This summer marks the welcome return of instrumental collective Whale Fall with their first album in nearly four years and a glorious one it is. The sprawling vistas of The Madrean, their 2014 post-rock homage to the natural & urban landscapes of the American southwest, give way to a more broadly referential cycle of songs called Sondersongs which takes inspiration from the neologistic definition of a word found in John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:
“sonder – n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk” – The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
It is a concept Whale Fall is particularly well suited to explore with their impressive dynamic range, strong narrative instincts, and seemingly effortless ability to traverse a wide variety of tonalities and genres. While their last album which was often as arid and rough-hewn as the landscapes it sought to evoke, Sondersongs recalls the more lyrical sensibilities of the band’s eponymous 2011 debut with fetching melodies and sparkling piano lines along with lots of bright guitar atmospherics, horns, and a dash of cello. At full tilt, the music scales exhilarating heights, but intensity never comes at the expense of clarity and attention to detail. During even the most epic crescendos and explosive jams, the arrangements remain sparse and clean, and punctuated by quiet interludes of eloquent beauty. That is no small achievement, but the band takes it all a step further by shaping it all into a coherent arc that serves the album’s theme.
The ethos of these Sondersongs encompasses stability and change, union and dissolution, each of us holding our own story within us as they collide with the stories of those around us…the emotional arc of the album evokes the structure, bonds, and divisions between all of us, and ultimately the realization that we all share the same human story at the depth of ourselves. ” – Whale Fall
It is a profound and uplifting message and Sondersongs is a wonderful way to be reminded of it that sounds great as loud as you want to play it. The album is now available for digital download and streaming with a CD version set to ship around August 1 and a limited vinyl white vinyl LP edition set for October. Details for all editions can be found on their Bandcamp site.