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A Hat

(Gringo; US: 29 Jan 2008; UK: 18 Jun 2007)

By today’s standards, British five-piece Souvaris is very much a meat-and-two-veg kind of post-rock band. Mostly eschewing the electronic, brassy, or delay-saturated frills of their peers in favour of the tried-and-tested formula of guitars, bass and drums, its sound instead largely culls its derivation from early, seminal exponents of the genre—the likes of Slint and Tortoise. Gone, largely, are the climactic ear-melting explosions of countrymen Yndi Halda or Texan stalwarts Explosions in the Sky. In their place returns the relative redundancy of the effects pedal and a focus on meandering chords’ subtle progression.

But if this suggests A Hat (and we’ll refrain from judgment on that title) is a low-key affair, then it is misleading. Souvaris’s sophomore long-player is a brisker, less plaintive album than many of its genre predecessors, its lengthy opuses filled out with swaggering bass grooves and driven forth by a persistently upbeat rhythmic motor. And this is an inspired move, because it raises even A Hat‘s otherwise unremarkable moments onto a higher plane. “Quit Touching My Ass” (which isn’t a title you can imagine Sigur Rós adopting anytime soon), for instance, is a rare retreat into alternating cascading noise and pretty arpeggios; hardly a revolutionary tactic, by any means. And yet even here Aaron Doyle’s frenetic drumming and the playful strut of Ian Whitehead’s bass bring fresh appeal.

Mostly, however, Souvaris refrains from the traditional sonic staples of post-rock. Indeed, it is Doyle and Whitehead that provide the backbone of A Hat, leaving meandering guitars to work their gradual magic a la Spiderland, alongside the occasional flourishes of keyboard. It’s as a consequence of this, perhaps, that the album takes a few listens to really make its mark. Early spins reveal the rhythm section’s paintwork as effective and efficient if not glossy, but not the beating heart inside the mechanics. Stripped bare, it turns out turns out to be a heart of melodic, as well as rhythmic prowess. Take the spidery, minimalist stepping stones of “Quit Touching My Ass”‘s guitar, for instance, or the interweaving labyrinthine melodies of “Nobody Is Fine and Everybody Needs a Drink”.

Part of the reason A Hat works is precisely the opposite of why previous albums of its ilk have also done so. Unlike many of its contemporaries in the careworn genre that is post-rock, its lengthy pieces aren’t constituted of build-up and release, of ninety-percent anticipation and ten-percent catharsis. Such tactics have worked many times before—The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place traded in them to perfection—which is why they won’t any more. “Moya”, for instance—Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s masterpiece of anticipatory swell—just isn’t going to be bettered, so mercifully, Souvaris doesn’t try. No, in general A Hat sidesteps the atmospheric coupe de grâce entirely, and the effect of this is that, without the dangling carrot of instrumental destruction to offer, Souvaris must strive to keep its music varied and entertaining throughout. Which, for the most part, they achieve.

That said, it’s not that Souvaris can’t ‘do’ loud; perhaps A Hat‘s most triumphant moment is its most aurally dramatic, as closer “The Young Ted Danson” swells into seemingly inevitable crescendo. But then, as it loops and swells into Krautrock territory, Souvaris pulls off the gas entirely, dropping straight into a totally unexpected, totally danceable riff straight off of Mirrored. To pull off such a change with stylish aplomb, without sounding artificially quirky in the slightest, is damn impressive—so impressive, in fact, as to ensure that the number at the bottom of your page, previously hovering betwixt a seven and an eight, completes its ascent with ease. As said, it’s not that Souvaris can’t do loud; it’s that it don’t have to depend on it.

Whether the band gets the breathing space it deserves in an ever more claustrophobic genre will remain to be seen, but if nothing else, Souvaris is evidence, should evidence be needed, that there’s life in the ol’ post-rock dog yet.


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