Post-rock is one of those genres that I invariably find pleasant but almost never make a lasting impact on me. I enjoy the long, slow build-ups that never really resolve, the atmosphere of nostalgia, the huge, washy atmospheres, but I seldom hear anything that blows me away.
In many ways, Outlander’s new two-track EP Sundowning / Unconditional isn’t any different. Much of it is repetitive – whether that makes it contemplative and mantric or just tedious is open to interpretation and depends of your individual tastes. I find it leans more towards the contemplative and soothing, but both songs on this EP do have moments where I find they edge a little too close to boring for me. Especially the floating, monotonous vocals, steeped so deeply in reverb that they wash out any discernible lyrics that might’ve been, can feel a little drab; absolutely not unpleasant, but lacking much emotional impact.
So, how come someone like me who doesn’t seem to ‘get’ post-rock very much would bother to review this particular EP? I may like complexity and anger in my music most of the time, but I can also be a total basic bitch – I’m a sucker for black metal purely for its harrowingly simple lead lines, and I can quite happily soak in a song for ten minutes if I like the chord progression enough. “Sundowning” has a slapper of a chord progression, and drew me in from its opening seconds – the first passing chord is already chromatic, giving it more spice from the very beginning than most post-rock albums have in their entirety. It’s still expansive and lush, the way you’d expect it to be, but with a little more of an edge.
“Sundowning” meanders through a dreamy clean section to a dark, meditative ending. Its simplicity is charming; despite pushing the boundaries of my patience at times, it’s still wholly enjoyable, and can become quite stunning on the right day. I thought “Sundowning” would be my favourite track on the EP, as it’s shorter and certainly catchier, but the more I listen to “Unconditional”, the more I dig it. There’s something quite chilling about it – at times, the song is reduced to drums and glacial guitar feedback, seagulls circling colossal icebergs.
I figured out why I like this EP so much about halfway through my first listen of “Unconditional”. It’s not just the cheeky inclusion of synchronised, unexpected stabs, but the temperature of the music. To me, post-rock is usually kind of balmy, summer evenings or that first day after winter that smells and feels like spring – pink-streaked skies, a gentle breeze rippling across a pond, all of those lovely melancholic things. Sundowning isn’t warm. It sometimes creates an illusion of warmth, but this EP is not dusky and mild – it’s a little rougher, waves breaking on cliffs, a slight sting of salt carried on the crisp breeze. Even when the sun is out, it’s cold.
Even though both songs on this EP are excellent examples of the bleaker side of post-rock, and there’s not much I can fault in either of them, I find myself wishing Outlander had included a third track. I feel a little teased by Sundowning, like the band had just established their tone and then decided to quit while they were ahead. I’m not sure if this is a classic case of ‘leave them wanting more’ taken to some extreme, but if so I guess they achieved their goal – I’m definitely keen to hear what’s next. Luckily, Outlander are reasonably established and have a few prior releases, so I do have the option to explore further without having to wait at all. If you want to soak in your own melancholia for a bit, Sundowning / Unconditional will be perfect for you.