Math rock and post-rock are these two genres that always seem to occupy a large amount of shared sonic and instrumental space. Yet, when two separate bands lean more decisively into one over the other, it’s incredibly easy to see where the line of differentiation and stylistic separation is drawn. The former is often known for lighter, thinner, and frenetically-written guitar parts; rapid, odd-meter drumming; and vocally, thinner style, more nasally focused singing. Meanwhile, though the latter can share some of same the penchant for odd-meters, fast melodies, and rhythm patterns, post-rock often turns to a heavier level of dynamics and thicker tone of sound on parts like rhythm guitar, bass, and drum beats.
Then there are groups like Los Angeles, CA’s Arms of Tripoli, who definitively keep a creative arm in each space, in addition to evoking some compositional and stylistic qualities of laid-back shoegaze as well.
Arms of Tripoli is:
Allen Porter (Guitar, Keyboards)
George Tseng (Drums)
KC Maloney: Guitar (Keyboards)
Michael Bouvet (Bass)
Though each of the band’s three previous albums involved, among stylistic adjustments, a continual downsizing of its core line up to its present iteration of four players, the group has long been a staple band of the local area and often incorporates the help of various other musicians who rotate in to fill out the band’s sound during live performances. Here though, on new record, One Way Plastic (Fluttery Records, 2020), Arms of Tripoli rely on just themselves through the LP’s five tracks, with small instrumental additions or subtractions by KC Malone and Michael Bouvet, who intermittently play instruments beyond their respective primaries of guitar and bass.
Right from the get-go, Arms of Tripoli makes it clear listeners ought to strap in for the long haul, as every track – save for the penultimate 1:48 outlier, “Nude Hawaii” – runs between six and 11 minutes in length. In this way, the multi-sectioned song structure of progressive rock comes through, with individual pieces seemingly transitioning between tempos of drastically different speeds. “Pseudo Recreations” is an early and bold example of this, as the initial series of upbeat snare hits and rapid three-note bass motif set the song on a lively track, which, despite shift in rhythmic patterns after about a minute, maintains its pace before abruptly slowing down just after the two minute mark. Adding to that shift is the move to relaxed, see-sawing, syncopation patterns by the lead guitar, straightforward cymbal taps keeping the beat, and loose tone, buzzy effects on supporting guitar and bass notes that gradually make the track descend into a much more melodically nebulous place. Some defined notes, string plucks, and drum hits pierce through but the gradual layering of reverberating sound after sound gives the music an almost heavy-psychedelia-like quality.
Conversely, the 11 grand closer that is “Lander” takes an inverse approach where the front half is sonically heavy, presents with a deliberately slow aesthetic, and even seems ripe for possible inclusion of some sort of drone metal trait. This doesn’t come to pass in any sort of stylistically conventional way but the second half of “Lander” appears to lighten up and proceed to maintain that reduction in instrumental gravity when an electric guitar part manages to cut through the thick of low end sound to play more see-sawing motifs but this time at a notably higher octave and with a wider flip-flopping of alternating octaves and major sixths. The slower and steady tempo might not take a turn for the contrasting quicker but a mild thinning of the lower octave and shifting away from that end of the pitch spectrum as the main melodic focus, delivers a similar sense of sonic sky-parting, if you will.
And speaking of sky-parting, the aforementioned outlier of “Nude Hawaii” certainly acts like a divider of sorts – somewhat like an interlude before the lengthy grand finale. The springy reverb on each of the supporting guitar plucks in the opening 45 seconds seem to casually riff on the warbly sound of a lead guitar from a conventional surf rock band. It’s the slightest of nods to a style associated with summer sun and island hangs, which makes it just right for a short track name-dropping Hawaii – the perfect place for both. Though it’s such a mild sonic decision, it’s a small creative choice that gives the already odd track just the amount of tongue-in-cheek humor to ever-so-briefly snap listeners out of the haze that can arise from a continuous run of so much heaviness, tonal thickness and structural amorphousness made from abundant echo and dense layers of overdubbed strumming. Even the more defined drum hits and crisper rhythm guitar power chords and on “She’s Onion,” lend themselves to the deeply established sonic blend, as the six note rhythmic pattern – as comparatively punchy as it is from so much reverb in tracks prior – holds fast to repetition, keeping the overall flow of the album and the listeners’ expectations in a well-worn mental groove.
Arms of Tripoli have a sound they’ve molded and on One Way Plastic, they stay well within the lines of the many lanes they’ve most connected with this time around. The lengthy run time of nearly all the tracks and the nearly relentless heavy tonal setting might make this band appear solidly more engaged with the post-rock side of the line between it and math rock but when examined up close, there are a plethora of smaller instrumental, compositional, and interactive gears turning within the music that give it a different sense of identity when not simply viewed in macro, seven minute long-shot. Just like a landscape photo loaded with many details, One Way Plastic can bring enjoyment in different ways, depending on the situation in which the listener places it. The music allows for a mentally relaxed approach where the long run times and more cyclical nature of the music can bring a sense of mood’-setting or, listeners can put on a pair of wide sonic spectrum headphones and brace for multiple busy pieces of work that are intricately assembled with a less conventional combination of effects, mix placement, and instrumentation, all without tripping over one another in the finished recording.
Check out One Way Plastic belowç
One Way Plastic is available now.