Fifteen years after Mogwai Young Team dragged the nascent instrumental genre kicking and screaming into the indie collective consciousness, post-rock finds itself in a strange place in 2012. Though bands like Explosions in the Sky continue to score critical and commercial success with new releases, there’s a sense that stagnation has finally set in to a genre that has arguably become better known as background music for science and nature documentaries than as a legitimate form of artistic expression.
“Farewell Shadows”, the latest EP from Wisconsin’s Canyons of Static, is unlikely to significantly alter the state of ubiquity that post-rock finds itself in but its five tracks nevertheless add up to a complex and well-realised record worthy of further attention. Sonically, the band lies somewhere close to the chiming guitars and ambience of Sigur Ros and Caspian, eschewing the sweeping soundscapes of Mono and the distorted contrast of Mogwai’s recent albums. The addition of second guitarist Nick Elert has allowed Canyons of Static to create more dense and complex guitar arrangements and it’s this that gives the EP its signature sound.
Also notable is the band’s rhythm duo, Nathan Gaffney on drums and Chris Biertzer on bass, brought to the forefront by production that favours the tight lock-in between the percussion and the lower range. The warm and open kick drum sound adds a driving energy to “Never Alone Again” and closing track “Drift” that stands in welcome contrast to a production style that has robbed many instrumental rock records of their teeth.
While the rhythm section never fails to impress, gone, sadly, are the band’s dabblings with the heavier percussion style that lent a Russian Circles vibe to the title track and Shelter from 2008’s “The Disappearance”. Instead drums and bass imbue songs like standout cut “Take Heart” with a growing sense of urgency, gradually building to an intense crescendo, released in a climactic wall of sound. Canyons of Static rarely reach the blistering fervour of the main proponents of this style, God is an Astronaut and Maybeshewill, but the change in approach makes for a more consistently engaging record than previous efforts.
Similarly, the extended intro sections that preceded most arrangements on 2011’s “Challenger EP” have been dropped in favour of greater immediacy. “Wake” is perhaps the one exception here but its flute-based intro gives way to guitars within a minute and a half, as compared to almost three minutes in “Columns from Challenger”. Again, this is a positive change; there are more than enough ideas in most songs to keep momentum going for the full duration without the need for extra padding.
Penultimate track “Veil” is the only downer on the while affair; the songwriting feels fairly bereft of ideas and even a sterling effort on bass from Biertzer can’t stop it running out of steam ninety seconds before it stutters to an awkward end. It’s only one dud out of five though, and the other songs are more than good enough to allow the listener to forgive a brief lapse.
“Farewell Shadows” is an accomplished slice of instrumental rock, albeit one that doesn’t push too many boundaries. The record sometimes strays a little too close to the ‘elevator music’ or ‘National Geographic Nature Special soundtrack’ cliché that post-rock is in danger of becoming lost in at the moment but there’s more than enough substance in the five tracks on offer here to make it worth digging beneath the surface.