Post-rock’s heavily starched shirts long took pride in the untainted, presumably cerebral sensibilities of a genre located at or near wit’s end. Academia’s cursory influence, with polyrhythms and programming replacing rawk’s energy and emotion as compositional staples, canonized certain techniques, destroying the unpredictability that initially birthed the genre in favor of uniform invariables that guarantee a certain aesthetic, even if it comes at the cost of sporadic greatness.
As the initial post-rock loop transformed into a downward spiral, aspiring youths broke open the lockgroove and found many of the contents within worthy of refurbishing. Like the cool jazz of the 40’s and 50’s, the foundation for profundity was there, but tools were taken for granted. Artists like Fridge ride repetition and melody to create walls of sound, while others ape abstraction and apply it to metal methodology, like Oxes.
Rolo Tomasē, a guitar-bass-drums trio from Brooklyn, have also rummaged around post-rock’s tomb and found a few remnants to their liking. Their debut album’s title, Plan B, even hints at a redirection of sorts. Pretension is left on the roadside and cyclical repetition succumbs to exploratory urges that occasionally lead to episodes of epiphany.
Plan B’s apex is the aptly titled “Struggle.” A solitary electric guitar hesitantly opens the piece, repeating a three-note phrase while the drums rattle quietly in the background. Simple bass and drum interplay takes over and provides a launching pad for the song’s infectious energy. Percussionist Liam Hurley lets loose a junkyard of broken breakbeats on the kit that intensifies as Brian McBrearty’s guitar begins to layer light, interlocking phrases upon each other. As Hurley’s rhythmic mayhem rises in the mix and McBrearty’s streams start to converge, the piece appears aimed for that breaking point where the drums revert to their 4/4 beginnings and the guitar resumes its initial groove. Yet, in one of those magical moments that cannot be scripted, “Struggle” evades the impending cadence and explodes into the cosmos completely free of predefined rhythmic restraint. The drums simply loose the beat, like a shuttle releasing its booster just before settling into orbit, while McBrearty deftly paints strokes of pastel upon the clamor. Few albums this year can boast of such a feat.
Plan B, however, is a debut, and like many rookie efforts, showcases Rolo Tomasē as a work in progress. The trio roams from lounge jazz to improvisational jams with mixed results. McBrearty overdoes the wah-wah pedal a bit on “Word Life”, and “Extrapolation” doesn’t offer enough information to merit its seven-minute length. The guitar often dominates and might be more effective if it were lower in the mix.
Rolo Tomasē excel when they loosen their grip on certain rhythms and trust each other to experiment, as on “Struggle” and the aptly put two-minute “Filler.” The album’s short intro “A” reveals a band opening its proverbial eyes for the first time and effect is transfixing, if only for a brief moment. Guitar, bass, and drums quietly examine their own individual peripheries before taking their first steps as a group on the ensuing “A1”, one of the album’s stronger pieces, despite the guitar’s epic solo near the finale.
With one album in the can, Rolo Tomasē have assimilated a variety of post-rock ingredients to forge an attractive, if still developmental, approach that certainly hints at untapped potential. Going by Plan B’s highlights, Rolo Tomasē might try scrapping structure altogether on their next record and venture forth sans plan, so to speak. The trio do have a plan for November – they’ll be playing each Monday night at New York’s Knitting Factory.
By Otis Hart