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Minamo - Beautiful

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Artist: Minamo

Album: Beautiful

Label: Apestaartje

Review date: Jan. 26, 2004

The most important characteristic of the most important bands of the first couple of post-rock explosions (including Talk Talk, A.R. Kane, Disco Inferno, Moonshake and others in the initial, early-’90s explosion, and Tortoise, Gastr Del Sol and many, many others in the better-publicized mid-’90s explosion) was a willingness to rethink (if not reinvent) all of rock’s default tendencies. Post-rock’s forefathers and -mothers weren’t the first or only musicians to re-imagine rock, of course, but they were particularly thorough in taking apart rock’s usual approaches to pitch, timbre, song structure and attitude. By the time they made Laughing Stock, Talk Talk were even making rock songs without steady rhythms.

Plenty of interesting music arose from and was made as a result of these explorations, but they also took default settings away from groups that didn’t know what they were doing once the default settings were gone. The chord progressions of pop music can be banal, but they can also provide a sturdy base for pieces of music (like Slowdive’s, for example) that don’t depend heavily on chord progressions to make an impact.

Turn on any marginally hip college radio station, and you’ll hear lots of young artists whose music descends from post-rock and IDM and includes both electronic and more traditional sounds. Many of the bands that inspired these artists have already convincingly shown that they don’t need pop progressions, so these young artists figure they don’t either. As a result, these artists face a gigantic void where harmony, melody and pitch in general are concerned. For every artist that figures out something interesting to put in that void (such as Mice Parade), there are dozens that end up completely lost in a haze of pointless, Music-101 major-key ramblings.

This isn’t to say that aspiring post-rock artists should make pop music. Instead, they should ask themselves whether or not they have anything interesting to say with harmony, melody and pitch. If they don’t, they should recognize that they have weaknesses and either improve them or try to emphasize their strengths instead.

Beautiful, by the Tokyo quartet Minamo, features plenty of lovely electronic textures that unfold elegantly within extended structures. This group clearly has its strengths. Unfortunately, the band also has two guitarists, and in nearly every second of the album, one of them is plinking pensively through repetitive, vaguely pretty patterns that do little but fill space.

The goal of combining buzzing, droning electronic sounds with traditional instruments is a noble one, but it won’t work for Minamo until the group writes interesting parts for both electronic and traditional instruments. And if they’re going to write something interesting for pitched acoustic instruments, they need to develop a more nuanced strategy to deal with pitch. (Perhaps “write” is the operative word there; Beautiful was freely improvised, and there’s no reason to improvise music like this that thrives when it sounds as un-spontaneous as possible.) Alternately, Minamo could scrap the guitars altogether and focus on electronics, which would have plenty of merit on their own.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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