In their 14 years together, Germans Long Distance Calling have never been ones to stand still. Since forming in 2006, the quartet - namely, David Jordan and Florian Füntman on guitar; Jan Hoffman on bass; and Janosch Rathmer on drums - have released seven studio albums, never content with making the same record twice. That’s refreshing in a genre with as wide a scope as post-rock; the Münster-based band’s willingness to branch out is something that many of their contemporaries could learn from.
A little over two years since Boundless, they make their return with the cosmic drama and heady narrative sweep of How Do We Want to Live? which finds the four-piece making music that contains plenty of their usual vigour. For newcomers to their world, it’s as good a place to start as any. Turning their collective gaze skyward, the band draw inspiration from science fiction to craft an album that tackles the topic of artificial intelligence & the merits and drawbacks thereof. It’s a self-contained concept album that soars with moments of starry-eyed beauty and unsettling malevolence, swept along by vocal samples and engaging composition.
Kicking off with the two-part ‘Curiosity’, which opens out into a muscular groove and melodic passages after its scene-setting introduction, the album wastes no time in setting out its stall. Rathmer’s powerful drumming often provides the foundations these songs are built upon, and that rhythmic forward momentum is a delight - the pulse-quickening opening bars of lead single ‘Hazard’ are a particular example, his drums and Hoffman’s bass interlocked. The nonlinear nature of much of the album means that surprises are waiting around every corner; the quartet’s sound stands at the intersection of post-rock, metal and classic prog, with different influences rearing their heads at different times.
Another prominent facet of the band’s sound is the dual-guitar dynamics of Jordan and Füntman, turning on a dime from guiding melodies to trading lines to riff-driven assault. This is clearest on ‘Immunity’, which builds from a whisper to a scream over six propulsive minutes, its juddering synth and steady waltz tempo carrying the song through its many shifts in mood, before it moves up a gear around the four-minute mark, giving way to metallic riffs and an example of the band at full throttle - the sort of moment which will spark an immediate crowd response whenever they get to bring their latest work to the stage. In the past, they’ve had no trouble capturing the energy of their live performance - last year’s exceptional Hamburg set STUMMFILM is proof of that - and their new record is no exception.
While the quartet treats each new album as a new chapter, tradition decrees that they carry on a staple of their records; they’ve had an official vocalist for one album only - Martin Fischer occupied this role for 2013’s Inside the Flood - but every record since their 2007 debut Satellite Bay has featured at least one song with vocals. This time around, Eric A. Pulverich of Göttingen’s Kyles Tolone lends his impassioned voice to one of their latest offering’s highlights, ‘Beyond Your Limits’, which stands out not only as a stark contrast to the record’s instrumental palette but also as one of its most memorable moments, on an album where hooks aren’t exactly in short supply.
Across its patient 53 minutes - whether it be on the exploratory slow build of ‘Voices’, which uses its near-eight minutes to show off the band’s progressive tendencies, or the album’s suitably apocalyptic closing salvo ‘Ashes’, How Do We Want to Live? is never anything less than compelling, its multifaceted musical approach working wonders on an album where every second counts. As before, this is merely a snapshot of a band in constant flux, so enjoy it while it lasts.