Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Listen! Listen...!!!, etc.:Worth A Thousand Words Pt. 2

This week's theme is Worth A Thousand Words, a look at instrumental rock/post-rock music. In the case of today's band, the rock element is not very obvious at all.

Rachel's: Systems/Layers

Los Angeles. New York. Seattle. Louisville.

Which of these things seems out of place here? Considering the first three all have all had explosive music scenes attached to them at one time or another, the first response one would most likely get would be that Louisville seems like the obvious answer. Not me.

In the early 1990's after the explosion of the "grunge scene" in the Pacific Northwest, musicians became jaded as the world began watching for the next big thing to blow onto the scene. Jaded, there was a backlash brewing against the very cornerstones of traditional rock music as we knew it. A movement to use the instruments of "Rock" to make something that eschewed little things like structure and hooks. To begin making artistic, challenging new pieces of music by taking down the monument of the old guard using the very tools that had built it. It was then that post rock was born. In unassuming little Louisville, KY, two bands with an deep and nearly invisible cascade of influence that has run through more bands than one could count, came together. Slint, whose Spiderland is possibly one of the most criminally overlooked albums that influenced experimental music today, as well as Rodan, who released the album Rusty.

Rodan, whose album was nowhere near as well known or influential as Slint's, had two principal members who have gone on to do some incredible work. Guitarist Jeff Mueller formed math-rock outfit June of 44, while bassist Jason Noble went on to form Rachel's, and both of them play together in another Post-Rock band called The Shipping News. Of these bands, I believe the most unique and interesting is Rachel's. Rachel's is not actually a post-rock band per se. It's a chamber music group. Noble, along with pianist Rachel Grimes, and Violist Christian Fredericksen formed the core Rachel's group in 1995, naming themselves after the name Noble had given to his Toyota Corolla. While the music itself is of a classical nature, the approach is anything but. What makes this special is the outside the box ethic that served Noble so well during the tenure in his post-rock bands, and how it is applied to what could be traditionally dry material.

Though the group has put out several albums, all of them wonderful, I chose to present Systems/Layers which came out in 2003. This work shows the group at one of their most experimental stages, writing this particular album for the SITI Company, a New York based theatre group. In the formative stages of the album, the members of Rachel's encouraged their fans to send in tapes of any kinds of ambient sounds that were present in their daily lives so that they might actually incorporate them into music. The results are stunning. The album is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, taking the listener from joyous bouncing peaks urged on by enthusiastic piano phrases, to grand and melancholy whispers of the viola that could bring one to tears. There is a grandness to the scope of the work, not quite cinematic as is their debut album Handwriting, but dramatic in a far different way. When one can hear conversational bits culled from real people punctuating the sad undulating strings or the mutitracked vocals over clanging ethnic percussion present on the track "Reflective Surfaces" and especially the heart-stopping guest appearance of Shannon Wright on "Last Things Last", it is easy to quickly realize this is not your parents' chamber music.

Key Tracks: Water From The Same Source, Aterial, Esparanza, Last Things Last


krysta jo said...

Good morning. As always, another strong review. I like reading them because your grasp of the English language is simply spectacular.

Kern said...

Morning KJ. Thanks. In my younger days, I fancied myself quite the writer. Whether that's true or not I don't know. I think I dazzled people on sheer output more than anything else. I've actually been kicking around a novel since Junior year of High School, and it's only in a second draft at the moment. An unfinished one at that, because of large restructuring I decided to undertake.

Did you have class this morning? How did the paper editing go yesterday?

krysta jo said...

Got 7 papers edited yesterday which was my goal so I did really well. They are always amazed at how much work I do while I am there, but I think I am a total slacker at that job.

Class this morning = yuck. First exam at 1:20. Right now I am kicking my butt into gear trying to design two ads for a conference booklet that have to be turned in by 4 p.m. today.

Kern said...

Yikes! Good luck with that.

Kern said...

Busy day today. Anyone else there still? Any survivors?

urnotme said...

Alright. Damn good writing. I listened and actually liked this a lot more than last nights. Could it be my mood? Maybe that I'm drinking Pinot Noir and not original coors? We'll never know. It'll wind up in the X Files.

Anyway. I liked what I heard but again it's only 30 seconds of each song and this type of album needs to be listened thru all at once obviously.

Kern how do you find out about this music? I've never heard of any of this stuff.

Do you ever buy new music or mainstream music and listen? Weren't you the guy that hated Green Day's American Idiot or critisized us for going to see them or something? If you don't buy this stuff maybe we should hook you up with it. A little enlightenment. Because I know I would have NEVER considered this stuff if it wasn't for you. Especially Ryan Adams and Neko Case and now I love them. Maybe you have a preconcieved notion on some of today's rock that needs to be re-evaluated with some help? Or maybe I'm just barking up the wrong tree.

Again lately alcohol and me trying to throw my thoughts out on this blog just do not mix I think.

So finally: I liked this selection and would like to hear more from them. Excellent writing.

Most importantly- what's your book about and can we read it?

urnotme said...

Oh and kern last weeks column was very good... I liked all of the bands I listened to, but couldnt find anything to download. Nothing. I liked the fiery furnaces the best. Can you burn this stuff for me? Should I buy you like a 50 pack of cd's or what? You gotta have quite the list by now.

Kern said...

Urnotme: First, thanks for the encouragement on the column. It makes it worthwhile to know that people like it.

Second, while I'm not a huge fan of Green Day and the like, I think you were perhaps thinking of Deit Heimley's response. I believe I made the argument that I didn't think that it was possible that Green Day was giving kids the wrong idea about punk music right now because I think that Green Day is a rock band that fills a certain musical niche, but that I don't think it would be a concern because it's not really as though most people would argue that they are trying to convince people they are punk music. In a roundabout way, I was kind of in Jed's defense, though I'm not crazy about them.

I don't know that I hate mainstream rock, but I do have a tendency to shy away a little bit. I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to music. You'd be surprised how much of my time is spent scouring websites and talking to friends of mine about different's just that there's a lot of reading involved a lot of times. Another thing that is useful is the public radio station here, KEXP. We have The End, which is "alternative" but it's corporate alternative which means they play some ok stuff, but they play the same shit over and over. And the bulk isn't that adventurous.

You can always stream our radio station on the computer actually, at

In a way, I feel like I just kind of stumble into some of the bands I do, but a lot of it just comes down to dumb luck and research. I think part of the reason I'm so passionate about bands like Dirty Three and such are because I've had the good fortune to see many of them live, which sort of solidifies their status in my mind. I have to say, Dirty Three is one of the best live shows I've ever been to, honestly. There was so much passion there, it's incredible.

Anyhow, I think it's the most awesome thing in the world to show people new music and see them react to it. It's the only thing better than the realization that there are whole volumes of music out there that I never knew existed. What I've done so far is only the tip of one iceberg. The stuff I've done so far is like my mainstream. There's a lot crazier stuff I've not even mentioned yet.

As far as the book, it's kind of interesting in a way. If you send me your normal e-mail at I can just send you a copy via e-mail. It's not completely done, and there's a big chunk out of the middle because of restructuring, but it's easy to get around. The story itself is about an 18 year old who is in the back of a pickup truck in a motel parking lot watching a couple he picked at random to follow on prom night to fulfill a promise he made to his best friend who died in a horrific traffic accident in front of him when he was 13. As he sits there, he laments about his life currently, while there are three stories at ages 7, 10, and 13 about growing up with his best friend and the day of his death and the fallout that followed. It's only a second draft, and a screenplay format at that, so if you don't mind all of those shortcomings, please do give it a read. I've been trying to get it into Jed's hands for a while, and I don't know that he's ever read the second draft. He read the original, which is a far cry from what it is now. I think there are things about it to like, but sometimes I look at it and think it's really lame, and that it's a lost cause, as I began the book at 17. I dunno. Let me know if you're interested.

Kern said...

it appears that my HTML style is weak. Perhaps it's more like

Let's see if I redeemed myself there...