When the term "post-rock" was first coined, the records it sought to describe were invariably of a groundbreaking nature: albums by SLINT, TORTOISE, BARK PSYCHOSIS and others purposefully abandoned the usual rules of rock 'n' roll in favor of a sustained quest to imagine guitar-based music as something else, something other. More than two decades on, in the midst of heavy music's post-everything melee, most contemporary "post-rock" rarely exhibits that underlying sense of exploration. Instead, there are literally hundreds of bands like OH HIROSHIMA peddling a likeable but ultimately narrow version of something that might have seemed fresh and new when MOGWAI and EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY were releasing their early records, but which now just sounds like a cozy formula, to be repeated forevermore.
"Oscillation" is by no means a bad record. In fact, OH HIROSHIMA deserve praise for the immaculate haziness of the whole thing. Where many modern bands lazily ape the shoegaze movement of the early '90s, this Swedish trio do at least have a refined sense of melody and emotional build-up. Singer Jakob Hemström's androgynous entreaties give these downbeat, rambling songs a powerful human focus, with the notably edgy "Simulacra" a particularly potent showcase for his voice. It's all a lot less fey and winsome than, say, ALCEST's recent music, and there is enough conviction in the heavier, grittier moments to suggest that the band's shared disquiet is real enough. The problem with "Oscillation", and countless albums like it, is that it offers very little in the way of original ideas. It's most noticeable during the eight-minute "A Handful of Dust": with its resonant, twinkling guitars and gentle rhythmic drift, it sounds like a very precise response to the question, 'What does most post-rock sound like these days?' Despite no jarring detours or unexpected elements intruding on their glacial squall, OH HIROSHIMA sound fully engaged and lost in the noise, but no amount of sincerity can cover up the sound of boxes being loudly ticked.
The strongest moments come when the Swedes tighten up their song structures and ramp up the intensity. "Darkroom Aesthetics" is a genuinely great song, with a ballsy, surging crescendo and some neat textural embellishments; done and dusted in under five minutes, it's a welcome flash of clarity. Similarly, "In Solar" combines dewy-eyed, CURE-style guitar spirals with haunting cellos and a loping groove to compelling effect, and Hemström's voice emerges from the sonic fog like some spectral afterthought. Again, it does absolutely nothing that would surprise longtime fans of this stuff, but, as an entry point to a genre that occasionally still has the ability to enthrall, it's serviceable and pretty enough. Finally, the album's closing epic, "Molnet", takes OH HIROSHIMA down a slightly darker path, with ambient shades of PINK FLOYD and CULT OF LUNA's "Vertikal" as well as a thudding, post-punk gait, but the expected dynamic ebb and flow never really amounts to much. Even at full-pelt, with guitars set to blitzkrieg, OH HIROSHIMA sound oddly fearful of extremes.
If your appetite for this kind of meandering, reverb-drenched alt-rock is insatiable then "Oscillation" will definitely scratch an itch or two. It's solid, enjoyable and executed with passion and care. But if you're looking for underground rock's next bold leap forward, you won't find it here.