On the second day of our road trip, we turn north to Canada, the home of many post-rock originators. Canada’s new breed includes An Ant and An Atom, North Atlantic Drift, Northumbria and Music for Money, all of whom skirt on the edges of the genre. These four bands incorporate so many influences that their music is difficult to categorize. Some may hesitate to call them post-rock. But like their sonic ancestors, these bands have the potential to move post-rock forward by stretching its boundaries.
An Ant And An Atom is a perfect example. Alberta’s Sean Warkentine doesn’t include the “post-rock” tag on his Bandcamp page. Our review of his last work, There Is No One, was found in our Electronic Observations column. But a strange thing happened along the way to the follow-up, You Are No One. (Cheerful titles, Sean!) The album ended up tagged as post-rock at Rate Your Music, one of the highest rated in that category. Like it or not, this is post-rock. One can tell by the skeleton: the ambient textures (especially on the beautiful, fuzzy “Metallurgies”), the dialogue samples, the surging guitars, the highs and lows. But we also hear an electronic fascination, as well as an attachment to drone. You Are No One is post-rock approached from the opposite direction, a nudge toward the genre rather than an influence added. And it works. “The Bathory Allure” begins in melody and ends in feedback; the shorter “Devi Changed” adds the building drums and sense of drama; and the closing piece, “I Left It In Places I’d Have to Forget About”, cements the deal by weaving together all of the aforementioned elements. That’s a classic post-rock title, and fans will get what they expect: nearly eleven minutes of growing guitars, heavy on mood, with a cinematic element. Call it whatever you want, Sean ~ an album by any other name would still sound as sweet.
Postscript: After this article was written, we were given a sneak preview of An Ant And An Atom’s upcoming EP, Overtones, which continues to travel down the post-rock brick road. The unusual opener, “Har Megiddo”, sounds like an introduction to a carnival – or a wizard in an emerald palace. From there, the EP honors its title via an investigation of tones. While not as immediate as its predecessor, it doesn’t have to be. The go-to piece, “Say Something Kind About A Piledriver Through the Floor”, concentrates on textures via drone and glitchy percussive sound, while the all-too-brief “The Space Race” seems like a rocket about to take off. As An Ant And An Atom continues to move in this direction, we suspect he’ll be taking off soon as well. As far as we’re concerned, all systems are go. (Release date 7 June)
Traveling east to Toronto, we find two similarly-named duos sharing a split EP on the aptly-titled Polar Seas Recordings. North Atlantic Drift has been drifting from post-rock to ambient since its debut, while just down the street Northumbria has been doing the opposite. Here they meet in the middle. The cover art is perfectly chosen, representing opposing yet complimentary forces. In like manner, the album proceeds from the influence of light ambient (North Atlantic Drift) to that of dark ambient (Northumbria) like the day fading to night. “Ursa Minor” offers sparse piano notes and scratching (a bear?), while “Polaris” presents the clean guitar like the cold Canadian sky. Clearly-identifiable post-rock arrives a minute into that track, like the call of a recognized constellation. Electronic drums provide comfort like an insulated parka. The glockenspiel of “Ursa Major” is a kind addition, while the ambient “Perpetual Daylight” eases the transition to darker tones. As Northumbria takes the reins, the listener remembers that the northern night is not all beauty and light; danger lies there as well. The eleven-and-a-half minute “Cold Wind Rising” is sinister and sprawling, a long dark shape moving beneath the frozen ice. As a “pure” dark ambient piece, it falls in line with previous work from the duo. Arriving in its wake, “Vanishing Point” is a nice surprise, with slow guitars insisting on the spotlight, building from gentle to growling. Before this split EP, one could not imagine these two acts together; now one can’t imagine them apart.
We last encountered Music for Money in 2011, before this site was even conceived. Flying Birds was a creative excursion that built on the vision of its predecessor, X. This Montreal band’s third album continues its hot streak. Again one has to ask, “is this post-rock?” The question exposes the difficulty of genre tags; Music for money has post-rock in it, but is not typical fare. Of course, this is a good thing ~ without change, there is only stagnation. Less than a minute into the opening (title) track, we’re already hearing an imitation of a theremin playing cautiously behind a deep bass, like a hummingbird flying around an ambling bear. Casio-like tones lead to a tonal shift, intimating a three-ring circus. The sonic ringmaster beckons. Enter the sonic tent. Experience the mystery. Is it prog? The sinking synths of “Phoenix” and the full stop of “Laser Frog” seem to indicate so. But just when we believe we have the album pinned, it mutates again, from Morricone guitar to funk to avant-garde thrash and finally to “A Day in the Life” crescendo. Best of all is the bouncy “Le Zèbre enchanté”, which we can imagine as a single; that’s why we featured it on our singles chart earlier this month. If we must pick a label, we’ll go with “theatrical instrumental”. Despite the name of the band, this is less music for money than music for innovation.