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"Thought Forms"

Thought Forms – Thought Forms
07 August 2009, 11:00 Written by Angus Finlayson
ThoughtFormsCoverjpgIn his essay "Post-Rock", published in Village Voice back in 1995, arch-critic Simon Reynolds was - as in much of his most significant writing - riding on a wave of abstraction, treading the line between highbrow theory, cultural observation and musical analysis with consummate ease. The resultant term - which brought the likes of Tortoise, Scorn and Stereolab under its wide but closely-defined umbrella - swiftly became a mainstay in the vocabulary of any bespectacled aesthete worth his or her proverbials. Things seem to have gone downhill from there.It’s been half a decade, if not longer, since the term ceased to refer to a widespread conception of music-making and became anchored to the post-Godspeed strain of increasingly dilute faux-symphonic indie. If, as for me, the point when your friend’s mum started raving about ‘this new band called Sigur Ros’ was the final straw, then welcome, friend. You’ve come to the right rant.The shameful fact is that the archetypal persona of noughties post-rock (far from being the ‘phantasmic un-body...half ghost, half machine’ of Reynolds’ urtext) is a white, middle-class teenager, in thrall to his own unashamedly romantic yet crushingly derivative worldview. At its most pure (read ‘most bloated’), this music is saturated with pointless emotion: sincerity with no meaning, melancholia with no aim but the glorification of self-pity, and an inflated sense of scale which borders on hubris. In short, post-rock is but a shell of what it once was, more’s the pity.Thankfully, there are pockets of resistance to the hegemony of ‘soaring’ melodies, ‘ethereal’ guitarwork and ‘epic’ refrains (three adjectives whose critical overuse should be punishable by thesaurusing; like stoning, only, er, wordier) within the post-rock domain. One such pocket, it could (and will, in an attempt to forcibly re-rail myself) be argued, is Portishead instrumentalist Geoff Barrows’ Invada label, whose output embraces experimentalism in a pleasing variety of guises. The latest of these is Thought Forms, a guitars’n’drums three-piece from southwest England whose live exploits have apparently been earning them praise for several years now.The band’s eponymously titled debut is certainly littered with the ‘plateau-states of bliss, awe [and] uncanny-ness’ over which Reynolds enthuses; from the folds upon folds of overlapping guitar in opener ‘Twenty Satellites On My Hill’ to the distant throbs and wails of ‘Sonny’, Thought Forms wear their sonic fetishism proudly on the sleeve. But not at the expense of concision; with the longest track barely approaching seven minutes, this is a record far more accessible to the inquisitive novice than many of its ilk.Rubbing shoulders with these freeform experiments are pieces of more conventional architecture; the upbeat diptych of ‘Industry’ and ‘Dust Magic’ places feet in a number of other camps - borrowing from the riffery of post-punk and the smudged, near-noise textures of My Bloody Valentine et al - in a way that feels only mildly redundant (that’s better than most can manage). Lapses in attention are revived by the occasional brutal noise wigout; the tortured spirals of feedback in the middle of ‘Dust Magic’ being a prime example. Thought Forms aren’t peddling anything drastically new, but their execution is solid, and for that my ears are thankful.That is, until we descend into dingier territory. ‘We Would Be So Happy If’ and ‘David, 18’ shoot for a more monolithic, introspective sound with only limited success. And the wordless vocals in ‘Nothing Is As Easy As You Think’ verge on the cliched; indeed, this drone-ballad is perhaps as close as the album comes to genuine mediocrity. Placing the disorientating cymbal scrapes and breath-like hums of ‘Maggie’ at the album’s close is a shrewd move, reacquainting us with a delicate sense of atmosphere which Thought Forms only intermittently achieve.This album may lack the ‘hazy and miragelike’ (if you can forgive my incessant Reynolds-plundering) quality of a true studio experiment, but then that’s no bad thing; the trio seem largely focussed on capturing a live sound, after all. Unfortunately, Thought Forms fall short of this goal as well; whoever was twiddling the knobs (and my cursory research doesn’t yield any names) seems to have taken a distinctly hands-off approach, to the detriment of the clarity and viscerality which can transport realtime musical chemistry into the nation’s bedrooms. This trio may well be truly incendiary on stage - their arrangements certainly seem geared towards jubilant, sweaty crowds - but something’s been lost in translation. And with it, the faltering banner of ‘true’ post-rock falls yet another inch towards the scorched earth of mediocrity. Or maybe that’s just me being overly dramatic. 65%Thought Forms on Myspace
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