by Brian J. Audette
Even in the varied and often experimental realm of what we generally refer to as “post rock”, Arteria by COSMS is something a bit different. Released during the fervor of SXSW, Arteria is the product of two individuals, one from Indiana and the other from Shanghai, who got together here in Austin to make music. Taking cues from the more experimental end of the post rock spectrum, notes of Battles, Turing Machine, Tortoise, and Mercury Program seem to come to the forefront across these five tracks, but there’s no denying that COSMS have put their own spin on the sound.
The album opens with “Velveteen”, a song that immediately sets the stage for everything else to come. Slowly building from nothing, COSMS apply a non-stop procession of layers, each tight, and repeating, but ultimately expanding on established themes. The result is simple, but complex…serene yet almost menacing. “Xie Xie” continues what we will soon see as a trend with a subtle, twinkling synth intro leading into an almost twangy, organic procession of looped guitar riffs. There’s a machinelike precision at work within these songs that feels almost alien. The intensity of rhythm and the constant building of loops feels like a musical programming language; audio ones and zeroes repeating, combining, and overlapping to create sentences of song.
“Mekong” continues what seems to be a variation of a theme on Arteria. While still built off a central repetitious rhythm, the song feels a little looser and perhaps more traditional to post rock at times, building to a distorted guitar bridge and an outro of meaty drums. “Metropolis” perhaps best describes that alien feel I mentioned earlier with its synthetic rhythm and percussion giving way to live instruments and an almost jarring syncopated drum section. The core repetition fades about 2/3 of the way through leaving the song to culminate with an echo of organic guitars. Is this cyborg dance music? Arteria ends with “Pagoda,” a song that doesn’t bring much new to the table, but whose sound is nonetheless distinct, with sawtooth guitars giving it an almost industrial feel.
I found myself coming away from Arteria feeling as if these weren’t so much songs I had listened to, but collections or deconstructions of musical ideas, artfully arranged and sequenced. It’s a feeling I most often associate with the more hardcore advocates of math rock and yet, there’s almost a more artistic angle to it, like an audio installation designed to fit solely in the space between my ears. There’s no denying the technique on display by COSMS onArteria, but I’m not sure if I’ve found the “soul” of the album. The auditory juggling act on display is by no means unimpressive, but the art takes a back seat to the artifice here. I wouldn’t count that as mark against Arteria, but in a genre where massive swells and crescendos have come to be expected (especially in Austin post rock), COSMS play a more technical, ambient style of music. Ultimately it’s a bit more contemplative and easier to blend into the background, but I bet cyborgs love it.
Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bjaudette.