My love affair with enthusiastic, optimistic, instrumental punk/prog/post-rock (which I’ve been calling o-prog) began when I heard The Programme in 2005. The band’s lone album is still one of my favorites. So when Fang Island came along and blew the cover off the genre in the public’s eye, I was ecstatic. A wave of bands came to light who were (and had been) doing similar things under the cover of no one caring. And So I Watch You From Afar, All Tiny Creatures, Adebisi Shank and more have all come up on my radar since FI blew up. And now, Mental Architects is in that space as well.
Mental Architects‘ appropriately titled album Celebrations skews more toward the guitar acrobatics of Adebisi Shank than the punked-out work of ASIWYFA and Fang Island. But the band also puts more oomph behind the sound in terms of volume and distortion than All Tiny Creatures’ minimalist, sparkling constructions. “Launch the Avalanche” has a straightforward rock base before they add a layer of mysterious guitar; “Here is Where, Where Better” pairs a herky-jerky post-punk riff with the unusual rhythms and time signatures of post-rock. They can throw down when they want to, and no one would complain that it’s not rock. But they also love polyrhythms (“When Sound Turns Into a Person He Becomes One of Us,” oh wow) and tension-building (“Caves of Keys”). There’s a lot going on in this release. Side note: the humorously titled “Meth-rock” seriously sounds like the frantic sort of music I’d expect to hear in a Megaman video game.
As I was listening to these incredible tunes, the idea of the cover song came up in my mind. In pop music, it’s relatively simple to play someone else’s song: you learn the chords, put a spin on it of your own, and off you go. But with Celebrations, covering would be more along the lines of classical music: you’d have to really try to play this. And that’s a great thing. I love to hear a band making technical, interesting, challenging work for themselves that ends up being a ton of fun for listeners. It makes Celebrations a great listen, because even though I couldn’t often tell what was going to come next, I knew it was going to be delightful. And that’s the best type of release.