From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
Well, I'm not going to say I saved the best for last, because to be honest, I find a fair portion of the 'lazier' post-rock bands (particularly the minimalist droners) to be pretty boring sometimes. I know they probably bristle at the mention of the 'B' word, but then I'm sure they're already used to hearing comments like, "Well, it's pleasant Background Music, but there's not a whole lot to get excited about here." I must admit, though, that these bands do deserve some respect for sticking with something that's so hard to pull off. So when it actually does work, it does have the potential for being something quite special.
Of course, there's more to 'drone' music than just these minimalist types. For example, on the radio show accompanying this article, the 'bookend' tracks are hardly quiet works. Philadelphia's Bardo Pond, who provides the finale track "Yellow Turban," is as much a heavy psychedelic rock band as a post-rock entity, even with the female singer that doubles as flute player. But you can't argue that they don't heavily rely on droning guitars, using (I imagine) lots of sustain, reverb, and the ubiquitous e-bow device. At times they even delve into 'sludge' territory, something that is hardly a common characteristic of post-rock as it were. But then, when I first went to see Montreal's godspeed you black emperor! live back in 2000, Bardo Pond were the openers and it didn't seem so strange at all. gybe! are also off by themselves stylistically, although I think we're starting to see some other bands draw influence from their melancholy 'chamber-music' construct. Like many other people (both times I've seen them, the shows were sold out), I am quite amazed by the amazing presence this nine-piece rock orchestra commands, and the way that they subversively inch the bar higher and higher in terms of volume and intensity until suddenly you realize that the whole unit is involved in a merciless carpet bombing attack. The most amazing thing about their music though is the fact that the seemingly faint and delicate glockenspiel-bells still manage to pierce their way through the massive wall-of-sound and add even more emotional flavor to the mix. That said, it's then quite difficult for them to continually building climax after climax through an entire 90-minute performance without some sort of audience withdrawl - for fear of getting too sucked in and losing your wits about you... at least that's what I've experienced. Similarly, their EP release 'Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada' (that I've sampled below with "Moya") works much better for me than their massive 'Lift Yr Skinny Fists' 2CD work.
With so many members, godspeed have spawned quite a few spinoffs, including A Silver Mt. Zion (full of even-more-melancholy violin) and Fly Pan Am (a more rhythmic unit). Do Make Say Think and Molasses are a couple other gybe!-bands that I haven't even come across yet, so can't say much more than that. Iceland's Sigur Ros is one of those groups that is treading similar ground as gybe! I think... at least in terms of defining a stark, gloomy mood and making it a positive experience rather than a depressing one. The use of drone isn't so obvious throughout their ever-more-popular 'Agaetis Byrjun' disc, but with the frequent use of string instruments (violin and cello both it seems) much of the album does have that drawn-out, quasi-stationary feel like being caught in a dampening forcefield. Droning guitars can be heard on "Ny Batteri" here too, though. The freakiest thing about Sigur Ros is the peculiar androgynous falsetto vocals offered in the exotic Icelandic language. The undecipherable words aren't a problem for me, but it's the few times I detect the breathy inflections and voice-crackings that I find distracting.
Charalambides is a band that Tom Carter started after the Mike Gunn ended its run in Houston, TX. Like Bardo Pond, this trio is more prone to bouts of blazing psychedelic guitar and so it's a stretch to lump them in with the post-rockers of the world, but it's a nice change of pace to throw in some more "aggressive" drone guitar in here. The choppy guitar antics of the third tune on this compilation, "Of March," is definitely something different... throughout much of 'Historic 6th Ward' though, Carter's style is more akin to Gary Ramon (of SunDial).
The remainder of the radio show is made up with the more laid-back 'sweet' droning that I was talking about initially. I chose five different artists in this style and if I'd had complete access to the entire Kranky catalog, I probably could have filled up another couple of shows. Azusa Plane and Stars of the Lid are two bands that are simply too sparse and gentle to even be aware of half the time. The tracks I selected from their respective works are amongst their most aggressive pieces, and as you'll note, both are more conducive to taking a nap than anything else. But then, I left off both Labradford and Jessamine, two bands that I find particularly uninspiring. They're not as minimalist as these others (in fact the opening track on Jessamine's 'The Long Arm of Coincidence' is downright harsh), but the 'extra' movement that they have in their music actually comes out more monotonous if you ask me. The basslines in Labradford's 'A Stable Reference' are utterly tedious. I also nixed Low, who again are hard to detect sometimes if you have your computer running or your neighbor is having a domestic argument. So I've spared you from these bands, and brought forth some other less-known names. Magnog (another Kranky outfit) tends to get a little long-winded and sleep-inducing, but they have a cosmic flavor to their music that I enjoy. Similarly, Transient Waves (that relocated to Philadelphia in time to have an excellent track put onto Lounge Records' Psychedelphia compilation) does just what their name suggests... gradually shifting waves of warm ambience to sooth your soul. Finally, Windy & Carl is another entity that entices these feelings, with a touch more variety and experimentation.
As I think I said in the outset of this series, I was still in the process of defining in my own mind just what the so-called "Post-Rock Movement" was all about. And of course, still searching cheap used bins for titles that I'd seen mentioned now and again on various newsgroups and such. And so, just over the last month or two, I've come across some other discs that I think deserve some discussion. But then, I came to the conclusion that many of these were yet stylistically different from the three factions that I've covered already…and so now I'm thinking that perhaps I'll do a Part Four in the next issue on the "Drifters." This comes after hearing some bands like Mogwai, Macha, Yume Bitsu, Readymade, Land of Nod, Tarentel, and Bark Psychosis for the first time. Instrumentally, these bands didn't seem much different than the "Hypnotists" that I led off this series with, but they simply didn't hold the same pace. I still hear the same guitar sounds (plucky, jangly, and echoey), the same multi-layer percussion (with hand-drumming and sometimes vibraphone), and then also bits of violin, tinkly piano and/or humming organ, and even subdued trumpet. All the same sorts of textural elements that I've been talking about all along, but now just applied to a very lazy, indeed 'drifty,' backdrop. (But not at all droning like what I have here.) I suppose that a couple of the "Experimentalists" I focused on last time would fit this bill also, but I think maybe I'll go ahead and try to put together another hour of modern post-rock for you to keep this series going one more time. Unless I hear some complaints from you folks, that is. So, until then, enjoy the show...
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