2+2 Reviews: VOLA, Steven Wilson, Tribulation, and Mogwai

New Indie Pong Column!

We’ve been scheming on putting together a collaborative Indie Pong column for awhile now, and this last week, we decided to bring 2+2 into the world.

So, what is 2+2?

Basically, this will be a bi-weekly column to highlight new offerings from the world of metal, prog, and post-rock music. For each entry, bpmhill (BPM henceforth) and I (STMG henceforth) will both choose two songs that we’re feeling, and write about them. Of those four total songs, we will choose two of them to write about together, so you’ll be getting two different takes on the music, for half of the songs that we feature.

In any case, without further ado, let’s get into our first track selection this week:

Vola- Straight Lines

STMG: Coming into this, I was 100% unfamiliar with VOLA or their work.

I loved this song though, and I’m curious to seek out more of what they’ve done.

The song’s standout moment comes pretty early on, specifically, when the chorus hits. After a very djent-y verse, the pre-chorus shifts gears to something else entirely, building towards a VERY dramatic key change.

Actually, I can’t remember a previous moment as a music listener in which I heard a key change and was so startled. You really take a step back here, as said key changed is paired with an isolated vocal treatment, and a vocal octave pop for extra, “oopmh.” 

It’s brilliant.

The vocal treatment itself is pitch perfect too, with the clean leads taking up about 85% of the mix, and the harsh vocals back-mixed, so they come across more as a textural thing.

Hearing the specifics of all this for the first time, it’s almost a little disconcerting, as the gear shift is so powerful, but when you’ve fully processed what you’ve heard, I guarantee your eyebrows will be lifted, and you’ll find yourself feeling impressed.

Another highlight is the track’s synth solo which… kind of comes of nowhere. Listening to this for the first time, I was very much expecting some sort of standard half-diminished and/or modal tech-y guitar solo, and what we get instead is very different. There’s a real emphasis on melody here, and nothing in the way of typical metal shredding. It’s a solo that’s marked by restraint, and I both dig and appreciate that decision.

In any case, I’m all for this. Brandon, what was your knee-jerk reaction listening for the first time? Any specifics highlights for you, or what do you feel are the song’s strongest parts? 

BPM: I’m in the same boat as you, George.  I had heard of Vola on one of the Reddit channels I follow but never gave them a listen.  Glad you sent this track my way as it’s about time I had a proper introduction.

I’m loving the synth solo you mentioned along with just the general synth parts that add texture to the song.  I also love that “Straight Lines” hits you in the face right out of the gate with a really exciting synth build/djent-y moment leading into the first vocal line.  

Which speaking of, the vocals are strong here and I too appreciate the harsh vocals in the back of the mix. I’m not familiar enough with the band just yet to know if this clean/harsh vocal mix is something they normally do or not but it’s tastefully done.  I would love to hear some more harsh vocals within their songs and personally would dig them further up in the mix or in the lead too.

Vola’s sound here is reminiscent of other artists in the scene such as TesseracT, Leprous and certainly Voyager but I appreciate their songwriting on this track which is creative and shows they know how to write catchy riffs and melodies.

I’m looking forward to further exploring their back catalogue and will check out their upcoming full length album.

Steven Wilson- Man of the People

STMG: I think this is the first Steven Wilson solo cut that I’ve heard. 

I’ll be back for more.

Brandon informed me that this album has been a little more divisive amongst his fanbase, but considering what I know about him (as both an esteemed remixer, and a member of Porcupine Tree) I feel like this is probably a very natural progression.

At first blush, my reaction was, “huh, this sounds like 80s Phil Collins by way of modern production techniques.”

That might sound like a knock, but it’s not. 

Before Collins was a hit solo artist, he sat behind the kit in Genesis, performing a number of drum parts that people hold in very high esteem. As the singer, songwriter, and a guitar player in Porcupine Tree, Wilson also has some monolithic prog credentials. Like Collins though, he’s eschewing that here, in favor of something much closer to pop music.

To be clear, this isn’t, “In the Air Tonight.” It’s much more restrained, but infectious as an earworm, in the same way as Collins’ mega-hit is. I found myself nodding along before we hit the minute mark, which is always a good sign.

This is something I’d probably put on while I’m drawing, as it’s catchy enough to inspire me, but also, somewhat unobtrusive. There’s no real bombast to be found here, and the song manages to stay pretty consistent throughout.

Brandon, as someone who is more familiar with Wilson’s work, are you excited to see him continue in this direction, or, are you hoping a tune like this is a one-off itch that he just had to scratch? Did the song instantly connect with you, or, did it take a little time for it to grow?

BPM: George, I didn’t realize you hadn’t heard Wilson’s solo work before!  

I think what I’ve really enjoyed about his solo work is that each release has managed to blend what I loved about his work in Porcupine Tree, including the haunting, yet hooky songwriting and adding a new twist so it doesn’t feel formulaic.  The Future Bites, which is Wilson’s sixth full-length solo release, is a departure from say 2013’s The Raven That Refused to Sing or 2015’s Hand Cannot Erase.  Both of those albums are more traditionally progressive rock.  

2017’s To The Bone had a mix of prog with some pop and electronic elements and also featured Wilson’s first major step in a truly pop direction with the track “Permanating”.  Depending on who you ask in the fanbase, this is either a track they really love or find to be his absolute worst.  Personally, I found it very catchy and I was able to see him perform it live, which added to my love for it.  “Permanating” also pointed towards the direction Wilson is now in for his latest album.  

“Man of the People” might be my favorite song on The Future Bites.  The album as a whole, though Wilson’s shortest, is not the easiest to digest upon first listen if you’re set on hearing his typical 70’s prog influences.  In fact, as you mentioned George, this song (and album) is clearly inspired by 80’s pop and Collins lead era Genesis along with his solo output came top to mind for me as well.  I’m a huge fan of that period of Genesis’ music and happy to see Wilson channel it here. 

To answer your question George, I’m excited to see him continue in this direction and I could see him perfecting what he’s doing on this album on the next one.  “Man of the People” was an instant favorite for me personally.  I also want to point out that though this may not be your dad’s prog rock or Wilson’s usual output, I still think it is progressive.  Wilson is refusing to stay in one gear and naturally progressing to the next stage of his evolution.  I think that keeps his music refreshing so I can’t wait to hear what he concocts next.   

Tribulation – In Remembrance

BPM: I started my journey with Tribulation a few years ago when they released Down Below.  Both that album and their previous one, The Children of the Night, had received major accolades from most metal publications and Decibel in particular convinced me to really give them a listen.  

I love their blend of gothic tinged black’n’roll, doom, death metal and some seriously catchy guitar riffs.  In fact, if you removed the harsh vocals, Tribulation would be fairly in line with a band like Ghost.  Personally, I really dig Johannes Andersson’s vocals though so I’m glad they’ve kept them in place through the years.

The bands latest album, Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, just released and with it, several very worthy tracks.  While “In Remembrance” wasn’t one of their initial singles released, it certainly could have been.  

I’m a big fan of that slow build intro that crawls into your head and then about a minute in, the guitar and drums fully kick in.  The chorus that hits at nearly three minutes in feels like stadium rock played at a funeral.  I mean that as a major compliment.  It’s catchy as hell and I really want to hear this song live at a venue like The Forum in LA.  It feels really big and deserves a bigger audience too. 

I’m really curious where Tribulation will go next.  Their guitarist, Jonathan Hulten, just left the group so time will tell if the band will continue in this same direction or shake things up on the next one.

Mogwai- Pat Stains

STMG: I knew Mogwai was releasing one more single before their full album debuted this week, but I didn’t realize it happened on Friday!

Needless to say, when I found out that it was available to stream/download, I dropped everything, and gave it my undivided attention.

I like it quite well.

The band isn’t re-inventing the wheel here, but they are cruising very comfortably in a lane that they know well, and when they begin to open up the throttle, things get very pretty, very quickly.

As a midwesterner listening to this in the dead of winter, during a polar vortex, it’s hard not to draw parallels to what I’m bearing witness to outside my window.

I’m curious to see if I feel differently when nicer weather rolls around, but this is indeed a song for winter, and snowstorms.

The song begins and ends with quiet, with the loudest section of the song arriving around the ⅔ mark. The lead up to that section is gorgeous. More-or-less static guitar and drum figures hold things down, while every other instrument in the mix shapeshifts, and bubbles. As this is a Mogwai tune, you know that we’re in for some highly-considered, and melodic basslines throughout, and Dominic Aitchison more than delivers here. The bass here has a great warmth actually, which helps to soften the visions of wind and snow that otherwise, came to my mind.

While the song’s climax is all well and good, the song’s most impressive section may well be the closing minute or so– the calm after the storm, so to speak. An exercise in striking, absolute serenity, it brought about a very true, and humbling peace within me as I listened to it. 

I was super impressed.

Anyhow, thanks for joining us on the first edition of 2+2.  We look forward to bringing you the coolest tracks to put on your playlists for 2021.  If you like what you heard, drop us a note in the comments section and please support the artists.  

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