Larsen Play

[Important; 2005]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: post rock, dark ambient, experimental electronic, noise rock
Others: Piano Magic, Lustmord, Fridge, Sonic Youth, Burning Store Core

Wolfman's review of Larsen's last release, MUSM, ended with a quote: "'Larsen have two more albums (forthcoming)... if they're even half as fine as MUSM, they'll be utterly essential.'" He also said himself that he's "distinguished that a bright and dazzling future is ahead for them." These are very enthusiastic and totally reasonable sentiments when considering Larsen's work up to that point. Unfortunately, Play doesn't deliver on these predictions.

In preparing for Play, Larsen is said to have improvised on the melodies of Autechre, resulting in a loose interpretation of the electronic group's work, sonically dissimilar but conceptually related. My modest familiarity with Autechre confirms that this musical relationship is extremely inconspicuous, of interest only to devoted followers of Autechre and Larsen mythologists. But plain old fans of Larsen's previous work have very little to get excited about.

Many, myself included, were compelled to invoke the confused and stifling word "post-rock" when speaking of Larsen, even though Rever and MUSM bore a relationship to that genre's touchstones that was superficial at best. Maybe we were just sad to see post-rock become such a stodgy old fart and hoped to revive it (or at least its name) by declaring Larsen its newest, freshest, most inspiring member. These two albums were volatile, abstract, daring, and way more engaging than you would expect of what comes across as a pretty self-indulgent ensemble.

Play, on the other hand, reminds us why post-rock so badly needs this resuscitation. Where Rever and MUSM were mysterious and unpredictable, Play is linear and dull. It's not a bad record; it's just that everything that made the previous two so novel is absent. Gone is the primal energy and noisy experimentation, leaving little more than the tired crescendo-based blueprint from the post-rock songbook: pick a theme, add layers, get louder (or don't, for depth), repeat. Godspeed You! Black Emperor comparisons have never been more appropriate, as Play ends up sounding like a bad Godspeed record, except for "J," which could easily be confused for Godspeed's "Dead Flag Blues," and "P," the only truly interesting thing here.

This isn't bad music, but it certainly isn't why we listen to Larsen.

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