Tuesday, March 13, 2007

You are there

Whenever a band brings out an album in the post-rock genre, Godspeed! You Black Emperor are wheeled out to serve as the benchmark. Generally, a review will also say that the band in this song or that does what Mogwai should be doing if only they weren’t doing what they’re doing.

Post-rock is broader than GYBE and the ’Gwai, stretching from the still lifes of Labradford through the modern prog of Sigur Ros to the soaring rock of Explosions in the Sky, sometimes more arty, sometimes more rocky. Arguably, the genre includes electronica of the experimental kind, particularly that by M83, Boards of Canada and Mum.

Whatever it is, it is music that is not like the music you like. It aims high, into other worlds, other possibilities, stretching beyond rock into, well, whatever it is. It is musically highly literate (although almost always wordless – or in the case of Sigur Ros, wordy but without words). Rock never had much to say once it had said it wants to fuck you; pop can talk loudly, but only for the short space of a hook and a couple of clever rhymes; dance music is not trying to say anything at all mostly, and you need drugs if you want to be much moved by it. Post-rock – the good stuff anyway – can be deeply moving, dramatic, astonishing even.

Even by post-rock standards, Mono aim high. Their songs state boldly that they will be sweeping, enormous, and they often pull it off. They master the quiet–loud dynamic, with passages of aching, lyrical beauty that transition into some of the heaviest rockouts you’re going to hear. The transition is never contrived: Mono’s genius is to make the kickarse sections seem to grow organically from the slow movements. They do not just kick arse though. They keep a firm grip on the melodies, transforming the sweet tunes of their slow sections into the motifs of a soaring, hard rock. What astonishes with this album is that Yearning feels like it will be a high point and you are braced for anticlimax, yet there is better to come. Are you there? is destined to be a benchmark in itself, a beautiful clutch of sliding melody lines, skilfully evolving one into the other. And better still, Moonlight, the closer, showcases the wailing guitars that Mono are famous for in a crescendo that builds and builds and builds, the theme powering on to the end of the record.

If you like this type of music, and I do, you will recognise this for what it is: Mono’s Skinny fists… . It is work that others will have to try to match but few are going even to come close. Just as Skinny fists… defines GYBE, this will define Mono. The ideas, the power, the musicality of their earlier records reach a creative peak in this record. So we reach for our benchmark and we can say confidently that here is a band that can match GYBE, in scope, in depth, in conception even. And as for Mogwai, well, I love them but they are chewing gum against the red meat of this album. (The ’Gwai specialise in clever, interesting melodies and have not really gone for the wrenching rockout in some years. Like many of their fans, I tend to feel that they should call a halt to their voyage into math and kick some booty once more: I’m betting they have another Mogwai fear Satan lurking in there somewhere.) If you like your music ambitious, cinematic, just plain beautiful, this might just be for you. It’s definitely for me.


Anonymous efflux said...

To drop a few other highly recommended names in the genre (if we're including electronica):

Prefuse 73
Four Tet
Mouse on Mars
Irmin Schmidt

Niobe is a new listen for me. I'm definitely enjoying _White Hats_. I have yet to hear Mono. I hope they're better than your last recommendation I read (The Shins). I tried to dig something up of theirs but remained un-compelled by what I heard. For some reason I found myself wishing I was listening to Phantom Planet instead, whom I never really cared much for in the first place. You'd be sad to know that I passed up the opportunity to see them live (not like it's the last chance, they're local). I did, however, catch Miho Hatori on her West Coast tour and got a signed poster to boot. (The connection here is they both had a stop in a local record store, about a week apart). Anyways... I owe my discovery of Yo La Tengo to you as well as to some extent Explosions in the Sky, and for that I'm grateful.

It'd be interesting to know where you'd place Radiohead.

**If you have not heard Mouse on Mars, go get yourself a copy of _Radical Connector_, though you might not consider this album especially particularly post-rock... these genre distinctions are always so nebulous

March 15, 2007 at 5:50 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

I'm a huge fan of Four Tet, and vaguely aware of Mouse on Mars. The others I'll have to check out. Thanks for the recommendations. Pity you don't like the Shins (maybe too poppy for you?).

I'd place Radiohead in the bin, and close the lid.

March 15, 2007 at 5:54 PM  

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