by Conor Fynes
I tend to see a lot of post-rock as mood music, like a sort of lively ambient. The textures and atmosphere of bands so-labelled are meant to be felt at a visceral level, more so than any standard rock riff. There’s a lot of variety within that mood-making approach, of course; bands like Explosions in the Sky offer a twinkling celebration of life, while others like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Isis pay respect to the darker parts of living.
Seven Nines and Tens match a lot of those darker bands by the weight of their sheer heaviness; nonetheless, they unquestionably fit into the joyous category of post-rock. The first time I heard Set the Controls for the Heart of the Slums, I imagined how perfect it would be to watch the band perform live outdoors on a warm summer evening with the sun setting hazily behind them. In a word, they are wholly uplifting to listen to, and the fact that listening to them would conjure mental images like that should demonstrate that they’ve got the ‘mood’ aspect of their music down pat.
Having made the rounds of the Vancouver local circuit for years and providing opening support to everyone from Kayo Dot to Astronoid in their time, I’ve had the chance to see Seven Nines and Tens several times. I enjoyed Constants & Axioms and Habitat 67 both considerably, but they’ve always struck me as a better band to experience live than via record. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Slums doesn’t change my mind on that, but it’s easily the closest they’ve come to capturing that energy on a record thus far. I prefer the greater variety in the songwriting they brought with Habitat 67, but the ‘off the floor’ sound on this one has a major impact on how the atmosphere feels.
‘I Come from Downtown’ conveys everything you need to know about Seven Nines and Tens. Immediately heavy and heartwarming, it strikes at that balance between sophistication and accessible simplicity. There’s no way not to feel those triumphant opening chords on an almost physical level, but the following mellow section shows off a nice bit of intricacy and interplay. While the atmosphere from here on remains consistently summer-like, I wish the other tracks brought out the same sense of uplifting. I was most excited to hear the thirteen-minute ‘Metropolis Noir / Rigs’, as I would be with practically any would-be epic, but there wasn’t the same payoff with the sprawling format.
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Slums feels a bit scarce at half an hour, but there’s no question the band still manages to communicate everything they’re about. The cover’s depiction of a favela reflects the same urge I’ve noticed in their music to look for the beauty in ugly and unpleasant circumstances. For whatever Seven Nines and Tens could have lacked on this album, they most definitely nailed it in their atmosphere and execution.