Back in 2008, i wandered over to The Drunken Unicorn to see Graboids play a short set, and ended up being charmed by a local post-rock act with the name This Piano Plays Itself. Well, at long last they have a record out, and it seems that my one brief encounter with band was indicative of the good things to come.
TPPI is a five piece act, with two guitarists that also add keyboards at times. So they could either be a three guitar band, or a two keyboard band at any one point -- sometimes in the same song! Or so it seems... I haven't seen the band since then. They don't play out too often, and have been going to fewer shows of late, all of which means that i am not 100% sure what is being played on each song. Not that it really matters.
As The House kicks things off with a slowly building intro of layered guitar. The layers build and build, and then suddenly explode into Who We Were as the drums kick in. It becomes an epic rock tune with huge guitar sounds and martial drumming. A voice wanders through echoed all to hell and back, just a wordless moaning under the mess of guitars as they saw away. As the song grows, the voice becomes more focused and eventually the song becomes a pleasant rock tune.
What strikes me here is the voice. Normally loud layered post-rock is instrumental. Or, at least, i have been unable to come up with the name of a really good singer in this genre. And yet, Eric (no last name given) is a really good singer. He has a rich voice, not too deep but not too light either. And he enunciates well, projecting his voice over the mass of TPPI's music. I am rather impressed with the vocals here, and i think that this is the first time i have ever said that about a post-rock band. Huh.
After the epic rock of Who We Were, they mix it up a bit. Electro elements tweet and glitch in the background of Where We Lived. These are layered behind distorted guitar and some more of that martial drumming. This drumming will, of course, draw comparison with Christopher Hrasky of Explosions in the Sky. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
It is back to the rock for What Happened, an almost 8 minute opus of grinding guitar and pounding drums. On top, we get more of those lovely vocals. A damned good tune that fades out suddenly to be replaced by tapped drums, horns, and ... banjo? How We Left is an Appalachian folk tune, and i have to admit that Eric's voice really works here. In the middle of the song, there is an a cappella moment, where all of the band harmonize for a few minutes. They can all really sing. Who knew?
When We Got There is a looped and echoed interlude, and then the country/folk elements are back in Why We Stayed. This song starts with picked guitar and voice, and then horns and organ come in, and it becomes a nice rocking tune. In a way it reminds me of what Neutral Milk Hotel might have done, had the drugs not destroyed that band early on.
Finally we wrap things up with ...It Fills With Light, a nice poppish tune with those great vocals. The guitars fade out in a flurry of arpeggios, and then the whole band is back, a cappella again, chanting in harmony "as the house, it fills with light". Simply beautiful.
One thing to keep in mind: this is an album in the old-fashioned sense of the word. In a way, this is just one really long song. It flows together into a seamless whole with no real gaps. I am not sure how well these songs will work on their own, loaded onto your Zune/iPod and shuffled with all the other stuff you have there. As a holistic listening experience, i think that the album flows together very well.
Now i just need to drag myself out to see them one of these nights.