I listened to Driving Slow Motion’s ‘Arda’ for the third or fourth time late at night, and it clicked in a whole new way. The best post-rock is often like that; it takes a bit before it really hits, but once it does… whoa.
The band’s overall sound won’t be new for anyone who’s familiar with the crescendocore/post-rock sound of bands like God is an Astronaut and Mono, but the band subtly subverts the genre’s clichés and streamlines it to a point that it’s almost refreshing to listen to. The best post-rock bands are able to create a simple, dynamic pastiche of sound that is often more than the sum of the individual bits (pedals excepted). Driving Slow Motion also takes a less conventional approach to their songwriting, rarely content to stick to the “soft, loud, louder aaaaand stop” approach that so many of their contemporary’s abuse. The songs are dynamic without relying on dynamics to drive the song. Instead, each song consists of two or three well-constructed sections utilising their three-guitar + bass lineup to the fullest. The band often uses guitar ambience to thicken the atmosphere as much as they can while another guitar riffs or twinkles away in the foreground, keeping it melodically simply while throwing just enough forward to keep a listener invested. The drums do a great job of tying the ambience together and helping it all shimmer a bit more brightly, although the guitar parts are so well put-together than I think the tracks would be almost as engaging without them.
Driving Slow Motion succeeds where so many like bands have failed: in restraint. Thankfully, ‘Arda’ doesn’t waste your time with long ambient build-ups and jammy crescendos. At a good 42 minutes and with the average track length being about 4, ‘Arda’ stops well short of becoming overblown or meandering. This is no frills post-rock that moves with a purpose; it comes in, vibes out, leaves without overextending itself. The band also throws a few curveballs our way such as the such as the subtle electronics in In Exchange for a Memory and especially in its final track The Dawn Voyage, which surprised me by not going for the loudest crescendo on the album (as most post-rock albums do with their closers) but instead ditching the percussion and gluing together some reverb-drenched guitar noodlings and a chorus that sounds like it could be one of the ambient tracks from the Twin Peaks. I know that description barely does it justice, but The Dawn Voyage is probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard all year.
And mostly important, I absolutely love the sound of this album. It’s mixed so clearly that, if you’ll excuse the cliché, it really does sound like that band is playing in my room. I reckon ‘Arda’ is a great indicator of what the band would actually sound like in a well-mixed live setting. It’s a nice change from the compressed, boxed in sound many bands like this go for that cuts out all the noise and makes it sound as though the band is playing behind a glass barrier. Many of those bands seem to be trying to push the genre forward through musicianship – a worthy goal, to their credit – but Driving Slow Motion understand that crescendocore without natural ambience and a love for guitar noise may as well be elevator music. The guitars have a slight grit to them that I absolutely love (the distorted tones in particular are gnarly as hell) and the bass works with them, inhabiting its own space in the mix instead of towering over everything like a muddy umbrella.
If I have one criticism of the album, it’s that the songs are a little lacking in immediate hooks. This might have been a problem if I didn’t have to review the album and had no incentive to listen to it more than once – If that was the case, I honestly don’t know if I would have – but then, post-rock isn’t usually an immediately gripping genre. It took me a few listens to get into, for example, We Lost the Sea’s ‘Departure Songs’, and that’s one the finest albums post-rock has to offer. ‘Arda’ doesn’t break the formula too much, but instead refines it and plays with it a little. There are crescendo’s, but they aren’t necessarily the focal point of the music. The band subtle strips the genre to its most basic components of build and release while subverting its clichés and eschewing its most bloated and pretentious tendencies. It’s also spacey and fun. Go check it out.
‘Arda’ is set for release on June 7, you can stream or preorder the album HERE.