Do Make Say Think is a Canadian band formed in the mid-nineties that is often classified as “post-rock” (nearly as imprecise a term as “post-modern”). The band’s cult following, however, recognizes their music for its unique blend of experimental rock and jazz fusion. Their extensive discography, which includes seven LPs and two EPs, showcases a multitude of different styles and influences; from classical to acoustic folk, sporadic jamming to tight, disciplined orchestral arrangements, and drone-like minimalism to magnificent atmospheres and ambient electronica.
I would like to focus on their sixth album and a personal favorite, Other Truths. The album, released in 2009, is comprised of a meager four tracks (although lengthy when compared to the music of their contemporaries ) and runs a little over forty minutes. Each track is titled after a word in the band’s name; which they originally co-opted from a row of motivational posters in an Elementary School. Produced by Do Make Say Think themselves and recorded in a member’s basement, Other Truths is, in my humble opinion, the band in its most distilled form.
“Do” begins with a bright, upbeat electric guitar riff that sounds as if it was lifted off an early-2000s pop-punk album. After guitar successfully establishes the song’s theme, the bass seizes the melody and plays a short solo before the rhythm loosens, the drums begin to syncopate, and a repetitive theme of descending guitar and vocal tones is layered over. Toward the middle of the track,the theme from the beginning is reintroduced and slowly built up until it is a dense wall of distortion and sound. Eventually, it fades and disappears into a contemplative mix of synths and church-like bells; a hypnotizing reinvention of the guitar theme. The tempo slows and the sound diminishes until nearly nothing is left, leaving the listener (or at least, this listener) with a paradoxical and almost hallucinatory feeling of euphoria and emptiness.
“Make” starts off with sparse and repetitive electric guitar mingling with a jazz/swing drum pattern. With the addition of a few unusual-sounding instruments (and at least one violin), the track slowly builds and crescendos. There is a gentle change into tribal-sounding drumming and a powerfully narrative guitar part before the introduction of echoing, darkly religious-sounding chants (there are lyrics available online; I personally do not hear all of them in the track). As the song progresses, it seems as if it will continue to descend into darkness. But a triumphant and almost defiant trumpet cuts through the darkness and the track takes another turn. To me, the tension between the distorted guitars, screeching violin, and the optimistic horns creates a beautiful drama that evokes a battle between good and evil. Perhaps the darkness wins, because the track’s apparent resolution comes amidst loud, distorted, and frenzied guitars. However, the piece continues with warm horns playing an ambiguous outro.
With its jazz drum beat, slide guitar, and distinctly-flavored chords, “Say” is the track in which Do Make Say Think’s jazz influence can be most clearly heard. Although without words, the track seems to follow a verse-chorus structure; the verse a simple, repetitive piano melody, augmented by a trailing guitar part and a prominent trumpet arpeggio, and the chorus an exuberant unison between guitar and trumpet. The softer, minor-key bridge features the guitar, but does not last long, and gives way to a return of the chorus. Following this last chorus, the rhythm slows into a folksy/blues outro in triple meter, with muted horns conversing with fuzzed vocals. Finally, everything gently comes to a rest; a peaceful end to an overall comforting track. To me, “Say” is the most hopeful piece of the album; brimming with certainty and optimism.
If there is a track on Other Truths that truly suits its name, it is “Think.” Introspective and spacious, “Think” really does make the listener do just that. Twanging, reverberating guitars exercise thoughtful restraint in a cyclical pattern, and soft vocal “oohs” float above a lightly brushed drum beat. Steady, stable, and never really going anywhere, “Think” is the perfect portrait of a lonely soul wandering through the unknown.
In its entirety, Other Truths is a beautiful journey for the listener; it is powerful but never excessive, sentimental yet never self-indulgent, and most importantly, it is resonant with the emotional whirlwind that is life.
It’s funny while listening to this piece reminded me of movies where a character or two is on a road trip and in the background is a “road trip” like tune. This one fits it!
I like the way “Do” builds up. To be honest, I hate pop-punk, but it really started to develop into something much more well pieced together. Layered guitars are an amazing thing, by the way. I’m gonna check these guys out.
Also, it kinda reminds me a little of Pavement (indie 1990s band), they had experimented with a lot of different sounds and ways to form songs.
I mean, doesn’t everyone hate pop-punk? But yeah, I definitely agree with you in that it starts off as a “fun” riff reminiscent of that style, but really builds into a much more complex piece. I strongly recommend checking them out; I think they’re the finest in the post-rock genre (although if you like Pavement, I recommend Broken Social Scene; their Pavement influence is much more potent). But that’s interesting, I can hear some influence in Do Make Say Think…on the other hand, Pavement influence can be heard in most of the half-decent indie bands of today.
The piece has a lot of movement because I can differentiate by the texture. Some movement is dense while other is light. E.G at 5:52 the guitar notes is consonant rather than the distance between notes. Perhaps is a lot of sixteen notes continuously. Also, another instrument pitch seems to rise along with the guitar also. It provided contrast from the beginning where notes are dissonant. Perhaps that was the just the introduction to smooth the listener in before the fast tempo and higher pitch. Overall it started from the softer tone and then progress to a dense. The piece was able to insinuate the listen with different emotion and texture even though with the same use of an instrument. Each movement takes the listener on an adventure if you could imagine it. The start where is light texture insinuate a beginning of an adventure and determine about it. Then proceeded on with the journey that eventually becomes difficult. At the 7:31 time mark it seem the adventure have made it into the goal. The music instrument sustains notes and pitches and other instruments played single notes on top it. Interesting pieces because I could imagine this could be utilize as a film score.
What does post-rock mean when related to this music? It does seem like post-modern and all the other “post” terms which lack a really precise meaning.
I think I might have called this “indie rock” as we did with Broken Social Scene and the bands that were exploring larger forms than the usual song forms and broadened timbral palettes. But what does “indie” even mean anymore when many of these groups are not so independent and sell out huge arenas. I think we’ve learned that labels are highly problematic ways of understanding music!
But there does seem to be something sort of DIY sounding about this–it’s not overly produced and polished.
And to connect with some of the other music we’ve heard this semester, I certainly hear some of the textural experimentalists echoed here. Ostinati, thick layers of white noise that thin out to reveal something different entirely…a shifting soundscape.
I guess the logic behind the word “post” is that the music has foregone the traditional standards of rock, and is experimental with instrumentation, texture, rhythm, etc. However, I agree that it is definitely vague and not particularly useful as a label. That being said, I think the “indie” label is even worse. Like you pointed out, most of these bands are not independent but rather sign to massive record labels and chart singles all the time. Another problem with the “indie” term is that it does not assess any musical qualities. I mean, some of my favorite “indie” bands include baroque pop, post-punk revival, and Scottish folk…there is just no rhyme or reason in calling them all “indie” and it does not help contextualize the music in any way. Post-rock may be a ridiculous label, but at least it is applied consistently. I agree though, it seems like most labels are weak, especially in today’s fractured and decentralized music scene.
Do Make Say Think strikes a nice balance, don’t they? I agree that there is that DIY punk ethos in the sound, and it’s definitely not over-produced, but on the other hand, their music sounds so thorough (to me anyway).