Written by 5:00 am Audiophile Music

Coast To Coast: Shiny New Post Rock Gets the Led Out of Prog

Mark Smotroff discovers a softer shade of prog

So there was this movement spurred at the height of the Vietnam War in 1969 that was eventually dubbed “progressive rock.” For the most part, the genre was kickstarted when King Crimson debuted with their scream from the bowels of hell cover art that graced In the Court of the Crimson King. “Prog Rock” evolved and devolved as a musical genre over the next eight or so years with some amazing peaks — Yes’ Close to the Edge, Crimson’s Red and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway — and some discouraging valleys (many consider ELP’s Love Beach the final nail in the coffin to that first wave of prog).

CASPIANcoverSMALL.jpgBut prog rock wasn’t about to die. Crimson soon reinvented itself as a tight, funky unit in 1981, while hip late-’70s New Wave bands like Television and Talking Heads took the genre into fascinating new vistas. Even the grunge movement of the ’90s couldn’t really kill off prog, bands like Queens of the Stone Age emerging that effectively carry the torch for new generations to come — even if they don’t call it prog rock, you can hear the influences there.

If Jeff Buckley had lived, there is no doubt in my mind he would have explored that path more. In the ’00s, bands like Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Mastodon and others explored borders of metal while Iceland’s Sigur Ros opened up a new generation to their more cinematic take on the concept, with long, slowly building epics that morph from whispers to screams in a single bound.

So it shouldn’t have been a real surprise to me when earlier this year I was in Vinyl Solution in San Mateo, California, and some new music caught my ear along these same lines called Caspian.

OK, so this music and band is “new” to me but they have apparently been around for about 10 years. Go figure.

Caspian’s music is lovely and a sort of textbook example of the modern take on prog genre: slow-motion epic grandeur with powerful drums; rich, thickly distorted but passionate and melodically played guitars and driving bass signatures. Sigur Ros is kind of like that, almost like hearing Pink Floyd without the Dave Gilmour solos on top. Just the backing track. Flaming Lips go down that path at times as well…

In some ways it is simultaneously satisfying and frustrating. The lack of solos gives the music something of an indie rock vibe, and spares us the self-indulgence of just so many dudes wanking away on gnarly old shredder guitars and Tube Screamer stomp boxes they’ve gotten used on Craigslist.

caspianSMALL.jpgIf some of these new albums I’ve come across are any indication and not just a happy coincidence, then there perhaps there might be a new wave of melodic progressive rock masquerading as a sort of heavy-ish ambient mood music.

In fact, it turns out there IS a moment afoot and there IS a name for this no-exactly-quite-new genre: “Post Rock.”


Post Rock.

Not Prog Rock.

Marketing. I get it, ya gotta have a “new thing” that the media can report on because no one likes to write about old stuff. Meh. I disagree. But, that is neither here nor there and a discussion beyond the point of this review.

So, anyhow….

When I got home I played Caspian’s lovely Hymn For The Greatest Generation — which comes on beautiful, clear vinyl that is dead quiet and well-centered — and all I could think of is that this is what the “new age” Windham Hill label might have been like had it been run by David Gilmour. Long, sweeping motifs give way to sheets of guitar tones and pulsating drums. Yet, there are no searing soaring leads and no vocals.

There are no rough edges, really. It’s all quite pretty and not particularly psychedelic. That is not a bad thing.

I’ll bet the band is gonna hate that Windham Hill allusion I just made above, but I mean it in the best possible way. This stuff is mood music, math rock without the calculus, progressive rock that isn’t quite so forward-driven, metal that isn’t quite so heavy, hard rock that softens the punch, letting you think instead of slamming the listener into submission.

I’m liking this stuff…

I’ll be checking out more of the releases from Caspian, for sure. You should too at www.caspianmusic.net

yeargraphicSMALL.jpgYear is another band I’d never heard of before and their debut EP — called Year 1 — was given to me by a friend whose cousin is in the group (full disclosure). Imagine my pleasant surprise to find it pressed on not only lovely purple swirly marble vinyl, but that the music contained within the grooves is real good, too. A slightly more gritty take on the same sort of “post rock” concept as Caspian, the songs are no less epic but have a slightly more indie rock flavor to them. There is a bit more of aggression evident, more like if a band like Sebadoh was trying to play Cocteau Twins or Beach House tunes (without vocals, of course). There is no fear of overdriven amp tones while morphing through some compelling jams.

There… I used the “J” word…

I haven’t found out a whole lot about Year as they don’t have lots of info out there apart from a spartan but cool website, Facebook and Bandcamp pages and such.

But I guess ultimately that doesn’t matter.

You can preview the whole Year 1 EP on Soundcloud.

yearSMALL.jpgIf you like it, I do recommend the vinyl. It’s really a lovely thing.

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