With 2012’s Key, Swedish quartet pg.lost set a high bar not only for themselves but for their post-rock contemporaries at large. The combination of epic crescendos, giant riffs and muscled grooves brought all the best attributes of the genre together into a single package of rare versatility. It’s fair to say that Key’s placement amongst the greatest post-rock albums of this decade created a difficult standard for pg.lost’s newest album, Versus, but such are the potential pitfalls of soaring so majestically close to the sun.
RELEASE DATE: 16 September 2016 LABEL: Pelagic Records
Speaking of (not entirely) clever transitionary metaphors, the album begins with “Ikaros” (Okay, so technically the IKAROS spacecraft actually uses the sun to propel its flight rather than being destroyed by it, but you get what I’m driving at). It leads with foreboding atmospherics, but moves into a more traditional soundscape before pulling out a show-stopping guitar hook that serves as a reminder of why pg.lost have become so well-regarded. “Ikaros” serves a function similar to “Spirits Stampede,” the lead track from Key – as a towering tone-setter that swells with melodious triumph. “Off the Beaten Path” is this album’s “Terrain,” a no-nonsense rocker that gets to the point immediately and draws the listener in with a simple-but-infectious interplay between drums and bass. Grooves like this aren’t often prevalent with traditional post-rock acts and are much appreciated.
However, about halfway through the subsequent song, “Monolith,” the album begins to show some cracks just beneath the surface. It may not be wholly accurate to call it a rough patch, but Versus certainly loosens its grip on the listener’s attention during its middle section. The individual parts are mostly solid, but it feels sometimes like the band is lumbering from Point A to Point B. A prime example can be found in the second half of the title track. While this section boasts some enjoyably heavy riffing, there is no way it needs three and a half minutes to unfold. Similarly, “Deserter” feels like it is building nicely toward something epic, but it never arrives there. Instead, the band spends seven minutes on what amounts to one decent melody that likely would have been better served as a lead-in to something stronger and more climactic. For all its throbbing drums and dense atmosphere, “Along the Edges” ultimately still takes about three minutes too long to finally open up and reveal a great riff that is (ironically) underplayed.
“A Final Vision” initially seems as if it will bring Versus to a close in similar fashion as previous pg.lost albums, with a contemplative, poignant fade. The band turns this convention on its head midway through however, transitioning to an on-the-brink-of-heavy dramatic tension that carries through to the track’s completion. It somewhat frustratingly doesn’t feature an explosive climactic moment, though it still proves a satisfying finale.
Ultimately Versus, like pg.lost’s first two albums, is a quality effort that lands them within an above-average percentile relative to their post-rock peers. Again, the extremely high bar set by Key may be causing my critiques to intensify somewhat, which comes with the territory when you are a band who has proven capable of producing that kind of material. Judging their entire body of work, the conclusion drawn at this moment is that Key was a spectacular outlier from a band that resides solidly – and respectably – in post-rock’s second tier. Versus is certainly worth an investment, with the understanding that the returns can’t compare with pg.lost’s creative windfall of 2012.