As much as I love post-rock, I’m going to come out and say it: the majority of it isn’t very imaginative at all, and can end up sounding like a band ripping off Explosions in the Sky/Mogwai/Sigur Rós etc. if not done well. However, there were a number of them in my 2011 end-of-year favourite albums list (6 out of 20), and there were three others that barely missed the cut, so all in all I reckon that last year was an extremely strong 12 months for post-rock. On the evidence of the long-awaited Rumour Cubes [Twitter/Facebook] album, that packs more inventiveness into 36 minutes than most bands of this ilk manage in an hour, 2012 seems set to be perhaps even better.
The Narrow State is an album that, quite impressively, thrives on contrast; the record is all about the tension between light and shade. It’s split between older songs (ones that appeared on 2010’s We Have Sound Houses Also EP), and newer stuff, but there’s no difference in quality between the two sides – even though The Gove Curve, released as a single (of sorts) towards the end of last year hinted at a new chapter for the band, the truth is that, even after living with this album for six weeks, I still can’t decide on which song is my favourite.
I’m a fan of lots of things about The Narrow State, and one of these is that each of these six songs can be broken down into separate parts. The approach the group take to their songwriting is not linear in any way, avoiding the clichéd build-ups and cathartic climaxes that lesser post-rock groups live off, but this is not to say that the latter is completely absent. Far from it in fact; they are simply pulled off in unexpected ways. The sudden eruption of guitars and brooding bass on opener The University is a Factory is like a storm in the midst of calm, as the song is mostly given over to a contemplative soundscape – but the important thing is that you never see it coming.
In the hands of a less-talented band, the arpeggiated guitar intro of At Sea would be the obvious lead-in to an explosion of noise later on in the track, but this isn’t what happens; it is merely joined by drums and bass, shifting between major and minor keys as snatches of melody come and go, the focus switching between the fragile beauty of the violin line and what surrounds it, in a tactic used to display the band’s love of atmosphere – and just when you expect the song to take off, around four minutes in? Well, it doesn’t. Rumour Cubes enjoy fucking with expectations, and there is plenty of this on The Narrow State.
By post-rock standards, this isn’t a very long debut, but enough happens that it may as well be at least ten minutes longer. Songs often end up far away from their origins, and this is no more evident than on penultimate track Triptych, which starts off at a My Bloody Valentine-esque intensity and frantic pace, before moving into an ominous and foreboding ambient(ish) section, with pattering electronic drums and a highly effective chord progression, before the violin starts to lead things to a gradual swell, and suddenly we find ourselves back in a major key, and a brief burst of drums helps the song finally lift off with one of the most uplifting melodies I’ve heard in quite a while. It brings the song to a glorious finish – and the clue to its structure is right there in its title, of course.
More of that aptly-naming-a-song stuff goes on with the reflective closer, Tempus Fugit: that is Latin for ‘time flies’, and that’s how many people will feel when listening to The Narrow State. The song, led once again by the violin and bolstered by some subtle glockenspiel, is quite happy to keep things low-key for five minutes, and again, most people will feel that’s just what they need after everything else that’s gone on. Listening to this refreshingly brilliant album is quite a ride, and its closer brings the curtain down on it in style. Rumour Cubes are far from a conventional post-rock band, but their love of keeping things extremely interesting will stand to them, especially now that they’ve arrived with an accomplished debut that displays their talent to its fullest extent.
The Gove Curve
The Narrow State will be self-released on February 27th; pre-order the album on Bandcamp.