AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR The Letters EP (Smalltown America)
Truth be told, I’ll swear to you that “post-rock” isn’t really my thing. But something’s been brewing within the scene and certain bands have started to get rid of all the precious shoegaze elements and replacing them with approaches from metal, hardcore and even progressive rock genres. So perhaps, “post-metal” may be a more accurate term here.
One such “post-metal” band is And So I Watch You From Afar. Hailing from Belfast, the band consists of Rory Friers and Tony Wright on guitars with Johnny Adger on bass and Chris Wee on drums. (Trivia – Chris is the brother of Shan Wee – a 98.7FM deejay!)
ASIWYFA’s agenda is pretty much established by the opening track of last year’s brilliant debut album – Set Guitars To Kill. Indeed.
This EP continues in the same vein as the debut LP as ASIWYFA basically assault the unwary listener with slabs of metallic force and mathematical precision, without sacrificing an iota of intensity and passion. Four tracks with non-sensical titles like D is for Django the Bastard.
A wide spectrum of styles and genres is represented on this EP, references to King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Megadeth, Metallica, Fugazi, Rites of Spring, Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky abound. Which makes any music from ASIWYFA essential in my book.
B-QUARTET conformity has replaced consciousness (Aging Youth)
How do you follow up a near perfect debut album? That, my friends, was the dilemma presented to S-ROCK’s wonderboys B-Quartet. If you’re a close observer of the S-ROCK scene, then you would be familiar with the band’s wondrous debut LP, Tomorrow is My Permanent Address. In any review, I loved it and placed it in the Top 5 albums of 2008. Read my review here.
Back to the B-Quartet dilemma. Well, with sophomore effort – conformity has replaced consciousness – the band has obviously taken great pains to further develop their songcraft and instrumental prowess whilst retaining the spirit of that heady debut. So, whilst conformity does not contain such accessible instant classics like Shoebox, Boutique or Disp rs, there’s no denying that the band has moved on the next level in their pursuit of a musical excellence that goes beyond mere aping of their favorite indie bands.
There are no clear standouts on conformity (though I confess a fondness for a dull taste on my tongue and still homeless), yet the quality is uniformly consistent and it may be more of a slow burner (i.e. would require several plays before fully appreciating its depth) but I am impressed by the band’s commitment to the music rather than pandering the vagaries of the average indie rock fan’s tastebuds. The mark of true artists.
Musically, references abound to many varied sources e.g. Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Jaga Jazzist, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, XTC, Steely Dan and much much more. For those who know their music, the above list certainly suggests a trippy sonic experience for those discerning enough to pick up this challenging and ambitious S-ROCK album.
B-Quartet will be launching conformity has replaced consciousness at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 11th April at 9.30pm. Tickets available from SISTIC.
Post rock is a rather contrary beast at times. It tends to be the modern rock version of the popular instrumental songs of Shadows and the Ventures, back in the day. But instead of catchy melodic lines, post rock tends to trade on mood and atmosphere and in the wake of pioneers like Mogwai and Cul De Sac, employed the soft-loud dynamic of the Pixies, which subsequently became a post rock cliche. Which is ironic as post rock bands – as defined by music writer Simon Reynolds – were set up to use rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, with guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords.
Thus, it is refreshing to encounter Russian Circles, a power trio based in Chicago and consisting of Mike Sullivan (guitar), Dave Turncrantz (drums) and Brian Cook (bass). Whilst retaining many of the staples of post rock – the “soft-loud” dynamic, the guitar textures and frenetic rhythm section – Russian Circles are a much heavier proposition from their peers. In many ways, the band echoes epic prog, dark metal and post-punk in much of their material.
Quite often, I’m almost expecting growling metal vocals to be shredding my speakers when I hear a couple of bars (like on the wonderfully headbanging title track) but of course, it never comes. And it’s a bit of a relief because one gets to immerse oneself into the ambience of the music without the vox distractions. Not only that but the band utilizes minimal strings and horns to heighten the tension on songs like the opening Fathom to great effect.
The album closes with two atmospheric albeit harrowing pieces – When the Mountain Comes to Mohammed and Philos, which collectively take up almost 19 minutes of this sublime effort. I must confess that I am not a big fan of post rock (or modern instrumantal rock, if you will) but I’m glad to report that Russian Circles kept me intrigued and interested throughout the duration of Geneva.
Named after a Buddhist term that symbolizes wordless contemplation, Kuan, is a Dayton, Ohio based quartet comprising bassist Bryan Wright, drummer Brett Nagafuchi and guitarists Charles Heck and Paul Larkowski who deliver more than meditative mantras in their latest offering On/Standby, a two-disc ep of aural textures and hues seamlessly pulping math-rock, avant-garde jazz and post-punk into a raucously beautiful mess.
On showcases the prowess of the band’s current line up in almost forty minutes of feverish tight-arsed instrumentation in six tracks while Standby is pretty much a bonus disc consisting of material recorded in 2007 as a trio before Wright’s foray into the set-up.
Imagine yourself stuck in a decaying city enveloped by broken glass and burned out buildings but amidst all that squalor, a bewilderingly joyous soundtrack is heard and you can’t help but dance your way into destruction. That’s quite possibly the best way to describe Kuan’s sound to neophytes, despite concerns of how everything might fall apart at any minute, the wicked intuition from the technically astute musicians creates aural bacchanalia for anyone who listens to them.
Distortion and melodies, the forte of this band – is obvious right from the effervescent opening track G from On, the joyously angular banter between guitarists Heck and Larkowski is ably supported by Nagafuchi’s primal drumming and subtle assaults from bassist Wright. Antiquated Moog synthesizers so often the instrument of choice for Detroit techno heads and musically inclined stand-up comedians, steals the limelight in J as Wright and Larkowski channel George Harrison’s obsession with psychedelic sitar licks, into one hella of a bopping tune. My favourite track is K, the album’s finale, a resonant interplanetary rock epic that glows with a gluttonous surfeit of clever aural manipulation and destined to even make twinkling purple Martians gyrate. Standby pales by comparison to the riveting On (could have been a mistake playing it after the latter). But the disc still has elements of their trademark sounds, and clearly encapsulates the evolution of a promising trio to a mean quartet.
Kuan is essential listening for connoisseurs who dig the intricate sonic landscapes painted by bands such as Battles, Explosions in the Sky, Slint, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 65daysofstatic, Mogwai, Aphex Twin and Tortoise.
Can I be candid? Post-rock instrumental music by and large sounds like a complete wash, especially in the wrong hands. You know, as a melody-junkie I get terribly bored of music that consists mostly of endless passages of white noise. To be fair, this genre does have its fair share of worthwhile artists notably, Tortoise, Mogwai, Album Leaf, Explosions in the Sky.
Where does this leave Oceans, hailing from Urbana and Chicago? Well, this debut full length I must admit is easy on the ear and relies more on pleasing melodically than your usual Velvets-inbued droning noise which tends to bite after a while. With clever titles like Boy Detective, Sound of Static and City At Peace, to help you to distinguish between songs which may end up a little samey on initial listens, it may take a rabid fan or a person who is intrested to know more about this post rock instrumental genre to venture that first taste.