Apricot Rail – s/t

Apricot Rail - s/t

Typically lacking in lyrics and yet weighted down with an incomparable sense of melodrama, the post-rock subgenre has often been maligned when compared with other musical styles. Yet without any obvious storytelling potential, it manages to be among the most cathartic delivery methods available, preferring to convey its maudlin themes in a calculating fashion that usually takes at least twice as long to unravel as your average pop song. Sans relatable lyrics or predictable song structures to latch onto, post-rock outfits usually distinguish themselves through the technical mastery of their given instrument (most often, it is the guitar) or by delaying any sense of resolution through prolonged sessions of dissonance and tension. Some may argue it to be the music of the thinking man, but it’s awfully hard to shake those stereotypes of gearhead fans and gratuitous riffing in the form of mini-rock symphonies.

Into this breach steps Apricot Rail, a Perth, Australia five-piece that’s bringing a fresh approach to instrumental rock and looking to silence all those Mogwai and Pelican comparisons in the process. Though their self-titled debut album – being released on the Hidden Shoal label – does flirt with many of the sprawling gestures that made these aforementioned acts buzzworthy in the first place, Apricot Rail uses unorthodox instrumentation (clarinet and saxophone among them) and myriad guitar timbres to make music that is more charming than it is alarming. Though the proceedings do get occasionally heavy and even caustic, the band’s intrinsic sense of optimism still leaves everything glowing with the warmth of the sun.

The freshness of Apricot Rail’s music makes itself known from the outset with “A Public Space.” The song begins plainly enough with a swirl of atmospherics that give way to lilting guitar arpeggiations. Even the ensuing ferocity generated by the rhythm section (Daniel Burt on bass and Matt Saville on drums) may seem formulaic, but the tune’s final two minutes present something highly unsuspected: a cacophony of woodwind noise care of the band’s fifth member/secret weapon, Mayuka Juber. Using deft application of the clarinet’s highly sensitive altissimo register, Juber’s performance at first resembles a hypnotic dream sequence segue before doing an about-face and unleashing a flurry of squeals that sounds more like it belongs in a Stanley Kubrick film. All the while, the bass and drums continue to propel the song skyward with a thunderous crescendo.

Though it is Juber’s atypical reliance on the clarinet and melodica that standout most amongst Apricot’s many textures, it’s refreshing to hear the other band members step out beyond the shadows of their primary instruments. Guitarists Ambrose Nock and Jack Quirk use their mallet percussion skills expertly on tracks like the slowburning “If You Can’t Join Them, Beat Them” and the oceanic closer, “Halfway House,” in which they trade melodic ideas back and forth on glockenspiels. Quirk’s affinity for electronic flourishes also enhances the band’s attack, particularly on a cut like “Trout Fishing in Australia” where his industrial-style percussion mingles surprisingly well with dulcet background vocals and melismatic string orchestrations. It’s a bizarre yet well-balanced mixture of Arcade Fire chamber pop and Aphex Twin electronica.

For all the innovative experimentation, there are still songs rife with rock and roll clichés. “Pouring Milk Out the Window” sounds like a slightly more wistful version of Explosions in the Sky, replete with chiming guitar chords and a pulsing bass line. “The Parachute Failure” at first seems like it’s likely to go the same route, but some snappy military percussion by Matt Saville and layers of delayed guitar melody keep things from becoming predictable.

These minor speed bumps excluded, Apricot Rail’s first long player gives cause for a reconsideration of the possibilities of instrumental rock. It’s an album of surprising depth, from the hypnotic hemiola effects of the keyboard, palm-muted guitar, and mallet percussion on “Rain Falls On Your Nose, It’s Red From The Cold,” to the droning melodica and irony-free vocals of “Car Crash” (“I hope you die in a car crash”). It’s truly amazing how dreamy and reflective this band can make a song with such scornful notions in it. Despite the impending darkness, light remains.