A Passive Bludgeoning Force by Floor Overhead

Release date: December 9, 2016
Label: Self-Released

Positioning itself between post rock and ambient, Floor Overhead‘s majestic A Passive Bludgeoning Force presents deconstructed guitar work that is epic in scope yet maintains its calm; evoking the wide expanses of nature. Think Sigur Rós crossed with Russian Circles, or Ben Frost mixed with Fennesz. An assertive, accessible listen, Force induces a soothing aura across the album’s four principal tracks (the fifth track is a minute and a half long coda). Throughout, Andrew Farwell’s heavily processed timbres are given a floating sense of ambiguity, while the occasional use of distortion adds a dash of grit.

Opener ‘Consummation I’ consists of reverberated caresses that fold in on themselves, keeping distorted tones at the periphery. The guitars hum as a faraway melody, like a distant message ringing across a mountain range. The main development occurs just past the three-minute mark, when a bass tone crashes in, providing a counterpoint to the guitars which have become a trebly, whooshing wave. ‘Consummation I’ leads into ‘Recompost I,’ where the delay effect is shorter, creating a percussive motion from the resulting beat. This track focuses on the ping-ponging of the effects around the speakers, their severe panning a bit disorienting.

‘Testament I’ uses an occasional reverse effect and more stereo ping-ponging, though here the effect is more constrained across the speakers. A gentle guitar drone, like a wave that jostles the side of a boat but is in no danger of capsizing it, greets us midway through. Like the first two tracks, ‘Testament I’ leads into ‘Testament II’, the places in the EP where the bass is most prominent.

The final ‘Consummation II’ is an optimistic conclusion to Force. Using a guitar tremolo effect, the sketch exhibits a solo line doubled up to fill out the stereo field. The final statement is one of hope, although as the most sonically different piece of the five and the shortest, it could have been excluded without compromise to the overall experience.

The primary focus of Force is the lead guitar, which means the bass becomes almost an afterthought. The minimal bass tends to emphasize the downbeat with held notes that stretch across several measures, but the tracks nevertheless sound a bit thin. On both ‘Testament’ tracks for example, the bass could be enhanced, if only for several moments, to intensify tension between the swirling guitar washes and thicken the overall sound. The existence of the bass is essential to fill gaps, particularly when the guitars drop out their bottom ends, but the equilibrium seems out of proportion, favoring the lead instruments and their higher frequencies. The closest the album reaches this severity is on ‘Consummation I,’ yet there is still a sense of restraint, which does effectively succeed in suggesting the passivity of the album’s title.

Farwell has been exploring Force‘s method of composition for the last three years. He explains the inherent contradiction in the title. “A Passive Bludgeoning Force refers to the quiet noise that you don’t realize is there, that quietly creeps up on you until it becomes an overwhelming force. The album is all about the impact of this transition.” Farwell draws from his transitional moment in moving to New York, one of the largest passive bludgeoning forces. The dense urban environment, teeming with people, noises and external stimuli, wears on even the most hardened city dweller. Those who have visited New York but remark that they “could never live there” realize the city’s inherent intensities. Its citizens know full well the benefits of a well-deserved break from the metropolis.

Post-rock turnoffs include excessive runtimes with minimal development, sometimes aided with helpings of pretension. Force deftly resists all of these pitfalls, providing timbrally novel ideas nearly every minute. The tracks are short and sweet rather than long and meandering, keeping the listener wanting more.

The good news is that more is on the way: Floor Overhead has a forthcoming EP coming out on UK label Whitelabrecs in spring 2017 which will present experiments that are more skeletal, using only guitars of the original stems from Force but without any processing.

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