Saxon Shore - It Doesn't Matter
Chris Tapley 15/01/2010
No matter how often I hear the phrase it seems to me that there is a steady stream of evidence to conclusively prove that post rock is not dead, far from it in fact. The latest piece being It Doesn't Matter, the fourth full length album from Saxon Shore. So let's assess this seemingly now ubiquitous phrase a little, it seems to be based around the notion that all post-rock bands sound very similar, and certainly it would be difficult to argue that there isn't a large degree of derivation from within the genre; as far as influences go it can all seem a little incestuous. Having said that though it seems patently clear to me that this is true of any genre, there will always be those bands bringing nothing new to the table but instead riding in on a tried, tested and tired formula. The majority of those bands, particularly in post-rock, receive little in the way of plaudits anyway. It would seem more apt to declare pop dead, or hip-hop, or post hardcore, or heavy metal. So why not focus on those? It may be because there are more components to be toyed with, whereas with the lengthy instrumentals of post rock there are no lyrics to differentiate tracks, there are no flashy promo videos and there are rarely any stand out singles.
So people by and large feel as though they have nothing to cling to, nothing to separate Explosions in the Sky from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Samuel Jackson Five from This Will Destroy You, or Inconsequential Toast Consumption from The Immutable Silence of Adrian Chiles' Heart (those last two are, for the time being, made up). Often the tracks needs very close inspection to tell them apart, however this is of course often a sign of bad post-rock. There are also a ton of bands whose take on the genre is immediately identifiable and those are the ones who keep the flame burning; 2009 alone seen the release of albums by the likes of Balmorhea, And So I Watch You From Afar, Do Make Say Think, Blueneck, Russian Circles and a ton more which took the basic structural framework and contorted it in to something more exciting and unexpected. Those handfuls of bands pushing the envelope is ultimately all any genre needs to survive, as long as someone is messing with protocol then there will be sufficient developments.
So where does this release fit in to that picture then? Although It Doesn't Matter may not toy with convention to quite the extent that some of those mentioned above do they bring a refreshing take to proceedings and to my ears this is certainly identifiable as a Saxon Shore album. The group sidestep all of the usual pitfalls, mainly by condensing their take on epic instrumentals down a bit with most tracks not extending beyond five minutes meaning there's no excruciating wait for something to happen. The graceful piano on opener Nothing Changes entwined with echoing ripples of guitar and a little bit of fuzz sets the albums tone as patient and delicate. Despite it's rich textures though it quickly runs out of steam and ultimately the first three tracks are the least engrossing here, something which doesn't inspire confidence for the remainder of the album. Everything changes with the next track and undoubted highlight though; the sublime This Place features the vocals of Carol Lufkin and her graceful reverb laden vocals hoist the cinematic arrangements up from their mire of mediocrity. This is a turning point in the record it seems and the following track is a feel good electronic number which twists and grooves like Do Make Say Think playing with synthesizers. Vitally again it features female vocals which gives an air of wonderment which is missing from the opening tracks. By this point the record has really hit it's stride and Bar Clearing Good Times is another cracking slab of upbeat instrumental rock which fizzes with changes in texture and atmosphere rather than drawing them out over long protracted arrangements More sparse order is resumed on What Keeps Us Up though which melds together piano and lashes of shimmering guitar to nice effect. There's arguably an over reliance on piano to engineer a feeling of grandeur on the longer tracks but they're split up well enough for it not to be a major downfall.
It Doesn't Matter does suffer from a few disappointingly formulaic and rather soulless tracks but the majority of the album sparkles with creativity and a desire to do something a little bit different without alienating existing fans. For the most part it comes off brilliantly and there are several tracks here which I'll be revisiting a lot. With this Saxon Shore have cemented their position as one of the most accomplished post rock bands around at the moment, now hopefully we won't have to wait another four years for the next album.