From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)
OK, after a bit of a hiatus, I will now finally conclude my four-part trilogy (there's a Douglas Adams reference for you) on "What Post-Rock means to me, and if you don't agree or don't care, then move along and read something else here in the fine virtual pages of Aural Innovations." To reiterate, this bit of self-indulgence was a work-in-progress from the word "Go," and accordingly somewhere along the way I determined that doing it in just three segments would leave out a significant aspect of 'post-rock' music-making... that being these tracks by artists I'll now call the "Drifters." I've talked ad nauseum about the busy multi-layered percussion, the tinkly piano and/or glockenspiel, the resonating organs and farfisas, and numerous other textural approaches to the sound construction...all well and good. It's all here too... but this particular music is built with such a delicate touch and dreamy disposition that it seemed to me that works of this sort really existed outside the realm of the other three compilations from issues past. So here's now this final word on the subject... or is it?
"The Drifters" begins with the stylish Atlanta band Seely, their track "Bugles" transpiring at hardly a hurried pace, though always with an undercurrent of rhythmic complexity provided by the intricate drumming. Maybe what they do is too much like Stereolab rather than venturing off on their own bent, but I think Seely manages to refrain from becoming too schmaltzy, so I think this CD of theirs ('Julie Only') is worth keeping anyway. UK's Land of Nod resides closer to the space/psych domain (with one or two tracks on 1998's 'Translucent' being much more like Ozrics-style free festival psychedelia). But the album is quite diverse and this piece "Luminosity" is quintessentially 'drifty' in a post-rock mode, with back-masked effects and various humming drone sounds to offer the experimental touch. Another Portland, OR entity (seemingly becoming a hotbed of great underground music these days), Yume Bitsu embraces slow-building, textural song construction just as any self-respecting 'post-rock' band should. "Doctor Trips" shows off some common subtleties - echoed guitar, warm drones, and lots of incidental and atmospheric effects. A band to watch out for in the future.
Mogwai is one of the bigger names these days in post-rock, so perhaps their introduction is less necessary. They've been rather prolific of late, tending to offer a number of extended singles and EPs with new material in between their full-length works. "You Don't Know Jesus" is just one of a number of tracks from the two CDs of theirs I own that fit right into the 'Drifter' mode... in fact, it was Mogwai's style that led me to recognize that there's a distinction to be made between the Droners and Drifters. Similar result in terms of 'feel,' but the examples presented here aren't really built upon a foundation of pure drone. This is certainly true also throughout the 11-minute "Adonai" by San Francisco's Tarentel, it being simply a lazy looping guitar statement and just a distant trumpet here or echoey-guitar bit there as counter-melody. Vancouver's Readymade begin "Cold Lamping" likewise with a repeating acoustic guitar lick, but add vocals (applied sparingly and delicately) and eventually involve the entire band as the track nearly develops into a full-fledged (post-)rocker at the end. While much of Readymade's fine 'On Point and Red' album is more akin to 'shoegazing,' the now-inactive Pipedream (the former band of two Readymade guest-members, D.T. and Dr. Roberts) put out one of my favorite 'modern' CDs in 1996 entitled 'The Journey from Hamburg to Iceland Begins.' Much more about Pipedream is included HERE and I suppose I really should have included a track from that album in one of these shows (they were really the more 'post-rock' of the two), but then all of those tracks are quite long. Hopefully, copies still exist out there to be found... it's really a wonderful album for a rainy day.
We end paradoxically with some of the earliest post-rock examples I could offer, mainly because at the outset of this audio-review project, I'd never heard either of these groups. Both Bark Psychosis and Talk Talk I've seen mentioned as forerunners or even the originators of what we now call 'post-rock,' and hearing them now only in retrospect I can detect some legitimacy to that argument. Talk Talk started in the horrid decade of the '80s (the band's name seems to fit those times) and apparently they did make their best music only towards the end of their existence (as we hear them here). "After the Flood" is perhaps not too different than any one of a number of Hogarth-era Marillion tunes of warmth and subtlety, but the persistent machine-like percussion and separate textural development here does seem to suggest a new approach was in the works. "The Loom" by short-lived Bark Psychosis similarly foretells the gloomy textures in years to come (a la gybe! and Sigur Ros) with violin and breathy vocals over a simple but very essential bassline. These two tracks are sandwiched around the newer (and also interesting) Athens, GA band Macha, who oddly added a bonus CD of traditional Indonesian music into their self-titled debut package. While having a more eastern flavor to their brand of drifty music, they utilize typical 'post-rock' instrumentation, such as humming organs and hammered dulcimers (yeah, and drumming that once again recalls Jaki Liebezeit). Like most of my favorite post-rockers, Macha succeeds in not being "artsy just for artsiness' sake." Something perhaps that their virtual neighbors in the Elephant 6 collective don't manage to avoid?
OK, I think I'm done now. With about 40 tracks offered now from 40 different artists, I think that's probably enough of anything to come to some sort of conclusion about what it is we're hearing. I guess I'm probably a little too outta touch with the bulk of the "College Radio" crowd and such to really know what is the current condition (or perception) of this sort of music. I guess some of the bands (as mentioned above) have made a name for themselves internationally, and so undoubtedly others will continue for some time to follow along similar lines. But then, at some point, a conclusion of sorts will be reached when new ideas and variants suddenly dry up, and that typically happens before the end of the 'movement,' and so perhaps we've now seen most of the best stuff already? Well, that would be ok, as long as creative folks like these continue to challenge the established norms and find new voices. And wouldn't it be great if these new voices were likewise calling us out into the cosmos in some sort of mind-expanding journey? That's always my hope, and it doesn't have to therefore be narrowly-defined within that old 'space-rock' categorization that is probably a death sentence (financially-speaking) to these young upstarts anyway!
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