Bear the Mammoth is one of the few prominent, active post-rock bands that we have here in Melbourne. Stylistically in the vein of bands like Mogwai, Caspian, with the light, lick-driven jams, and to an extent, Mono and Jakob occasionally veering into heavier, more intense section, but also with a noticeable prog slant, the band initially won me over on a purely stylistic level. We just don’t have that many bands like that in Melbourne, and as an avid post-rock fan, I’ve always felt a bit in awe of them.
That said, ‘Yamadori’, their debut album, was one that I felt was beautiful, but fell short when it came to song structure. It showcased the bands talent for crafting diverse soundscapes, their flair for playing with time, their overall top-tier musicianship… but I felt that, at the end of each track, it didn’t really amount to much. Most ideas, motifs and melodies were built up to a satisfying degree within their respective sections in each song, but never really went beyond that. There were no recurring sections or explosive climaxes, and songs rarely looked back to double down on any of their melodies, resulting in tracks that progressed chronologically, from one segment onto the next, until it just ended. It was an album of glued together musical segments rather than songs, and although these segments were consistently impressive and, overall, a lot of fun to listen to, they never felt like they were really going anywhere. Once that album was over, it was hard to feel much impacted by it. It was meandering, pleasant, and it grooved in all the right places – but it never felt as grandiose or dramatic as a lot of the best (and, I’ve gotta say, a lot of the most bloated) post-rock does.
Their upcoming, sophomore full length ‘Years Under Glass’ improves upon Bear the Mammoth’s past efforts by showcasing a more conscious effort to construct tracks that feel more structured and cohesive. The average song length on the album is a good minute shorter than the average length on ‘Yamadori,’ and it’s indicative on a more focussed approach to crafting their songs – these songs work on a much more unified level. They’re less meandering, and ideas and melodies are chosen for their congruence and developed with each other throughout an entire track. It helps make for an album of songs I could listen to on their own – standouts include opener Eyes Still (which, by the way, I’ve been searching for since hearing it live at this year’s Progfest, a task that has, until now, infuriated me to no end), ending track Sous Verre, and last year’s single Decembering – for their enclosed sound and satisfying, restrained, climaxes.
The album starts off with its loudest tracks and then winds down, which is a nice change of pace compared to most other band-oriented post-rock albums I hear. The lightly distorted chords and flam-y tom groove of Eyes Still build to one of the loudest post-rock crescendo early on, before dropping off and quickly building on a slower, delayed guitar motif, culminating in what is probably the loudest and most satisfying crescendo about five and a half minutes in, which ends with a quick throwback to the opening chords and flam groove, before ending with almost a minute of fading guitar noise. At just under eight minutes, it’s the longest song on the album, and it does a brilliant job of setting the tone, making you wonder tricks it could have to throw at you if its seemingly show its cards by running straight through one of the most typically epic “post-rock” crescendos right off the bat. It then goes on to explore different feels, each culminating in its own climax, whether that be with a crescendo or not. It’s a much more diverse album than their previous efforts, and some songs even go in some fairly unique directions.
It’s shown me that, despite my initial impressions of them, “grandiose” just isn’t the feel that Bear the Mammoth necessarily strives towards. It never really occurred to me just how restrained Bear the Mammoth’s music really is, and Years Under Glass is an evolution on the winding sounds of Yamadori (and their previous EP, In Absence,) that improves on it in every way, and makes its mellow, prog-inflected feel much more obvious. Twinkly, dynamic, relatively easy on the distortion, often mid-pace and with subtle math-rock and prog undercurrents. On Years Under Glass, the fragile, glassy vibe is just right.