Post-rock has become a kind of dirty word among “connoisseurs” of indie music. While bands like Sigur Ros and Explosions in The Sky come to mind, it also carries the unfortunate weight of a genre doomed to be written off as background music. Given the lush reverb-laden sound of the musical style—with instruments used to build textures and timbres and songs developing slowly, forgoing the high-energy rush of other kinds of rock—it is easy to see how the genre can be alienating. Yet The Samuel Jackson Five’s effort, “Easily Misunderstood,” displays a sophistication not often found in the genre, capturing an astounding variety of moods and resonating with an unlikely vivacity.
With three albums under its belt and a fourth slated for release this April, this Norwegian band has managed to combine an eclectic mix of influences, including folk, progressive rock, and jazz. A fiveman band upon the completion of “Easily Misunderstood,” the group utilized a string section, a mandolin, and a Theremin, in addition to typical rock instruments like guitars, bass, keys, and drums.
The second song on the album, “If You Show Off The Milk, Who’s Gonna Buy The Cow,” is a good example of the band’s take on the often-homogenous genre. The track opens with a steady bassline, punctuated with chorus-like guitar strums that slowly intensify before giving way to the band’s full barrage. Drums, bass, and guitars carry the rhythm, while another guitar plays a staccato melody. Just as the riff is getting stale, the melodic line changes again, piquing your interest and then suddenly changing again. Here, the post-rock influence is obvious; the music teases the listener, who becomes subdued just as the energy develops and then builds up again to an overwhelming climax. A motif from earlier in the song is reintroduced and energetically drives the track until the end.
Luckily, the band has managed to evade the largest shortcoming of post-rock: the lack of originality. Album-opener “Skinflick Dress Rehearsal” is a slow moving number, peppered with jazzy drums and a tremolo-affected guitar melody. The intricate bass work moves the listener directly into a lonesome-sounding chorus that features howling, demonstrating the band’s creative use of their sparse vocal work. Militarystyle drum rolls lead into the last portion of the song, in which the intensity is upped and a wailing lapsteel guitar is given a melodic counterpoint.
“Charlie Foxtrot Queen” is a misleading number, beginning with a quiet guitar-bass harmony over which a glockenspiel daintily adds notes. Just as the tension of this introduction grows unbearable, anxiety slowly builds up with a cymbal crescendo as the song rushes forward with a breakneck pace. The result is ethereal—the sound of the band, aided by multiple overlaying guitar parts, is vast and draws the listener in. Such a diversion is almost exhausting, yet a subtle but bright guitar melody guides the song to its surprisingly calm resolution.
Still, the album throws a few curveballs, employing a variety of musical techniques to keep the music fresh. Aptly-named “Person Most Likely To Enjoy Human Flesh,” the song reverts to an exploration of dissonance, with a pounding drum solo serving as a background to screechy saxophone multiphonics and upright bass abuse. You can hear a Latinesque percussion accompaniment and reverse-delayed guitar lines in “No Name” before the track gives way to crushing power chords and the towering sound of a lapsteel guitar, Theremin, and synthesizer.
A solemn, almost ballad-like feel is entertained in “Song For Sarah” before the folksy-sounding acoustic guitar takes over from an organ. On the other hand, “Psycho Derelict” is a noisy number, beginning with misleadingly sparse guitar harmonics but developing to include the whole band. It finishes with futuristic beeps right before the two-minute mark.
All in all, the album is a trip. It is incredibly difficult to describe the sound of each song because there is, simply put, way too much to pick up on at once. With each new listen, another musical nuance is revealed, as is the band’s impeccable artistry. Especially for a group’s sophomore release, far too many of which have been fated to mediocrity, the album is astounding, moving beyond a mere collection of soundscapes and channeling the poignancy and beauty that post-rock truly encapsulates.