I’m listening to the self-released debut album from Bon Savants, and I’m hearing loud noise pop with echoes of Bunnymen, Lemonheads and post-post-rock Pajo (read: not post-rock, his computer generated solo work). This would seemingly call into question the accuracy of the album title (Post Rock Defends the Nation), but that depends on your definition of the term “post-rock” and what nation the band is defending.
Originally formed in Germany and currently ambulating along the northeast coast of the United States, the members of Bon Savants take their post-rock sound more from Wikipedia than from Slint. Frontman Thom Moran’s vocals are usually distorted, the guitar is used for everything but riffing, and Bon Savants even toss in a Sonic Youth/Mission of Burma moment of complete deconstruction that loops back into melody. But it’s hard to say how all this fits. The album has some lucid moments of pop and rock that belie a deceivingly rich group of sounds (the band only credits vocals, guitar, bass and percussion), but it also has some real stinkers.
Vocally, the band is put together in the same fashion as TV on the Radio. Moran’s smooth, mellow sound handles the bulk of the album, while Kevin Haley hits the upper registers (although unlike TV on the Radio, the vocals are usually not stacked or layered). Moran is supposedly a part-time rocket scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the band name is French for “good scientists”); perhaps partial credits and the fact that it’s not a full-time endeavor are to blame for NASA’s recent problems. Regardless, he’s obsessed with cosmic spatiality, and most of his problems with love, women and drink happen in, around, or are affected by the sun, moon, stars, ocean, daylight, lunar undertow and lunar gravity. These allusions are not terribly abstract, but you’ll catch some nice lines: “Feel a charge in your matter like an electrical storm, throw a thought, watch it scatter, we’ll find the pieces reborn.” Moran has an interesting songwriting style that penetrates the production of the album; he makes a statement and then backs it up with tangential insight before completing the original thought — essentially a one-man call and response.
Other parts of the production are not as strong, such as when the fuzz-toned guitars are muted in favor of a dreamy, elongated groove on the title track. “Go to the Sun” is a thumping, speedy take on Revolver‘s “Tomorrow Never Knows,” but it runs with the Beatles track instead of floating it downstream. “Everyone” may have been recorded beneath the launch of one of Moran’s rockets. The steel strung opening lets you know things are about to get nasty, then trebly white noise, guitars ripping and Moran choking on his vocals in the noonday sun. These moments of thrust are the strongest; the album closes to ultra-thin, Dando-lite pop numbers. Post Rock Defends the Nation ultimately has deeper questions than to probe into who tied these weak knots, where they came from and what they’re doing here.