When I was a teenager, I felt like the music I really wanted to hear was somehow beyond my reach. My tastes were shaped by punk rock, but the immaturity of three sneering chords began to feel rote by 16 — I wanted to continue listening to music with the same energetic drive and passionate delivery, but I wanted more depth. Around that time, Fugazi had opened my ears to post-hardcore, and for years I tracked down as many records as I could get my hands on from the Dischord catalog; however, I felt there had to also be a comparable sect of bands from my home country that were doing something similar — something that felt more within reach.
This brings me to Rockets Red Glare, a post-hardcore trio from Toronto. Like many bands of the genre, RRG’s approach was bass-driven and characterized by volume dynamics, but their music itself struck me as something beyond mere hero worship or predictable quiet/loud/quiet narratives. This was a band that had an excellent understanding of the spatial properties of sound, imbuing their music with the vibrantly passionate delivery of post-hardcore, the intellectual stimulus of math-rock, and the sort of clinical distinction between instruments that one might associate with Shellac.
Like Shellac, RRG’s intensity was often defined by restraint — the trio’s focused strikes of aggression hit with precision, rarely feeling unwarranted or brutish. It’s a rather cerebral approach that may come off feeling cold and detached (and perhaps overly self-critical), but when the trio’s impulses were condensed, as on “Halifax,” the result was one of the most furious yet densely rich tracks a rock trio has ever committed to wax.
“Halifax” was the B-Side of RRG’s debut single. If I’d heard it at 16, it would have been life changing. Unlike the more ponderous and lengthy exercises on the trio’s albums, “Halifax” bursts forward immediately like a torrential storm, wasting no time enveloping the listener within a shower of post-punk drums and intricate guitar lines before vocalist/guitarist Evan Clarke’s distant wail asserts a further sense of desperation, as if he’s struggling to be heard over everything. There are also carefully reined-in transitional sections of harmonic feedback, keeping the trio’s musical assault breathing and focused.
Listening now, I get a different “out of reach” sense than from when I was 16. Essentially, I don’t feel a sense of ‘discovery’ so much as a sense of historical reverence, however niche it may be. Canadian indie rock sure as hell didn’t continue to develop in this way, and the future I was hoping for, influenced by a fandom of bands like RRG and North of America never really happened. Nah, instead of nurturing an emerging Canadian variation on Touch & Go-esque post-rock, we gave the world Wolf Parade, and for a few years every other local band I saw began to play limp synth-pop with a singer that sounded like a dying grandmother. On the plus side, however, this only made me value music like RRG’s even more.