It’s an unquantifiable, ethereal thing, is atmosphere. It is can be created accidentally, or cultivated with utmost planning and precision, and shattered and changed by the slightest inaccuracy being present. It’s clear from the shimmering clean guitar note that slips into understated vocal of intro/opener ‘Shadows In Hibernation’ that on their début album Silently, I Threw Them Skywards (Holy Roar) Brighton, UK, based quintet We Never Learned To Live are meticulously aiming for a pervading atmosphere of deep, immersive melancholy.
To achieve this, there is detail and precision at every step of their emo-meets-post-rock catharsis, and that an incredible amount of thought has gone into things, from the reflective and meditative backing and complimentary guitars to the connections and meanderings that link the songs. At their peak, such as on the jangling, progressive, Karnivool-esque ‘Vesalius’, WNLTL show not just an understanding of how to meld post-rock and depressive music into a meaningful output, but also that they are able to craft it into songs that provoke the desired response in the listener of drawing them away from the outside world into the introspection and immersion required to genuinely get something out of this music.
Yet, fastidiousness doesn’t always equal results, particularly not emotive ones, in the music field, and constancy is even harder to maintain than atmosphere. Sean Mahon’s vocals are inconsistent, jarring and grating as often as his flat cleans croon down another cul-de-sac. Alongside this, the creation of a continuous, similar soundscape serves to feed the feeling of monotony; as, alongside a re-occurring lack of vocal hooks – and I don’t necessarily mean choruses – there is a gaping hole in terms of dynamics (having a section that comes in with a bit of shouting and a some distorted chords is not a crescendo), and the song-writing element seems to have been lost in amongst the being neat (and boring).
Post-rock, particularly of the more morose, introverted kind, treads a fine line at the best of times, and despite moments of promise, We Never Learned To Live, more often than not, are unable to consistently produce the emotive, powerful compositions required to stand out in this field; fading, as with several of their tunes, into the background, defined as much by their inadequacies as their strengths.