The beauty in compelling post-rock is often the simple ability to get lost within the swelling dynamics of a song’s sonic textures. With artists like Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, transcendent moments rarely are found in a specific note, chord, or lyric. Instead, it’s almost always an accumulation of sounds, an aural journey that formidably glues hundreds of little musical expressions into one powerful expression. Atlanta’s This Piano Plays Itself understands this on an innate level as musicians. More concisely, the group aptly describes ethereal post-rock effect as “occupying the space between your ears.”
This Piano Plays Itself are more than welcome inhabitants into this delicate space, as their sound radiates a seamless blend of vocal-driven psychedelic post-rock. The band, however, remains less concerned with the words describing their sound than the formulation of the sound itself. “We leave it up to writers!” drummer Justin Newton sarcastically chimes. The quartet, consisting of Eric Bouthiller, Jayson Nix, Doug Saylor, and Newton, uses This Piano Plays Itself as a vehicle to fill up that audible space with lush layers and melodic waves found in their cohesive sound.
The piano was first played several years ago when then-classmates Bouthiller and Newton played together in several other groups before eventually starting This Piano Plays Itself. After sifting through a multitude of bassists, the group finally settled on Doug Saylor to round out their lineup. “It just kind of came together piece by piece,” Bouthiller recalls.
After piecing their debut full-length together over much of 2009, the band released As The House this past year. The lengthy writing and recording process paid off greatly, as the record emerges as a dynamic and powerful work. “What Happened” roars with a sense of distorted determination, while “Who We Were” demonstrates psych-rock at its finest. This Piano Plays Itself ebbs and flows with bits of textured noise throughout the record, seamlessly shifting out of one movement and into the next. From start to finish, As The House exudes a compelling energy that remains as hypnotic as it is formidable.
However, to peg As The House as a purely post-rock or shoegaze album would be misleading, because This Piano Plays Itself also contains folk roots typically unassociated with the genre. “We wrote half of those main parts on the porch with acoustic guitars and banjos,” Bouthiller explains. “So a lot of that was folk-influenced.” These folk parts reveal themselves as oases within the tense buildups of their songs, particularly on tracks like “How We Left” and “Why We Stayed”. Not only do these moments allow As The House to breathe, but they also make the dynamic much more impactful.
This Piano Plays Itself glimmers as a beacon of hope for Atlanta post-rock–a genre all too absent in this city. As The House stood as one of the best local records of 2010, managing to do so in a town ruled by punk rock and hip-hop acts. It’s in this regard that the piano has been played all by itself, resonating throughout the space between our ears in a way that shines as equal parts experimental, accessible, and compelling.