‘Small Victories’- Chris Shelton

Post-rock isn’t an easy genre to carve out your own niche in. Too pulverizing and you’ll immediately be lumped in with Swans’ apocalyptic racket. If you opt for a tense, jittery sound you’re bound to be thrown into the same abandoned quarry Slint floats in. Attempting to conquer death with skyward guitars and voluminous drums will put you right in line behind Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Even mellowing out and doing some inward exploration risks unfair Tortoise comparisons. In short, there’s no winning when it comes to operating in the post-rock genre.

Which is precisely what makes Kansas City artists Chris Shelton’s Small Victories EP so revelatory. I think of every one of those aforementioned bands when I see “post-rock” as a genre tag, but the music itself doesn’t force me to make comparisons. In fact hearing “Homework”‘s limpid guitars lines appended to a calm drum pattern, makes the comparison game nearly impossible. I can’t or don’t want to think about anything. Instead I’m far more comfortable kicking my feet up and staring endlessly out my window. The song’s dulcet background woos mirror the sigh of contentment you let out while enjoying something simple.

Not that Small Victories can be defined solely by its simplicity. As leisurely as Shelton’s guitar playing in the closing title-track sounds, it’s actually an involved latticework of tremulous runs and reverbed hiccups. Not unlike Real Estate’s sun-drenched “Talking Backwards” from earlier this year, it proves how much work goes into relaxation. A truism equally applicable to “Indigo Folds”‘ desert crawl. Though the guitar does considerably more sidewinding and the drums splay across the track, you get the sense that soon enough they’ll lay back down on some rolling hill and peer up at the stars.

If the nature references come across as trite or navel-gazing, they’re not meant to. There’s just an ease to this EP that could rarely be found in urban sprawl. Nothing, not even the flitting solo of “Parachutes” sounds anxious or confused. With Small Victories, Shelton has paved his own lane and taken his time doing it.

(You can find Small Victories as a “Name Your Price” album on Bandcamp.)

“Rooney Mara”- L3thargic1

“Harsh” is how Hannibal, MO electronic-artist Lethargic1 tags their second EP Towns on Bandcamp. Seeing the adjective appear next to the word glitch, I innately suspected Crystal Castles levels of brutality to come hurling out of my laptop speakers. I was primed to turn down the volume before the song had even begun.

But that action isn’t at all necessary for Towns’ lead-off track “Rooney Mara”. In fact if you dialed down the volume a smidgen, you may not hear anything at all. Opening on confident but not overly brash drum machine taps, the track quickly segues into spaced-out skips with enough room to lie down in. It’s restful music and sleep is one of the first things I think of when I hear “Rooney Mara”. The way L3thargic1 blurs individual glitches together resembles a dream where you miraculously go from point A to B without remembering a single action along the way. And like any good dream, “Rooney Mara” is over much too quickly and you’re left wishing for it to return.

(Towns is available for download now through L3thargic1′s Bandcamp page now as a “name your price” album.)

“Nov. 18 1994″- Whale’s Sink

Have you ever found yourself moving closer to a speaker, desperately hoping to make out the soft-spoken words of a song? It can be an incredibly frustrating experience, particularly if you’re right in front of it and the words still seem to float right past your ears. You may be able to hear what’s going on, but you’re not able to actually listen.

“Nov. 18 1994″ by Kansas-based folk/punk/experimental act Whale’s Sink possesses that same frustrating feeling. The tenderly strummed acoustic guitar and whispered vocals seem to be competing to see who is more polite. Even with its loudest chord, the guitar wouldn’t cause a ripple on a pond and the vocals couldn’t wake the lightest sleeping baby. From the moment you press play, you get the feeling you hit the mute button instead.

Granted, a mute button may be the way to go if you can actually parse the lyrics of the fragile track. With a mordantly matter-of-fact tone the song seems to recount the joyous birth of a boy, followed quickly by his death. Through the first several listens I became more and more agitated as the involuntary eulogy “This is his end, he cannot live, this is him, he is slowing, impact of today,” was mumbled. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I quite plainly asked. Far worse than taking the wrong stand on something is to back out altogether, which “Nov. 18 1994″ nimbly does. But somewhere hidden in the quiet playing and downpour of tears is a superb explanation for the avoidance. Some things in life leave you so wounded that the only way to survive is to withdraw completely.

(“Nov. 18 1994″ is from Whale’s Sink latest album This Kind of Primal Laughter which you can get now through their Bandcamp.)

“Get By Get High”- Feathered Rhino

There’s little in the music of “Get By Get High” to support such a “psychedelic” title. On the opening track from Minneapolis folk-artist Feathered Rhino’s self-titled EP, an unnervingly ragged guitar figure emerges and lingers throughout. It doesn’t sound: detuned, out of tune, or off key, no it sounds like it’s on its last leg, like it will collapse at any second. If there’s any sort of psychedelic, it’s hidden in that haunting declaration.

And considering the weight Joseph Wilcox is putting on an already rickety frame, you’d forgive it for collapsing. Immediately Wilcox is croaking “by myself,” as though he’s been lonely for so long now all he can do is genuflect on his own isolation. What started as an attempt to “find my way” has turned into a slog to find any sort of connection. You can hear the desperation in that aforementioned croak, which winds through the rafters of an abandoned barn. At some point it gives up altogether and drifts off to sleep, where an unnamed affection’s “eyes are in my dreams at night,” as Wilcox puts it. Hidden in that haunting declaration is a tinge of psychedelia. Nothing lysergic or mind-expanding, instead the sort where you’re transfixed on a singular object. Time slows to a halt. Heavy-breathing kicks-in. The “high” shifts from physical to spiritual.

Feathered Rhino is available now on Bandcamp, courtesy of local label Petrified Records.