Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Thrill Jockey, 1998
I know I'm prone to a lot of nostalgic comments about really obscure math rock bands from the early 90's. And it's time to tell you about one of those bands in more detail!
Math rock is a pretty narrow little genre in indie rock, mostly inspired by Slint, whose masterpiece, Spiderland, was the subject of a previous "Dust It Off." It involves complex, changing time signatures and rhythms, little to no vocal melody and extreme loud-soft contrast. Math rock songs rarely follow conventional song structures; they are more often winding compositions drawing from classical, jazz and prog influences. The genre embraces dissonance, distortion and sheer volume.
OK, enough of that! A Minor Forest are a little-known math rock band (as if there was any other kind!) from San Francisco, far-removed from the Louisville scene that gave rise to their main influences. But musically, they aren't such outliers. No, they didn't invent much new or revolutionize music. What they did was simply to hone a style, put their own little stamps on it and then play it better than pretty much anyone since Slint.
Inindependence is the closest thing to a proper release the band ever had, even if it wasn't out until the very time the band called it quits. Only seven songs long, at times it feels like an extended EP, but due to a twenty minute song in the middle, it runs to nearly an hour.
Though not an instrumental band, AMF puts little emphasis on singing. There are some good melodies, but there's just as much yelling and even more without vocals at all. I know that sounds boring, but it's not - the guitars are crisp and heavy, the drums tight and intense. The songs jolt between hushed beauty and discordant freak-outs with no warning - when they're nice, they're very, very nice, but when they're nasty, they're nasty.
It's an indirect album that's best heard while your mind wanders - too much concentration and you'll be frustrated with the lack of structure, but if you're patient, moments of stunning beauty will surface, one after another. From the satisfying crash at the close of "Erik's Budding Romance" to the swelling soundscapes of "Discoier," there are amazing parts around every corner.
The album's finest moment may be the massive dissonance supporting the vocal melody about two and a half minutes into "...It's Salmon!!!" But it's hard to pick - unlike math rock's offspring "post rock," AMF isn't afraid to blast your eardrums at full force when the time is right, and the perpetual contrasts (harmony-dissonance, loud-soft, syncocopated-steady) keep it interesting. Unlike later Slint-imitators like Mogwai (ughhhhh), AMF has control over their use of contrast, taking it just far enough, while keeping beats and melodies going. Well, that and they have balls.
Though maybe not for everyone, Inindependence is a remarkable accomplishment and remains one of the best albums of its genre.