HRSTA – Stem Stem in Electro

Stem Stem in Electro

For all of the great records and bands that Constellation has given us, the label has never produced a great singer. Sure, Efrim has turned half of Constellation flagship Godspeed You! Black Emperor and turned it into a vehicle for his apocalyptic children’s choirs, Silver Mt. Whatever the Name is This Week. Anyone would rightly be able to argue that Constellation’s musical products – usually gloomy post-rock – don’t lend itself well to singers, and that’s true. But recent releases, such as Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, have trended more towards vocals and songwriting, and rarely have they been thrilling.

Enter HRSTA, a band founded by – surprise! – original GYBE member Mike Moya and staffed by other Montreal-area musicians who have worked with – surprise – other post-rock figureheads, like Hangedup or the Swords Project. HRSTA, however, is different in that the band focuses more on downtrodden vocals than downtrodden guitars. Of course, you’d be hard pressed to label this music anything other than post-rock, and HRSTA comes with much of the same appropriated religious imagery that flanked GYBE and Silver Mt. Zion, but this is definitely unique in the Constellation catalog.

Stem Stem in Electro is HRSTA’s second record (the first had a French-Canadian title that’s not worth typing out), and it uses droning, wrecked instruments to create a backdrop for the band’s voices, which come off the wax like lonely apparitions, more ghastly chanting than melodic singing. Moya surrounds the chants with thick slabs of organ, guitar, and strings, leading to bruising mood pieces that ebb and flow like post-rock but still contain enough vocals to keep anyone not thrilled by ringing guitars pleased.

Of course, the end result of all of this chanting and instrumental wailing can often be a little heavy handed. And it is on the repetitious and unintentionally funny “Blood on the Sun,” a song that is so melodramatic that it’s difficult to make it all the way through. And depending on your interest in number theory (Biblical and otherwise), “Swallow’s Tail” may sound like the worst count-off of your life.

On much of the rest of Stem Stem in Electro is intriguing. “Gently Gently” is a mercurial folk lament buoyed by a gorgeous organ and little else. “Folkways Orange” is one of the album’s most conventional “songs,” this time featuring lively percussion and ringing guitar chords. The final track, “Quelque Chose a Propos Des Raquetteurs,” is a standard post-rock dirge for much of its nearly seven-minute runtime, but it saves itself at the end with a dense, chanting coda.

Stem Stem in Electro is not the kind of record that will have people looking for Constellation to stretch its barriers more often. Rather, it’s a refreshing sound from a label that too often falls into the sorts of creative ruts its bands are known for. HRSTA may come out of the same post-rock camp as GYBE et al., but it offers real hope that that group of obviously talented musicians can move out of their self-imposed box and onto other thrilling sounds.