Aerial: The Sentinel

Chris Baynes

Melodically fantastic at times and thankfully relatively unpretentious, The Sentinel is an enjoyable if fairly unremarkable post-rock album.


The Sentinel

Label: Tangled Up!
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2007-11-05

It's difficult to approach any new post-rock album these days without a degree of trepidation. For every band the genre has spawned that prove to be consistently brilliant in their output, such as Explosions in the Sky or Sigur Rós, or at least consistently creative, á la Mogwai, there seems to be ten or so 'also rans', of varying degrees of quality. While it is genre that trades heavily in catharsis, rendered as often in beauty as it is noise, it is also one that relies upon gradual unfoldings and progressive repetition.

And in the wrong hands, this repetition can lead the listener on a road to nowhere and become a long journey with no satisfying destination, while the odd pretty melody can be mistaken as a substitute for the sheer spine-tingling magnificence of post-rock's finest moments; the likes of ( ) and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.

Sweden's Aerial is by no means a poor-quality exponent of the genre. The Sentinel is for the most part, in fact, an exceedingly good album. But it's also an album whose derivation is obvious, to the point that it is impossible to ignore the similarities, most prominently to the Texan titans, Explosions in the Sky, and in particular their most eulogized opus The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. These parallels are not just musical, but also atmospheric, with both albums having an overriding sense of hopefulness about them, musically at least.

Whereas the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor present an unfalteringly bleak picture, Aerial's outlook is significantly lighter and more uplifting. "Walk with Me"'s bright chiming and even the deceptively title "You Will Die, All Things Will" both bristle with a sense of optimism, each augmented with Sebastian Arnstrom's wistful vocals, which find a curious mid-point between human whisper and robotic chant not all-too-dissimilar from fellow countrymen Jeniferever. As with many bands of this ilk, the vocals don't form the basis of any of the songs here, but do add a sense of personality to what an offering otherwise fairly low on relatability.

This sense of character does help the Swedes' first full-length release rise above mere derivative meaninglessness, and makes parallels to Aerial's peers reference points more often than rip-offs. But nevertheless it remains inescapable that this is an album lacking in originality. It's a quality album make no mistake. "My God, It's Full of Stars"'s harmonious, chimed arpeggios would do Explosions in the Sky proud, while "Head's Gone" silences the introductory field-recorded chatter, like the wooing of an unexpecting crowd, with delicate shards of guitar and Arnstrom's unassuming vocal fragility. But other than the former of these two (wisely chosen the album's first single), you'd be hard pushed to pluck out any standouts from The Sentinel, even after several listens.

There are numerous moments during the album when something will reach out and grab you; the pendulous refrain of "You Will Die, All Things Will", for instance, or the underwater glow of the "46th Street"'s minute of subdued recess and the development of its accompanying rhythmic stomp. There are even, like the intertwining of "My God, It's Full of Stars" sky-high guitars, melodies so sweet that they'll make themselves comfortable in your head for a good while after listening. But the problem is that, when it's all over, unlike the aftermath of your first encounter with ( ), there are no indelible marks left on your brain, there's no awe or stunned appreciation, just silence and an uncertainty of where the last 45 minutes went.

If this suggests The Sentinel is a bad album, it most certainly isn't. Aerial have created an enjoyable album, free, for the most part, from post-rock's worst excesses (they should be commended, at least, for not relying on inordinate amounts of tremolo-picking and delay to create what press releases would surely describe as an 'epic' sound). It's just that there are also better albums of this ilk out there, and its difficult for The Sentinel to escape the shadow of these. So if you're looking for a fix of well crafted, sonically impressive post-rock, then this will do the trick. But if you're looking for your life, or even the shape of post-rock, to be changed, look elsewhere.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.