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Album Review: Steering By Stars ‘Cables’

Adelaide quartet Steering By Stars are perhaps far too easily dismissed under the umbrella term of ‘post-rock’, a label which will immediately divide music fans before they have even heard the artist in question. Sure enough, fans of the genre and artists such as Explosions In The Sky and, closer to home, Decoder Ring, will love Steering By Stars’ debut album ‘Cables’. More impressively, however, even those who hate the idea of post-rock will find a lot to like here.

This is slow-burn music. ‘Cables’ is about the most radio-unfriendly Australian album I have heard this year, but to say this is a bad thing would be completely incorrect. There’s something to be said for music that can’t be distilled into 3-minute anthems and catchy rhythms, even if there’s also something to be said for music that can be.

The real strength of this record comes with the band’s ability to meld more aggressive drumming rhythms and guitar riffs with some really subtle and at times delicate keyboard-driven ballads. It is the constant drive and tension between these two contrasting elements of Steering By Stars that makes them fascinating and enjoyable to listen to.

This is perfectly exemplified by first single Closer, which begins with a frantic sound before stripping back to a bare piano that is simply captivating. If you enjoy Sigur Ros’ instrumental numbers then there’s a good chance you’ll like a lot about this song as well. The vocals are for the most part indiscernible, but they aren’t all that pivotal to the track, instead becoming just another instrument that adds to the overall effect and draws from other elements of the track.

As with all albums that can be loosely categorised as post-rock, ‘Closer’ at times walks a fine line between complicated and over-complicated sounds. Thankfully, for pretty much the entire record, Steering By Stars falls on the right side of this divide. Gloom for example is a refreshingly straight-forward piano ballad, and it is given new meaning by the brooding song that precedes it, Blush Response.

At times there is simply so much going on here musically that you forget that vocals are absent for much of the record. And in fact if I have one criticism of this record, it is that on the rare occasion when the vocals do take center stage, such as the ‘Ooooh’s of Residue or the chanting of I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, they are never accompanied by a sense of euphoria like you see with artists such as Sigur Ros. Steering By Stars for the most part treat vocals like just another instrument to add to their dense sound, but I think at times they would benefit from an increased emphasis on them, even if this is used sparingly.

But then, this isn’t really what Steering By Stars is about. Like most of the tracks on ‘Cables’, the album itself builds to a crescendo, and by the time you get to the end of the distorted chaos that is Residue you can’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by what you’ve just heard.

‘Cables’ is a record with countless dips and peaks, an eclectic ride that is at times deafening and at times brooding and moody. At the very least, it’s great to see an Australian artist strive for success without seeing the need to appeal to radio audiences, and I feel that Australian music fans should really support efforts such as ‘Cables’. More than this, however, it’s a record that deserves to be listened to. It is a captivating and enthralling listen, for both fans of post-rock and for haters.

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