he Drift set themselves up with their debut 12" from earlier this year. "Streets" and "Nozomi," the two tracks on that release, promised a band with talent, ambition, and a skill for blending instrumental styles. With the space of an album, The Drift could have made Noumena their formal announcement to the world and placed themselves on the post-rock map. They've come close, but they've also made an album that's going to allow far too many critics to reference their band name.
Be warned: the album's weakest moment comes at its very beginning and lasts for over four minutes. The extended stretch of tuning strings not only fails to produce a tenable mood, but it suggests a lack of creativity. The Drift could have done better if they had just run a tape loop of the THX sound, which would have offered some sort of commentary or reassesment. Instead, they've simply employed a hackneyed trick (albeit with dissonance increased) to little effect.
"Transatlantic" provides the album's highlight. It stretches for over a dozen minutes and offers a series of unpredictable yet aesthetically consistent shifts. Starting as a slow, quiet sound, the piece hints at, but never maintains, a shape. Subtle guitar notes and shifts in color keep the track engaging as a simple melody line appears. The drums initiate a tempo increase that lets the single-note guitar-playing dance around until the horns take over with their precise attacks. Just as we realize how much is actually going on in this track, everything drops down to a slow groove until it ends.
The Drift almost make the mistake of employing the album's least effective piece at the end, but they hold "Inconsistency Principle" at five out of six. The track reveals the band's weakness for indulgence in unsuggestive ambience. The group's stretchiest mood pieces fail to soothe, and, in resistance to Brian Eno, fail to be "ignorable" or "interesting." I tried them as background music, and they drew my attention to themeselves without wanting me to stick around.
I looked at some of these moments as ambient, because they didn't seem to work as other forms of composition, being too expressive and irregular to be minimalist (the paradigm I first tried). These stretches (not the pieces themselves, but the bulk of several of them) sound less experimental or post-whatever than they do meandering improv, texturally pleasing but musically unexciting.
Fortunately, the bulk of Noumena doesn't fall into this category. The Drift's generic inconsistency functions less as a meander and more as the freedom of experimentation. Even with less of the dub and jazz influences of the single (aside from the memorable bass on "Invisible Cities"), the group uses various influences to create their own world. The band members, when focused, are sharp musicians with a strong sense of tone in composition. Although each member had experience before his work in this group, The Drift as a whole is still finding itself. Noumena isn't the best possible self for these artists, but it does argue for something powerful down the road.