We Lost The Sea – ‘Triumph & Disaster’

By Fiachra Johnston

We Lost The Sea were not always an instrumental band, and to many their last release, ‘Departure Songs’, may not have been the album expected – or even, at the time, wanted. It was the album they needed to make, however, and as sharp and as raw as it was, it was also one of their best works. Four years on, the Australian post-rock outfit have returned with another long-form concept album in ‘Triumph & Disaster’, taking what they learned over their last three outings to create perhaps the most fine-tuned record of 2019.

Where ‘Departure Songs’ offered thoughts on intimate loss in musical tributes to individuals such as The Chernobyl Three, diver David Shaw, the crew of the Challenger spacecraft, and the band’s own Chris Torpy, ‘Triumph & Disaster’ is the fallout of disaster, and the effects of collective human failure, told through one story: a mother and son in a post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s a tale of resignation, of admittance, of acceptance, and sonically, plays almost like a Grimm fairytale.

Every track is heavy and impactful, but all the cutting guitar and stabbing percussion can’t hide the air of playfulness much of the album possesses. ‘Dust’ features high keys spaghetti western trumpets that wouldn’t go amiss in an abandoned saloon, while ‘Parting Ways’ opens with a comically staccato guitar line that sounds like the introduction of a vaudeville miscreant, before speeding up and hitting the more traditional wall of sound WLTS are capable of. This is album on the end of everything, and tracks like ‘Towers’ brutally emphasise the oppressive nature of collective wrongdoing to the planet – but there is storybook brevity and beauty here still, as if to say the world will still go on after we’ve all long vanished.

None of these elements feel out of place, as all this storytelling interweaves with the rest of the record seamlessly. The wandering brass sections and mellow synths, when they do appear, mix with the guitars effortlessly. With no vocal line, these instruments take centre stage, dictating pacing and emotion. They are, in effect, the narrators to the world We Lost The Sea have built, and while this is nothing new to post-rock, the band are able to create dynamic and engaging melodies with unique ‘voices’ purely through fine-tuning their own skills.

Like Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, the bands that inspire them, We Lost The Sea are a band that benefit from multiple listens. Storytelling through instrumentation is a difficult thing, and what appears to be meandering, pointless, or repetitious on the first go around becomes part of a grander tale in the next. There’s no way to pick apart the structure of songs like ‘A Beautiful Collapse’, a seven minute epitaph for humanity as they hit the tipping point of existence, in one go. You’ll always find yourself drawn to little details in each track as you go back to them, placing your own understanding and meaning in the band’s 62 minute goodbye to a dying world. There’s definitely fat being trimmed here compared to ‘Departure Songs’, though; where long soliloquies and samples felt out of place and separated from the rest of the album, here both the performance and production feel tight and controlled, and nothing comes across unnecessary or wasteful, a feat for an instrumental release with its longest tracks clocking in at just over fifteen minutes.

It’s a shock to the system when the final track, ‘Mother’s Hymn’, opens with the first vocals in a WLTS song in six years. ‘Mother’s Hymn’ is a soulful, mournful, brass-lead closing statement that sums up the last six tracks with a blunt understanding that it was our own behaviour that lead to this moment, that we “rose with the sun and fell into disgrace”, and closes the album with the open question of “Are we really too late?”. It’s so different from everything else up until this point, not just on this record but going back even further into WLTS’s history, yet it feels so at home as a hauntingly beautiful goodbye to all things, and solidifies the overarching theme of the album: even on the brink of destruction there is still love, indestructible and indefatigable at the end of the world. 

We Lost The Sea aren’t breaking the mould of post-rock with this latest release, nor are they experimenting with their own formula too much. What they have done, however, is fine-tune their style to produce the album they should be proudest of in their discography. Masterfully coordinated, darkly lamenting, but somehow soft and comforting in its last moments, this is a record impossible to put down. This is We Lost The Sea exemplified. 

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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