Being an active post-rock listener makes it hard to ignore the ongoing debate about the value of bands overtly referencing or even copying the sound of their inspirations. Some critics view the genre’s definition of “using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes” as an obligation to be unique and experimental, but over the past years there has been an emergent group of wildly enthusiastic young bands who wholeheartedly embrace the legacy of the genre’s greats, and whose popularity and energy is undeniable. One of the youngest additions to this burgeoning scene of musicians is Three Days From Retirement hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland.
With their debut album Empty Chinese Cities, Three Days From Retirement are not shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves. The unrepentant crescendocore-adoration of these five energetic post-rock bangers is painted all over and these songs are real anthems that would not be out of place on the stages of bigger post-rock festivals. Some of the song titles, like “Mr John’s Keytar Will Create Waves Of Joy” might be considered too silly or too anecdotal for someone to relate to, but in some cases these songs have the emotional backing to substantiate their passionate sound.
Case in point is album opener “Mandy”, which was written for a deceased friend of guitarist Joe Warnock and which is accompanied by an awesome music video featuring a compilation of anime shots, telling the story of a strong feminine super hero who fights her way through life and battles for those she loves. In the same way, the creation and release of Empty Chinese Cities could be considered a real battle.
Being “a real labour of love”, as Joe describes it, Empty Chinese Cities was put together by sheer force of will. Formed in 2013, Three Days From Retirement spent many years touring throughout the UK, but by the time Joe had finished writing the album, the band had basically fallen apart due to internal conflict. In spite of this, Warnock managed to convince both current and former members to record their parts, capturing them separately as some of them could not be in the same room together.
Empty Chinese Cities has a curious way of drawing the listener in with its over-compressed drum sound and boosted high frequencies, clearly demonstrating the steep learning curve of mixing your own record, which was done by Joe himself on his own laptop. The snare is so saturated that it almost becomes a sound effect of itself and instruments tend to clash or just fall away for seemingly no reason, most notably on the title track.
Listening to Empty Chinese Cities through earphones takes some time to adjust, and even through a better sound system the mix takes some getting used to. However, by intently focusing on the music and letting oneself go along with the flow, the listener enters a world that is both mesmerising and pristine.
“…by intently focusing on the music and letting oneself go along with the flow, the listener enters a world that is both mesmerising and pristine.”
One of the biggest challenges of young bands is to overcome the limitations set by production, either budget-wise or experience-wise, and Three Days From Retirement have done very well in turning their shortcomings into strengths. The fact that the delivery of the guitars isn’t always as smooth only adds to the charm of this record and in spite of the instantly recognisable style of math rock-inspired post-rock, Empty Chinese Cities still has numerous surprises left in store for the listener.
Three Days From Retirement show that there is only so much you can learn from your heroes and going by the passionate delivery of “Mandy” or the the heavy post-metal climax of “Energy Always Lives Forever”, it is clear that the band have done their homework. In the end however, the key to becoming a better band lies with putting oneself out there and by just doing it. The only way to really gain experience is by pursuing that dream and Empty Chinese Cities is a wonderful documentation of that incredible leap of faith.
This album is… *worth listening to.
Empty Chinese Cities was released on November 22 through Infinite Hive. The album is available in CD and digital formats from the Infinite Hive webshop.