It's a Macedonia-centric day here at No Echo, and since Deni Omeragić didn't include his own band in his excellent list of 15 Contemporary Music Artists From Macedonia, I thought I should introduce you to Fighting Windmills' quite impressive brand of unique instrumental fare. I'm often on the fence about instrumental bands, but Fighting Windmills sucked me in on the first listen. Рапсодии во Празно (Rhapsodies in Void) is the third album from the Skopje, Macedonia five-piece—released at the very end of 2013—and contains 11 songs/50 minutes consisting of two guitars, bass, drums, and... clarinet!?
Yep, that's right. Clarinet.
It's tagged on Bandcamp as "experimental jazz and improvised post-rock," but stay with me here, 'cause it's so much more than that. It's darker, heavier, and more progressive... leaning much harder on math rock and metal than jazz or "post-" anything. In this scenario, "post-rock" doesn't mean that boring, shimmery, tremolo picking bullshit. There's essentially none of that, really. If anything, you could argue that some of the droning ambient textures and samples are "post-rock," I suppose?
And the presence of clarinet and improvisational jazz influences? Fear not. There's no pretentiousness in sight (or sound). I wouldn't expect myself to care for a clarinet in this context either, but it works. They're not being artsy-fartsy, the clarinet's not just there for the hell of it, and it's not present in every single track, nor at all times. The album is driven by cool riffs and interesting, atmospheric songwriting, as it should be.
Things start out slowly, with "Сè Гледа, Сè Знае (Sees Everything, Knows Everything)"—by far the longest track at nearly 12 minutes—kicking off with a looped sample from 1984 ("And I ask only... for you to accept... my love of our leader...") before eventually traveling through an array of chugging rhythms and, I don't know... Middle Eastern flare, maybe?
"Му Посака Добредојде на Протестот во Сопствените Коски (He Welcomed the Protest Inside His Own Bones)" is probably my favorite track herein—to my limited ears somewhat reminiscent of Ephel Duath circa The Painter's Palette meets Clockhammer.
"Секој Може да Биде Каубој на Зајдисонце (Anyone Can be the Cowboy at Sundown)" is another slow burner, where indecipherable whispers and eerie pulses of dense bass alongside not-quite-Spaghetti Western guitars gradually fade to clarinet before opening up into distorted riffing for a minute or so before the close.
And "Имам Само Лоши Вести (I Bring Only Bad News)" is jangly and chill until about 2:03, where the solo that follows (one of the most obvious herein) damn near sounds like it could've been at home in an early Jane's Addiction tune!?
Things can get a little noodly at times—such as the jumpy, staccato riffing and dual guitar harmonies of "Ќе се Сретнеме Таму Каде Што Нема Мрак (We Shall Meet Where There's No Darkness)," or the grating feedback and effects during the final minutes of closer "Пустината Како Факт (The Desert as a Fact)" (before finally ending on the same sample with which the experience began)—but it's never dull, and some of sample integration is really quite superb. Even quick segues like "Сива Зона I (Grey Zone I)"—which features samples from Network alongside a simple lull of guitar—are surprisingly awesome and emotional.
I'm digging the recording, too. Everything about it is warm and natural—heavy and crisp, but with just the right amount of faint ruggedness. Things get a little dirty when the layers stack up and the heaviness becomes more intense, but overall? It's great. And I love that it's mixed in such a way that the guitars are panned left and right around around the core rhythm section, which accentuates the interaction between different guitar parts and swirling experimental textures, and also highlights how the bass bounces and weaves throughout, not to mention the jazzy flourishes of percussion ("Сива Зона III (Grey Zone III)" is essentially a 42-second drum solo, and a prime example of how great the drums sound).
I had certainly never even heard of Fighting Windmills until last week, so I have no clue how this compares to their prior work, but I'm certainly intrigued. And while I can't pretend that I'm anywhere near well-versed in a lot of the potential influences/contemporaries that the group might be drawing from/compared to, from my limited perspective this is simply a cool album from a band that I'll be looking forward to hearing more from. Clearly there are more than 15 contemporary music artists from Macedonia that are worth exploring!
Рапсодии во Празно (Rhapsodies in Void) is available as a free download on Bandcamp, or you can email the band to inquire about ordering a physical copy of the CD. From what I can tell, the disc is housed in a nice-looking six-panel digipack, so hit 'em up if you still prefer something tangible for your collection!
- Bandcamp (mp3)