It’s not always the case that alt-rock bands can pack out their gloomy sound with a luscious melody, but Verse Metrics have something for anyone sceptical of typically long titles and mournful lyrics.
The cover art for their latest release features grey ocean waves dissolving into distant fog, evoking the interplay between minimalist melancholy and musical intricacy that structures the four songs on the EP.
These songs have a way of dragging you into liminal spaces, the twilight time between shadow and light, sorrow and joy; the “semi-wakeful state” of paranoia and contemplation, that reveals itself especially on ‘Unicorns/Show Ponies’, in the interplay between vocal tenderness and sharp rhythms.
Where the band’s previous releases such as ‘Ache’ and ‘Logarithms’ were often plaintive and wistful in the post-rock tradition of Mogwai, ‘We’ll Be Listening and Remembering Until We’re Old and Unsteady’ has an edgier bent, with jaggier drumbeats and powerful lyrics.
Despite the band’s obsession with mathematical imagery, Verse Metrics manage to infuse this cleverly twisting clinical lyricism with an emotive, human impulse that propels each song through intricate guitar licks and heavy climaxes.
On opening track, ‘This Is Your Captain Speaking’, singer Robert Dick declares: “without information we are nothing / but machinations” and it’s this insistence on information and inspiration, on independence of mind, that drives the humanism of each song against the dystopian threat of destroyed identity.
As the title suggests, there’s a heart-warming endurance to the lyrics which persists in the face of darkness and nihilism, a nostalgic yearning for better times: “I miss my old self / I need my old friends”.
Subtle and elaborate drumbeats and snare crashes pour over mistily haunting vocals and complex jangles of clean guitar.
The combination of slower tempos and passionate lyrics upon a post-rock canvas earns comparisons with American Football and Death Cab for Cutie; abraded, however, with Dick’s distinct vocals, which sound as though honed with whisky and cigarettes, hardy and beautiful as mountain heather.
Often, where the lyrics pose an existential question, the guitars answer with a sea of heady chords and twangling solos, which crashes over in chaotic waves of bittersweet and brutish joy.
Simple expressions of human weakness avoid cliché as they intertwine with mathematical and visceral wordplay, as on ‘Interlocator’: “we all lace up our tongues / With excoriation lust / Intertwined with your invective”.
This harshness is complemented beautifully by trembling snares and spiky math-rock guitar parts; a renewed depth and carefulness to the vocal expression, which snakes effortlessly around the implications of every delivery.
While such images of bodily violence might be inherited from a tradition of emo, Verse Metrics deconstruct every genre they work in and with increasingly elaborate lyrical abstraction they create something both maudlin and soaring.
By the final track, the Red Dwarf-referencing ‘My Name is Dr Hildegarde Landstrom and I Am Quite, Quite Mad’, the EP reaches a moment of clarity.
“Enveloped in landscapes / under lochs and lakes / we escape from phonoaesthetics”; the measured vocals wrap us warmly in a sensuous environment of “twisting shorelines and fractured coastlines”, the coupling of intricate shapes and open space which characterises the music itself as an escape, a beautiful silencing of the “phonoaesthetics”, the cacophonous thought that troubles the mind in its existential doubt.
The suggestion of eternity on this track (in the video, Dick brandishes a torch to the dark sky as he stands, waist-deep in tide water) neatly connects with the EP’s recurrent imagery of geometric repetition, of ageing and remembering, of the endless sea; leaving us with an atmospheric treasure which lends itself well to replaying until we equally reach that sense of coruscating sublimity.
We’ll Be Listening and Remembering Until We’re Old and Unsteady by Verse Metrics Words: Maria Sledmere