Review | Overhead, The Albatross live up to the hype on the triumphant Learning To Growl

Overhead, The AlbatrossLearning To Growl -Headstuff.org

Learning To Growl

[Self-Released]

I was a little late to the Overhead, The Albatross hype. I encountered them first on the NO ENCORE podcast, where they chatted about music, life as musicians in Ireland, and were generally just very sound lads. A few days later they released ‘Indie Rose’, a beautiful and heart-wrenching cut from their first album Learning to Growl. I was absolutely floored.

Being a long time fan of post-rock, and devouring Explosions in the Sky’s latest release over the past month or so, this album couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Everything I adore about the genre is here, melodies that start small and finish spectacularly, a clear sense of movement from start to finish, a feeling of growth, a sense of accomplishment when the last few notes play out. A good post-rock album should read like a book, unfolding a clear narrative, inviting multiple readings, and Learning To Growl does just that.

Officially opening proceedings, ‘Indie Rose’ is a blistering (almost) eight minutes of subtle sonic layers, stretching and growing into a truly emotive piece. From the get-go it’s clear why the album took so long to come about, as Ciaran Cullen does a fantastic job at mastering, with every rhythmic pulse, melodic line, string and cymbal crisp and polished. ‘Indie Rose’ pulses the sonic landscape until no melodic embellishment is left unturned, stretching into a beautiful mix of cinematic strings, raw percussion, and jolted vocal overlays.

‘Telekinetic Forest Guard’ follows with a slight change in tone. A more traditionally-structured piece, it begins with grainy bass lines and urgent percussion, before swelling into variations upon a simple four-note melody, clean and clear. Like ‘Daeku’ later on the record, it is the percussion which stands out here, executed and mastered brilliantly.

That’s not to say that each musical aspect doesn’t jump out at one time or another – the bass on ‘HBG’ comes to mind – but overall the mix is so masterfully realised that the sound is of one living breathing entity, not the sum of its parts. ‘Leave it to my Ghost’ is so meticulously crafted that it’s genuinely hard to believe it doesn’t come from a fourth or fifth LP. Explosions in the Sky’s 2007 How Strange, Innocence is certainly evoked here; ‘…Ghost’s sweeping tones pin-pricked with delicate piano, and a subtle vocal overlay, combining all of the finest elements of the genre. If someone asked me to define melodic post-rock, I’d play them this track.

‘Theme for a Promise’ offers the same sense of otherworldly (I’m trying my best not to use the word ‘ethereal’) sonority, aided by the beautiful King’s Hospital Choir, while musically still keeping things admirably straightforward. Each track has a sense of leading somewhere, but you’re enjoying the view so much that you don’t mind if it takes a little longer, the feeling akin to going somewhere nice on a train but in the meantime you’re chuffed with the window seat.

Learning To Growl finishes in an explosive haze of everything we’ve heard so far. ‘Big River Man’ combines the delicacy of previous more melodic tracks, dipping into some of the heavier sounds of the album, and of the genre, which brings to mind 65daysofstatic at times. The Straffan Lads Choir add a powerful sense of growth to the already mighty and dynamic closer. From the elegeance of its opener, to the commanding finish, Learning To Growl is an album which stands alongside some of the most cinematic and daring instrumental works around. A real triumph for Irish music.

NINE / TEN

We spoke to Joe and Stevie from Overhead, The Albatross on the debut episode of the NO ENCORE podcast. Check it out right here.  

Photo Credit: Sean Conroy

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