The vastness of space is hard to pin down as a sound. Sure, there are those sweet, scary sounds the NASA says are “the sounds of space“, but what does space actually sounds like? We probably have mentioned that lovely genre called Space Rock a few times with bands like The Life and Times, The Joy Circuit, Vast Robot Armies and Spacesuit and after spending a long chunk of 2014 with Withershins drifting slowly in the stereo, it’s safe to safe they are a part of this genre.
But it would be a disservice to only peg them there. Just as much as to say they are “shoegaze” because although there are dabs here and there of the scene that celebrates itself, that’s not where they belong either. Withershins are more in that rarefied atmosphere where Handsome, Antarctic, Centaur, Thrice (Alchemy Index era), Castor and Hum hide.
On their third album, Mt. Fuji in blue, Withershins seem comfortable with the vast soundscapes they create, the ones they weaved carefully with help from the ever present magic that seems to emanate in Champaign, Illinois and creates bands that favour an easier but louder pace for their music.
Opener ‘Aquamarine’ hints towards a math rock disposition, with a fast arpeggio that realizes it’s not wearing clothes and jumps backstage to let every other instrument take over. Hints of something fiercer are there to gaze, but this is only morning role call.
That heckuva opener is followed by the endearing ‘An Amateur Chemist’. The sense of longing in the vocal delivery is juxtaposed by the energetic instrumentation. This is the first hint of the greatness of this album: a contradiction of feelings propels these tracks and the longer running times never work against the constant building (“faster but slower”, as Martin Hannett infamously said.) This is particularly true with ‘Mt. Fuji in Blue’, an emotional six minutes trip full of ambient sounds (ebow, I think?), rocking atmospheres and an explosive build up.
‘Chronic’ latches to the dissonant arpeggios of post hardcore while still embracing the haunting moods of postrock. Almost an instrumental (there are vocals, but very distant) and that drumming is spectacular. ‘All you need’ seems to re-visit the ideas here, but on a definite darker mood. If ‘Chronic’ feels like remembrance, ‘All you need’ feels like regret. These are the types of emotions deftly covered by Withershins.
‘Eternal Return’ is a little more optimistic and if you are not convinced, ‘Coward’s clothes’ is a little jauntier. Heck, ‘Moss god’ is the peppier of the collection, larking about like a caffeinated kid doing 30 mph on a stolen bike, going downhill while evading the neighbourhood bullies.
‘STFU or GTFO’ is a stripped down song. It could be an oddity, but works well as a palate cleanser, with a haunting piano outro where it all seems to fall into piece. And this is related to the artwork of the album. That gradient, tinted blue, a colour often associated with peace and calmness, but also depression and sadness.
This multiple interpretation of the shades of a colour seems to fuel the last three tracks of Mt. Fuji in blue. ‘How not be seen’ (Monty Python reference?) points towards a crestfallen stage, where hope is mostly a word and not an option. ‘Leaving Ground’ has a bombastic entry, like being shoved out of a catatonic state into reality. The song segues into ‘A patient boy’, the gorgeous, uplifting album closer. If for any reason any of the songs got your mood setting into low, this one will flip the switch back.
Somewhere around the middle of ‘A patient boy’, the song starts to drone and a sound starts to encompass and overtake everything. It’s mildly disconcerting at first, but it warms up. It’s the moment thrust has been applied enough to achieve escape velocity. Everything behind is now just a blue spot in the distance and we are now somewhere else. Somewhere different. Withershins is piloting this vessel called Mt. Fuji in blue. Relax, we are in experienced hands.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López