Updated: Mar 30, 2019
Kwadrat, Krakow, 16/5/10
What is post-rock? In essence, it seems, and this is by no means a definitive explanation, it is music which utilizes guitar, drum, bass and keyboard in an often multi-layered way to create lush soundscapes that have a lot in common with early ‘90’s shoe-gaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Ride, Curve et al from Britain. They tend to eschew the use of vocalists, and if they don’t they use them more as hired hands or guest singers than major components of the band. Right now, it seems, post-rock bands are coming out of the woodwork with a mix of breathtaking and not so impressive results, depending on which bands you listen to. Caspian, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai are some of its main exponents. It seems that now we can add to the list God is an Astronaut. Hailing from Wicklow in Ireland, this three-piece space/post-rock band makes beautiful soundscapes and use volume and noise control to make epic lands of sound and energy. Being only three members, the band produces music that sound like much more than the sum of their parts and must do musical gymnastics in their stage show to get things done. Torsten Kinsella is on vocal, guitar and keys, Niels Kinsella is on bass, and Lloyd Hanney completes the trio with live drums, loops, and synths) They tend to shy away from being bundled in with the ‘post-rock’ bands however – when I met Torsten he bristled at the term, and protested that GIAA started out as an electronic band, and, despite touring with Caspian last year (who are also in Poland this week), they have little do with these other bands, and certainly do not consider themselves to be part of any ‘movement’.
Kwadrat (The Square) seems to be an odd choice of venue for them; despite being large enough for a band of their growing stature, this out-of-town and rather basic student union building does not really fit the vibe of their music, and the acoustics are a bit echoey. The unseasonally wet and windy weather however provides a fittingly gloomy and introspective backdrop. Support act Butterfly Explosion have some great tunes and have been getting talked up, quite rightly, in the Irish independent music press. There’s a whiff of M83 or The Jesus and Mary Chain there, and certainly they will be ones to watch out for. New album ‘Lost Trails’ is well worth a listen. GIAA come on stage shortly after 9pm and open with ‘Echoes’. What strikes me at first is the lack of visuals to go along with the music, as I had read that GIAA gigs are usually a full-on audio-visual experience (a common thread running through post-rock bands it seems). Still, the music and lighting are impressive, and as the opening song closes to blinding green strobe lights, the band segue into ‘From Dust to the Beyond’, a slow-burner which builds up with a drum loop and keyboard intro to an ominous but dramatic finale. ‘The End of the Beginning’ follows. Torsten and Niels’ intricate guitar work is the driving force, but the insistent and regimental drumming of Lloyd combine to good effect and the overall feel is to create moody, dream-like atmospherics.
‘Suicide by Star’ is the band’s finest moment for me, and it recreates a kind of 2001 Space Odyssey feeling – another slow-builder that ends with a pulsing, rousing drum finale that makes the hair on the back of your neck stick up. ‘Fragile’, as the title suggests, is a thing of beauty. Sigur Ros-like use of haunting vocals, give way to drums and has the audience in raptures as it fades away to chiming guitars at the end. ‘Route 666’ is a bit heavier, and transports us somewhere less stratospheric; the band’s electronic routes shining through here as the keyboards take centre stage. Almost Kraftwerkian, this track shows GIAA’s diversity and ability to change mood and style, which is an accusation often leveled at post-rock bands; it has to be said that if you take away vocals from songs, you have to come up with something pretty inventive to replace it. The fact that, when you go to a GIAA concert, you hardly notice there are no words to go with the songs is a great tribute to the band and their ability to conjure up moods and feelings whilst still playing what is essentially rock music. ‘Fireflies and Empty Skies’ closes the set before encore, and has a Bladerunner outro feel to it, keyboard-driven to begin with but closing with a visceral guitar attack.
When it comes down to it, post-rock is the 21st century equivalent of prog-rock. Prog-rock’s detractors said that it was too pompous, too gloating, that it was self-satisfied music. Post-rock music, it seems to me, is not. It often seems to be searching, dissatisfied but hopeful. At times it can take you to places you never dreamt possible, as for example in the band’s encore songs ‘Zodiac’ and particularly ‘All is Violent, All is Bright’, possibly the moment where they come closest to matching peers Mogwai for tension and melodrama. A chiming guitar and menacing synth-lines build up the tension before hissing symbols and a slow, stately drumbeat join in, and the track reaches a majestic crescendo. It's like watching a thunder cloud slowly approach from the distance; dark, towering and fat with tension. Then the storm breaks: a punishing drum attack hits you in the gut as the rest of the band swoop skyward, the guitar lines and synths climbing like a space shuttle fighting the Earth's pull until it shudders, threatening to fly apart in mid-air... and then it's gone and you're left breathless, drenched and shattered. These guys are not mere musicians, they are architects of sound, creating vast caverns and valleys, abundant in beauty and depth, drawing you in to get lost and then guiding you back to reality. God is an Astronaut, and he wants you to fly.
Here are some of the tracks mentioned in the review:
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