Time Columns – Mana
I was prepared to open this review by referring to the Maryland-based duo Time Columns as an instrumental band. After all, their 2009 EP Sunriseinthesea featured no vocals, and they played Mobtown’s own instrumental music festival, NOVO Festival, this past March. But as I delved into their new album Mana, it turned out that Time Columns have brought some voices into the equation: the second track, the 11-minute long epic “Lights At Rendlesham,” features some sort of dialogue or spoken word deep in the mix toward the end. A couple tracks later, some wordless harmonies show up on the brief, lovely “Lole’s Song.” Then an actual fleshed-out song with intelligible lyrics, “Luma,” arrives just before the end of the album, as if the band’s confidence had been slowly building to that point.
Whether or not Time Columns are still technically an ‘instrumental band’ or not, it’s still clearly with their instruments that they make most of their creative statements. And the band’s two multi-instrumentalists, who between them are proficient on drums, guitar, looping equipment and who knows what else, like to stretch out and show what they’re capable of with long, ambitious compositions; only two of Mana‘s seven tracks run under six minutes. My favorite is the glittering, proggy “Tetralemma,” which features some of the album’s most rhythmically intricate passages.
What’s ultimately surprising and refreshing about Mana is how clean and direct its production is. The guitars have fairly little distortion, and the drums have a polished, muscular texture; at times the album resembles an ’80s prog opus from Rush rather than a contemporary indie post-rock band. Such sounds might sometimes be unfairly described as “slick” or “dated,” but here it feels like a deliberate aesthetic decision, which pays off with clarity that ultimately flatters both the songwriting and musicianship.