Recently I’ve had cause to speculate on exactly what I can and can’t accurately describe as post-rock. With so much music being made that seems to emphasise its ambient rather than actual rock influences, or that contains recognisable and often utilised influences of previous years, then inevitably elements of predictability begin to make their overly welcome presences known. The best post-rock music can take its cues from ’70s prog, post-punk, and thrash metal, but it only really works when it goes beyond those formats and develops an existence entirely of its own. A lot of musicians stick with tried and tested formulas, and they always will – every so often though a band such as Parlour make themselves heard and with varying amounts of subtlety, the boundaries are pushed once again.
Beginning in 1995 or thereabouts, and with assorted line-up alterations, Parlour have developed their notably hard-edged band sound and maintained a determinedly low profile image. It isn’t easy to find much information about them away from their own website and social media pages, unlike their Louisville neighbours Slint, with whom they perhaps shared personnel over their respective careers. Slint are revered as the progenitors of the entire post-rock scene and Parlour seem to be standing somewhere at their back, continuing to make ever more challenging and innovative music. A list of shows they have played since 1995 reveals that Parlour have shared stages with Explosions In The Sky, Martin Bisi (better known as a producer) and Mogwai, among others, which should provide the necessary pointers as to where Parlour are coming from.
Listening to Parlour is an abrasive, jolting experience. Their music is stripped back to its most basic, relying more on a live sound than on production effects and entirely instrumental. From beginning to end, their self-titled fourth album is a barbed, grimy and intense experience, the guitars crunching and colliding as the drumming takes on differing tempos and behind it all, a virulent synth keyboard jars against every other instrument. It’s a more than bravura display and doesn’t ever quite slip over into overplayed indulgence, the individual tracks retain their melodic structures and the instrumentation is tightly reined in, utilising repetition and key changes to maintain the music’s propulsive qualities.
Parlour could do things differently. They could make more use of electronics and less didactic, angular rhythm patterns. They could add vocals, a string section, a breakbeat DJ, or they could make music that knowingly references bands and musicians of the 1980s and 1990s. They aren’t doing any of those things though, and their 2016 album is going to be a defining moment for those fortunate enough to hear it, the sound of the entire previous three decades of alternative music short-circuiting, loudly.