I get the thrilling chance to write about something brand new today, and to write about it as I’m listening! The last time I did this was when I wrote about Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” and I’ve missed the exercise and the utter sincerity which such a stunt demands. The artist goes by the name “In It” and is a rare find indeed – a one-man post-rock experiment from China, only available, as far as I can tell, on Bandcamp, a site which supports little known bands by allowing listeners to purchase their releases directly from the artist, without the major mediation of record labels and such. This is In It’s first release, fresh off the presses, as it were, since it’s been uploaded to Bandcamp on the 28th of October 2011. I really like stumbling across music this way, and I especially like it when it really hits a nerve. So here we go!
The album consists of five generous tracks which, I won’t lie, I’ve been listening to on repeat since yesterday. You’ll excuse me if this post ends up a little less coherent and a bit more gushy than the other ones – as I said on another occasion, it takes time to absorb good music, but I think it’s also important to be able to state what you feel on a first impression, or at least a very fresh impression. The first track sets the mood spectacularly. It’s not a very far deviation from what one would expect from a post-rock outfit, except for the fact that it’s, for once, not afraid of imbuing the spacious guitar work and echo effects with a bit of good-old-fashioned pounding on the drum kit. I guess vigor is not necessarily one of the defining qualities of post-rock, but it sure feels good to see it taking over a track at least once in a while. Post-rock, as a rule, rejects the verse-chorus-verse structure of rock and generic popular music by going for a more “quiet-loud” type buildup, slowly gathering momentum. This track is no different, except it has one great quality: it never forgets itself, it always stays true to its baseline melody and thus retains a very refreshing degree of cohesion – it avoids the “generic dramatic soundtrack” feel some of the more mediocre forays into post-rock sometimes acquire.
“None of That Matters” is thought of as a continuous flow of music, the pauses between tracks are only there because of the limitations of internet bandwidth. So I can easily imagine the transition into the second track – my favorite on the album – as seamless and delightfully smooth. I think what caught my eye about In It is the ability to shift the accent, the intention of the melodies midway, the soft and yet powerful way in which he plays around with scales and with the feel of a song and manages to turn it from an uplifting, soaring anthem into an ominous, minor-scale, haunting melody which grows organically, keeps you guessing, keeps you enthralled, not on a technical, intellectual level like most, but on a profoundly emotional, almost somatic level. The cross-chatter between the slightly gimmicky violins (which create an effect I’ve only ever encountered before on the cello-driven Bright Red Paper album from 2005) and the harsh, freezing sound effects at the end of the expose, reminiscent of World’s End Girlfriend work creates such an exquisite contrast that I believe this track is one of the best post-rock ideas I’ve ever been graced to hear. The fact that the end of the song reminds me so much of John Murphy’s work for the “28 Days Later” soundtrack, which was undoubtedly one of the best things about that movie, is also a big plus from my perspective.
The transition into the third track is just as gentle as before, the ominous, sorrowful end of the second song shifting immediately into the apparently nostalgia-touched third “movement” on the album. This track greatly benefits from the robust rhythmic section, which again, manages to provide it with the necessary backbone to support what would’ve otherwise become an array of melancholy, reverberating guitars and strings. The skill with which this artist manages to dodge the ever-present trap of post-rock cheesiness is definitely one of the main reasons for me taking such an instant liking to his music. Bands such as Mono (the Japanese Mono) or Godspeed You Black Emperor seem to have a fascination for the content of their music, adopting a much more lax approach to structure and form. While this, in time, has become one of the most instantly-recognizable traits of post-rock (and it qualifies as down-right platitude to even mention it), it doesn’t always work, on one hand, and it always leaves me with a feeling of incompleteness. The desire to create atmospheric music is one thing, but that shouldn’t entail simplistic focus on “quiet-LOUD-quiet-LOUD”. There’s so much room for experiment, for dosage, for gently exerted control! And In It seems to have really gotten this point figured out.
“Homeward” is perhaps the most monotonous song on the album, sprinkled with the sounds of woodwind (which sound good, but not spectacular). They’re a nice addition to the generally limited post-rock arsenal, but I have to wonder about them ultimately fitting in with the rest of the album. As far as I can tell, this track is the only one who feels a bit redundant, not bringing all that much to the table. Obviously, the mood is much less abstract, it alludes quite transparently to the title and I think it relies a bit too much on the natural samples of flowing water to carry it through (excuse the pun). However, at the end, the way the flow of water seems to change into a flow of data by becoming distorted and digital has a definite pick-me-up effect, announcing a powerful, realigned ending.
The final track gives the album its name, which I find slightly ironic, coming after what I just said about the previous song. Indeed, “None of That Matters” – the driving rhythm is back, the slicing, accurate guitar work is kicked into high gear, counterbalanced sweetly by the strings and the epic, sweeping atmosphere refills the room, barely contained, bouncing off the walls and lighting up the air. Luo Keju’s delightful denial of letting a riff run itself into the ground by simply cutting it off at the exact right time and grafting a different direction where it left off has the elegance and inherent cruelty of a bonsai. The album concludes with it’s most angular track, the most dazzling display of structural virtuosity I’ve ever come across in a post-rock track, shifting from generous, panoramic melodies to precise, staccato, almost-military patters. So this is where all the “rock” in post-rock had been hiding all these years – in the mountains of the Yunnan province of China, in the mind of Luo Keju. The electric, savage feedback on his guitar, the warlike intensity of the drums, the muffled cries of the echoes in the background, the exquisite build-up and let-down successions… It comes as a great boon to me that I get the opportunity to embed this entire album on my blog today and give you the chance to enjoy it all, if my words so far have convinced you to give it a shot. Have a great week, everyone!