I am a sucker for post-rock serenity and bombast -- the slow, dirge-like buildups, followed by the cathartic payoffs where massed guitars create sonic tsunamis that threaten to wash away the winter snows that tend to dominate the landscapes of these morose, deadly serious musicians. The three best-known bands who work this genre -- Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (formerly Godspeed You Black Emperor!; you know the winters are long when you find yourself playing with exclamation marks) have created a handful of masterpieces. Not surprisingly, they've inspired a horde of imitators, some very good (Explosions in the Sky, A Silver Mount Zion, Do Make Say Think), and some that try a little too hard to be different (Labradford, Trans Am, Cul de Sac). But give them credit for trying. Eighteen years after Talk Talk kickstarted the genre with Spirit of Eden, post-rock is still one of the most interesting and vibrant musical genres, and new bands are continuing to push and prod at the boundaries.
Two of them -- Canterbury, England's Yndi Halda and Kent, Ohio's Six Parts Seven -- have just released new albums. Both fit comfortably under the "post-rock" umbrella. And, not surprisingly given the amorphous nature of a label that has come to mean little more than "mostly instrumental music with electric guitars," they sound nothing alike.
Yndi Halda's debut album Enjoy Eternal Bliss will readily appeal to Sigur Ros fans. Four tracks spread out over sixty-six minutes should tell you all you need to know. These four lads not only have time to slowly build from whisper to wall of sound, but they have time to get quiet again, and then crank up the sonic fury again. Guitars and violins are the primary instruments, with cameo appearances from glockenspiels. Yes, this may be the glockenspiel's finest hour since Mike Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells. It's pretty and contemplative, then very, very loud and bombastic, just the way I like it. Although the lads go in for a bit of chanting, this is for all intents and purposes instrumental music; there is no accompanying Jonsi whalesong to liven up the proceedings. To that extent, it's a little monochromatic. But just a little. Enjoy Eternal Bliss is an impressive debut.
Even more impressive is Six Parts Seven's latest offering Casually Smashed to Pieces, the band's sixth proper album (not counting a split EP with The Black Keys). This is post-rock by way of the Applalachians, with banjo and lap steel vying for prominence with the usual guitars. I find the Americana influences particularly bracing, as is the fact that the band manages to squeeze eight songs into a little more thirty minutes. That's virtually unthinkable in this genre. Hooks? They must have used 'em all to go fishing in those mountain streams. These aren't so much songs as pastoral dreamscapes, and they float by so effortlessly that you'll be tempted to relegate this to full-time background music status. Don't. Instead, listen to the way the motifs weave in and out of this music, taken up first by guitar, then by pocket trumpet, then by lap steel. Listen to the contrapuntal layering of the instruments, the Bach Goes to County Moonshine vibe of these tracks. And then just sit back and let it wash over you and enjoy it. It's lovely music.