Release Date: 18 Aug 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | YouTube
You might look at the cover of this album and make a relatively safe guess at what lies within. If you had no other information to go on, you'd likely be wrong. This is a post-rock album, a short one too at a few minutes shy of half an hour, but it's not from the urban sprawl of south eastern Michigan; it's from a city called Navapolatsk or Navapolotsk, depending on where you see it written, in Belarus. The musicians aren't white suburbanites, they're White Russians. And I'm guessing they're not anthropomorphic animals, as the cover suggests.
I'm not seeing any breakdown of band members, but I do see a suggestion that they used to be a four piece band that wasentirely instrumental. That's not the case any more, as there are vocals on every track here. I don't know if one of those four members stepped up to the mike or if they hired a singer but the songs are driven by the vocals and don't feel like they would work anywhere near as well without them, at least not early on.
They're deceptively light, because this is bright and cheerful melodic music but with depth if you're willing to dip below the surface. Memories, as an example, feels like a Joy Division song as covered by U2, as if a thoughtful and introspective piece was rendered cheerful with bounce and jangles. State of Mind has a relatively standard alternative rock vocal but the music feels ethnic, as if there were reggae musicians adding their flavour.
It also gets heavier, which is an interesting sound for music this vibrant, and The Rustle of Morning Stars follows suit. This isn't metal by any means, but there's a density to the sound that goes beyond anything U2 have done to become almost a soundscape. It's these songs that bring back that thought of instrumental music. Without vocals, these two would be even more immersive than they are already. It would be easy to get lost in them. Certainly, this album runs short but feels shorter because we get caught up in it and lose track of time.
The closest we get to an instrumental is Into the Light, because the regular song ends three and a half minutes in, consistent with the other five tracks on offer, but it carries on in a different vein and it's fascinating. There have been progressive elements throughout, especially on Open, but this adds ambient and glitch electronica to the mix, which was surprising given what's before it, but it's welcome even if I'm not sure how well four minutes of it at the very end of the album affects its balance.
I like this music. It's a palate cleanser and I found running through it on repeat a very pleasant experience. I felt better (and I wasn't feeling bad) but I also found myself finding odd little touches in this song or that that I'd missed on a first time through. I can see coming back to this reasonably often, especially The Rustle of Morning Stars, which gets better every time I hear it. The way the vocals layer is a joy.
And, on a wider level, so is this album. I just wish there was more of it as it's over far too quickly. I see two previous releases, but they're short. Memory, released back in 2016, looks like a single with only two songs plus a forty-four second interlude between them. Delight, from 2015, on the other hand, is a full album and one that, with ten songs, is longer than this. I definitely need to track them both down.
And that just leaves one question. Why would a band from Navapolatsk decide to call themselves Detroit Hills? Inquiring minds want to know.