Hiboux: Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up

2017 Mar 08, 2017


New Zealand instrumental band Hiboux make melodic and often poetic post-rock that combines transportive escapism with deep-set catharsis. The Wellington-based group craft dynamic songs, and in some cases transcendent ones too, and their full-length debut, Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up, feels like a vast unfolding odyssey.

Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up features six cinematic tracks that journey to the farthest horizons — just as the album’s cover art suggests. But turn off the lights, and throw on your headphones, and the albumoffers a far more introspective expedition.

Plenty of navel-gazing post-rock bands make dull music because they confuse flashy technique with engaging expression. But as Hiboux made clear on their promising four-song EP, Night Flights, back in 2016, they understand how to craft genuinely arresting songs — and I’m guessing that’s because they have a broader set of influences.

Post-rock groups like Mogwai, Mono, Jakob, or Explosions in the Sky are all reflected in Hiboux’s quiet-loud aesthetic. But Hiboux also draw from other strains of alt-rock, like gothic rock or post-punk, and that adds an extra dimension to their sound.

Hiboux don’t have to rely on post-rock tropes to build their songs, and they show an appreciation of nuance by not cluttering their music with too much extraneous filler. That gives their songs breathing room and doesn’t obscure the intricacy of their soundscapes with needless noise.

Hiboux’s music doesn’t sound contrived either. Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up features lengthy songs, but Hiboux don’t sound like they’re repeating a laboured formula to flesh those songs out. Instead, Hiboux’s music evolves organically as it intensifies. Melodic passages with moody guitars often build to crashing crescendos. But nothing Hiboux do within that narrative ever feels forced or affected.

Obviously, that’s an entirely wordless narrative. But, musically, Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up is still a very lyrical album — with Hiboux’s expressive and evocative music guiding you, every step of the way.

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Album opener, “East of Seddon”, is an expansive, moving track, while its follow-up, “Standing Waves”, has a much darker premise. On both tracks, though, the cascading guitars and deft percussive flourishes lure you in, initially. But it’s Hiboux’s hypnotic arrangements that’ll hook you; pulling you down into the depths of the songs.

Every track on Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up has its own tale to tell. The visceral “Mäusethal” grips the heart with increasing intensity as scorching guitars recount the most urgent and dynamic story on the album — and the track’s soaring conclusion provides a deep sense of catharsis too. The sweeping “Aphasia” has elaborate riffs that drive its wonderfully epic and involving storyline forward too. But Hiboux save their very best song till last.

“Precession” brings a palpable sense of awe as poignant and chiming guitars sculpt beautiful vistas both intimate and immense. And the song finishes the album on an utterly sublime note. But don’t take my word for it: see below for Hiboux’s gorgeous video for “Precession”, which perfectly encapsulates the mood and visions the song evokes.

Hiboux have clearly worked long and hard on Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up. But post-rock is a notoriously fickle genre, and one person’s moment of transcendence is another’s moment of monotony.

I certainly found myself transfixed by songs like “Mäusethal” and “Aphasia”, and I’m downright obsessed with “Precession”. But the album’s fifth track, “Priests of the Forest”, felt like an aimless amble in comparison to the rest of the album’s captivating songs.

That doesn’t represent a drastic failing on Hiboux’s behalf though. Every full-length debut is a long-form experiment in discovering what works and what doesn’t. Hiboux obviously want to pull out all their tricks and impress here. And that means every one of those tricks is open to scrutiny and interpretation.

Not enjoying one of them, or thinking a few lengthy passages here or there on the album could be tightened or shortened, is no kind of tragedy in the grand scheme. And Hiboux are already busy writing their next album. So it’ll be interesting to see what lessons they’ve taken away from writing and recording their full-length debut.

Overall, Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up is an immensely enjoyable album. Especially where deeply melodic tracks sweep you up and carry you along. The best music always takes us places, and Hiboux take us on animated journeys, painting vivid scenes with evocative music and summoning a raft of emotions.

There’s plenty of plaintive music on Command the Earth to Swallow Me Up, reflecting the desire for oblivion expressed in the album’s title. Ultimately, though, with so many blissful, profound, and euphoric musical moments, Hiboux’s debut lights the torch, to help us find our way out of the darkness.

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