2016 has been a transitionary year in many regards for modern post-rock. It has been nearly two decades since bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky revealed themselves as innovators laying roots in fertile artistic grounds. Several amazing years followed their arrival, during which time those individuals who took a particular shine to this emerging genre found the ways in which they approached musical consumption forever changed. It was an exciting time to be a fan, witnessing a style in its infancy. But for everything and everyone, advancement does not come without moments of growing pains. It seems we have reached such an impasse during recent years, with newer bands channeling their passion for the genre into all-too-familiar retreads, and established bands going back to the same well too often, or stumbling in their efforts to re-define themselves. This is a point at which it is essential to champion bands who display the potential to expand upon the template rather than simply adhering to it.
RELEASE DATE: 22 July 2016 LABEL: Self-released
Argentina’s El lenguaje como obstaculo (ELCO) is one such band. Emerging from the ever-growing South American post-rock landscape, they released their debut LP I this July. While first listening to the album I likened it to a more easily-palatable version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but upon further inspection that seems unfair. While there is some clear inspiration at hand, GY!BE has always struck me more as an artistic landscape tethered in rock music, while ELCO is a rock band with loftier-than-average ambitions.
I is a striking piece of work that dispenses with ideas of structure or repeating sections. Each song presents a series of vignettes detailing sadness, fury, calm and overflowing emotion, which deftly navigate the high-wire act necessary to retain a cohesive through-line within such a constantly-transforming soundscape. The confident composition and skillful employment of cello, piano and trumpet bestow a level of class on the album that belies the fledgling status of its creators, whose average age is only 21.
Where I is most successful is in its ability to find precious middle ground in terms of working with and around both the traditions and the shortcomings of modern post-rock. It is expansive and experimental, but avoids falling into long stretches of “noise for art’s sake” – the types that make it difficult to maintain full attention. On the other hand, it features strong climactic moments yet avoids the soft-loud, crescendo-dependent formula that has proven to be a trap for too many bands during the past few years.
I does not cater to a track-by-track breakdown, as it is more of a fully-immersive experience which does not adhere to typical structural expectations. However, one should know if they are on board by the final minute and a half of album opener “Amoralia.” This is the first moment that ELCO allow themselves to break the delicate shell they have been crafting and roar freely. Taken in the context of the careful restraint that comes before, it is clear that ELCO is a fully-capable band that can confidently traverse whatever soundscape they choose.
“Adonis Minos” is the most compact and actively-rocking track on the album and may be a good starting point for listeners accustomed to tighter structures. At over 16 minutes, “Salto” is the lengthiest and most adventurous song, wandering widely before settling in for a stirring final build-and-release. The closer “Alud II” balances equal parts dark and light, tight-lipped jazziness and post-rock dramatics, with just a touch of lilting female vocals echoing through the mix to add an ethereal quality. It’s a fitting coda that should rouse listeners’ anticipation for what’s to come next.
El lenguaje como obstaculo is exactly the kind of artist the genre needs at this moment in its development. The confidence needed to release an album so fearlessly unpredictable their first time out is a trait that deserves to be extolled in modern post-rock as it works through a transitionary period that has been slowly developing but is absolutely integral to its ultimate growth. ELCO themselves are already dealing with a transition of their own, following the amicable departure of cellist/pianist Martin Valladares and guitarist/trumpeter Francisco Jose Giordano’s assertion of a heavier, more guitar-driven approach for future endeavors. Whatever the case may be, it’s exciting to discover a band so young with such a unique and daring aesthetic.