“At the start of post-rock, Simon Reynolds coined the term to highlight the technical innovativeness of a particular set of bands and it worked. Music history doesn’t highlight this, but Slint’s Spiderland and Nirvana’s Nevermind were both released in 1991. One would become the mainstream archetype for rock music for the next five years, the other a touchstone for the underground response to alt-rock’s popularity. It sounds arcane and ridiculous, but there was a real sense of moving past rock there for a few years; with Nirvana and Melvins and Sonic Youth and Mudhoney and Helmet all on major labels, all in the popular mainstream, what more could there be left to build? For a brief moment, rock seemed like finished business. And then the whole thing collapsed and rock has pretty much been out of vogue ever since, which is where it belongs.
The curious postscript to all this is that ‘post-rock’ stuck around and became a genre of sorts: mostly or entirely instrumental music, played by a rock ensemble, lots of effects, often with some sort of classical instrumentation: a violin, a cello or, in Apricot Rail’s case, a flute and clarinet. It may not be popular or critically admired or cool, but it has its audience and a network. There are post-rock bands in every Australian city and, like folk music, they all sound a little alike. I find it fascinating because folk art usually exists to maintain a verbal/lyrical conversation, but what do these bands have to say to each other and the people who like them?
All this is a bit much to dump on Apricot Rail’s shoulders. The Perth six-piece lay out an extremely concise and textured second album with Quarrels, and for the most part it manages to evade many of my least favourite parts of post-rock. There are plenty of chiming harmonics and clean, delayed guitars, gently shifting arpeggios and a glockenspiel lead, but the band also sneak in a few surprises: the droned outro of ‘Cicadas Part Two’; the super intricate structure, almost sampled feel of ‘Third Balloon’; the weird electronics of ‘Eked’; and a dedication to shorter songs. The album was mixed by Scott Solter (Superchunk, The Mountain Goats) with a view to maximum headphone euphoria and the stereo spectrum is given a thorough workout, the band cutting in and out, left to right and back and forth. It comes off as beautiful and exacting, if a little cold. So exactly right then.
Dialling into Quarrels makes a lot of sense, especially if I look out the window at sunny suburbia. Apricot Rail share none of Mogwai’s metal or Euro-club/pub tendencies, nor much of Explosions in the Sky’s American bombast, and very few post-rock bands in recent years have tried on the literary expanses of Spiderland. Instead, this band inhabits a world similar to how I see Perth in my mind’s eye: a very pretty and bright city by the ocean, the sort of place anyone would desperately want to live if they hadn’t grown up there (and if mining money hadn’t made dinner for two an upper-middle-class expense).
It’s a tight fit between sound and place. I think bands like Apricot Rail are about approximating the pastoral splendour and the clean suburban streets of Australia, something that might be problematic if it weren’t so niche, and in any case it’s something many of us live within every day. In a rock culture obsessed with painting Australia as a swamp or southern-gothic wasteland or a retched sprawl of rundown sharehouses, how can a small measure of prettiness be such a crime?”