Anyone who’s been paying attention to the post-rock scene during the past decade is more than likely aware of how prolific RANGES have been during that time; since 2014 the band has released ten studio albums, two live records, and another ten limited-edition cassettes quietly circulated in conjunction with everything else. The LP’s and cassettes have exhibited their explorations of two separate ideas – the former focusing on more traditional, powerful post-rock instrumentation, while the latter lean more into subdued ambient soundscapes. Every composition ultimately has a carefully considered presence that informs the overall concept that permeates the entire RANGES catalog, but to this point the two stylistic approaches have not intertwined. That is, until now, as their new album Cardinal Winds reveals a crossing of these threads, their individual evolutions culminating into an inspired, cohesive whole.
As recently as The Ascensionist one could still see spaces where RANGES were continuing to develop their sense of self and define their sound; there were times when the songs felt more contained, more rigidly structured, more locked into a steady mid-tempo and strictly defined roles. As the songwriting duties expanded across the band members on Babel there was a greater sense of looseness, each instrument having more of a unique sensibility as opposed to simply towing the line for a pre-determined arrangement. That feeling is even more prominent on Cardinal Winds: Mark Levy’s drums are the beating heart of the record, a living, breathing thing essential to the forward propulsion and paramount to the heightened dynamics that make this their most affecting, resonant collection of songs to date. Joey Caldwell’s presence has been felt in full throughout these last two records, and his intuitive feel for moving melodies is central to each track’s dramatic thrust.
RANGES began life as a studio project spearheaded by guitarists CJ Blessum and Wilson Raska, and the early recordings reflect the way in which their artistic sensibilities birthed the blueprint for their basic sound. But the true blossoming of the band occurred once they redefined their roles – Blessum focusing on concept and practical execution, Raska on multimedia and visual content – and gave Caldwell and Levy more space to spread their wings musically. What listeners will find on Cardinal Winds are nothing short of some of the finest post-rock compositions of the moment. Look to the forceful and instantly memorable opener “Abyss,” which begins with one of the band’s heavier refrains before transitioning breathlessly into a towering and instantly memorable melodic hook. Or tune in to “Sojourner,” which leads with a thoroughly entrancing section strangely reminiscent of modern chillwave (an influence that is later seen in the synth elements that give additional texture to the title track), eventually developing toward a soaring second half complete with ethereal choral elements hovering just above the surging finale.
The back half of the record maintains the high dramatic bar with “Solace” - maybe the album’s most powerful offering - and “Deluge,” which is no passive closer, launching itself toward the finish line on the back of a muscular bass line before closing on yet another earworm melody. One can’t forget the brief ambient tracks, which play a small but crucial role as the connective tissue creating a full stop between each song and ultimately drawing everything together. Over the years RANGES have built their reputation steadily as a band fiercely dedicated to their independent spirit, impressively capable of executing large-scale concepts from a small-scale operation, and thoroughly committed to providing fans with a memorable live experience no matter where the stage may be. They’re one of the few bands that can say they’ve consistently gotten better with each successive release, and Cardinal Winds is no exception – an inspired, exhilarating record that reveals them on top of their game as a unit, locked in and resolute as they deliver a career-best performance with one of 2021’s finest post-rock releases.