One of the weirder and more heartening musical shifts of the past few years has been the way post-rockers have moved into looser, hairier, trad rock terrain. I’m thinking of records like Jim O’Rourke’s southern-tinged “Insignificance”, perhaps (Incidentally, O’Rourke has broken his musical exile, after a fashion, with something called Osorezan; more on that soon), as well as that palpable move towards heavy jams and psych by any number of college rock types in the wake of Stephen Malkmus. And so on.
To these you can now add Dave Brylawski and Steve Popson, who first made a subterranean name for themselves in the ‘90s as part of the post-hardcore/math-rock/genre-friendly grouping known as Polvo. Polvo were venerated by a certain type of indie fan for their complexity, their precision, and a sort of forceful virtuosity. Also, in retrospect, they rocked a fair bit harder than most of their contemporaries.
Which explains, I guess, Brylawski and Popson’s newish venture, Black Taj. The band seem to have been around a while (this seems to be their second album), and apparently Polvo are currently touring again. But “Beyonder” is our first encounter with this excellent group, and a record which has been heavily played here in the office, often close to that Endless Boogie record I keep going on about.
Black Taj don’t choogle like Endless Boogie; at times, on the likes of “Damascus”, they can be dreamily ponderous, with historically pungent lyrical references to “Spanish castles” and such. They can, occasionally, boogie superbly, though. When “Damascus” ends, it’s followed by a heads-down riff which gradually fades in. This is “Spacewash”, somewhere between Status Quo and Hawkwind (and also, we’ve just collectively sussed, reminiscent of the “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” reprise at the end of Queens Of The Stone Age’s “Rated R”), which frustratingly fades out again pretty fast.
And then “Only For A Moment”, reeking of ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres”, and “LA Shift”, with that fuzzy low-end lurch so often promised by Dead Meadow, but rarely delivered. I guess post-rock was always a refuge for technically-minded musicians who were, thanks to the (at the time useful) strictures of hardcore, intensely wary of soloing and anything which could be termed as self-indulgence, and who consequently sometimes came across as rather uptight and chill.
“Beyonder”, though, is one of those records that feels like a great warm liberation, a celebration of the pleasures of two guitars tracing intricate paths around each other – check out the mighty “Fresh Air Traverse” which I linked a few weeks ago – with a gusto. Somehow, heroically, Brylawski and his cohorts have managed to keep the meticulous spirit of adventure which invigorated their old music, and aligned it to an older, wilder tradition. Very good record.