Veritas Est Rock

Paul Karner

The short rise of ambient instrumental rock has spawned a number of bands in the last few years who have found their niche making beautiful noises with an arduous patience that is uncommon – and often unwelcome – in the rock scene. Although indie bands have been proudly unplugging their mike stands for long before Godspeed You Black Emperor!, the absence of lyrics was more often compensated for with witty guitar lines and clever rhythmic structures. The abrupt mind-crunching songs of Don Caballero-esque instrumentalists lately have been slightly trumped by the longwinded sighs of rock bands more concerned with ambience and drama than technical faculty. It’s the kind of music that conservatory students abhor and art students devour.
New York’s Saxon Shore has been serving up their slowly driving, textural soundscapes since 2002. Without a front man providing the angst and resolution, Saxon Shore creates drama out of layered crescendos and shifting textures that allude to the music of Sigur R¢s, and of course, Godspeed. Their recent release, “The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore,” puts forth a more resolved mood than these groups, however. Sounding like a more guitar-driven Album Leaf (sub pop), the album puts forth a series of twinkling little melodic riffs droning over slow changing harmonies. It’s simple and rich, dynamic and flat, all depending on one’s approach. This particular rock columnist will readily concede to the fact that ambient rock, when examined at a close proximity, is at the very best sterile if not downright mundane. Thus, “The Exquisite Death” is an album that requires panoramic ears in order to hear the intentions of the artist, and even then there is a slight suspension of disbelief required to really embrace the seemingly pretentious titles of each track.
It’s for these reasons that bands like Saxon Shore fall victim to the “chick flick” stigma that consistently undermines the music of such post-emo romantics. Although “The Exquisite Death” strives to encompass a broader range of textures, the ultimate goal seems to extend very little beyond sounding pretty. Composers like Brian Eno and Harold Budd brought ambient music to a more credible position in the music world, yet their music, admittedly, requires little intellectual thought of its listeners. Such is the case with Saxon Shore. Their music appeals to the simplest of emotions though it can, assuming your pride can handle it, be quite gripping. In all honesty, listening to “The Exquisite Death” feels a lot like baking cookies with my girlfriend. As sweet and touching as it may be, it’s probably in my best interest to keep it to myself.