Post rock isn’t a genre that lends itself to instant gratification. Getting the most out of even the best music in the scene often means plumbing the depths on multiple listens. Stearica have never been a band to shy away from asking a little more from their audience, but for those willing to navigate the sprawling land of new album Fertile there are treasures waiting to be found.
Fertile has a musical quality and tone all its own, formed of oddly-angular soundscapes with more sharp edges and arid plains than you might expect from the usual post rock fare. The harmonics and hi-hat sizzle of ‘Delta’ make for a frosty opener, before the garage shuffle of ‘Halite’ arrives in a dusty wave of heat. It’s an album of aural textures, Saharan sounds that dapple down your ear canal. Then there’s the adventurous ‘Bes’, which rushes headlong to reach its crescendo and holds it there, a boulder reaching peak velocity as it barrels down a mountainside.
But while sheer momentum is fun for a while, the middle act of Fertile suffers for lack of variety. ‘Nur’ and ‘Tigris’ verge on boilerplate, sounding closer to And So I Watch You From Afar off-casts than the challenging high-concept pieces that Stearica do best, and while ‘Siqium’ is an engaging flirt with post metal it isn’t enough to lift this mid-album slump. Thankfully the slinky ‘Amreeka’ arrives for an engaging closing gambit, showing that the band can paint with a finer brush when they want to.
Colin Stetson fans might be surprised to hear his distinctive strains on album closer ‘Shah Mat’, as the experimental saxophonist lends his distinctive sound to this tumbling and antagonistic soundscape. Stetson keeps his contribution surprisingly low-key, nothing to rival the sandblasted power of his material on New History Warfare Vol. 3, opting instead for warmer accompaniment choices. As the song moves into its shadowy second half we are treated to a section of satisfying restraint that continues the steady drop of Fertile’s mood into its final moments. It’s an ambitious piece, and while Stetson’s presence feels arbitrary but for some key strains, it is an album highlight that helps to crystallise Fertile into a more complete listen.
Buy: Stearica – Fertile
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