Godspeed You! Black Emperor last released an album in 2002, and while Mogwai remains a going concern, 2003’s Happy Songs for Happy People was the last album that was the product of addition to, as opposed to refinement of, the band’s repertoire. This timeline is relevant to Margins, the instrumental debut by the Australian collective of the same name, because the aforementioned bands are largely responsible for establishing the clichés Margins explicitly set out to avoid. Thus the challenge for Margins is a two-step process: identify post-rock’s clichéd strategies and structures, and then create music that paradoxically transcends the genre’s trappings by employing selective abstinence.
It is no surprise that Margins only partially succeeds. Indeed, this project was nearly shelved as “too hard,” a truism a half-decade short on innovation consistently reinforces. Margins fails at both of the above stages: Margins identify some clichés only to overlook others while also merely blunting the bombastic techniques they were to completely shun. For example, GY!BE surely came to be defined by tension and release, however their demise was brought about by the abandonment of ingredients such as noise, found sound, and spoken word, not predictability. Mogwai’s plateau is defined less by redundancy than it is by inferior execution. By misidentifying structure as the genre’s primary fault, Margins devotes an insufficient amount of attention to style, which hinders their attempt to substitute innovation for cliché.
Clearly GY!BE and Mogwai are personae non gratae, but Margins betrays an affinity for the third pillar in the post-rock Holy Trinity: Tortoise. Margins’ penchant for mid-to-slow tempo grounded by tentative, repetitive development of melodic themes strongly resembles Tortoise’s 2004 finale It’s All Around You. Just as a lack of dynamism sunk that album, Margins’ superb musicianship is burdened by a static tediousness. This is unfortunate because the little differences are so fresh; a smooth twang replaces Tortoise’s jazzy flourishes to great effect, just as the juxtaposition of subtle guitar slides and patient vamping with crisp symbol work ably accentuates textural definition while providing melodic clarity. Should Margins reconvene for a sequel, they would be advised to discard their concerns about genre and play to their obvious strengths.