Independent Bandcamp artists – they can be quite the unassuming species, can’t they? Amongst the layers of aspiring lo-fi bedroom artists; waves of opportunists jumping on the vaporwave memewagon and a scattering of experimental oddities, there is gold to be panned.
Vancouver-based artist Glaswegians is one of those rarities, with 2017’s Severance being better than an underground independent release has any right to be. Severance is 65 minutes of progressive, folk and post-rock excellence that puts most professional artists’ work from this year to shame.
Instrumental prog rock albums, especially those of such length, often fall victim to bloatedness or act as a vessel of autofellatio. There’s no self-indulgence in Severance, just pure-hearted and joyous music. Even with each of the four tracks lasting in the teens, Glaswegians keeps them feeling fresh with excellent and often pleasantly unpredictable progressions. Transitions don’t feel forced or rushed, nor do movements overstay their welcome, with the only exception being the mid-section of ‘Duress’ submitting to the doldrums.
Let me walk you through opener ‘Orwellian’: A The Glowing Man-esque intro of miasmic strings is halted by a funky Eastern-inspired guitar riff, where an accumulation of instrumentation through this repeated measure is nothing short of entrancing. Countermelodies and backgrounds of flutes, pipes and horns in these first few minutes show the level of cacophonous detail Glaswegians has put into Severance. The swells and breaths of ‘Orwellian’ between cycles of crescendos and the Baroquesque woodwinds make the track feel like a gargantuan, living, breathing being. Even towards the end of the track, the fake-out climax of heavy drums is followed by a subtle resolvement with callbacks to the shimmering strings in the song’s intro, bringing ‘Orwellian’ full circle. Listening to Severance feels like traversing across wild topographies on an adventurous journey, only to find that you’re back where you started.
In the peppy ‘Brobdingnag’, every layer of instrumentation is more bouncy than the last; even the subtler parts feel like the bouncier sections in Battles’ debut, Mirrored. ‘Petrichor’s piano-laden opening feels like something from Kashiwa Daisuke’s Program Music II in its post-rockish splendour. Every track has a distinct vibe that distinguishes itself from the others, but the consistency in Severence results in a coherent record with an excellent flow. Only a small number of heavier prog metal sections or guitar riffs feel a little limp, but ultimately there are very few parts in Severance that falter.
The production in Severance is effective, where every instrument is allowed space to breathe and given limelight when acting as the main melody. Every item in the plethora of instrumentation feels well placed, well utilized and never over-used: from harmonicas to accordions, euphoniums to recorders and glockenspiels to guiros, Glaswegians has treated every weapon in their arsenal with respect rather than as a gimmick – well, maybe except the frying pan.
Through even resorting to recording in Vancouver’s public library, Glaswegians shows that with the utmost effort and perseverance, anyone can achieve the fullest of their potential in creating a superb album. Severance is a modern equivalent to the instrumental odysseys of Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn and Tubular Bells – an essential listen from 2017.