Album Review :
Shapes Stars Make - These Mountains Are Safe

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Artist: Shapes Stars Make
Album: These Mountains Are Safe
Label: Dreamt Music
Release Date: January 19, 2010
Review by: Michael Mayer III

Tracklisting:

  1. Giant Bird
  2. Le Dodici
  3. (We Are) The Hurting
  4. Be Gentle, Young One
  5. Sunrise
  6. Fireflies and Lights
  7. The Calm
  8. And the Sky Opened

If you have ever experienced being in a warm living room with a fire crackling and snowflakes drifting aimlessly outside then let me tell you that this album is the soundtrack to that moment. Shapes Stars Make have crafted their sophomore album with a tapestry of sounds designed to take you out of your day-to-day worries and into a colorful world of music. These Mountains Are Safe is full of post-rock tendencies in its song structure like the use of crescendos and valleys to deliver various moods with a very limited use of vocals. They manage to pull this off as a three piece band no less.

The album kicks off with ‘Giant Bird’ and immediately you can tell there are some beautiful moments ahead. How many albums can you say start off with sleigh bells that aren’t Christmas related? Soon after things kick up with a series of progressing notes and before you know it your caught in a whirlwind of swirling guitars and crashing drums. About halfway through everything slows down and this is a formula you should get used to since it is used often. As the drums build back up there is a slight use of vocals, more as an instrument themselves than anything as they sing ‘oooohhhh’, and the song takes off again. ‘Le Dodici’ has a similar vibe to it with vocals rarely used sans lyrics and a combination of progressing notes played crisply on the guitar. Fortunately this song isn’t over six minutes long like the opening track and fades out at the right time.

‘(We Are) The Hurting’ is the strongest song on the album and is also the most vocally focused of the bunch. Michael Gooden has a very somber and soothing voice that perfectly matches the ethereal music coming from his guitar and the other members. At times he channels other impressive vocalists like Thom Yorke and Matt Bellamy in his emotive and passionate delivery. Of course, it helps that he has an impressive range, being able to hit the high notes naturally and with ease. It is actually a bit disappointing after hearing him sing on this song that he doesn’t do it more often. Only three of the tracks have lyrics and those are as equally dreamy as the music. ‘Fireflies and Lights’ has a fantastic use of imagery to go with the sounds as he sings “Open up your eyes, watch the sky, fireflies, and lights. Take them in, and lock them up inside tonight. Your Light shines bright.”In ‘The Calm’ he sings of the calm before a storm. That storm ends up being a mixture of heavy distortion, synths, and brooding drums.

One of the main problems that bogs the album down are the moments where repetitive notes are used for too long of a time in songs that mostly all eclipse the five minute mark. Since five of the eight tracks are lengthy instrumentals I was hoping for more progression and variety in the sounds used. Instead, what seems like a clever and addictive set of notes is dragged out for a few minutes and by then you have been sick of it. Get stuck on one sound for too long and it inevitably turns into background music. This is where the fantastic vocals helped in a few tracks to change the pace. Granted, vocals aren’t used often in post-rock, but it would serve them well to include them more. Even if they are only involved sparingly, it would add another dimension to the music due to their dreamlike nature.

Overall:The lush soundscapes crafted in These Mountains Are Safe are meant to stir emotions and engrave a nostalgic experience you will never want to forget. However, for an album that deals a lot with repetitive notes and numerous instrumentals it could have either used some shorter track times or more variety and progression. Even then, you are treated to cascading notes and swirling guitars you can’t help but get caught up into throughout the album.

Gems of this album are: ‘(We Are) The Hungry’, ‘The Calm’

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