[25 April 2014]
I remember it clearly: the road was a hazy sequence of distant glares kept together by a dense, hazy lull immersed in the purest of mists. My friend, the proud owner of the CD, was holding the music artifact with one hand, while the other occasionally found its way up and down the wheel, now on this side; now on the other. I never knew how both hands also managed to offer such an accurate interpretation of the drumming, but his abilities ceased to amaze me when my side of the car hit a guardrail that seemed to have popped out from nowhere. My friend carefully placed the CD case in the glove compartment and met me outside the vehicle, where we assessed the damage. “That drumming! Oh boy, that drumming!”, was all he had to say.
Not much has happened in the 16 years that followed that day. My friend got married, paid his way to a divorce and when we meet, I drive, so he can be Andee Connors and I can take good care of our lives. In the real world, the influence of a band like A Minor Forest—a scruffy bunch of lads from San Francisco—still echoes on both sides of the Atlantic. Inheritors of the legacy initiated by bands like Slint, Bastro, Gastr Del Sol and Shellac, A Minor Forest’s name appears, rightly or wrongly, almost invariably as part of the American post-rock scene, as if their own legacy could not be singled out and stand on its own two feet. But while most people blame them, together with a whole bunch of Midwestern acts loosely located in the “Corn Belt”, for the explosion of the math-rock plague, the impact this short-lived ensemble has had on indie rock is probably still far from being recognised.
Their two classic albums, Flemish Altruism and Inindependence, reissued on vinyl by Thrill Jockey for Record Store Day on 19 April, are both presented with an array of previously unpublished pictures in a special four-LP set that includes download cards. However, what matters the most is that these albums, which have been out of print for a decade, have been remastered from the original tapes. The sensuality of the naked, raw sound that was the core of that scene (and I hereby use this term in the artistic, rather than in the geographic sense) is therefore faithfully represented in all its purity and ingenuity. “The Dutch Fist”, “So Jesus Was At the Last Supper” and “…But the Pants Stay On” are some of the finest representations imaginable of noise as the most spontaneous by-product of the deconstruction of rock grammar. This primary necessity regulated by tradition—Erik Hoversten (guitars and vocals) and John Trevor Benson (bass) had both studied music at Berkeley—found its champions in Steve Albini (who else?) and Bob Weston (he too of Shellac fame), whose uncompromised affection for stripped-down sounds and total lack of artificiality constituted the perfect match for the band.
Flemish Altruism is the result of this formula, and tunes like “Jacking Off George Lucas” or “Ed Is 50” betray an improvisational approach which heavily relies on the dichotomy between the extreme unpredictability of noise and the discipline usually behind melodic patterns. The almost mandatory (at least back then) tour of most of the US would lead, two years later, to the recording of Inindependence: an album that followed the path traced by its predecessor, perpetuating the angularity and eclecticism that would make A Minor Forest easily recognisable years after their dissolution.
Flemish Altruism and Inindependence are the band’s only full-lengths and it could not be otherwise. Although a collection of much of their out of print material, plus a couple of new tracks made it onto the Were They in Some Sort of Fight? CD on My Pal God Records in 1999, these two albums vouch for an incredibly inspired band which disbanded once they realised that the traditional rock instrumentation was starting to restrict their enormous potential and creativity. Does this awareness affect these two records? Not at all. A Minor Forest didn’t live long enough to see their craft surpass their inspiration, and for this reason their legacy is definitely safer now than it was 20 years ago.