The Sun

(Temporary Residence/Domino; 2007)

By Conrad Amenta | 21 February 2008

It's one thing for a record to fall far short of being Great. It's another, more interesting thing entirely for a record to tell us something useful in the way it lacks that Greatness. With The Sun, this British post-rock trio's fifth full length, Fridge may have unintentionally documented the aspects of stagnation festering on the surface of their genre, perhaps even have provided a better view of member Kieran Hebden's motivations for his last couple of efforts under the moniker Four Tet. They faithfully reproduce the post-rock canon's dirty guitar lines and technically precise drumming while ensuring, predictably, that obtuse anti-linear noise patches will make it impossible for anyone to accuse them of making a rock record, the same way Four Tet infuses free-jazz spasms so no one can accuse him of making a dance record.

To boil it down to a thought: that The Sun is essentially as authentic and calculated a post-rock record as you'll find means that there's little to dislike if you're a loyalist of the genre, but there are few reasons to check it out otherwise. There's little of monumental ambition to be found, but ambition (ironically) isn't the name of the game. The ascending melodies of "Clocks" are textured comfort: pleasant while building to a likable groove. The guitar rock of "Eyelids" remains refreshingly incomplete, its sparse infrastructure of strums, without bass accompaniment, plucked out over cymbal-heavy drums. But it's the opening title track that unintentionally says the most about how Fridge operate. The sporadic noises of de-atomized jazz can't grab the listener, and aren't intended to. It's a track of writerly motivations, idiosyncratic and inaccessible though not in a way that asks the listener to decipher or engage with it. Its remoteness isn't particularly original, because the difficulty in enjoying it is so recognizable and common. One is left imagining that Fridge must have fun making this music, because it's not that much fun to listen to.

Then there's "Oram," which gradually emerges from rain-stick and wind-chime tribalism to what sounds like a knock-off of Rounds (2003) -- the last time Hebden used such a stratified sense of dichotomy. (Say what you will about Everything Ecstatic [2005], but at the very least it showed how much his sense of dynamics had matured.) It begins and ends messily, and never develops the idea that bridges its harnessless cacophony. "Comets" then exhibits a questionable choice of keyboard tones with a hyperbolic synth line screaming over thin beats and a chunky piano. "Lost Time" partially redeems a quickly sinking album, though. Like the wordless appendage of Mogwai's epic "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" hacked off and given a body of its own, the song uses Fridge's largely formless percussion to beauteous effect, polyphonous and amorphous chants ghostly and tasteful.

Fans of this kind of music are already having a big year, with Parts and Labor's tremendous Mapmaker and Battles' hydra-headed Mirrored setting the bar unreasonably high -- and before we've even reached the year's halfway mark. Though The Sun has plenty of accomplished performances by a capable and experienced band, it's not very exciting stuff.