Last month, The Union Trade released an EP called Why We Need Night and I really dig it. I like music that feels cinematic without being schmaltzy, and the five tracks of this work definitely fall on the right side of the line. The Union Trade's songs have a sweeping grandeur and other elements that made me think frequently of Explosions in the Sky: the melodic guitar lines with heavy delay, the crashing cymbals, the emotional pull of shifting dynamics over the course of each song. But the Union Trade stands apart because they are not strictly an instrumental band. Instead, they seem focused on finding ways to integrate the exploratory and expansive nature of post-rock with more conventional pop song structures. I think they have struck a good balance.
The Union Trade – Headlands (download here)
"Headlands" is very illustrative of this. For the first 15 seconds, I thought I was listening to the Friday Night Lights soundtrack (which is one of my favorites). But then a baritone voice emerges – bassist Nate Munger's, incidentally – and it becomes something else altogether. I feel like there's a higher degree of difficulty to add both the right vocal tone and words to mesh with the thrust of the instrumentation, but The Union Trade pulls it off, calmly but surely carrying a listener through the early terrain of the song's landscape. Things briefly get quiet about halfway through before starting to build back up again. By now, I was firmly hooked. The voice soon returns, and all of the components of the song pick up strength, crescendoing to the release point. I always dig this sort of thing, and there was no exception here.
The rest of the EP is equally strong. I really like the diverse drumming on the opening track "Why We Need Night." It is by turns kinetic like a horse running on the plains, slow yet intense and crashing, and steadily pounding like a powerful rainstorm. The song sets the tone for the nocturnal atmosphere of the EP, literally and musically. An interpretation I developed is that the title and songs seem to grow out of the notion that sometimes in darkness we can paradoxically see what really matters most clearly. You can't take for granted what isn't physically there. Just an idea. Moving along, "Hawk Vs. Crow" is the shortest and only purely instrumental track but feels like a contained story in its own way. The lyrics to "This Is What Happens" grabbed me; I can relate to the line, "writing life on little scraps of paper." The closing track "Aurelia" may be the most different from the rest with its strong 80s vibes from the use of synths, but it does not feel out of place and shows the Union Trade exploring other territory to develop their sound.