It takes a great record to remind me how awkward it can be — yes yes, like dancing to architecture — to write about really good instrumental rock music. For the moment, the band putting me in said position is HC-B, the record is the group’s latest Hidden Shoal release, Rough, and both are terrific, sometimes bordering on breathtaking.
There are plenty of tropics and meridians that can bring you to Catania, Sicily, the band’s birthplace and home since forming in 1999, that heady peak of post-rock, and they are surely writ large all around the band’s sound. They flirt with the glassiness of Slint and The For Carnation, the epic crescendos of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the mannerisms and tempo of Do Make Say Think, the dreamy sway of early Mogwai. It’s evident these guys have done their cribbing and their homework. There’s love in these notes.
But the music, above all else, is studied but somehow not derivative. Go figure. The song-suite “Deux,” a single of sorts if there is one on the five-track disc, starts almost menacingly calm and brooding, very post-punk, long before the guitars ever go underwater and the verses dive under heavy, sleepy eyelids. “Three” and “Vier” start exceptionally plaintive, though “Vier” kicks that off quickly to launch into a guitar exploration and then an effective, stripped-down percussive tableau. (The song ends on the other side of the horizon line, with the apocalypse.)
Closer “Kvin” is mysterious and violent, with drums that thrash every which way as guitars try to eek their way toward resolution. “Uno,” the (appropriately titled) album-opener slowly grows, like a seed in water, e-bows in echo chambers before multiple guitars begin hammering out cyclical patterns. The closing to that sound, though, will send chills up and down the precipice of your spine if there’s an ounce of warm blood left wriggling through your body, you zombie, you.
There are sometimes reminders this isn’t the stuff of Spiderland or Rusty or Come On Die Young or F#A#Infinity or whatever post-rock epic you want to hold it up against the light and compare. That’s not entirely the point. This is an engaging little gem, worth tracking down for all of you Stateside snobs who think post-rock is left to the archives of time. Bands like We Only Said, from France, and HC-B, from Italy, are carrying the mantle for all of those who came before them. Pay attention, young and old: add Rough to your collection.