Post-rock is a defining term, but maybe it tries to define too much.
Generally speaking, most people who have heard the word use it to define anthemic, instrumental rock music like that made by post-rock poster boys Explosions In The Sky. But more avant-garde bands, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, jam-heavy Tortoise, not-always-rocking Sigur Ros and recently droney This Will Destroy You, are filed under the same category.
Like “rock,” “post-rock” is a blanket term. Psychedelic ‘60s groups like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane, hard rock bands like AC/DC and bluesy garage rock of early Black Keys albums are all considered rock — much like how any sort of experimental, instrumental rock music is dubbed post-rock.
Lymbyc Systym is one of the victims of being pigeonholed into the post-rock genre. In an interview with 365 Albums a Year, Jared Bell — one-half of the group, whose other half is Jared’s brother Mike — said of post-rock, “I think it’s kind of a stupid word. If you’re a band that’s within a genre that you didn’t create, it’s like, what does it even mean?”
Although bands are placed in genres for easy categorization, it’s hard to disagree with Bell’s point. Bands that set out to be in a certain genre almost never create anything really interesting, and it seems this mindset is what has kept Lymbyc Systym’s material so varied and enjoyable.
Their latest effort, “Symbolyst,” set to hit stores Sept. 18, both continues the trend of driving instrumental rock-like music and greatly expands upon it. In extremely basic terms, while their last album, “Shutter Release,” sounded more like rock, “Symbolyst” sounds more like pop.
In the first two seconds of opening track “Prairie School,” it’s obvious this album is taking a sunnier direction than the melancholic and introspective album before it. The song takes you on a July jog through a path in the woods, lined with wide-eyed bunny rabbits waving at you and chipmunks stuffing their cheeks full of nuts. The sun is out and its light freckles on your face through the leaves as you leave the path and arrive at a beautiful mountain not out of breath, but filled with enough vitality to scale the whole damn thing. So basically, this is the cheeriest song they and many others have ever done.
A strong opening track can actually be a cause for concern: Either it’s setting a precedent for the rest of the album, or it’s out front to put a sugary glaze over your ears that will sweeten up the other dull tracks. Here, the former is accurate. In fact, “Symbolyst” is one of the most consistent albums likely to be released this year. The only exception is “Wave,” but at under 2 1/2minutes, it serves more as an interlude than a full-fledged song, and it’s actually OK.
“Downtime” is just that — a slower break from the faster songs before it. Well, not a break exactly — it keeps your head bobbing, just in slightly longer intervals. Despite its slower tempo, it maintains the same jubilant energy as the rest of the album. Picture that jog from before and turn it into a meandering walk.
“Nightfall” starts out like Lymbyc Systym’s best attempt at smoky lounge jazz and works itself into one of the sleekest, sexiest choruses of their discography. The heavy bass almost elongates the rhythm, like listening to a slowed down recording at the same time as the original, but the tempos of both somehow match up.
The start of “Falling Together” has a weird vibe that’s both dark and light, a confusion that isn’t cleared up when the first keyboard comes in sounding like shared emotions with the score to an underwater level of Donkey Kong Country. In an even stranger twist, this all leads to a near-danceable chorus that picks up the tempo with more drum activity and a seemingly raised-pitch version of the sounds from the opening seconds.
Lymbyc Systym has amazing control over their instruments, using each one in a variety of different ways to come up with this cornucopia of an album. It sounds like they’ve introduced a bunch of new elements that weren’t present in their last album, but Bell has said that as far as equipment, “Symbolyst” might actually be stripped down, using fewer elements in more ways.
I wasn’t BS-ing about that Snow White-cleaning-her-house-like moment before — close your eyes and it really happens. Although generally happy, it actually goes across the emotional spectrum, but each feeling wears a big smiley face mask.
This album is darn close to as beautiful an electronically influenced instrumental album a pair of inherently imperfect humans can create. The only sense in which you should avoid this album is buying it on vinyl because it will get worn out, long before you want to be finished with it. Then again, most records nowadays come with a digital download of the album, so fire up the turntable and go nuts.
Just don’t call it post-rock.