Pram and Their Lonely, Exotic Carnival
Pram nominally operates in post rock, which is–or, at least was, for a long time–a critical darling of a genre. In post rock, bands are known for their willingness to experiment and hybridize nontraditional influences in rock. It’s kind of the point. Right? (We’re talking about the first-wave stuff here, that proud and brave and aurally delicious era from about 1992-1997.)
Anyway, within a field already packed with unique-sounding bands, Pram is a long-running one whose influences–John Barry-esque soundtrack music, Martin Denny-esque exotica, dub, light 60s psychedelia, & nursery rhymes, all filtered through a uniquely childlike sense of unease–blend together to form something absolutely like nothing else. On paper, they’re the perfect band for some serious critical wanking, but if they’re ever given a positive writeup, it’s almost always faint, reserved praise. Just as often, they’re torn apart, or worse, ignored.
You ready for this question? Okay, here it is: why?
I have some theories, but they all kind of depress me. Perhaps the biggest thing holding Pram back from wider critical acclaim is that the music the band makes is not capital-i Important. Rather than constantly reaching for any serious-faced major artistic statement, Pram makes resolutely small-screen and unselfconsciously strange music, traits that don’t typically earn awed respect. We want our Artists to make Statements, and Pram doesn’t do that. (That what they do is at once entirely unique, immediately recognizable, and yet consistently fresh over a nearly two-decade career is beside the point, of course.)
Which brings me to a second point about the general dismissal of Pram as a major force: they are not groundbreaking in the sense that there are a legion of followers tilling away at the path they blazed. You can’t point to a scene or band of note that’s indebted in any overt sense to Pram. This also works against them, because, again, “important” bands spawn other bands. Pram hasn’t done that yet, and after 17 years of being around (and with post rock being, for all intents and purposes, a legacy genre), I doubt they will.
Many “important” bands that don’t receive a lot of credit are “difficult.” Is Pram “difficult?” It naturally depends, but I don’t think so. They’re one of those bands that I fervently love and cheer for incessantly. Like Long Fin Killie, Movietone, Spacemen 3, and Bark Psychosis, I push music by Pram on all of my friends whenever I can, especially their two early-2000s releases, The Museum of Imaginary Animals and Dark Island, which are their two most accessible albums. I’ve played records by all these bands for any and all of my friends willing to put up with my obsessions, but the only one that has been universally liked has been Pram.
Sure, the songs on even these two albums are “weird,” but to nearly anyone with more than a passing interest in music (as in, not your mom or little nephew), it’s a safely exotic, alluring weirdness. Yes, many songs, especially on Dark Island, are “eerie,” but it’s a childlike, whimsical eeriness that you find in some of the darker, more impressionistic children’s films. Unsettling, sure, but still okay for general consumption (“general,” in this case, meaning the rare few of the populace who would ever care to make it this far into a piece about any non-mainstream musical act).
Navel gazing ad nauseam. There’s obviously a bigger question to tackle here–why some bands get lauded and others passed up–but I neither feel able to answer it nor fully up to the task of tackling it right now. You can understand, I’m sure. Rather than going there, I leave you with some spectacular, Prammy deliciousness.
And I’ll be bringing some more Prammy deliciousness to the table soon. Reviews I’m definitely doing are for Sargasso Sea, Dark Island, The Museum of Imaginary Animals, and The Moving Frontier, all kind of latter-day releases. I may go deeper and hit up some more stuff for you all. If I do, I’ll add them in here and link up appropriately like the good guy I am.