There’s a doctored photograph of some cubist architecture and telephone wires set against a moody sky on the cover. The tracks are listed in scribbly writing which looks a bit like the hand of a serial killer in a Hollywood thriller.
The sleevenotes steer firmly away from thanking God or anyone’s mum – in fact the only comment other than the listing of personnel and writing credits is “You will all die.” Well, we all knew that I guess, but it’s nice to be reminded once in a while. Post-rock titans Godspeed you black emperor! would be calling their copyright lawyers, if only copyright lawyers weren’t such vile puppets of a fetid corporate dystopia.
Aerial, incidentally, are not to be confused with Aerial-M, a solo project from David Pajo of Slint, the key innovators of the first wave of doomy, melodic post-rock. Visually and verbally, we are in very familiar territory here. Yes, one might say, we are not a long way from home.
And musically, The Sentinel does exactly what it says on the tin. Track one consists of some feedback, some crowd noise, some fireworks going off, and some muffled talk of “black rain” and “flesh clouds” – and then it’s on to eight virtually identical tracks featuring all of your favourite post-rock motifs.
Each starts with some delicate melodic noodling which bobs along on gently undulating basslines, builds for a bit, explodes into howling guitars and thundering bass for a couple of minutes, and then nestles into a trochaic rhythm before going quiet again. Some of the noisy bits sound a little like a hair-metal guitar solo, but never stick around for long enough to necessitate any moral judgments or comparisons to Aerosmith. Occasionally there’s a sample of humming telegraph wires or a lone radio signal broadcasting into the ether. So far, so Godspeed, so Mogwai.
If there’s a point of difference between Aerial and their very evident influences, it’s in the scattering of vocals provided by the band themselves. Post-rock purists might balk at the snippets of singing which echo the Sparklehorse / Grandaddy / Flaming Lips axis of falsetto indie wistfulness, but they do add a little warmth and personality to an otherwise rather austere offering.
None of which is to say that The Sentinel is a bad album. It’s just that anyone with an interest in post-rock (and I honestly can’t imagine anyone else buying this) will already own several records which do exactly the same thing, only much better.
If listening to Godspeed at their most intense is like standing in a wind tunnel weeping hysterically about the horrors of free market capitalism, 40 minutes in the company of Aerial is like leaving a corner shop on a slightly windy day only to discover that they’ve shortchanged you by twenty pence.