Sickroom Records has made a name for itself by bringing many European math and post-rock acts to the attention of fans Stateside, and they continue the tradition with Traffic Jam, their second offering from Italian quartet Instrumental Quarter. While the band’s brand of jazzy, laid-back instrumental post-rock is hardly innovative, Traffic Jam proves to be an enjoyable addition to the canon of a genre that has been stagnating as of late. Band leader Paride Lanciani’s strong guitar melodies and Davide Areondo’s excellent violin and Rhodes work go a long way into injecting a little sincerity into a musical form that’s quickly becoming a by-the-numbers cash-in. Still, even if their motives are pure, Traffic Jam has its share of glaringly referential moments, and one can’t help but wonder if maybe everything under the post-rock umbrella is beginning to sour.
Traffic Jam starts strongly for the most part, the band’s fluid composition style sweeping up the listener and carrying them away before there’s much chance to struggle. The band’s promotional material makes big on the music as a vehicle out of the hustle-and-bustle of the daily grind, a highlighting of the bond we have with nature through music. While this idea of an organic connection does come through in the subtle drumming, pizzicato violin and resonant acoustic guitar chords found throughout Traffic Jam, one can’t help but feel that this connection to nature is at times just a weak façade. “Waking to the 5th” sounds like the background music to those silly videos of swooping aerial shots over picturesque landscapes. Personally, I’d rather not be reminded of desperate attempts to squeeze a few more drops of blood from the tourist turnips when I listen to my post-rock. The band is truly talented, but the relatively short track times remove the usual epic post-rock feel from the proceedings, at times making the band sound more like session players scoring a television show than musicians making a resounding musical statement. Tracks like “The New Year” seems to fade out and end before they’ve even had a chance to get their pistons pumping full-speed.
In fact, when the band finally does stretch itself out, the results are impressive. The seven and half minute “The B&W Movie Set” finds the band channeling the fragmented splicings of Stars Like Fleas to wonderful effect, eventually erupting into a brooding Damnation-style dirge with finger-picked guitar and jazzy cymbal play. Immediately following it, Instrumental Quarter make their only real misstep on the album, the boring rocker “Water Guns,” which segues into a few more tracks that seem moments away from running out of steam before the album picks up again and closes sturdily with the upbeat “Jackpot” and the Celtic-flavored “I’m So Excited.”
Traffic Jam is the work of a talented group of musicians and an interesting and worthy addition to the increasingly homogenized post-rock catalog. Now if they’ll only start behaving like post-rockers; three and a half minutes is the perfect song length for pop music, it’s true, but we post-fans want (and pretty much expect) to invest more time in songs than that! After all, we can always just stand at one of those “New Age Moods” set-ups by the greeting cards in Wal-Mart when we want our nature-rock in brief snippets. Not that we ever would, though.