I’ve just finished the excellent latest edition of Granta, subtitled “The New Nature Writing”, and become fascinated by the idea of Ghost Species. The concept comes up in a piece by the estimable Robert MacFarlane (I can’t recommend his books enough, incidentally). Apparently, a ghost species is one that has been out-evolved by its environment, leaving it doomed to extinction.
MacFarlane applies the term, rather movingly, to small-scale family farmers in Norfolk, facing economic obliteration by the multinational concerns eating up the land around them. It also got me thinking, though, relatively frivolously, about what kinds of bands might be musical ghost species; those who have been left behind by cultural evolution, for better or worse.
One of those genres which struck me as seriously threatened was post-rock, not least because the adventurous spirit of the original post-hardcore experimentalists seems to have degenerated into so much prosaic quiet/loud dynamics and sub-metal chundering. An evolutionary dead-end. But then I realised that one of the records I’d been playing a lot of late, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore’s fantastic “Dolores”, was ostensibly a post-rock record, in the best sense of the term.
Bohren are a German band I’ve read about over the years (they formed in 1992, apparently), but somehow never heard until “Dolores” turned up. They operate somewhere around a point where jazz, ambience and post-rock intercept – which makes them sound rather like The Necks.
I imagine Bohren would probably appeal to Necks fans, but they’re still quite different propositions, judging by “Dolores”. For a start, “Dolores” seems meticulously composed rather than improvised: a series of slow, contemplative pieces driven by saxophone, vibes or piano, anchored by discreetly brushed cymbals, shrouded in a distant atmospheric hum.
The post-rock antecedents to this strike me as being Labradford, especially, with the baroque classical influence replaced with the jazz of Bill Evans, perhaps, and maybe some early Tortoise. But there’s also a strong kinship with Josh Haden’s exceptional Spain circa “The Blue Moods Of Spain” (though Bohren’s work is entirely instrumental), and, as someone here mentioned the other day, Angelo Badalamenti’s “Twin Peaks” work.
And then there’s the doom element, which has seen Bohren recently aligned with the likes of Earth and Sunn 0))). You can hear that in the sloth and resonant chordal thump of things like “Welk” and “Schwarze Biene (Black Maja)”. The latter track is the stand-out, probably, beginning like something from the Aphex Twin’s “Ambient Works Volume Two” before the piano arrives.
But “Dolores” isn’t really a record where individual tracks stand out that much; it’s a completely engrossing whole. Anyone out there know if Bohren’s previous albums are as good as this one?