October 23, 2003

Test Spin: Town and Country

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Town and Country’s fifth album (aptly titled 5) takes Brian Eno’s credo of music as ignorable perhaps a bit too far. The Chicago quartet is often lumped into the neo-classical camp of post-rock, but even this narrow categorization is misleading. Their approach to dynamics is a far cry from the drizzle/thunder cacophony of apocalyptic post-rockers like Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

As with previous releases, 5 prefers to explore drones, layers, and textures — a method akin to droners like Stars of the Lid and minimalist godfathers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Tragically, 5 conveys neither the atmospheric heaviness of the former nor the pulsing intricacies of the latter two. Essentially, Reich’s groundbreaking Music for 18 Musicians and Eno’s Music for Airports eclipse everything on this album and succeed with the minimalist aesthetic where this fails.

It is clear that Town and Country are intent on and adept at the art of unobtrusiveness, but even in the realm of ambient music, there is a point at which pleasantness becomes not quite engaging enough to warrant listening. Some of the ethnic rhythms and tonalities are noteworthy, recalling everything from Javanese gamelan to Gil Evans and Miles Davis, but the band does nothing to build upon these influences. The rich, earthy timbres and playful rhythmic exercises admittedly make this more accessible than some overly academic minimalism (the highlight is “Lifestyled,” which cleverly uses splashing water as a rhythmic element). Still though, the album is most valuable as motivation for the game “Who’s Done It Better?” My response: Reich, Riley, Rachel’s, Stars of the Lid, Eno, Morton Feldman, the nations of Indonesia, and on and on.

Archived article by Ben Kupstas