Is post-rock the new math-rock? By which, of course I mean, is the former showing signs of becoming the new “feeder-genre” for emo outfits to sink their teeth in? In recent times, we’ve come across many a post-hardcore band exploring the possibilities of layering their emotional directness onto twiddly guitars and some marginally unusual rhythms and time signatures. If Gates’ ‘Bloom & Breathe’ is anything to go by, there’s an argument to be made that the latest imperialist emo ventures involve conquering the atmospheric sonic landscapes of post-rock. And for the first half of this, their debut album, the band’s vampirism appears worthwhile. The second half, however, is another story. The sanguine well of post-rock’s novel ideas is unlikely dried up, instead Gates seem not to know what to do with them anymore, at which point they begin to shift their sound towards the safer, more recognizable, ground.
Take opening intro ‘Everything That Has Ever Been’. What its expansive soundscapes and rousing melodies suggest is a sense of grand scale, of that much-despised, but relevant, “epic” tag. Gates’ best moments involve a good balance between aspiring for post-rock’s deliberately-paced grandeur and emo/pop-punk’s emotional directness. It’s clear from a track like ‘Not My Blood’, however, that Gates aren’t interested in very gradually moving towards catharsis, as is almost post-rock tradition, preferring instead a hasty and head-on careening towards pay-off. Which isn’t to say that it’s any less effective of course, I’m merely describing here.
The band absolutely drown their vocals in a wall of sound in their loudest moments, most notably on ‘Bloom’, which has the positive effect of heightening the intimidating stature of the instrumentals, as well as undercutting the poppier convention of emphasizing the voice before the rest. If everything works well up to that point, things get resolutely ‘Alchemy Index’-era Thrice from thereon. ‘Nothing You’ll Miss’ has the amped-up ethereal quality of that album’s Water segment but none of its moody beauty. To their credit, ‘At Last The Loneliest Of Them’ seems to combine the best of ‘Water’’s guttural ghostliness and ‘Fire’’s hoarse brutality, so it’s not all “disappointing dilution”.
For half its length, an EP’s worth, ‘Bloom & Breathe’ presents a clear identity, a coherent direction that aspires to combine post-rock and post-hardcore. The other half is a major regression, one borne either out of prudence or a simple lack of ideas. One can only hope that the band will build on the first half’s encouraging signs and continue to tinker their style successfully.
‘Bloom & Breathe’ by Gates is out now on Pure Noise Records.
Words by James Berclaz-Lewis (@bearclawlewis)