21 on very limited six-panel digi-pack CD and digital. Pick up a copy of the CD before they are all sold out!