Of the many beautiful things about post-rock, the sense of exciting discovery is high atop the list. Being a niche genre outside of mainstream consideration, it is up to the listeners to journey across thousands of expansive soundscapes to find the songs which strike a chord deep within them. Occasionally something amazing is uncovered in an unlikely location. For instance: in 2013 a virtually-unknown band from Lake Charles, Louisiana, Signals to Vega, came out of nowhere to release what was probably that year’s greatest post-rock song, “Fear Not the Cycle of Life.”
There is a similar scenario brewing in 2016, and its place of origin is Raleigh, North Carolina. Travis Brooks, the artist behind the one-man post-rock outfit Old Solar is making a case to top a good many year-end lists. The project derives its name from C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy; Old Solar is the universal language spoken by all intelligent lifeforms across the universe, similar to how music connects us across cultural barriers. SPEAK is Old Solar’s debut, though it is the culmination of a writing and recording process which began in 2010. The album is fantastic on the whole, but one song in particular stands out and absolutely demands to be heard.
“Celestial Beings” revels in the classic mid-00’s post-rock formula that made so many of us fall in love with the genre in the first place. Effects-drenched guitar ambience leads us gently in before a single crashing chord rings through the mix, the echoes of which recall fond memories of Explosions in the Sky’s “The Birth and Death of the Day.” From here, Brooks builds the drama slowly with a hauntingly melodious picked progression and pulsing toms that hint toward the glorious release to follow. When “Celestial Beings” fully unfolds it is truly a thing to behold. The simple, but sweeping riff and its accompanying melody combine to provide the kind of apex moment that fuels every post-rock devotee’s hunger to explore the genre ever deeper. This is Old Solar’s moment of transcendence on SPEAK, one which will ultimately cinch its place in numerous best-of conversations come year’s end.
But “Celestial Beings” is about much more than one great moment. Structurally, it resembles Tomahawk’s “Capt. Midnight,” from their 2003 album “Mit Gas.” This may seem like a strange comparison, but look at the tracks side by side and you will start seeing some striking similarities. Both feature a brilliantly-wrought crescendo that appears near the middle of the track’s running time, one which doesn’t repeat and is draped on either side with atmospheric elements that lend greater effectiveness to the songs’ most powerful moment. The refusal to overplay this moment guarantees a sense of urgency on the listener’s behalf to play the song again and again. Old Solar goes one step further on “Celestial Beings,” cleverly building back up before letting the track’s final chord ring out just short of a potential reprise of the earlier climax. Aside from the high level of emotional engagement in play here, the song displays an intelligent craftsmanship that shouldn’t be undervalued
Make sure you give “Celestial Beings” a listen, as it is undoubtedly a pinnacle moment for post-rock in 2016. Then continue the journey by visiting Old Solar’s BandCamp page and checking out SPEAK in its entirety.