In the wake of their drummer's sudden tragic death, Maserati take his very last recordings with the band and release them as a muscular album where the rhythms carry the day.
You know, I suspect that Maserati, the Athens, Georgia, four-piece who started their career playing dramatic instrumental post-rock, never really wanted to play instrumental post-rock at all. I don’t have personal experience with the band, and artistic direction changes happen for all sorts of reasons -- for example, adding and subtracting personnel, which Maserati did. But consider that at the time of their debut LP, The Language of Cities, they were catching the style’s popularity at the top of the rainbow, in the moments before it turned from ripe to rot. If your band had chops and a need to display dynamic prowess in a series of twists and turns, you didn’t go progressive, you went post-rock. But the fact that many groups in the genre pivoted from post-rock to something else (The 90 Day Men, Traindodge, individual members of Slint) while the reverse has almost never been true signifies the style’s senescence through the 21st century. Maserati’s last post-rock record, Inventions for the New Season in 2007, was a death knell for the genre if ever there were one. The poor guys were just boring themselves to sleep.
Not so Pyramid of the Sun. It’s a completely different album from a completely different band, now alert and bolt upright. What had begun in 2009 as an experiment in what Temporary Residence called “eternally driving, Krautrock-infused dance anthems” on Maserati’s split with Zombi appears here as a full-fledged new direction. The person most responsible for this, at least on record, is Jerry Fuchs, the drummer who replaced Phil Horan after The Language of Cities. Fuchs doesn’t go soft with floaty little post-rock non-drumming. He plays like an apparatus at the end of a factory assembly line, whose movements aren’t just on the mark -- they’re exact to the millisecond. Not a whopping surprise from the man who once provided the rhythm section for !!!, the Juan McLean, LCD Soundsystem, Moby, and (ugh) MSTRKRFT. The recording hints that his levels had to be reduced tremendously, because he is hitting those goddamn skins the way a steamroller flattens Barbie doll torsos. And the rest of the band seemingly has no choice but to keep within the boundaries of his drums’ grid-like force field and stay in line.
It’s Fuchs’ show, really, as it should be. On November 8, 2009, Fuchs plummeted to his death down an open elevator shaft as he tried to jump into the car during a mechanical accident. He was only 34, attending a fundraiser for underprivileged children in India, and naturally, everyone who knew him was utterly devastated. Pyramid of the Sun, which comprises Fuchs’ very last recordings, represents the collected efforts of Maserati and their label to honor his legacy, and they all worked overtime to frame his contribution as perfectly as they could manage. In the high quality of the mastering you can hear every swing and impact of the drumsticks as he pounds away like the most unflappable beast that ever lived. It’s certainly a better tribute to him than Inventions for the New Season, whose muddy production values just swallowed him up. For the band’s part, they’re right there with him, pumping out similarly no-nonsense lead guitar wails, rhythm guitar pulses and new wave synthesizer stabs presumably with squinty-eyed expressions on their faces. Music is serious business, don’tcha know.
Given the band’s vehicular appellation and the fact that this music barrels forward with incredible regularity (volume and tempo changes, as were par for the course back in their post-rock phase, are verboten), it makes sense that critics before me have likened Pyramid of the Sun to a car commercial -- which, while stated affectionately, isn’t exactly a compliment. But it’s more American muscle car or full-size SUV, chock full of horsepower with no creature comforts, than the sexy Italian sports car that shares the band’s namesake. The same folks compare this record to another car-band, Trans Am, though I’m not picking up on the typical Trans Am wink in this case. Maserati seems to be playing a steroidal version of Don Henley’s AOR over an unwavering motorik rhythm section and staid keyboards aplenty, basically. It’s uncomplicated, intense, and wearying. Still, it does immensely right by the late, great Jerry Fuchs, who defies the cliché of the ‘new wave drum machine’ by appearing more like a superstar than he ever has, singlehandedly launching his guys to the top of that pyramid against a blinding golden sun.