If we were to make a word cloud out of all of the post rock reviews and op-eds in the world, how much space do you think the word “drums” would take? While such a word cloud remains an unreachable goal, we’d wager that it wouldn’t take much space at all and that’s a damn shame. When writing about post rock, most people naturally focus on the guitars; infecting these instruments with delay pedals is basically the raison d’être for the existence of the genre. However, the drum kit is often what separates good post rock bands (of which there are many) and great post rock bands (of which there are very few). The drums are essential for fleshing out a sound that can easily be sparse or even insubstantial, granting a backbone of delivery required to punch the otherwise dreamy message home.
Do Make Say Think, undoubtedly one of post rock’s greats, are a prime example of that. Though the band often find themselves left out of discussion of the uppermost tier of “legendary” post rock groups – your Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Tortoise, Explosions in the Sky, etc. – DMST’s mark and influence on modern instrumental rock, particularly on bands leaning towards the mathier and jazzier side of things, is unquestionable. And though their previous album from 8 years ago, Other Truths, felt like it might be a far too rigid and disappointing cap on an otherwise brilliant career, their return in Stubborn Persistent Illusions is an unabashedly dynamic and vital statement on the band’s continued mastery and importance within instrumental rock. A large part of that is due to the fact that, perhaps even more so than on their other releases, they make a point of utilizing the drums to their utmost limits, creating a fury within their style of post rock akin to Jaga Jazzist (without as many synth tracks) or yndi halda (without so much build up). This grants the album all the forward momentum one could desire, catapulting the rest of its brilliance ever-forward. And it doesn’t take its time about that either; the aptly named “War on Torpor” opens with exactly that, a declaration of belligerence launched straight from the kit and directly into our ears. The drums on the track are pure groove, utilizing both the heavy-set toms and the more jovial cymbals to equal degree.
These are of course accompanied by the usual guitar verve and dynamism we’ve come to expect from the band. On this release, however, both drums and guitars do more than just work together as part of one sound; the brilliance of Stubborn Persistent Illusions is in how well everything works under different auspices and themes. Take the following track, “Horripilation” (a name which literally means the goosebumps it induces). It’s everything but a natural followup to the opening track, perhaps channeling more of the Jaga Jazzist influences with its thick synths and somewhat dream-y yet urban vibe. However, even under such different circumstances, the beautiful relationship between the present drums (here under a lighter rhythm regime and a more “floating” position), the effective guitars, and the luxurious synths is just as powerful as when Do Make Say Think were going at it with full speed.
There’s plenty of room for exploration and channeling that dynamic energy through different sounds as well, as the album’s centerpiece of “Bound” and “Boundless” prove. What starts out as a pretty typical DMST mid-tempo driving and shimmery groove in the former gets utterly turned on its head as it transitions to the latter track. An absolutely killer and relentless synth heralds in the track’s heavier counterpart, and those aforementioned drums are utterly let loose to destroy everything in their path. It’s rare to see the group allow themselves to let loose in this way (“The Universe!” off of You, You’re A History In Rust also comes to mind), but it’s yet another reminder of why DMST continue to be one of the most exciting and dynamic post-rock groups in the game.
This quality is the true hallmark of the great acts of post rock. The good ones do some things very well. Whether it be crescendos, heart wrenching buildups, beautiful vocal passages, expressive soundscapes or a mixture of the above, they focus on getting one particular sound just right. The truly great, like Do Make Say Think, shiver and dance free of those bounds, moving in service to an overall sound divorced from limitations. This enables them, as it does on Stubborn Persistent Illusions, to convey a sound, an atmosphere and a range of emotions no matter what approach they take. The trick is in the backbone, in utilizing a foundation which you’ve nailed completely in order to spring everything else into action. For Do Make Say Think’s latest releases, more so than any other post rock recently released, it’s the drum kit. And spring around it the rest of the album truly does.