Steel City Ruins
Steel City Ruins’ latest album, One, is approximately 45 minutes of spacious, ambient instrumental music with gentle nods to progressive rock. One way in which instrumental acts keep their music interesting without the presence of vocals is by playing with dynamics. This is something that Steel City Ruins does artfully, slowly building up and tearing down musical movements that evoke feelings of contemplation, yearning or blissed-out joy. The way the instrumentals will impact the listener are apt to play out depending on what the listener is going through at the time; the work is essentially a musical Rorschach test.
At just over 11 minutes, “1876” is the album’s longest track. Without lyrics, it’s not apparent what exactly about 1876 the band is arranging its music around, but using the tonal directions, some guesses can be made. Perhaps the hopeful feeling of the introduction reflects the promise of possibility: 1876 is the year patents were issued for the telephone and mimeograph, and Johannes Brahms’ long-awaited First Symphony debuted. That hopeful sound gives way to uneasiness, with movements full of anxious riffs. These are sounds perhaps relevant for a year that also held the tragedies of the Battle of Little Bighorn, industrial accidents, and disasters like the Brooklyn Theatre fire that killed almost 300.
Situated in the middle of the record is “Center Earth,” a track with a loving and longing tone that brings the mood up after “1876.” The guitar melody is simple yet memorable, delicately riffed out over steady percussion and a supportive rhythm section. In the final minute, there’s a complete dropping out of all music, before bursting into a bright, fortissimo final stand. It sounds like the soundtrack to the scene in an indie film where the protagonist decides to go for it: the journey, the lover, the job, the school of their dreams.
“Finite” is a moodier number with more of a heavy bent driven by an eerie bass line. “One” condenses the signature dynamic journey from quiet build to big finale into a digestible voyage less than six minutes in length. Although briefer than the epic “1876,” it manages to pack the same emotional punch.
For Fans Of: Explosions in the Sky, meditating, watching the snow fall outside your window