Friday, September 11, 2009
#111. Instrumental music doesn't have pull-quotes
I make no bones about my affection for what's known as post-rock. The first thing I did when we finally upgraded our home internet service back in late 2003 was begin seeking out the entire Constellation Records discography and wait impatiently for Explosions in the Sky's The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place to leak. For the longest time I'd use my Oink (RIP) account to seek out all manner of obscure records that got tagged as post-rock in between waiting for more hyped albums to leak. I believed in the power of the crescendo and grew to appreciate all music as instrumental compositions first and foremost. I was a post-rock fanboy you might say...looking back at my slapdash top 10 lists for early in the decade there's a huge bend towards that style above others, more out of ignorance on my part than anything else but it serves as a nice little reminder of the days when all I needed was something sweeping and crescendo-ing to turn my musical crank.
Of course other than abstract discussions of the genre and its repercussions on how I listened to all music this list wouldn't be the place I get to talk about that. Most of the post-rock I loved was rightly confined to albums and usually upwards of 7 minutes in length, not the stuff you'd find on a singles list. But as genres do, post-rock shifted itself as the decade went on. Sure you still had those crescendo-core stalwarts crafting albums out of slow-building epics, but at hte fringes of the genre there were bands like 65daysofstatic, probably one of the most forward-thinking and original post-rock artists of the decade, who distilled the genres essence into 5 minute snippets that packed just as much power as their more epic-leaning peers. Brevity wasn't the only thing that 65dos brought to the plate though; their debut full length The Fall of Math actually didn't seem to come directly out of post-rock at all, it was closer to the musical baby resulting from the torrid affair Squarepusher might have had with some alt-rock group if that baby were mute and prone to tantrums. It probably got lumped in with post-rock because of its instrumental nature as opposed to any more direct sonic lineage, but I can't think of a better place for it in the musical genre tree.
"Hole" was the second single off The Fall of Math after the much more direct and punishing "Retreat! Retreat!" and it remains the best distillation of the band's overall sound. Rather than building up to a massive climax towards the end of the song it's almost structured like a traditional rock song, albeit one with a larger degree of complexity to its basic structure. By virtue of its instrumental nature there's not exactly a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, instead the band has four main motifs that they cycle through twice each with slight variations only to come back on the first one and just stop. The music is cyclical I guess, arranged in such away that every time the epic, string drenched fourth motif closes the logical place to go is back to the first motif, whose stop-start chords fold so neatly in to the fadeout. Even if their sequencing conforms to the slightly trite soft-loud-soft-loud template the way the four of them fold together just works. None of them would work on their own as a whole song, but together in this arrangement they give "Hole" an epic, almost cinematic quality.
The part of this structure that works so well is that we're treated to a series of climaxes, each one seemingly more emotional than the last. The entrance of the heavy guitars in the second section, with those perfectly placed pick squeals between chords, would be a good climax in and of itself, but hte band dials back again and lets out the song's real high point, the fourth section. It's not just the soaring strings in this part, but the way all the elements of the band's sound coalesce into a totally massive climax. The interplay between the live and programmed drumming, the intense guitar and bass work, the electronic touches, they all crash together for 30 seconds and bring the song to heights few other 65dos tracks have managed. The huge sounding strings that top it all off are just the icing on the cake, not necessary but a great addition to the sonic tapestry.
And then they go through it all again, and each section somehow sounds bigger, more urgent and outright huge yet not in an overbearing way. It's odd that it works out like that since other than the added piano on the first section - which is a brilliant addition in and of itself,especially the interplay between the high and low tones - there's not all that much that's different the second time around. The pieces are all in the exact same place for the most part, but the afterglow of the fourth section casts its shine onto everything that follows it so that it all sounds that much more intense. Even the return to the fourth section sounds huger the second time around, once again not so huge that it's overpowering but just the right level of intensity. It's a neat trick, one that I've heard done before ("Like Herod") but never in such a concentrated burst. Yet for all its small scale reality the song's epic streak gets realized to much greater effect than a lot of post-rock also-rans would manage on a larger scale.
Coming up tomorrow: A goddess in action.