Instrumental bands are highly underrated. There’s plenty of good reason for that, of course; when they aren’t simply being used as padding on under-developed albums, instrumentals have a tendency to enter the realm of the inaccessible, where14 minutes of guitar feedback and thrashing around can be expected.
It’s all about landscapes, in the end, and while Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros are reigning champions in the that field, I sometimes wish I didn’t have to wait through several minutes of mounting tension before getting to the crest of a song. Character is the alternative to the frustration of fast-forwarding through tracks with tempos set to continental drift.
We Also Come With False Promises is an oddity for an instrumental band. Each track is founded on a more traditional song structure, leaving you with the impression that they could have had lyrics written to them, had the band decided to do so. And considering each member of the band is a songwriter and front man on their other respective projects, it’s almost surprising that they turned out a wordless album.
But ultimately, their record is a testament to how enrapturing a band’s music can be on it’s own. “Lakeview Annex” opens with echoing piano strings, and segues into a slow guitar tune with pretty, synth-produced flutterings and beepings. Like a number of Character’s songs, it’s soft and lazy, but will never put you to sleep, and the next two tracks, “Progressive Democrat” and “Passionate Gun Love,” follow suit quite closely.
It’s not until “Die in a Woman’s Lap” that the band decides to speed things up and experiment a little more. Rushing guitar riffs and theremin warblings pull you into this track, which transitions easily into a song with one of my favorite titles ever, “While Clamming in New Jersey.” The theremin lends its eerie presence on that as well, while sonic junk dives in and out of the soft guitar and drums. There’s a lot of background in all these songs—typewriters, bits of machinery, and what sound like shivering maracas appear here and there. The aural landscape of Character is a lush forest, buzzing with strange insects whose form and color you can never completely make out.
“Don’t Tell Winston” is my favorite track on We Also Come —a jazzy, almost sinister song that makes use of almost every instrument featured on this record (which is a lot). A threatening whine opens into a riff that reminds me of the theme song to Six Feet Under, while xylophones echo and punctuate the frantic atmosphere.
Character is walking a fine line between challenging art-rock and more accessible instrumental work, and proving to have a remarkable sense of balance. While I’m all for a well-crafted, over-extended track of sweeping aural movements, you can be assured Character will be in my Discman whenever my schedule doesn’t allow for a reflective listening of Bitches Brew.
Can — Tago Mago
Tortoise — It’s All Around You
Broken Social Scene — Bee Hives