Two decades after their debut, the ever-evolving rock quartet Thrice have finely crafted a dynamic set of songs that are not only sonically pleasing, but lyrically awakening. Their eleventh (Self-Released) studio album, Horizons/East, is an eclectic collection of songs that practices extensive experimentation while maintaining the rawness of previous releases.
Here’s a thing. I think it was the British music journalist Andrew Harrison who first coined the phrase “landfill indie”, referring to the glut of post Britpop bands that emerged at the end of the late 90s. These acts, mainly bereft of anything approaching “talent” and conspicuous in their self-regard, whiny vocals and complete lack of musical invention or excitement were responsible for the dilution of an independent music scene that was once renowned for its creativity, sense of purpose and creativity.
I’m going to coin another phrase. Consider, if you will, Post-Rock Rubble (patent pending). I refer, in this instance, to the current glut of hipster post rock bands who, in their quest for something approaching authenticity have appropriated the leitmotifs of post rock and imbued it with a level of anonymity and mediocrity that would be admirable in its effectiveness were the aural effect not so drab and boring. I think you know the sort of thing I’m talking about- delicate melodies married to crashing guitars that have journalists who really ought to know better about these sort of things, salivating at the mouth like Pavlovian dogs, using words like “transcendent”, “epic” and “life changing” to describe vocal free tunes that are, at best, pleasant enough and, at their most anodyne, akin to listening to the grass grow.
The job in hand is, therefore, to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s with this in mind that we come to Akron, Ohio’s If These Trees Could Talk and Metal Blade Records decision to reissue their 2009 debut Above the Earth, Below The Sky and its 2012 follow up Red Forest. Metal Blade don’t have a deep seated heritage in post-rock but they are a reliable label when it comes to spotting talent and If These Trees Could Talk are one of the better post rock outfits so their timing, whilst curious, is probably ahead of new material from the US based five piece which, as students of this genre will likely attest is a bit of a “good thing”.
If These Trees Could Talk operate in a world that has become all too familiar since their debut some six years ago. As you probably know, they are all about the feeling and the textures of their music and, structurally, you can spot the influence and lineage of the likes of Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and, at times, Cult of Luna at their most reflective. They have a discerning way of blending delicate and fragile melodies into the post-rock framework that is comforting and occasionally compelling.
Of the two re-issues, although there is a fair smattering of post rock loveliness in the debut album, (7) Red Forest(8) is the superior album, wherein the band have nothing like “difficult second album syndrome” but delivered a nuanced and confident record that succeeds pretty much wholesale, despite the limitations that the genre inevitably confers on its artists.
What sets If These Trees Could Talk apart from some of their more generic peers are two things: their almost metallic use of guitars to convey power as well as precision are probably one of the main reasons that they appeal to the A&R types at Metal Blade but for this listener, it is the deceptive simplicity of their music that compels. There is a moodiness and intensity to this music that brings you back to this band time and again; this is music to become emotional about and emotional for.
Above all, If The Trees Could Talk are not self conscious, nor self regarding- the two most obvious manifestations of their less talented peers. Sombre, thoughtful and evocative and a decent soundtrack for that bleak new year January.
Above The Earth, Below the Sky – 7.0/10
Red Forest – 8.0/10