Caspian (Photo: Mike G.)
Photo Gallery: Emily Turner
Noise Pop 2013 has come and gone, and it ended on an epically high note. Post-rock mainstays Caspian were towering and majestic, a thing of primal beauty, on Sunday night at Bottom of the Hill, but that being said, supporting act Native was the real story of the night for me, if only because I knew nothing about them going in, and they officially earned my “best new discovery” award for the whole festival.
Oakland’s The Dandelion War opened, and they were the sole local band on the bill. It was an early show, so I missed the first half of their set. I walked in on a hard driving post-rock tune featuring a xylophone. The band’s take on post-rock is pretty standard as far as post-rock goes, except they throw in quite a bit of vocals (for a genre known mostly for instrumentals), maracas, and of course that xylophone (which actually is kind of a post-rock staple—Caspian had one too).
Boyfrndz flew out from their hometown, Austin, just for the show, so they were playing on borrowed gear, which probably contributed to the technical difficulties they experienced early in the set. But once they got it together, they locked into their groove. Their sound leans more toward pure noise rock than the rest of the bands on the bill, but the live loops laid down on almost every song by their guitarist gave their set an experimental vibe. They were also insanely loud. Last time I saw them they were on tour with their own gear, and they were pretty damn loud then too, so I don’t think that was another side effect of playing on someone else’s gear. That’s just how they like it.
Still, Boyfrndz wasn’t the loudest band of the night. I’d say Native takes that title. The band, which hails from Indiana, plays music that is equally influenced by hardcore and post-metal, to my ears. It’s a pretty original formula, and a pretty damn thrilling one, too. It helps that the band has the chops to pull off some wicked rhythmic interplay between the bass and drums, and to lay intricately arranged guitars on top with some extremely tight starts and stops. That’s where the hardcore comes in—abrupt changes not being a common feature of the post-metal genre, which typically moves at a more glacial pace—in addition to the vocals, which were exclusively shouted in a hardcore punk snarl. Apparently Native were playing mostly new material from an album they plan to release in July, and the band told me it’s all darker than their old stuff. It’s a pretty safe bet I’ll be writing about this band again come the summer.
It’s been over three years since Caspian made the trek from their home base in Boston to play San Francisco, and the band seemed as stoked to be back as their fans were to see them. Caspian is one of the main bands that gets name-dropped whenever the topic of post-rock comes up, along with the likes of Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai, but their music is decidedly more ambient than those two. It’s so ambient, in fact, that there’s very little in the way of melody, and certainly nothing you’d really call a hook (not that Explosions or Mogwai are at all incorporating pop hooks, but they generally have something a little more catchy going on). Caspian still achieves the mountainous walls of delay and reverb that is a staple of their genre, but they do it in a more subtle, creeping kind of way. One minute it’s all calm and serene, and before you even realize what’s going on, the band is wailing away on some of the most epic, monolithic music you’ve ever heard.
Thanks for lots more fun this year, Noise Pop. ‘Til next time…