Everyone, to some degree, measures music on a visceral level. It’s often that first listen upon which we make our judgment—if nothing strikes the ears immediately, chances are that will also be the last time that particular song or album is heard. Yet what often separates the good music from the great is in the intangible qualities; the more evocative the sound, the more inclined one may become to explore its intricacies and its ephemera. That Beirut is magically able to whisk a listener to Eastern Europe with their music makes it seem just a bit more magical. That one can see practically blood spatter and dingy, Eraserhead-like settings when listening to Suicide makes them that much more gut-wrenching.
Newton,Conn.-based Apse is one such band whose mysterious, evocative qualities rival those of their awe-inspiring sonic sprawl. Tribal rumbles of percussion, delicate ambient builds, thundering distortion abound on Spirit—in many ways their music is made up of the very same qualities that one would attribute to a `post-rock’ band. And Robert Toher’s high-pitched vocals sometimes recall those of Sigur Rós’ Jon-Thor Birgisson. Yet the way in which each song comes together is less like a post-rock album and more like a Roman Polanski film. There is a slow build, and there is unseen terror. A track like “Legions” is creepy from the outset, with echoing `ooohs’ and a mischievous melody that beckons like a music box at the top of a creaky and dark staircase. Fortunately, the payoff is an epic, though still creepy, psych-rock payoff, as opposed to, say, a demon baby.
“From the North” rumbles like Liars circa Drum’s Not Dead, but flexing greater rock muscle, unafraid to rock out as the tension builds. Meanwhile, “The Crowned” sets up a furious flurry of drums, while soaring, almost shoegazer-like guitars ascend and cascade with jittery magnificence. “Wind Through the Walls” creates a glorious and beautiful, albeit portentous wall of sound with piano and synths, a wonderfully trippy dirge that abruptly ends before “Blackwood Gates” takes over, with a gradual build of sparse sheets of guitar and delay-treated riffs. The ominous atmosphere and unsettling ambience linger, but in a different atmosphere; as opposed to dark and claustrophobic, this track sounds spacious and isolated.
Apse have an incredible talent for writing songs that both speak to one’s innate desire to rock out, and recesses of one’s fears and imagination. In this way, they do share much in common with post-rock groups like Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. Still, there’s something less bombastic, and much more sinister about this band. It only makes sense that they would call their album Spirit—if I didn’t know any better, I’d say there were ghosts in here.