Whatever happened to (the) slowest runner (in all the world)? Three of the band members can be found here under the name Sontag Shogun. The quintet and trio released a split EP in the wake of We, Burning Giraffes, and the smaller project has been touring and releasing small projects ever since. The latest is a beguiling five-track effort, recorded at the Big Snow Buffalo Lodge this past spring. It’s also the first non-szilárd release for Palaver, although that artist (Jeremy Young) is part of Sontag Shogun as well. It may also be the band’s last release for a while, as grad school awaits in London; a farewell concert/goodbye party is scheduled for this Saturday at the Spotty Dog in Hudson, New York.
This album, although recorded at a different venue, sounds like a farewell party. The music possesses the requisite air of melancholy, along with an undercurrent of celebration, a last toast to an era that may well be followed by a better one. While recorded on location, it’s the best kind of live album: not the song-applause-song sort, but one in which audience members can be heard moving about and the ambient noises are part of the overall soundscape. This provides a level of intimacy that is almost too personal, as if the trio had been caught at an unguarded moment, revealing secrets. They play without a hint of self-consciousness, as if no one were watching. Even at the end, the applause is absent or excised; instead, a few electronic wisps are tucked behind the ear.
Throughout the album, these electronics fill the spaces between the notes. Joined by oscillators and reel-to-reel, they form a sort of Greek chorus, a buttress between the piano tones and the threatening silence: the silence of closing, of leaving, of saying goodbye. If the sound seems forlorn, blame the additions rather than the subtractions. The cold electronic tones balance the warm ivories, tugging their emotional threads from underneath to see if they are weak enough to unravel. Some backward masking reflects the amplified light of nostalgia in the face of forward movement; the closer the face of change, the more appealing the face of the familiar.
Absent Warrior, Abandoned Battlefield isn’t really post-rock, but yet it is. It’s the type of rock that is played when the clichés have gone home, tired of dwindling audiences and thinking about becoming farmers. This post-rock is a lament for other types of post-rock, a divide between stasis and change, a raised glass before the plane door shuts and the friends are left at the airport bar. It’s also a hope for reunions and an acknowledgment that things will never be the same, although they may be better in time, even if the rock disappears, leaving only the Cheshire grin of the post. (Richard Allen)