Sunday, August 7, 2016
TRANSITIONS AND TRANSFORMATIONS: "CASABLANCA" POST SOCIAL
Shannon Connor: Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Programming
Mitch Deitz: Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Sam Galligan: Bass Guitar
Brendan Manley: Drums, Percussion, Programming, Vocals
Bill Gibson: Modular Synthesizers, Thumb Piano on "Eyes Closed"
Javier Reyes: Lead Guitar on "A7"
Cover Photography by Sheridan Connor
Flower Petal Pressing Artwork Designed by Emma Schell
Recorded at Shannon's House January 2016-June 2016
Mastered by Justin Perkins at Mystery Room, Milwaukee, WI
Composed, Produced, Arranged and Performed by Post Social
Released July 30, 2016
Gentlemen, you have raised your own bar!
For a band who rapturously captured my attention upon first listen and has only continued to impress, surprise and enrapture me with their specialized art and artistry, Madison, WI's Post Social has now emerged with their finest effort to date, so much so that as I listened to it for the very first time, I thought to myself, as my mouth was held agape in amazement with what I was hearing, "This is their 'Led Zeppelin III'!"
Now, before any of you dear readers and listeners feel that I have completely succumbed to hyperbole, please allow me to elaborate. If the band's first two albums, from their sparkling, dazzling self-titled debut (released December 6, 2014) to their scrappier, rambunctious second album "Young Randolphs" (released October 3, 2015), were strong introductions, showcasing Post Social's unquestionable skills with songwriting and a superior musicianship that often dazzles the ears with their layered, intoxicating textures, then their third album, entitled "Casablanca," is where Post Social arrives with their most fully realized and cohesive collection.
Whatever the title of "Casablanca" may mean to you or whatever images and feelings the name implies, maybe attempt to have those in mind when you listen to this album. For myself, I imagine something or some place of some great distance or elusiveness. I am swayed by emotions that sail from mystery and mythology of something grand and possibly magical. If the three albums by Post Social happened to be feature films, then "Casablanca" is the one where they extend into 70MM widescreen!!
Please believe me and heed the words that I not only have written but the ones that you are about to read as I would never steer you down the wrong path. The four young men of Post Social are indeed the real deal. Accomplished, serious musicians who only continue to grow and challenge themselves while maintaining the innocent and unfiltered glee found in the discovery of writing another song. And with that, Post Social's "Casablanca," again self composed, produced and recorded solely by the band yet this time over a six month period (while also juggling post high school responsibilities from college courses and holding down day jobs), exists as a stunning, beautifully sequenced song cycle where not one element is out of place, making it one of the finest albums I have heard in 2016.
Where both of Post Social's previous albums began with instantly dynamic openers from the sunshine soaked "Time And A Half" from the debut to the raucous "Offline" from the second. With the track "Forester," "Casablanca" begins its journey on a slightly muted yet unmistakably pensive note performed on pastoral acoustic guitars. "When your hands are at a loss/The flame will read your thoughts," sings guitarist Mitch Deitz, conjuring up images in my mind of woodland solitude and meditative states while staring into a long running campfire. "Thinking about moving on," Deitz continues. "Just to have another crack at what was done/You never felt so good inside/You never felt like you begun." Yet, as the song continues to shape shift, from its double tracked, spacey vocals to a more interior single vocal, sounds of self-doubt seem to emerge as guitarist Shannon Connor begins to sing, "I think you should know by now that what burns never returns...you didn't keep your fingers crossed/And the feeling's still lost."
At this time, please allow me to inform you that I have not spoken with the band about the meanings or inspirations to any of their songs. Yet, for me, in the case of "Forester," I wonder if perhaps this is a song about their relationship with inspiration itself. The excitement of beginning a new song but the trepidation that also arrives with the creative process, the wonder and worry that what has been accomplished in the past could ever be achieved again. Who knows? And also, with that, how incredible as Post Social has advanced themselves into a greater sense of nuance that is compounded by the musical bed of "Forester," over the course of nearly six minutes, the song slowly builds upwards and then explodes into a glorious, almost classic rock fury with Connor taking a bold step forwards with a stunning extended guitar solo that spirals over and through the majestic bedrock powerfully laid down by Deitz, bassist Sam Galligan and drummer Brendan Manley.
After the abrupt finish of "Forester," we receive the dream like fade in of the crystalline "Green Hornet," which again showcases the jaw dropping guitar work of Deitz and Connor as they seemingly effortlessly continue to build their trademark interlocking guitar lines in a fashion that recalls Real Estate by way of 1980's King Crimson. By the album's third track, entitled "Heat," Post Social turns up the volume, returning to more of the "Young Randolphs" exuberance yet with more of a polished sheen and even a surprise ending to boot, a laugh to tickle the eardrums followed by the natural tranquility of hearing raindrops falling against the windowsills.
Shannon Connor has always specialized with the group's ballads, for their always impressive melodicism combined with the inventiveness of the guitar work. For "Idlewild," Connor has outdone himself tremendously. It is a melody that almost sounds vintage, with a chord progression that feels like a sound that I haven't heard in an extremely long time...like something from Brill Building era Carole King or even early Todd Rundgren, either Nazz or like the mythical lost track from "Something/Anything?" (released February 1972).
This time, Connor takes the lead vocal for a set of lyrics that for their fragility, they possess an emotional imagery and intimacy that stuck to the ribs and felt as if the song's aforementioned melody willed the words into existence, for they are in lockstep.
"Check your Christmas cards
I think you missed one
Returned to sender
We know who it's from
Snowflakes are in bloom
Mattress on the floor
I know nothing lasts forever
But I never asked for more"
For a band that has never shied away from any sense of romanticism, "Idlewild" wears its melancholy heart upon its sleeve willingly and beautifully, therefore charting a new and deeper emotional territory for Post Social.
One really fun aspect about listening to a Post Social album is the process of trying to discern just what the band members may have been influenced by throughout their lives, possibly trying to determine what sorts of artists may have influenced their sound and songwriting. Even so, they have become so skilled with their creativity that you may think you know who they listen to but you're not quite sure. With "Blume," it feels as if '90's alternative rock has entered the fray as Post Social expertly crafts a tune with the era's signature loud/quiet dynamics, on which the band unleashes a guitar army and alternates those moments with gentler guitar plucks and subtle drum machine beats.
The album's centerpiece "Eyes Closed" is also the band's masterpiece. With this six minute plus selection, we find Post Social at their most prog rock ambitious and adventurous yet also ensuring textures, shadings and a level of tastefulness that is often elusive to so many long established musical acts. The track begins with a jaunty bounce that is amplified by Galligan and Manley's near Motown-ish backbeat but find themselves juxtaposed with darkly somnambulant lyrics on which Deitz sings about old skulls, bad luck, decay, mirrors and smoke and appearing comatose.
And then, Post Social goes into a daydream...
For the following three minutes or so, The band creates a hallucinogenic soundscape with repetitive Pink Floyd styled guitars and bass while electronic flourishes flow through the notes and our speakers, weaving an enormously captivating and trance inducing spell. Our dream state is then eventually interrupted by the band in full rock and roll power blasting us all awake from our reverie before double-ending back upon itself into the light and dark of its opening section. Just phenomenal.
Musically, "In The Shade" is wide eyed sunshine, a perfect arrival after the dreamworld of "Eyes Closed." Yet, lyrically, it feels as if the band is again juxtaposing slightly darker internal thoughts against the sparkling guitars. Life may be good in the shade but you could still lose all that you have obtained. "Ugolino" finds the band heading underwater, perhaps in the womb starring an unwanted child (perhaps a little like Jimi Hendrix's "Belly Button Window") as its self-described tomb is located outside of the womb because "you just don't belong."
"Ugolino" is packed with even more complex guitar patterns dancing around Manley's jazz drum patterns and soon, we find ourselves caught within the furious instrumental throes of "A7" before heading into the album's finale (sort of), the already released single of "Guac Bomb," with finds the band in a relaxed, reflective groove which may even house a newfound sense of resolution.
Now, for those of you who happen to purchase the physical version of the album as I have, I think the album concludes proper with the gorgeous epilogue entitled "A Desert In The City," a selection that serves as a secret hidden track and features Shannon Connor on all of the vocals and instruments performing a melody that felt like something James Iha may have composed. For me, that song perfectly concluded this particular listening experience wondrously.
Post Social's "Casablanca," precisely like its two predecessors, is compulsively listenable as its sinuous harmonics, melodies and rhythms compel you to hear the entire album all over again the split second it reaches its end, and even then, their music continuously reveals itself. Yet, with "Casablanca," Post Social have pushed themselves forwards by creating the full album experience where every song and sound sits within its perfect place, because like a house of cards, the entire work would fall apart if any elements happened to be out of place.
Their six month recording process, their most intensive to date, has illustrated that the extra time and effort was completely worth any sense of trouble. This album, like "Young Randolphs," is self-recorded and produced. Yet unlike that album's rawness, "Casablanca" sits within just a pebble's throw of the sonic sheen of their debut, which was recorded in an official studio. It amazes me how a home recording could sound so hi-fi! Brendan Manley's drums in particular sound full and fresh while Mitch Deitz, Shannon Connor and Sam Galligan's guitars and bass just sparkle through the speakers.
The band has always show tremendous skill with song sequencing but with "Casablanca," the entire album feels and sounds like one complete statement rather than a collection of songs, like a Pink Floyd album or as I previously stated at this posting's outset, like "Led Zeppelin III" (released October 5, 1970). As I also previously stated, I have no idea of what these songs or this album is necessarily about but thinking of these four young men and their current station in life just one year away from high school and into further adulthood as they all approach their twenties, there is something of a feeling of the process of transition flowing through the album, the process of transformation and all of the joys and pains that ensue. Even the motifs of water that occur through the album could be seen as either purifying or engulfing or even a bit of both. Perhaps the album is an internal journey about traveling from being boys to becoming men. Maybe the feeling of "Casabanca" is a feeling of new levels of maturity found and the turbulence that comes from shedding old skin.
But, aside from any interpretations, "Casablanca" is a more nuanced affair, more introspective, somewhat quieter than their previous albums, and harboring a musical soundscape that is considerably vast from alt rock to classic rock, to elements of jazz, pop, ballads and prog rock yet not from song-to-song, but all contained within the songwriting itself, which remains the star of the show above all. What impressed me most as I listened to the album for the very first time and what made my jaw open in amazement over and again was the skill of their songwriting, where the cascading melodies, harmonies and rhythms just unfurled luxuriously throughout, flowing from one to the next creating the album's full tapestry, again showcasing the band's cohesiveness and overall discipline.
While Post Social continues to place the song itself front and center instead of spotlighting any individual members (whose instrumental performances continue to astonish), I do have to make special mention of Shannon Connor's increased vocal presence throughout the album as his and Mitch Deitz's vocals now merge together so seamlessly that I often could not tell which one was singing lead. Their vocal blend, much like their guitar work, fits like hands in gloves, much as the inventiveness and agility of Sam Galligan and Brendan Manley's formidable rhythm section.
I honestly do not know how they do it and perhaps, neither do they...to a degree. At their album release performance at the High Noon Saloon, Mitch Deitz did offer the possibility that having been friends and bandmates for so many years, beginning as their very young previous incarnation as The Shrunken Heads, they have had 10 years plus of opportunities to write and play together, to learn about songwriting, recording and performing, that at this stage, much of what they do is almost telepathy.
Even so, it is clear that this is a band that does not wish to sit on its collective creative laurels and just coast. "Casablanca" is the album where Post Social has committed themselves with the determination to expand and push themselves and their art forwards. "Casablanca" is the album where Post Social have now effectively blazed a forward path so vast that anything feels possible.
And I cannot wait to hear it.
Post Social's "Casablanca" is NOW AVAILABLE upon their Bandcamp page for download. On this very page, you can also hear several demos for the album, giving you an insight into how these new songs first came into fruition.
For the physical copies, which the band has also gone all out and created their most elaborate packaging to date, if you are in Madison, head down to B-Side Records on State Street and pick one up!