SELFLESS ORCHESTRA Great Barrier gets 8.5/10

Selfless Orchestra

Great Barrier
Stock Records


Perth’s own Selfless Orchestra formed in 2018 and has charted a slow but steady rise as both a musical and theatrical force to watch. Through a slow stream of single releases and an appearance in this year’s Fringe, Selfless Orchestra teased Great Barrier extensively before its release. It does not disappoint. This post-rock behemoth is a sprawling and epic emotional rollercoaster.

This is a concept album about the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, and the need to keep it alive and protect it from heavy industry. It’s entirely instrumental, but as an 11-piece this collective hardly needs vocals given the weapons at its disposal. The breadth of instruments is unique, perhaps closest to Godspeed You! Black Emperor given the use of violin and cello, and snippets of sampled dialogue.

The latter is used most effectively on The Luxury of Doing Nothing, a slice of sampled inane tourism ad chatter whose title and numbing tone warn of the dangers of complacency. Musically it marks a transition from the swelling and triumphant two-part Time Is a Flower and the foreboding and sad two-part False Bodies. The former celebrates the beauty of the reef while the latter catalogues its deterioration with a slow build that culminates in caterwauling walls of sound.

On False Bodies, Selfless Orchestra expertly combines orchestral strings with blasts of guitar distortion to create a sound that is both scary and awe-inspiring. The mind’s eye sees not only nature’s majesty, but the size and crushing power of man’s automatons tearing it apart. But the band’s penchant for epic climaxes is best exemplified on the decidedly optimistic final track Eden Is Lost. The band’s mission statement is to create spaces where hope and despair co-exist, and they remain true to their word. After the nihilism of what comes before, Eden Is Lost opens with uplifting clean guitar arpeggios and sampled whale song before weaving in soothing violins. The track builds seamlessly, layering on some absolutely beautiful harmony vocals for a sterling finish.

The album isn’t just stereotypical post-rock tension and release either, making time for meditative drones (Bleached), furious classical/hard rock fusions (check out the riff/motif on Beyond All Illusion Part I) and even some woodwind parts (the flute on Beyond All Illusion Part II). The whole project was recorded live in the studio, and its spacious and sometimes jammy nature suits the material better than if it were more clinically composed and recorded. The album is never pretentious, and at times leans enough on rhythm guitar for the band’s interplay to recall the violin-led blues-rock of Bob Dylan’s Desire. Certainly not something you’d expect from your typical post-rock release.

Overall this is a sterling effort and one of the best post-rock releases of the year. Flawless in concept and execution, the only limitation is the audio-only form itself. This album shines through your speakers but it has shone even brighter live as an audio-visual performance piece. Above most, this feels like a release overdue for a “visual album” treatment.