The legions of instrumental guitar bands out there long ago passed saturation point. Even the more respected proponents seem to be incapable of breaking out of their straitjacketed formula (yes, I’m looking at you Explosions in the Sky). Mono’s solution seems to be just increase the scale and intensity to Wagnerian proportions, which is enormous fun, but something they can do only for so long. I’ve lost count of the number of bands I’ve heard over the last few years using the same leaden tempos, arpeggios and chord progressions, with telegraphed loud bits. Anybody would think Stuart Braithwaite was running a school for post-rock guitarists!
This album by Leeds’ Vessels is more than a year old, but it’s a good example of how it’s still possible to do the big wall of guitar thing with a bit of flair and imagination. There are plenty of points where the big sheets of guitar noise come in – after all that’s the post-rock ‘money shot’ – but they use plenty of wit and originality getting there. There’s none of the standard five minutes of faffing about before the standard epic climax. Tempos are mixed – fast and slow – with some impressive drumming that isn’t just reliant on lots of cymbals. There are also some vocals, not that they are ever really central to the plot.
There’s plenty of evidence of the influence of Godspeed You Mogwai Explosions but there’s some subtle use of electronica a la Port Royal, and elements of Polvo’s spiky rock and the indie-metal of early Aereogramme. Inevitably, there are some sections that fall into post-rock cliché, but happily they are fairly sporadic.
Best tracks? The multi-tempoed “An Ideal Brain and the Devil’s Workshop”, the guitar, piano and electronics of “Yuki”, the Aereogramme-ish “Two Words and a Gesture” and especially the epic closer “Wave Those Arms, Airmen” that stuffs pretty much their entire bag of tricks into one glorious finale.
1. Altered Beast 7:00
2. A Hundred Times in Every Direction 6:23
3. Happy Accident 4:32
4. An Idle Brain and the Devil’s Workshop 7:05
5. Walking Through Walls 4:36
6. Trois Heures 6:38
7. Look at that Cloud! 8:38
8. Yuki 4:46
9. Two Words and a Gesture 4:20
10. Wave Those Arms, Airmen 9:26