Post Rock Defends the Nation
n their website, the Bon Savants wax lyrical about science, which may nudge music fans and critics out of their comfort zone. But get to the end of the long-winded, poetic manifesto composed by Thom Moran, lead singer and part-time MIT rocket scientist, and the gist is apparent: music trumps disorder. Music is “rebellion against thermodynamics, complex patterns that arise from the serendipity of the human experience.”
The Bon Savants’ music, it so happens, is downright chaotic. Their debut is a 90s melting pot in which Moran sputters a decidedly 21st-century malaise, albeit with considerable conviction. His message is the only real news, but he’s nearly swallowed up by the vast influences he channels.
Acting as producer, Moran also writes the majority of the music and lyrics. The group selected the 11 tracks on this album from a group of 20 “inspired by science and living in Germany after the Cold War.” (A number that might explain the disparity of the 90s trends to which they pay heed.) More often than not Moran decorates his voice with Jarvis Cocker’s maudlin, jerky speak-sing, as on the sultry, short-lived intro to “Between the Moon and the Ocean,” which quickly turns into a contemporary indie rock refrain and a tame Silver Jews send-up featuring the lyric, “Oh oh, oh oh, you kiss like a Russian.”
Album opener and first single “What We Need” has the sort of roiling, pounding guitars we’ve come to expect, and possibly dread, from indie citizens of Quebec, New York, and Sweden alike. The song has the earnest, raw energy of a young band that hasn’t yet experienced vast tours, overexposure, producers, or, for that matter, a label. Coo affectionately at such a song, but your interaction with it will not develop much further.
Lyrically, the entirety of the Bon Savants’ debut album speaks of a softhearted democracy hinted at in their pop-science manifesto—a platform found behind many a modern indie rock band. Gone are the mudshark fiascos of the 70s and the violent cynicism and arena-prancing of the 80s and 90s. There have always been political bands, but the Bon Savants speak of an education-worn displacement that lands them firmly post-Clinton and smack in the middle of the reigning Clooneyocracy. The tone: dreadfully self-aware, self-effacing, ironic, and confused. Moran’s opinions are never anything more than speculation; self-doubt is in fashion: “I don’t know what state I’m in,” “Boredom does good for the soul,” “Never been here before,” “The revolution’s at hand / Let’s form a rock and roll band.”
It requires bravado to push the irony envelope, but the music lacks such bravado, genre-hopping literally from track to track, relying on static-ridden guitars, wallowing reverb, and thundering drums to unite competing themes. By track two, the youthful vibrancy of the opening track is gone, and will only return to scare us with Radiohead-like doomsday scenarios on “Everyone.” The muffled, whining vocals and echoing, slithering guitar slides here make for a good Soundgarden knockoff before they wander into the wound-up, attention-deficient nether-regions of “Climbing Up the Walls.”
The eye of Post-Rock is much like Sofia Coppola’s eye for the French Revolution: the vision is flawed only by way of its painstaking blending of past with present. Both artists cover restless prestige, ignorance, isolation, and isolationism with quite a passion. And while Moran certainly role-plays a handful of bands gone by, he also role-plays the full spectrum of America: the “immigrant’s son” on brilliant closer “I Am the Atom Bomb,” the native who “did his time overseas” on the title track, the forgettable lover who “kisses like a Russian,” the poser musician who “can’t play, but play[s] from the heart,” and finally, the brother of “Everyone,” who “always looks like everyone.” Moran is aware and, for the most part, dead serious. But no matter how candidly he tackles the confusion of Generation Y, the music withers and distracts. It’s still, purposely or not, “in a condition of disorder.”