running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

This Will Not Destroy You

Saturday, 22 November 2008

This Will Destroy You is an American instrumental post-rock band from San Marcos, Texas. Their debut album, an eponymously titled seven track CD, is first and foremost a great record, featuring some amazing exchanges between drums, bass and guitar. The overall impression is one of restrained power caught inside moments of religious revelation. In other words, its quiet, loud, complex, simple and brilliant.

TWDY have been compared to another, more seasoned Texan post-rock act, Explosions in the Sky. EITS took charge of 2007's All Tomorrow's Parties event, and are, along with Sigur Ros and God Speed You Black Emperor, considered the foremost proponents of the genre (I guess Mogwai fit that descripiton too).

So is this a record review? And what has all this got to do with design? Well, it's not strictly a review, but there is a reasonable argument to consider songwriting as a process not unlike design - words and music are constructed by an author to meet a very specific purpose. The writer uses known principles and elements (intro, middle eighth, key changes, chord progessions, wordplay), to formulate the composition. And songs are usually variations on a single theme (i.e. the sound the band or artist tends to create).

In the case of post-rock, we are talking about instrumental pieces that feature heavily rehearsed interplay, frequent rhythm changes, complicated riffs, carefully worked out arrangements, and harmonic and scale progressions rarely heard in 'normal' rock music. There is a sense that nothing in particular is being asked of us in the songs other than to participate in the act of listening. It seems to me that much of pop and rock music today is about how bands look, who they know, what sort of launch campaign their latest release gets, and how easy it is to find their stuff on iTunes. And with digital playback, it's so easy just to scroll to the track we want to hear. The days of sticking the record on in your living room and saying nothing for 45 minutes are long gone. Unless you are a fan of post-rock.

A salient point here is the similarity between post-rock and progressive jazz. In the latter case, long extended pieces are improvisions on a set of riffs. John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders for example have probably never played the same song in the same way twice, whereas in post-rock, you are getting an exact duplication of the recorded music, no matter how complex it is. But what unites these two kinds of performance is the belief of the artists' that it takes time to say what they want to say without words - usually something between 5 and 9 minutes.

I won't get hung up on heresy - I have plenty of old 7" records at home, I was brought up during the heyday of the 3-minute song, but in these times when immediacy rules, it's good to know that some things still require a bit of time and patience to get into. And to listen to. And ultimately, to create.