If you attempt to do some research into Dutch post-rock outfit Mescaliner online, you'll find the word 'reclusive' comes up a few times and, well, not much else. In an age where we're used to knowing a fairly unhealthy amount about our musicians, it's always good to discover a new band with little in the way of online hype or gossip. There's really no need for any of that gubbins anyway when you make an album as impressive as Willow Spree.
While the music on Willow Spree definitely owes something to post-rock's usual suspects (Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky) there are distinctive prog-rock leanings here which pull the album away from easy categorisation. Mescaliners' music defiantly embraces rock, and the album is rich with racing drums, punchy riffs and soaring solos. A case-in-point being the sublime opening track, 'Never Look Back'; just over seven minutes of faultless instrumental rock. Unlike some other bands that fall into the post-rock bracket, Mescaliner aren't happy to simply brood over a riff/motif for 10 minutes and call it an epic. 'Never Look Back' flows seamlessly from one idea to the next giving the impression of a particularly impressive jam session.
Second track 'Lost and Found' combines speedy fret-work with math-rock time signatures to stunning effect as it hurtles by at a breath-taking pace. 'Untitled' is a subdued, calm-after-the-storm interlude; its breezy disposition revealing a gentler side to the bands energetic post-rock stylings. 'Sonapur' shatters the calm with huge, crunchy guitars before subsiding into a slow-build epic worthy of any post-rock band you could care to mention. 'Staring in the Sun' almost sounds like slow-core originators Codeine (minus Stephen Immerwahr's vocals); a slow, graceful melancholy underpinning every note.
The title track starts with a countdown (well someone saying "1, 3, 0, 9, 3"- not numerically a countdown) before the band explode into life with one of the hardest hitting tracks on the album. I'm sure this is the kind of album which will impress many a seasoned musician, but not being one myself (well, I know a few chords) all I can say is that it sounds mightily complicated. Thankfully, it never sacrifices what works for soulless fret-worship.
'Heritage' is another calming interlude that lets you catch your breath before the appropriately titled 'Skyscraper' blows the roof off one last time. The constant crescendos and palatable sense of drama may not be for everyone but if you like Willow Spree on your first listen you'll undoubtedly grow to love it over time.
Mescaliner have made a superb post-rock album which owes as much to King Crimson and Pink Floyd as it does to Explosions in the Sky. If you enjoyed Grails' Deep Politics and Labirintos' Anatema last year (I know I definitely did) than you'll find a lot to love here.
- Andy Brown