Stock Options – Ancient Bloom
Record Label: Independent
Release Date: June 22, 2012
On their self-titled 2011 debut, Milwaukee post-rockers Stock Options showed that they were capable of making gritty, rum-soaked instrumental music with twisted, winding passages. Their new EP Ancient Bloom carries on mostly in this tradition, but their songwriting skills have evolved, making for a fuller, more satisfying listen than their first effort.
Unfortunately, the first few minutes might isolate a few potential fans, as “Woodpecker” is much more interesting than the first two cacophonous minutes would indicate. The band has never been shy about working with harsher sounds than their more graceful counterparts, but the opening shriek of a guitar may be a turn-off for some listening. The track quickly settles in after that, though, working masterful drumming and bass work into looping strains of guitar melodies, echoing until the band reaches levels of musical mantra. Their trademark fuzzy production, meanwhile, throws the listener into focus, in a world where transactions are made via .45 cartridges and packs of chewing tobacco. Past the three-minute mark, the beats get more frenetic, the guitar rises in terror, and the tempo picks up like a heartbeat lurching forward; the climax isn’t unlike something 65daysofstatic would do if they were stuck in 19th century Texas.
The opener’s straightforward Stock Options stuff, but it’s “Laika” that sets the pace for the rest of the EP. Gone is the brutal aggression that characterized the band’s earlier work: the pace is more measured, the buildup a gradual climb, the tone subdued rather than jagged. The production here swings from murky and ominous to clean and solemn with great effect. At times, the guitar strumming comes close to sounding like synths programmed on a computer so old Minesweeper takes up half of its RAM. It’s the longest track this band has written so far, a mammoth eight-minute epic, but it doesn’t waste a single second; The rises and falls of the melodies here, spanning everything from grungy rock-climaxes to jazzy improvisational passages, cover more terrain than many bands can cover in an entire EP. "Laika" is by far the most thrilling piece Stock Options has put out to date and shows just what powers lie in its grasp.
On “You Can Call Me Bruises”, the aggression makes a triumphant return: the opening minute is an airtight minute of frantic, pounding music before things finally cool down. As on “Woodpecker”, mantra is what the songwriting verges on here, as the band finds a fountain of meanings to draw from any melody line they come up with. The track has some trouble pacing itself as it meanders through the slower sections before plunging headfirst into the rapids, but perhaps that’s why it leaves behind such deep marks.
If Stock Options wasn’t making its Old Western influences clear enough, EP closer “Youth In Conflict With The Law” comes dangerously close to skimming the fourth wall with its title. If the middle two of these four tracks were about expanding the band’s territory, this one’s a confident (and comparatively mellow) closing act. It doesn’t rush its hand but lets things slowly simmer for four minutes, and when the emotional centerpiece of the song, it’s a natural development. The song also takes great care to tie the album’s many spinning plates together: the way each part of the song is reprised with darker overtones in the climax is a sinister effect, another example of powerful songwriting enhancing powerful instrumentation. And the track ends with the same cacophonous screech of a guitar that the EP opened with. Bookends!
Post-rock is a genre with some of the most beautiful, engaging, and life-affirming music that you can hear; the thing is, it’s a lot trickier to make than many believe. (Or as this article would have you believe). It’s a real breath of fresh air when you put yourselves into the hands of a band as committed to the details as Stock Options. Ancient Bloom may not be as digestible a release as some of the other landmark releases put out this year, but the level of craft here shows that we’re dealing with a band that’s just beginning to bloom. Here’s hoping that people are listening.
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