Photo: Cameron Whitman / Terrorbird Media

Requiem Construct Heavy, Dreamy Soundscapes on ‘POPulist Agendas’

The first full-length release from Requiem packs an emotional, post-rock punch with its unique sense of adventure and calming, cathartic hope in the darkness.

POPulist Agendas
Mutineer Records
11 August 2023

It makes sense that the three core members of Requiem formed in 2020, during the first few months of the COVID pandemic. Their music almost seems custom-built as cathartic, deeply resonant instrumental therapy for times of isolation, fear, and unease. On POPulist Agendas, their first full-length album (following a series of EPs and mini-albums), the larger-than-life droning soundscapes are a pummeling soundtrack of emotion and release.

Requiem is made up of veteran musician and multimedia artist Doug Kallmeyer, visual artist Monica Stroik, and guitarist, soundscape designer, and conceptualist Tristan Welch, and their sound is understandably compared to artists like Explosions in the Sky, Mono, and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, with unique synth patches, sustained, groaning bass lines, and booming drums enveloping the listener. The sound is unrelenting, but it’s important to note that their music has a deep emotional element, as evidenced in their live performances. Hypnotic multimedia elements and heavily processed drums (performed by Andrew Toy) move the audience in unexpected ways.

“It’s really interesting what it does for people,” explains Kallmeyer in POPulist Agenda press notes. “We’ve had massive responses from those who have PTSD, people who have problems with insomnia or anxiety or ADHD. After shows, these people approach us and exclaim, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t been able to be that calm in years. You’ve gotta release this.'”

As someone who has yet to see Requiem in concert, I can’t compare the live experience with the studio experience, but I will say that the music on POPulist Agendas is tremendously moving. The opening track (and first single), “Tired, Hot and Bothered”, is anchored by a booming, stuttering drum figure and a supernatural wind tunnel synth effect, followed by stately, almost majestic keyboard lines. It’s an imposing sound that’s easy to get lost in. The music has an emotional feel that’s not always present with Requiem’s post-rock contemporaries.

“I Suddenly Have a Dreadful Urge to Be Happy” takes a slower, more methodical approach, as the synth lines are more textured and prominent, giving off the feel of a large-scale orchestral ballad. It’s a bit less threatening – if that makes sense – but still packs a massive punch. Requiem take this languid pace even further on the sludgy, slow-motion soundscape “Deadwood”, an expression of grief from Welch inspired by his mother’s passing. The title is a phrase in gin rummy, which Welch used to play with his mom growing up. “Deadwood is the cards left in your hand when you lose,” Welch explained in the press notes. “That’s what I was feeling with the song.” The song’s coda features the gradual percussive crescendo of floor toms matched with splintering guitar notes, which is a particularly resonant musical touch.

POPulist Agendas sees Requiem experimenting beyond the usual post-rock drones, as is in the gorgeous “Accelerated Dreaming”, where clipped guitars and off-kilter percussion give off an air of dreamy, experimental progressive rock. The urgent “Humane Technology” is reminiscent of Music For the Masses-era Depeche Mode, with its doom-laden dance beats. “Our Common Welfare”, which closes the album, seems almost dreamily hopeful, with chimes and synths offering an almost hymn-like atmosphere, and even when the drums come crashing in – as they always seem to do – the result is a bit of droning, post-rock with a touch of soulful optimism.

When you hear them described in a line or two, Requiem sound almost like a band that you might dismiss as a one-note soundscape drone factory. But it only takes a few moments of their beautiful POPulist Agendas to see that their music contains many seemingly disparate elements, a unique sense of adventure and calming, cathartic hope in the darkness.

RATING 8 / 10