Album Reviews

Overhead, The Albatross – Learning to Growl


A lot of people will tell you that Post-Rock had its day about five years ago, that those who have kept the torch burning the brightest are the just the ones who held it aloft in the first place, and that all the rest have merely fallen by the wayside or been left dragging their heels through the faux-sentimental, desperately “cinematic” mud. In a lot of ways they would be right I suppose. More bands than you can count dabbled in that realm of tremolo picked, delayed guitars and the“quiet bit/heavy bit” structure, to the point where a listener could predict a track’s formula within it’s first thirty seconds. The group’s that survived the oversaturation of the genre did so through experimentation and by veering away from its formulas into other styles, from ambient (This Will Destroy You) to punk and math-rock (And So I Watch You From Afar) to…. Well…more of the same but getting away with it because they pioneered it (Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Rós).

Dublin’s Overhead, The Albatross formed in 2009 and so the fact that they have only now released their debut LP Learning to Growl serves to indicate that they were a band in no rush to be lumped into the same category as so many other instrumental bands, that they were instead a group who would patiently craft a debut of colossal proportions. Despite quietly releasing several EPs over the past few years, Learning to Growl feels like the body of work that they were building toward the entire time. It is not a completely unique record; it does utilise plenty of the Post-Rock tropes that appear staple. But through clever and additional instrumentation, subtle complexity and genuine emotion as opposed to that cut/paste sentimentality, these qualities are adapted and expanded upon expertly, resulting in a cohesive collection that it is enormously powerful and which stands proudly up alongside some of the most prolific instrumental “rock” records of the past five years.

The album’s opening track and lead single ‘Indie Rose’ is an astonishing feat to begin with. Easily lowering us into the album like a cradle with fluttery soundscapes and the crisp hum of a tone that rests somewhere between that of a string and a voice, the track builds and builds with class and emotion to its thrilling peak. The use of strings on the album is introduced here and while this can at times feel over the top, on this track they fit quite perfectly. That pulsing tone from the beginning grows into the track’s most intense sound. The crystal clear production throughout the album has to be commended, making the band’s dabblings in unconventional time signatures flow with comfort.

The most immediate comparison to be made in this album is with the now disbanded Maybeshewill, a group who championed the real cinematic feeling to be gained in this style of music. Replacing the Leciester group’s use of spoken word samples and synths with an increased yet tasteful use of strings and choral vocals on tracks like ‘Theme for a Promise’ and ‘Big River Man’ though gives Overhead their own take on that element. Elsewhere, comparisons to Leeds’ electronic outfit Vessels are noticed in the glitch drum patterns and throbbing bass of ‘Paraxysm’ and ‘Daeku’.

What’s special about this record is that its transitions never feel like the aural equivalent of ass scratching cigarette breaks that often weigh so heavily on other post-rock releases. The transitions between movements on this record breeze by with careful motifs and embellishments, giving it a much greater wealth of character. No where is this clearer than on the album’s shortest, most transitionary track ‘Leave it to my Ghost’.

While Learning to Growl is not a faultless record, its length of fifty nine minutes being an awful lot to chew, especially with a shortage of “riffs” such as on ‘HBG’, it is still without a doubt a release that will blast expectations out of the water. Entering into this album thinking it will be another run of the mill post-rock collection would be a big mistake. It is a lot more than that. Learning to Growl is record chock full of purity, heart and raw energy. Something about this particular style of music has always felt like it needs to be found by someone at the right point of their lives, like it needs to be heard in the right context – Oh, to be fifteen and discovering ASIWYFA again. Overhead, the Albatross may not be to everyone’s taste. But heard by the right person, at the right time, they might change the way someone listens to music for the rest of their lives. And for an album to have that capacity is plenty really, isn’t it? Eoin Murray