, June 22nd, 2011 12:57
Post-rock is one of the trickiest genres to pin down as having some trademark sound. More often than not, rock critics have become satisfied with accepting any band with long, atmospheric pieces with crescendos as members of the club - and better yet if they're instrumental. It's how bands like Explosions in the Sky and Russian Circles, however good their music may be, have quite unfairly become the standard by which modern post-rock is measured, even when 'instrumental rock' would define each act far better.
When post-rock was founded – or at least when it was given its name by Simon Reynolds in his 1994 review of Bark Psychosis' Hex LP – it meant something considerably different. Reynolds wrote that post-rockers use "rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords." The natural evolution, then, of those early post-rock acts like the aforementioned Bark Psychosis, Tortoise, and Don Caballero is not the pleasant grandiosity of Explosions... or Russian Circles; it's the genre-defying sound of records like the self-titled debut by Benjamin John Power's new project, Blanck Mass. There's plenty of guitar on this first solo offering from the man who also serves as half of electronic noise duo Fuck Buttons, but there aren't any riffs to speak of, let alone power chords.
Power says that his work in Blanck Mass is "in thrall to Carl Sagan, Ennio Morricone and the infinity of nature, both universal and personal," which is all well and good, but still insufficient. It's not as though there's no sonic blueprint for the kind of shimmering pedalboard wizardry that Power serves up over the ten tracks on Blanck Mass. Sure, there's shades of Morricone soundtracks (especially his more avant-garde work on lesser-known films like The Working Class Goes To Heaven and Duck, You Sucker!), but the more direct points of reference are American ambient experimentalists Belong, Growing, and especially the immensely underrated and sadly now defunct Romance Of Young Tigers.
If Power doesn't quite best those acts with Blanck Mass, he certainly does a fine reflection of them. There's shining moments in the slow-building tenacity of opening track 'Sifted Gold', the fist-pounding immediacy of the intro to 'Land Disasters', and the expansive playfulness of 14-minute album centerpiece 'What You Know', each reminiscent of some dimension of that ambient post-rock paradigm. Power also gives us a few glimpses of his Fuck Buttons background, notably in the electronic keyboard tinkles that close 'Land Disasters' and the subtle, seductive positivity that seeps out amidst the long passages of weighty darkness.
The most significant thing that Blanck Mass has given us that Belong, Growing, or Romance Of Young Tigers never have is that it represents an abundance of material released at once by its maker. Over ten tracks and 60-plus minutes of music, Ben Power has far eclipsed the individual offerings of any of those earlier artists, and, perhaps surprisingly, the result is anything but long in the tooth. Instead, it's a compelling journey through the mind of a fascinating musician that manages to prove its worth as a separate entity from his other, relatively similar band, and one that demands multiple listens and leaves the listener wanting more at the end of its hefty duration.