Post Saga had already established themselves as one of my favorite bands in town before they had released any recorded material. So, I was very anxious when they announced their first EP; would it live up to the incredible energy of their live shows?
It comes very close. I would say that the Post Saga EP captures about 80% of the thrill of their show- which is to say, they’re doing better than U2 pre-Joshua Tree. It is unfortunately impossible to put to tape the delight of watching the boys swap instruments back and forth, of Danna O’Connor’s provocative dance moves, of the mic drop.
Catch Post Saga’s next Cleveland show
at The Grog Shop on May 25th:
But without the show, these songs get to stand by themselves, and in this setting, we get to enjoy Post Saga in a completely different way, for content rather than image. Lesser bands might falter when faced with this challenge, but Post Saga embraces a great set of songs and propels them with emotional delivery.
Usually hidden behind the rest of the band’s antics, Alex Carlson’s drumming is mixed to be put on display, and his rhythm carries the band with momentum. While it’s easy to lose track of his prowess onstage in the rowdy happenings of the other four members, here one can give him the attention he deserves. With bassist Levan Mdzinarishvili, Carlson is half of one of the hottest rhythm sections in town.
Great sequencing energizes this EP further than the sum of its parts. Opening with the upbeat “I Know” is smart. It is the most fun song here, and to feature it first, before the more jazzy and introspective tracks, is inviting to casual listeners, and asserts the EP’s promise with its shortest, poppiest song. It does not lack for good lyrics; singing about trampolines is never a bad idea (see: “Read My Mind” by The Killers), and the opening of verse two is a particularly vibrant image: “Like an old kaleidoscope put to rest, without your colors resonating in my head.” Danna is spitting these ideas out so fast, sometimes it’s a little hard to decipher; in the chorus, she says “Back in my head, like an old story I read.” Conveniently, the physical version includes a booklet with all of the lyrics, proving they’re proud of them. That’s the right attitude, and makes your five bucks worth it.
Track two, “Temporary Lovin’,” is my favorite one, I think. At the EP release show, Danna introduced this song: “This song is about me being a f**king hoe!” And the song is certainly brutal. “Temporary lovin’ don’t mean I’m gonna miss ya.” What makes it unique is the way that O’Connor recognizes her mistakes. Right in the first verse, she ponders, “How naïve of me to think” this way. I personally relate heavily to the question she asks in the second verse, reminding me of someone I loved: “Would you say that you’d stay a bit longer / Past the expiration of time / And never fall in love?” Tying the whole package together are Steven Carey’s guitar solos. As previously mentioned, Steven is not a 2-dimensional player. He uses tapping, speed picking, and tremolo bar vibrato to add flavor to each phrase. With so many options at his disposal, he rips through two guitar solos, and it never feels clunky or overdone or stale. He’s one of the best guitarists in town- and he’s not even Post Saga’s primary guitarist. Usually he plays the keys. What a crazy band.
“Fragile” is the noir centerpiece, and probably my #2 favorite song on the album. Almost the entire band switches instruments. Levan Mdzinarishvili puts down his bass to play Steven’s keyboard, Steven grabs his guitar, and most notably, Luke Mason dons his saxophone. His horn slinks through with the darkest, coldest timbre on the record, and pairs wonderfully with Danna’s smoky voice. “You think you know who I am,” she accuses right away. As with the previous number, the genius of her lyrics lies in her ability to admit her weakness; “I’m so fragile for you, my love.” She is “fighting to see it through,” but also, she is “getting tired of being thrown around here.” Things have changed in her relationship with the subject, and instead of having fun and being in love, they are stuck on details and deception and incomplete truths: “A bureaucracy / A shaded door…” It’s a heartbreaking and relatable story, told in little enough detail to be open for interpretation. Though “Temporary Lovin’” is my favorite, “Fragile” is arguably the best track here. It is atmospheric and breathy, challenging the appraisal of Post Saga as only a ‘funk band’ despite the inclusion of many funky elements.
After that jaunt through down-tempo, Post Saga slams right back on the gas with “Turnaround,” a catchy display piece for Alex Carlson’s best drum work, and Luke Mason’s Stratocaster. This time, it’s his turn to play two guitar solos. The first one romps through the intro of the song. With his second one, he leads the band into Carlson’s drum solo, and their swapping spotlight recalls The Beatles’ “The End” in the best way imaginable. This is one of the most electrifying moments of the live show, and it holds up on record. Meanwhile, O’Connor sings for her love: “You’re like a jungle, far and wide / But I’m getting lost, and I can’t seem to find / Oh, you, baby.” She is surrounded by a pervasive feeling. “The night is mine / But I seem to be drowning in your life.” She is adamant, perhaps even stubborn. “Baby, it’s you / Don’t want to find / Don’t want to look / Don’t want to turn the other way…” and “I just want you in my head!” Her ardor is everywhere, “Under currents and under railroad ties,” seemingly a reference to the park next to the river and the railroad tracks in the band’s hometown of Kent, Ohio. If this feeling was requited, it would be a beautiful declaration of loyalty. Knowing it didn’t work out that way, it’s a passion that is ultimately dangerous and troubling.
The closer, “Next To,” is another thoughtful down-tempo track, but it carries more momentum than “Fragile,” and so gets to eventually evolve into a funky breakdown, with another Luke Mason saxophone solo carrying the outro to an unexpected and sudden ending after a series of extended triplets. O’Connor imagines her lover speaking her name in several connotations: “Next to him / Next to me / Next to you…” and laments what she has lost: “You say my name a thousand times / Just like before, again and again…”
A theme I noticed throughout the album, and especially on “Next To,” is the prevalence of the word ‘no’ in Danna’s ad libs. This album is a meditation on denial, a stage of grief that every person deals with at some point. O’Connor is clearly struggling with this puzzle- even recognizing it and criticizing herself for it, but unable to make the change. Her last words on the EP are, “No, I can’t stop thinking of you!” She is obviously a rational mind, but confronted by a problem that logic cannot answer, and so stranded looking for a solution. If we accept the theory that denial is the first stage of grief, then it seems likely we will see more exploration of these feelings from Danna in the future, and I hope she affords herself the opportunity to grow and learn from her pain. It will be a special treat when someone with this much passion finds acceptance and gets to explore her real self on record- gets to escape from the shadows of lost love.
While I still think a live setting is the best way to hear Post Saga, their first EP does a great job translating their music into high-fidelity recordings that can be poured over and analyzed for context. In just five songs, they establish a clear mood and intention, while infusing the EP with several different overarching atmospheres to keep it feeling fresh straight to the end, and through repeated listens.