My favorite moments in music are the ones that feel transcendent; the ones that seem to transport, envelop, and transform your circumstances as you sit down to experience them.
These moments can come in many forms. For many people, an exceptionally crafted heavy moment, like a climactic bridge or a breakdown in a metal song, can bring that world-changing experience. For others, it may come in the form of a delicate and spacious quiet song which allows the listener to drift off into restfulness or meditate.
One thing that drew me to the overlapping genres of post-rock, ambient, and post-hardcore music is that this sense of place, this tangible connection with the structure of a listening experience, and this focus on the audience’s interaction with the music, felt innately immersive to me. Listening to the songs by these artists, whether or not they were purely instrumental, allowed me to pour myself into the music, experience it fully, and it allowed the music to pour itself into me.
Gates’ previous record Bloom and Breathe, a monumental achievement for a post-rock band’s debut album, was one of those records I let wash over me completely. It synthesized so many of the things I loved about the post-rock genre so beautifully — from the shimmering guitars to the emotional tax of a well-executed crescendo and the resulting pay-off. Songs like “Not My Blood” and “At Last The Loneliest of Them” became stellar selections for their live set, with their heavy, sweeping finales. But there was still something not quiet present yet. The band didn’t quite have the other side of their sound, the ethereal, ballady style, pinned down yet. Songs like “Marrow” suffered as a result, sounding less than necessary on the album’s back-half.
With that said, the band’s sophomore full-length, Parallel Lives, came with a multitude of question marks. Could the band craft an album of ambient, largely quiet songs, that despite their tranquility have a vitality and a grandness to them? Could the rare moments where Gates lets loose on the album hit home as much as they do on songs like “Not My Blood?”
There is no doubt in my mind: The band not only succeeds on all of the above, but in pretty much everything they attempt on Parallel Lives. They move beyond the reasons I adored Bloom and Breathe, and put together an album that works seamlessly in establishing an ambiance and a tone from the moment the first notes kick-in and maintaining that tone flawlessly until the moment the final notes ring out. It feels at once familiar and comforting, and yet, entirely unique within the genres Gates play in.
There are moments here that certainly will be reminiscent of other scene favorites and standouts. The glitchy atmospherics and somber keyboards of “Forget” and “Color Worn” will remind many of Copeland’s 2014 standout Ixora. The general tone of the album and the laid-back nature of the song composition definitely recalls the magnum opus self-titled record of friends Moving Mountains. The guitar tones in the middle section of “Eyes” will be eerily familiar to fans of O’Brother and Caspian’s most recent works. But despite all of these connections to other albums, I never got the impression that Parallel Lives was trying to capture or recreate the magic of those exceptional records.
Instead, it forges out in search of a place of its own in that echelon. Where “Marrow” failed due to its weak lyrics and unmemorable melody, “Fade” (the stunning piano ballad on Parallel Lives), succeeds due to its breathtaking melody. The track spans the entirety of vocalist Kevin Dye’s range and includes maybe his most vulnerable vocal performance. There is so much longing and wistful acquiescence in Dye’s voice, a resignment that is echoed in the lyrics: “The petals wilt away / the blue skies dull to gray / and I wish I hadn’t left our love to fade.”
While some will take issue with Gates’ decision to wind things down a little bit on Parallel Lives, to take a step back from the standard crescendo-heavy song composition of the post-rock genre, I feel this decision allows the songs the necessary room to breathe. It gives the moments when things finally do open up extra significance. Moments like the end of “Shiver,” when a wobbling synth transfigures into a soaring, fluttering behemoth of an outro. Or when “Left Behind” builds and build for the entirety of its five-minute run-time to an ominous conclusion, and Dye sings: “Even in a perfect life, we still die” as the music seems to overpower him in a wall of sound.
But the thing that defines Gates more than anything is finding the temporary bliss of hope even in the deepest moments of despair. Bloom and Breathe notably concludes with the lyrically uplifting “Again at the Beginning” and bleeds into the inspirational instrumental “Everything That Will Always Be.” Parallel Lives, while not as specifically structured to place the catharsis of the record at the conclusion, displays similar moments of this fleeting bliss. The aforementioned “Shiver” is a great example of this feat, with Dye’s admission of his desires giving way to an outro and the joyous celebration that comes with it.
It is one of those transcendent moments I discussed before — a moment where the joyousness and the primal instincts of music seem to speak to and overtake you. A moment where music seems to seep into your very pores and bring you out of a deep-seated emotional funk that the evening news, and the horrifying world outside your door, have put you in. A moment when music can change your entire world for the better, at least for as long as the record keeps spinning.