The Swan Thief, besides being a great band name, is a post-rock group that hails from San Luis Obispo, California. Their newest release, II, is their aptly named second full-length coming in at seven tracks. As the name of the band suggests, they can tell sonic, otherworldly stories through both musical prowess and lyrical content. The band consists of Alan Dahlquist (guitar), Chase Hall (drums), Austin I’anson (bass), and Gabriel Ulibarri (guitar, vocals). Unlike many post-rock bands, they do have vocals but many of their songs reach beyond radio edit times and engage in long-form, epic sonic escapes. The vocals are also dreamy and deftly executed. Paired with the incredible songwriting, this makes II a musical journey fraught with emotive ups and downs.
II opens with the pensive “Aureate”. This mood setter reverberates with a low hum and sparse guitar. Ulibarri’s angelic vocals express a beautiful yearning and expressive mournfulness. “Aureate” is just gorgeous. I know that word is used a lot about music but this track embodies it with all that post-rock flavor. At 3:52, feedback begins and the band produces a volume change as they get louder, with soaring guitars playing counter melodies. Ulibarri’s vocals peer out from the sonic blast as the drums and bass lay down a slow, drifting pace. As the song comes to a close, it is drenched in feedback and noise, flowing without pause into “Moon or Man”. It begins explosively and demonstrates the band’s ability to move in and out of tempos, creating soaring, emotive moments that engulf the listener. At about 3 minutes in, the tone of “Moon or Man” alters into some quieter but tense vibes as if the band were bringing the listener to an edge, a cliff, over which they will soon travel. Ulibarri’s perfect vocals return and they add even more depth to this long-form track. In the midst of fuzz and thundering percussion, Ulibarri brings a tenderness to the track. His vocal quality is just mesmerizing.
“Baleen” begins with delay heavy guitars that reverberate over brooding bass and drums. Ulibarri’s vocals are brought up in the mix and eventually become tinged with reverb, sinking slightly into the mix. The instrumentation has an urgency to it, moving forward as if to some fateful goal. The quiet moments are especially brilliant, stripping back the stringed walls of sound and creating moments of vulnerability. “Gull” follows in the fadeout from “Baleen” with a rising fuzzed out wall of sound and punchy drums and bass. Growling guitar accompanies the percussion as a forceful presence, looming and punching through the dense wall of sound. The aggressiveness fades for a respite as bright guitar plays and then the bright guitar is engulfed in a tidal wave of sound. This instrumental track rides the wave of aggression till the end akin to Pelican or Red Sparowes, powerful and emotive.
“Aetas III”, a follow-up track in a trilogy started on their prior album I, is a patient piece heavy on the bass-work, which is brilliant, and creates a meditative bed for Ulibarri’s vocals to float over. Bordering on ambience in the repetitive nature of the melodic lines, the piece soothes as it waxes and wanes throughout. I have to mention Hall at this point. His ability on the drums is wonderfully on display on this album as he regularly utilizes the kit as another instrument, not just a time-keeper. If you pay attention, his choices are deliberate and meaningful. This also goes for I’anson who carefully chooses when the bass should act like glue within the song, disappearing into its floor and when to appear, adding wonderful texture to the overall sound. “Cold Calm” is the penultimate track on the album and has an almost jazz, swing vibe going on as Ulibarri evokes a smoky, noir atmosphere. Whether subtle or aggressive, both Ulibarri and Dahlquist produce dulcet as well as gigantically soaring guitar tones. Their guitars serve the overall writing of the song and they play off one another brilliantly. “Cold Calm” fades and the longest track on the album begins: the finale “Edax Mare”. Clocking in at 14:25, it is a long piece full of what the entire album embodies. There are also more ambient, shimmering elements here that are brilliant. It’s a perfect finale to the sonic journey that is II.
Drenched in distortion and tinged in reverb, The Swan Thief take listeners on a sonic journey worth taking many, many times over. II is mature, exploring peaks and valleys of tones and textures that evoke a variety of emotive moments. The Swan Thief’s sophomore effort is worth your attention. Buy a copy and turn up the volume!