Way back at the beginning of the year, an Everything Is Noise premiere from French duo First Draft excited me just enough to reach out to the band and ask for their participation in a Weekly Featured Artist piece. To keep things consistent, it was another premiere that pushed the Weekly Featured Artist‘s name back to the front of my mind, although this time it was a band that I was already familiar with. Step forward Arizona four-piece Still Motions. The timing for this feature could not be better, as the band have only just released their latest album syn∙the∙sis via POST. Recordings and it is a real beauty. But before we take a closer look at syn∙the∙sis, it may be better to take a few steps back first.
Still Motions first came on my radar back in 2020 with the release of the fantastic Mirrors, but a quick look at their Bandcamp shows that life for the act goes back a little further, with two singles preceding the debut record. However, look a little closer and you don’t see the four names associated with later releases, but Still Motions founder Thomas Brenneman is happy to give us a little history of the band and explain the line-up:
‘So the line-up pre-Mirrors was just me and Chris Julian (Drums). I had started the project as a studio project only, with plans to grow it into a full band. After showing Chris some material, he wanted to join in and help out on drums. The two of us wrote most of Mirrors and then Chris Estes (Guitar) and Gigi Zimmer (Bass) joined right when we were heading into the studio to record it.‘
Listening to Mirrors, I for one am grateful that this small studio project grew into something bigger. Still Motions unashamedly wear their post-rock influences on their sleeve and the fullness that a band brings only serves to complement this. Album opener “An Epiphany” falls on the ambient side of the spectrum, opening with gentle guitar swells and melodic strings, before delay and reverb infused guitars take over. Even as the track beings to grow in volume, the gentle feel remains. It is this ability to retain emotion and invoke calm even in the heavier moments that first drew me toward Still Motions.
There are also little deviations from the post-rock formula that keeps things exciting, with the delay-coated guitars on “Through Doubt, Comes Clarity” providing a more dance-like vibe without relying too heavily on electronics (which when used are subtle and effective, as we’ll come to a little later). Even with these little additions, the straight up quiet start – slow build – loud finish tracks are where Still Motions really excel, such as in closing track “Mirrors”. Listening to the album, you would have no idea that half of the members had only joined the fold just before recording took place, with the recording process itself proving a rewarding experience for the band as Thomas explains:
‘The recording process was surreal. I had been wanting to launch this project for a long time, but just didn’t have the time. Once I really dove in and finished writing the record, it was a huge weight off the shoulders. Once I heard the tracks finally recorded, it was an emotional experience for me. The release was more successful than I could have ever imagined. The response was amazing, and I just really couldn’t believe it.‘
That response to which Thomas refers is one of the biggest achievements of Mirrors, great tunes aside. Released at a time when promoting music through live performances was impossible thanks to the small matter of a global pandemic, Still Motions were forced to think outside the box in promoting and selling this record. Think of how difficult most bands found to do anything during this period and you’ll be astounded to learn that the first pressing of Mirrors on vinyl sold out so quick that a second pressing was ordered, which also completely sold out. A social medial and online blitz more than helped matters, as Thomas explains:
‘Our record release show for Mirrors was cancelled as it was the day everything was shut down here in our hometown. I just made sure to hit social media extra hard at that point, posting in Facebook groups, Instagram, making connections with people online. I put a lot of work into it early on before the record even came out, so when it finally did, it just kind of blew up from there. The day the record released, the first pressing of vinyl sold out.‘
With such a reaction to the debut, it is no surprise that many have been patiently waiting for the follow-up. The allegedly difficult second album, syn∙the∙sis, arrived on Friday past (June 23rd) and was definitely worth the wait (and seemingly wasn’t so difficult for this four-piece). As I said to the band and hopefully it’s pretty clear from the above, I was a big fan of Mirrors. However, that was good, syn∙the∙sis is great. Still Motions have really upped their game here in all areas, particularly in writing and production. With six tracks and clocking in at just over 35 minutes, there is plenty to digest in syn∙the∙sis and it is only fair that we take a closer look.
syn∙the∙sis aims for a more direct approach in its opening stages than its predecessor with the pummelling “Welcome Oblivion” (also the premiered track alluded to in the opening paragraph!) There’s a further cohesion here straight away that obviously comes off the back of a band that have been working together for a couple of years, as opposed to when recording Mirrors as a newly-formed four-piece. “For Some, Peace Never Comes” follows and takes things back a notch. A much subtler opening with dual guitars creating a sense of calm, this track is another of those slow builders that plays with the listener. There are a few points in the track where you expect it to explode into life, only for the rhythm section to drop out and leave the guitars to return to the serene opening. Even during the closing minute and a half, the track continues to lead you down a path you don’t expect to go, with sudden drops in volume.
“Agnosia” and “An Aberration” provide the meat to syn∙the∙sis, with Still Motions in full flow in this middle section of the album. Gigi Zimmer in particular shines through on “Agnosia” with what is possibly the most beautiful dirty bass sound you will hear this year, the chemistry with drummer Chris Julian clear to see her as the pair pound this track into submission until the closing notes. The penultimate track is the title track of the album and, for me at least, the clear stand-out of syn∙the∙sis. I mentioned subtle, effective electronics earlier and right here is where you’ll find them. I am a sucker for a few electronic beats and glitches ever since I first set ears on This Will Destroy You, and Still Motions incorporate them into this track with near perfection. The first half of the track sees the guitars of Brenneman and Estes work in unison atop these beats, allowing their melodies to really shine through. When Julian’s drums eventually enter the fray, you feel their presence immediately. “syn∙the∙sis” is a proper throw back to post-rocks glory days, with its own twist. A real journey in itself, it is one of those tracks that just hits you in the right spots at the right times.
The strength of “syn∙the∙sis” and its epic ending actually meant that I missed the final track of the album on the first few listens, as I assumed that it was over! Alas, there is one final piece to enjoy in the form of “Hope In Lasting Bloom” and one that I am glad to have eventually heard. The final track, quite smartly, does not try to take things up another notch, but rather flows a little gentler than what has come before. It’s a nice transition back to reality and a fitting end to a wonderful record from Still Motions. Much like the selling out of Mirrors during a global pandemic, the writing process as explained by Thomas Brenneman makes syn∙the∙sis all the more impressive:
‘The process was definitely different this time around as all members were involved in the writing process. It just had more influence from everyone, which was really nice. It took some stress off of me and it was really great to collaborate more on this one. It was interesting though, because it was a totally virtual process. The record was written during the lock-downs, so we were just sending ideas back and forth and piecing them together into songs.‘
Having been so productive during lockdowns in the selling out of one record, as well as the writing and release of another, it perhaps comes of no surprise that Still Motions view syn∙the∙sis as a form of art reflecting their feelings of a time that was so difficult for many:
‘syn∙the∙sis is the first half of a collection of songs that reflect on the feelings and emotions of the time it was written around. Pretty much dead smack in the middle of the Pandemic. It’s a story of two timelines colliding to create one. The one we are all currently living, and the one that we have chosen to hope and dream for. The last few years life has felt like a bad dream, or some sort of bad time loop. We’ve all experienced pain, loss, and hopelessness. But what good does it do to dwell on that? Wouldn’t we be better off focusing on the future, and creating the perfect timeline that we desire? syn∙the∙sis is about the feelings and emotions that were created by our current timeline, and the desire to foster a new, better one for ourselves.‘
Still Motions are without doubt a band to, first and foremost, make sure you have taken the time to digest and appreciate the back catalogue of. Having made massive progress in such a short time (and from a starting point that was pretty good anyway!), can only mean even better things are in the pipeline. With the band currently finalising some live shows, as well as already planning the next trip to the studio, you should make sure you are following the band via the links at the bottom of this article. With syn∙the∙sis out right now, you can also order your copy on vinyl or CD should what you hear take your fancy. For now, I am off for yet another listen to the new album and I urge you to do the same!