Various Artists – Hawk Moon Records: Volume II (2011, Hawk Moon Records)

In all the time I’ve reviewed music here, I don’t believe I’ve ever reviewed a compilation. Luckily, I’ve gotten the chance to review this incredible compilation, “Hawk Moon Records: Volume II”, which is a collection of ambient post-rock tracks from artists that are up and coming in the genre. Some of these artists I’ve already heard of before, such as Lowercase Noises and The Echelon Effect, who makes some incredibly emotional and dynamic compositions in the genre, and I am happy to see some new, previously unreleased material of theirs on here. However, the nicest part about listening to this album is that luckily, this album has also given me the chance to discover some artists that I had previously never heard of before. It is hard for me to sum these tracks up without going through each one (as I usually do with all my reviews), because each track has a different feel and style, though all related to the vein of ambient and post-rock that the compilation revolves around for almost 40 minutes. Hopefully, you, as the listener, will also have a chance to check out this compilation, because it is certainly something you don’t want to miss.

The first track, “Sun”, which is by In Lieu, the solo project of 21 year old multi-instrumentalist/producer Martin Ruffin, begins with a beautiful ambience of synth pads and some reverberated piano. Eventually, some soothing vocals and a soft electronic beat enters into the mix, but they never interfere here in the beginning with the ambience that continues to shine and glimmer throughout. Further in, the intensity builds as more traditional drum kits and higher-ranged powerful singing take over more of the mix. Finally, the song builds to a huge climax containing hard, military-like drumming, distorted guitar riffs, and the presence of some glockenspiels, in which the song builds yet again with more and more noisy distortion, before ending out in an ambient soundscape. Overall, the song really caught my attention, and was, I believe, the perfect choice to begin the compilation.

The second track, “FL150”, which is by the UK-based project The Echelon Effect, contains an ambient opening with light guitar riffs and distant sound samples, which could range from radios to TV stations. As the track progresses, glockenspiel melodies and some electronic beats in the background unveil themselves to the listener, and the riffs become more layered and complex. Suddenly, powerful drumming, melodic guitars, and intense synthesized strings drop on the listener unexpectedly, almost like a soundtrack to a film. It then quiets down to the soft plucks of guitars, lots of studio effects, and more sound samples, before eventually building up intensity in the last minute of the song, and then finally ending out in a quiet fashion. Overall, this is yet another great example of post-rock, as previously demonstrated by Mogwai and other artists that were claimed to have worked in the genre.

“The Great Landfill In The Sky”, the third track on the compilation, is performed by a new project entitled Damn Robot!, which consists of the brothers Rob and Tom Honey, who have worked respectively in the projects Inachus and Good Weather For An Airstrike. The track begins with soft ambient drones before going into an electric piano progression, soft electronic beat, and a spoken word sample that sounds to be in a foreign language. Ambient drones keep building on top of each other underneath this foundation before later in the track, guitar riffs washed in a lush reverb can be found before adding back in the beginning elements, as well as some more soft synth leads. Overall, though it is not as dynamic as the first two tracks, it still can be categorized as post-rock simply because of the way that it uses traditional (and some non-traditional) instrumentation in an ambient matter to create a soothing soundscape of drones, textures, and quiet riffs. In fact, if there is any dynamics here, it’s the foreign vocal sample, since at the end of the track, people can be heard yelling. Overall, it works to calm down the listener from the first two tracks of the compilation, giving them some time to relax.

“The Cure”, the fourth track provided by the Sussex band “…And The Earth Swarmed With Them”, contains an even more ambient approach, consisting of only melodic melodies from guitars and either vibes or keys, processed with delay and reverb, as well as the sounds of the wind in the background, which together create a slightly unsettling effect, but is nevertheless beautiful. It is also the shortest track on the compilation at around only 3 minutes in length, but nevertheless, it is still a great addition to the compilation, showing that post-rock can be ambient as well as still preserving the rock roots. However,the fifth track, “Yardsticks”, which is by the Liverpool-based atmospheric instrumental rock band MinionTV, is the longest track on the compilation at over 7 minutes long, and begins with actively buzzing and rhythmic synths, moving in stereo around the listener, but still being as connected to drone as most of the album is already. Eventually, a tremolo picked guitar enters the mix, along with some other strange and otherworldly sounds seeping in and out. Eventually, the song picks up steam with a fast moving and electronically manipulated drum rhythm, along with distorted ambient guitars and more strange sound effects that are almost reminiscent of Joy Division’s works. The song builds up further and further with more waves of ambient lead guitar, until the drums fade out, leaving behind ambient lead guitar, a huge wall of sound, and the buzzing synths, which over time gradually die down until the track ends. Overall, this is one of the more interesting listens, and I’d certainly want to hear more from this band soon.

“Blood and Toothpaste”, which is by multi-instrumentalist Alex Previty’s solo project On Escalators, takes post-rock to another level, combining not only the ambience at the beginning of the track, but after a while, the track immediately becomes complex with math-rock drum rhythms and melodic distorted guitars, similar to what Slint did with “Spiderland”, but without all the dissonance of that album, showing yet again just how powerful post-rock can truly be. Also, unlike most of post-rock’s minimalism, the song constantly changes throughout without much repetition, building tension as to what is going to happen next. In the middle, the song immediately becomes slower and closer to what most of today’s post-rock music sounds like, along with beautiful clean guitars and light druming, in which the drums slowly build up the tension only to unveil more ambient drones to end the song. Overall, like the last song, this is definitely another interesting listen with a lot of variety going on in one track, and I will certainly be looking out for this project as well.

“The Days of Winter”, which is by the New York-based Circadian Eyes, the solo project of Bryan Collins, begins solely with slow piano rhythms, which over time change into more complex and upbeat rhythms closer to modern pop, rock, and classical music. However, a light kick drum builds up the tension of the track, progressively getting louder along with some synthesizer pads, and eventually reaching a beautifully nostalgic climax before ending out with piano. It is a nice change of pace from the rest of the album, and I believe it was a good choice for the compilation. The last track, “Let In The Morning Light”, which is by none other than the New-Mexico based Lowercase Noises, the solo project of Andy Othling, begins with beautifully lush guitar chords, a softly stuttering electronic beat, and some electric piano. The instrumentation works really well here, and creates a very relaxing atmosphere. Eventually, both acoustic and electronic drums can be heard, which builds up to a nice, slow-moving pace featuring more brilliant ambience. In the middle of the song, a very interesting synth lead can also be heard, which I haven’t really heard in most of Andy’s music, unless of course, I was focusing too much on the atmosphere of the song to notice it before. Towards the end of the song, all of the elements heard in the song come together to create a very stunning climax before ending out quietly with electronic beats and electric piano, in which the album ends.

Overall, “Hawk Moon Records: Volume II” showcases some great post-rock music from the latest up and coming artists. Though I had already heard The Echelon Effect and Lowercase Noises before, and I really enjoyed their contributions to this album, the rest of the songs really surprised me in the way that though they were all very ambient overall, they each took post-rock to a different degree, from Circadian Eyes’s simple piano melodies, Damn Robot!’s drone-y ambience and …And The Earth Swarmed With You’s minimal atmospheres to On Escalators’s math-rock influenced grooves, MinionTV’s epic cinematic soundscapes, and In Lieu’s huge dynamic range. Every piece on here is unique in their own way, and I thoroughly enjoyed each and everyone one of them. If you are someone who has never heard post-rock before, let alone heard of any of these bands before, you should take it upon yourself to get this album. It is a great entry point into the realm of post-rock, because I can guarantee you that once you listen to this album, you will be hooked to the genre, and want to hear more, either from the artists that are featured on this album or from others who work in the genre. Highly recommended listening.

Title: Hawk Moon Records: Volume II

Artist: Various Artists

Genre: Ambient/post-rock/electronica

Released in 2011 by Hawk Moon Records

You can download the album for free here!: http://hawkmoonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/hawk-moon-records-volume-ii

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