It’s a long way down if you look over the edge of the post-rock precipice … do you remember the first time? For me, it was in 2000, with Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s sophomore Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, perhaps post-rock’s defining moment? The epic ‘Sleep’ medley laid down the tracks the rest of the genre has run on ever since. And there’s something about the remoteness of places like the Scottish Highlands which inspires music of such vast and explosive soundscapes. Perhaps a stormy boat trip on Loch Lomond, or the bleak wilderness that is Glen Coe and its harsh surroundings, or the ‘sudden-death’ angular sandstone shafts of Liatharc Mountain further west, all of these might convince you that remote beauty can be soundtracked by a music that hangs in the air longer than it should, a sound explored by bands like Mogwai, Glasvegas, Idlewild, Biffy Clyro. OK, maybe VisitScotland didn’t make the connection between reverb-laden guitar riffs and rugged landscapes, but Linlithgow-based band Penguins Kill Polar Bears are very much from the recent groundswell of Scottish post-rock, a trail blazed bands like Aereogramme and Aberdeen’s noise rock combo Xcerts. Penguins Kill Polar Bears’s current taster EP Vessels & Veins is a nice forerunner to their debut album due for release later this year.
The opening chords to ‘Lungs’ could be something from Echo And The Bunnymen’s icy 80s Porcupine period before quickly crashing into classic full-on post-rock riff heaven. Singer Ben Proudlock’s voice is rich with dreamy imagery and scotch roar, although quite hard to make out: lungs and being at war? Jesus in some strange modern incarnation? And the song winds up with a heavy marching chant! There is a view, of course, that post-rock lyrics aren’t meant to be understood, more imbibed like a good whisky. But singer and band steer their vessel away from remoter parts towards more conventional anthemic rock territory, something like Glasvegas’ eponymous debut of three years ago. It’s an explosive beginning and leads nicely into ‘Wish With Worry’, slower and more reflective and a vocal of delirious memories. Proudlock rakes over the wild abandon of youth as the band again raise the tempo to crescendo, leaving the spine tingling with energy by the end. Music for fresh young hearts and minds, it’s all been done before of course, but delivered with a heartfelt honesty hard to view with a cynical eye, so with little persuasion the listener is convinced. Next up, ‘Between The Tide’ also builds into a great crashing wall of guitar reverb, but with impassioned vocals giving it the platform to take off from before the band ply their craft and bring the song to dramatic climax. Finally, ‘Something Old’ brings the mood down gently before raising it up again, drawing us into its slow-burning core. The explosive climax initially begs us enough patience to promise “all good things to those that wait”. Post-rock may or may not have been a reaction to the indie rock and new wave of the 90s, but it’s certainly a tonic in the modern musical medical cabinet: if you are feeling a little weary, on Vessels & Veins you can take 4 doses daily after ingesting your genre.
So these songs should get the pulse racing again, particularly an old ticker like myself, and if they do verge on the side of musical prescription occasionally, it’s definitely just what the doctor ordered. Yes, on Veins & Vessels, Penguins Kill Polar Bears are giving people a little more of what they want: music primed with the spark of youthful energy that lead us over the edge of post-rock’s delightful precipice in the first place.