This is one of those albums that is nearly impossible to discuss without its context, yet easily stands on its own simply as a work of art, without context. Yndi Halda are nothing short of a band with a cult following, and Under Summer is possibly one of the most anticipated albums of this decade. A ten year gap for any album is obviously enormous, but this one is even more so, because Enjoy Eternal Bliss was their first album, and its legacy is monumental. To have a band rock up, make one album, blow apart their entire scene and then vanish into obscurity, whilst constantly dripping information about an elusive follow-up is a recipe for extreme expectations. There are many albums that have taken as long as Under Summer, but not many carried the same expectations. And though I personally didn’t quite have those towering expectations as I know many others did, this album is so incredible that no matter how high your bar was, this has surely surpassed it.
In all honesty, I don’t quite get the hype behind the band’s debut record, though I do enjoy it. It almost personifies the notion that in order for post-rock to be good, it has to have an instrument that isn’t a guitar. 2005 was very early for the crescendocore or “third wave post-rock” movement, and with both its early date and additional influence from chamber and classical by way of violin, I can do see why it has the status it holds in a way, but to my ears in 2016, it simply sounds like an above-average crescendocore album with occasional moments of glory.
But Under Summer is something more. Had it been this album released in 2005, there would be no doubts to why it was considered iconic. This is an album that has evidently been meticulously worked over, but has somehow managed to be a totally different album from its predecessor, and is brilliantly unique and inspired. This isn’t just a well-written album, this is an album that breaks new ground within post-rock as a genre, after a decade of stagnant material. There are equal parts Talk Talk and The World is A Beautiful Place here, to the point in which you really wonder when this was actually written. Post-rock, for nearly 15 years, has been repetitive and dry (though often quite good within that realm), with only Sigur Ros and Swans pushing the envelope properly, and it’s almost as if Yndi Halda have just dropped down from above to save the world of post-rock from itself.
It’s a totally different record from it’s predecessor – the vocals alone are enough to completely separate them into different discussions. Here we see Yndi Halda create music that isn’t just reliant on the crescendo and the mood. The textural and structural elements from post-rock are still there, but there are songs here too, with vocal sections and melodies and tales and meanings. Parts of this sound like a folk album, with beautiful instrumentation pulsing under solemn and emotionally driven vocal lines. And somehow, the addition of these extra parts give the crescendos more meaning and more power within the context of the record. Each of the four songs here are over ten minutes, and they all build and rise to peaks and fall to troughs like a standard post-rock fare, but with many of the sections being akin to standard folk rock or indie rock, the huge bombastic-core post-rock crescendo sections are twice as powerful.
There are quite a lot of comparisons to be made here between this and the so-called “emo revival” material of The World is a Beautiful Place or The Hotelier, though I doubt there was any direct influence. The tone and mood of this record feels very similar – combining longing and nostalgia with hope and ambition in an oddly bittersweet way, but Yndi Halda take that emotional base and drop it right in the middle of some Godspeed You Black Emperor style song structuring. The way these songs ebb and flow without a single misstep is frankly inspiring, like a film that manages to find the perfect number of setting shots and the perfect number of character development shots, not underdoing or overdoing anything. While I enjoy the modern emo bands a lot, they often feel quite juvenile or unrefined in their short-form composition, Under Summer feels like Yndi Halda have taken that and used their decades of experience to craft it into something that is not only emotionally potent but impeccably structured. Everything here is in its right place, from the solemn vocal-led parts to the cathartic sections of guitar-driven violence.
Under Summer is a hard record to fault – it feels like the culmination of a decade of development in post-rock, an album that perfectly concludes the third wave by achieving everything that every band within it attempted to and more. All the things that were great about Enjoy Eternal Bliss are here – the violin, the emotion, the crescendos, the production, but in addition to that we have some brilliant influence from emo, indie rock, folk rock, all done to an added level of perfection. There are nitpicks – “Together Those Leaves” ends in an irritatingly abrupt way, “Helena” fluffs around a bit in the middle, but the only true criticism I can put towards this is that there isn’t really anything new – this is just a perfecting of past ideas, both of Yndi Halda themselves and of other bands, and is probably the best post-rock record of the last decade, a truly impressive accolade for an album that took a decade to make.