When I heard Billy Mahonie's debut album The Big Dig, there were several moments that I was really impressed, but as a whole the album felt like the group was still trying to find their own niche. They fell squarely into the post rock category with sort of an amalgamation of Slint, Tortoise, Mogwai (minus vocals) and about five other groups, and while the album as a whole failed to grab me, they struck me as someone that I should keep an ear out for in the future.
With What Becomes Before, it seems like the group has sort of fallen into stride. While still having some things in common with other groups in the genre (but who doesn't?), they've definitely expanded on their sound and built it into something that even has elements of jazz, as well as rocking the town down at several different points on the release. It's because of these two things that the disc simply feels like it has more feeling behind it. Gone are the 10 tracks of middle-of-the-road post rock instrumentals and in their place are some serious highs and lows and rich dynamics.
Those dynamics are brought forth loud-and-clear on the very first track "Fishing With A Man For A Shark." After a slow, almost jazzy build with some lazy horns and rhythm combination, it lets loose with a full-on assault that absolutely rocks (spelled RAWKS). With a thick rhythm section that would overpower the meatiest riffs by Rage Against the Machine, it blows out the end of the track with force and starts the album off with a bang. The group keeps things loose and fun on the shorter second track "Nacho Steals From Work" as well, rocking along with a bit of swagger before dropping the amazingly hummable "Dusseldorf," which somehow works through almost 8 minutes with nothing more than a repetitive, stutter-step groove.
Of course, offsetting epic, strong tracks like "Keeper's Drive" and "Simple Solutions Seldom Are," the group pulls off some nice quieter segments as well. "False Calm" is nothing more than a pretty acoustic guitar track with some nice melodies (which sounds like it could have come off something like the Idyll Swords release II) while a track like the long, quieter "The Day Without End" feels like it should have a huge ending, but plays it smart with a subdued and still quiet pretty release.
Albums like this are the reason that I can't bring myself to give up on a group after one release that isn't stunning. The Big Dig definitely had its moments, but simply felt too derivitive to provide much repeated enjoyment. After one listen, it seemed like you knew where every note was going to fall, but that's not the case with What Comes Before at all. They rock out at moments, and play it quiet and beautiful at others, and just about the time you think they're going to rock out again, they drop the down-home banjo plucking on "I, Heston," and surprise you again. Oh yeah, and then they rock out heavily with the epic closer of "Bres Lore." What will this group do next? Whatever it is, I'm interested.