My Dad Vs Yours
By Calum Marsh | 3 February 2011
That My Dad Vs Yours have deigned to release a post-rock album in 2011, a good decade since the apex of the genre’s popularity and at least half a decade since most of us stopped caring about it, will for many listeners be a strike against them from the start. But what distinguishes My Dad Vs Yours from their uninteresting contemporaries, and what confirms their second full-length release Little Symphonies as the most accomplished (and genuinely surprising) post-rock album since Do Make Say Think’s similarly progressive The Other Truths (2009), are precisely the tendencies you’d least expect from a post-rock band: here My Dad Vs Yours reimagine the genre as a vehicle not for cultivated pessimism or apocalyptic posturing but genuine glee—not serious epics about the end of the free world but shimmering, unpretentious songs in which the immediate pleasure of the aesthetic is an end unto itself.
Because if the grammar of post-rock has seemed for some time outmoded, its predictable undulations inducing a yawn for each crescendo, I’d suggest it’s not so much a matter of convention or cliche—last I checked indie rock was getting along just fine without stylistic revolution—as it is a problem with thematic import: post-rock has since the time of its inception presented itself as an expression of deep-seated social and political anxieties, a pervasive cultural fear that the world was quickly going to shit. And though post-rock wasn’t exactly a product of or explicit response to 9/11 and all that went with it—Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (2000), arguably the genre’s defining record, precedes it by over a year, and despite rumors to the contrary Explosion In The Sky’s seminal Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever (2001) was released a full week before the attacks—one does get the sense that political climate in the early 2000s more or less set the stage for post-rock’s widespread popularity at exactly that time.
But in the more than ten years since post-rock’s time in the limelight, public sentiment has shifted radically, and the themes for which post-rock always seemed our best-suited vehicle—despair, doom, the impending apocalypse—no longer rest in the purview of the zeitgeist. The rhetoric of “hope” inspired the better part of a nation last year, and although the world does still seem to be going to shit, the cultural perspective on that shit has changed. The gloomy, apocalyptic post-rock of bands like Godspeed and A Silver Mt Zion was essentially about passive, contemplative resignation, and if the music itself seems outmoded it’s largely because that feeling of resignation is. More relevant is music that’s a little more…well, hopeful, or at least less bound to the notion that there damnation is inevitable.
Across Little Symphonies My Dad Vs Yours use the basic forms and conventions of post-rock to establish an alternative to the despair of self-serious epics, one which reflects a contemporary sensibility: even from the outset, as in the opening strokes of “En Plein Soleil,” Little Symphonies wants not to reflect life’s misery back at you but to create something beautiful to present in its place. Which isn’t the same thing as ignoring reality—taking post-rock’s form and ditching its apocalyptic content is no act of willful apolitcism—because creating something genuinely beautiful, rather than amplifying and exaggerating apparent despair until it seems practically biblical in scope, is to my mind the more positive, constructive, and ultimately progressive approach.
The upshot of this proclivity for happiness is that Little Symphonies makes for a pretty immediately satisfying listening experience. But it is also, like the subject of the Phil Spector quote that gives this album its title, impressively large-scale: the band’s palette, limited on their last album to a simple rock band set-up, has been augmented here to include a deluge of new sounds—everything from pretty but standard-practice strings to church bells and found-sound voice recordings find their way into the mix—and as a result their aesthetic seems both more expansive and, perhaps as a result of this record being four years in the making, more professionally focused. Despite the wealth of sound on display here, My Dad Vs Yours are careful never to overdo it; they’d prefer that the gentle denouement of “Born Upward (Time Flies)” simply fade to black, for example, rather than have it bloom once more into bombast (certainly the expected post-rock gesture). Their tendency to exercise restraint is uncharacteristic of the genre, but that’s just one more way Little Symphonies sees fit to reimagine post-rock as something much less stale. Chromewaves used to describe them as a “post-pop” band, and maybe that title is more appropriate: this stuff, like all the best pop, couldn’t be less concerned with the end of the world—fleeting moments of glee are much more fun.