Sorry, I don’t dig on proselytizing. So, okay I’m biased. And when I heard, via advance PR notes, that the quartet Pray For Sound was out to preach (connotation intended) a little bit of happiness and hope with its brand of instrumental post-rock, contrary to many of the genre’s sometimes-sullen standard bearers, I was pretty skeptical. I was mostly dead to rights. The band’s new “uplifting” LP, Waves, out Friday, is, at best, a kind of watered down, mid-90s Pell Mell redux and, at worst, a collection of too-obvious tropes and been-there, done-that post-rock clichés. Hail the Uber; I’m heading home.
This isn’t to say the thing doesn’t have some interesting moments. From the album-opener, the band shows an interesting grasp of dynamics and, though it’s not as heavy as the members have sounded previously – the guitar is often feathery-thin when it’s not making “bold” pronouncements with distorted “fervor” – there is a jarring effect to pieces like “All The Days” and the record’s sorta-off-tempo title track.
But that, as the fella said, don’t sell the estate.
If Pray For Sound’s m.o. is to spread love and joy, et cetera, et cetera, these guys might be working with the wrong genre. Post-rock works best when its emotional wrench is bent more ambiguously — genre titans like Rodan and Mogwai, nevermind Slint or The For Carnation, have displayed an amazing handle on this concept. Post-rockers who have mixed post-metal elements, as these guys previously had, often aim higher, and here you can cite anyone from Pelican to The Elephant Parallax. Even purveyors of math rock, that calc-y cousin of post-rock, understand that it’s best to hide your hand and, while Don Caballero and Battles toy/toyed with playfulness as much as pressurized tension, they never make/made their decisions so glaringly obvious.
Obvious is actually a pretty good way of describing Pray For Sound’s brand of post-rock. Yes, there’s texture – listen to the spare piano notes over rubber-stamped GY!BE guitars on “Wren” – but it’s all at the mercy of the formula. When these guys crash into a refrain, you see it coming a mile away. In short, there’s no adventure and not much dangerous about it. Goddammit, man, I don’t want my post-rock safe and plastic!
In the end, this is a forgettable record. The songs don’t stick, instead floating into the ether like so many roughly sketched simulacra. Even the band’s stab at epic dynamics – the closing “Ezra” – falls short, minus the occasional flash of energy and inventiveness from drummer Steve Aliperta. Maybe I’m jaded? Yeah, I’m jaded. But I’m the target audience for a band like this, an indie-music lover who cut their teeth in the 90s on post-rock classics like Spiderland and Rusty and Engine Takes To The Water. If I can’t be converted, what hopes does this band harbor? Yeah, maybe I like the experimental spirit of post-rock more than the forms it has carved into niches but is there anyone out there who wants their post-rock to sound like beige wallpaper? If there is, Pray For Sound has just the record for you.