For the supposed party animal of ACL’s genres, post-rock hasn’t exactly been a lively guest so far this year. Mercifully, newcomers Robin Buyer Sextet have arrived bearing the proverbial kegs and decks to rouse us from our all-too-civilised socialising. Fellow Brits of inclusive persuasion: ignore the unsavoury timing of a record called Leave and immerse yourself with everyone else in a fun and cathartic fusion of math-rock, jazz and pop that will doubtless go down as one of 2016’s finest in the genre.
Our own Rich called out “Shelter” in his ‘10 Tracks to Start Your Summer’ piece, and the exuberance, rhythmic elasticity and varied pacing exhibited in that single is maintained across all seven tracks, which neatly slot into half an hour. While this is a debut album for the Brooklyn-based collective, its founder and chief composer Robin Buyer is experienced both academically and in other bands, having studied bass guitar performance and ethnomusicology at university as well as been part of a gamelan collective. Lest this mislead you, Leave is a wholly Western-sounding record based in groove-based post-rock. What makes it stand out is its marriage of rhythmic daring and melodic infectiousness, enhanced with a rich array of instruments.
Each of those instruments contributes meaningfully yet never obscures another – a triumph of both composition and production. Each knows its place and purpose: the guitar and keys in the centre, smoothing out jagged rhythmic changes from the bass and drums on one side and anchoring the flowing melodies of the violin and sax on the other. The variety and intelligence of the melody-heavy musicianship calls to mind Norwegian acts Jaga Jazzist and The Samuel Jackson Five, but there is a greater immediacy to Robin Buyer Sextet that’s driven by the tightness of the quickly evolving compositions. Second track “Leave”, among the highlights of the record, overflows with dynamics and moods, coursing through guitar- and sax-driven passages that are punctuated by crisp, abrupt crescendos with biting drums. It’s a breathtaking start, and the album barely relents thereafter.
Much math-rock can eventually labour through repetitive tone and tempo. Leave never even acknowledges this threat, with many tracks employing abrupt yet coherent changes, and distinguishing themselves by leaning on different instruments. The mallet- and bass-dominated first half of “Dusked” creates a distinctly lounge jazz feel; by its fourth minute it’s morphed into an Oceansize-esque build up of jagged rhythms, pounding chords and soaring vocals – the intensity enhanced by the rigid control the rhythm section imposes, even as the final chords ring out. The guitar gymnastics over a mid-tempo groove in “Shelter” are enough to get the hips moving, but only the most intrepid dancer will last through this track’s outro – a show-stealing masterclass in obscuring rhythmic skulduggery beneath flowing brass lines and melodic guitar hooks. It simply will not leave my head.
With such demonstrable prowess so early in this band’s career, where can it go from here? Perhaps the answer could lie in Buyer’s penchant for world music. The likes of Esmerine have already demonstrated the power of fusing their Western sound to scales and voices from the Middle East – it would be fascinating to see if this supremely talented bunch could do something similar. For now though, we’re just delighted they’ve joined our party. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)