Release Date: 4 Apr 2020
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I've been enjoying my ongoing journey through post-rock, the genre aiming to build soundscapes using traditional rock instruments, and Iiah are, for the most part, the most minimal such band I've encountered thus far. The opener, From Nothing, is aptly named, because it's almost entirely ambient, so much so that the reaction of many listeners will be to reach for the volume knob. Spoiler: it won't help.
Eclipse comes to life a little more but continues minimally in a way that we might be forgiven for assuming is done, for a while at least, entirely with keyboards. Some tentative drums and a guitar do show up a minute or so in as if the musicians had been waiting patiently in the wings for their moment. A further minute and a slow building crescendo takes us out of early Tangerine Dream territory. Those of you who turned the volume up will be regretting it at this point, that's for sure.
Clearly Iiah are interested in contrasts. The tones work consistently but it has to be said that their contrasts range from sound so acutely minimal that it's almost lowercase to sound so emphatic that it fills the room. The point of transition is like kneeling down to listen to a blade of grass, only for the space shuttle to take off from six feet away. That's a major difference.
Creating soundscapes is one thing. The challenge with post-rock is always to figure out what those soundscapes represent and, I'm sure, there's rarely an entirely correct answer. This album is called Terra and that's good old home hanging in the sky on the cover, making us wonder where we're standing that has what seems to be water in abundance. Have we terraformed the Moon? We're obviously in a lonely place because there's been a lot of space in the music thus far, but that missing human component shows up a couple of minutes into the third track, Aphelion, in the form of vocals that quickly turn into more texture.
I enjoyed those tracks and I enjoyed Sleep still more, being atmospheric and slow, less like Tangerine Dream and more like Cocteau Twins or Shriekback at their most quietly evocative. However, this is a very generous album, with a running time of over an hour, across only eight tracks, and it starts to lag around the halfway mark. 20.9%, a reference that I fail to grasp, does kick off beautifully, with a fantastic invitation on the bass to set the mood so everything else can suddenly crash the party, but it runs long.
On a first listen, the whole album was peacefully engaging, but on a second I drifted away for the majority of 20.9% and the next track, Luminescence, perking back only with the tinkling piano that kicks off Displacement. Given that 20.9% and Luminescence account for eighteen minutes between them, that constitutes quite the chunk of time. Displacement is better but it's Lambda, the final track, that really grabbed me.
With Sleep wrapping up the first half and Lambda the second, obviously Iiah like to build up each side to the best material. Lambda is the best piece of music on this album, by far, and it's also the longest, running just shy of thirteen minutes. It starts out rhythmically, with both drums and one finger piano, but builds and builds, guitars wailing very patiently and a sense of play in the dynamics throughout. It's wonderful stuff.
As with a lot of post-rock, this is great background music. As with the best post-rock, it's often also engaging and challenging and worthy of taking the foreground. It's mostly Lambda and Sleep but not entirely, because even the minimal openers grabbed me. It just needed more cropping. I'd have given the 37m Terra that you'd get by cutting out three consecutive tracks a 7/10. As it is, I think I have to go with a 6/10.
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