Play One Note

Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

Posts tagged with ‘british post rock’

Pram and Their Lonely, Exotic Carnival

May 13, 2010

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.)

pram band

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.

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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.

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Long Fin Killie – Houdini

April 18, 2010

long fin killie houdiniHoudini, Long Fin Killie‘s 1995 debut, is an absolutely relentless display of technical virtuosity grafted onto a typically British post-rock sensibility.  That means elements like spaciness, repetition, attention to texture and mood over melody, and a general disregard of verse/chorus/verse are all in effect.  Those elements, however, are rendered secondary to Long Fin Killie’s demanding barrage of metronomic instrumental interplay.

Witness, for example, the minor-key, vaguely folky acoustic guitar lockstep that is “Corngold.”  It’s got all the hallmarks of a typical British post-rock song from that genre heydey: there’s a circular song structure, semi- or entirely unidentifiable instruments and sounds (I would be shocked if that was a cimbalom panning around in there, but it sure as hell sounds like one), and an extremely strong, well-developed aura of mystery and space, but it’s all detail sprucing up the driving purpose of the thing, which is kept central.  “Corngold” remains hypnotic, but it’s in a decidedly focused, honing way, not in a diffusing, dreamy one.

The same could be said everything on this album, even “How I Blew It With Houdini,” a gorgeous, pristine centerpiece burbling with layer upon layer of complexly intertwined instrumentation.  Though it’s a profoundly mellow, relaxing song, rich with detail that slowly unfolds and unwinds over its nine minutes, it never feels dense or unfocused.  There’s a purpose here, too.

Psychedelia is usually considered “drug music.”  The reasons for this are many and obvious, with the otherworldly moods both psych and drugs evoke being the primary one.  It’s perhaps unusual, then, that Long Fin Killie’s music, undeniably psychedelic, evokes a nearly aggressive sobriety.  Even at its dreamiest moments, of which there are many, songwriter Luke Sutherland’s music maintains an almost inhuman precision.  The same occurs when the band swings the other way, unleashing nearly unhinged blasts of aggression (such as on the dizzyingly busy “Flower Carrier”) that are nevertheless, ultimately, tightly controlled.  Instead of mind-melting, space-expanding solos, the band’s skill is harnessed inward, making repetitive riffs of astonishing intricacy and detail, with the complex, airtight drumming patterns in particular recalling jungle’s surgical exactitude.  (This comparison isn’t a reach on my part; Long Fin Killie’s final album, Amelia, made this connection explicit with live-drumming Amen breaks all over the place.  It’s really kind of breathtaking to listen to.  Sutherland’s subsequent project, Bows, is also indebted to jungle.)

I’m tempted to be lazy here and just quit without explicitly explaining just why/how Houdini is “psychedelic,” but, given my previous paragraph, I must.  Here it is: There’s no druggy feeling, sure, but that reaching-beyond element is absolutely 110% in effect here, not just in the final product itself (the songs), but in the way those songs are constructed, which demonstrates a restless, heady curiosity.  Also, the hypnotic introspection characteristic of so much psychedelia is completely present and dazzlingly effective.  Long Fin Killie in general, and Houdini in particular, demands close listening.  Ultimately, what Houdini is about is a group of musicians taking their considerable instrumental skills, merging them through their synergistic dynamics, and methodically building a platform to stand upon and touch the sky.

Too Pure: A Note About the Record Label

Houdini was released on Too Pure, a UK-based label that had a staggeringly impressive post-rock/electronic run in the mid-90s, releasing classic albums by Moonshake, Pram, Stereolab, Laika, Seefeel, Th’ Faith Healers, and Mouse on Mars.  This lineup, with its fearless approach to experimentation with new sounds and new studio techniques, epitomized what made the era (from roughly 1994-1998, with outliers of a couple years in either direction) my favorite in the history of music.  Houdini is just one brilliant star among many in the Too Pure firmament.  (For the record, Too Pure might have the best, deepest stable of underrated releases, pound for pound, of any record label I’m aware of.  Might be fun to write about…)

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