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Bark Psychosis - Hex CD (album) cover

HEX

Bark Psychosis

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.96 | 48 ratings

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zravkapt
Special Collaborator
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Music writer Simon Reynolds coined the term "post rock" to describe the music on this album. So, technically it could be called the first post rock album. However, there was music by other artists before this that could be now labelled "post rock"; also, most of the latter day post rock groups don't sound too much like this album. Why 'post rock' anyway? There were a number of bands in the early 1990s (mostly instrumental) who were hard to classify: they were too weird and experimental to be just be labelled "alternative." These bands were referred to as 'post rock' because of the lack of riffs, guitar solos and big choruses that are commonly associated with 'rock' music.

Hex has elements that you will find in later post rock, but more importantly elements that you find a lot of in *early* post rock. Along with later Talk Talk and early Tortoise, Bark Psychosis had a jazzy feel to them which would later almost disappear with later, more popular post rock groups. Even though I am on the Post Rock Team I find the majority of post rock boring and derivative. Originally Sigur Ros was the most popular post rock group, but it was Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor who ended up influencing the future of post rock; many a post rock band sound like grade B versions of those two bands. One of the reasons I was invited to join the PR team was because of my knowledge of early post rock and the styles of music that influenced it.

Arpeggios and cross-picking, crescendos and soft-loud dynamics...these are not things you will find a lot of in Hex (although you will find some). The early PR bands were a lot more experimental and adventurous than the majority of the latter day ones. Bark Psychosis were an English band from east London. They started out as a Napalm Death tribute band(!), although the music of BP is almost the polar opposite of the grindcore of that band. Before this album the group, led by one Graham Sutton, released a 21-minute single entitled "Scum." It was a live improvisation of ambient music recorded in a church. Hex was also recorded in that same church because of the natural reverb it offered.

Let us get into the music on this album for now, I'll get into what happened to this group afterwards. This does, to a certain extent, sound like some later post rock but also like later Radiohead. That band was very much grunge-meets-Britpop at the time of this albums recording. I'm still confused as to whether Radiohead influenced Post Rock or vice versa. Maybe they influenced each other? Overall the mood here is mellow and the vocals are some sort of talk-singing, very subdued and not attention grabbing. "The Loom" opens with almost New Age-y piano and some strings. Later subdued vocals (there really isn't any other kind here) with some exotic sounding percussion and atmospheric keys.

"A Street Scene" you can listen to on PA. This starts with some tremolo guitar which sounds like later post rock. The drumming here sounds like some of the drumming on later Radiohead albums. Some trumpet and something close to a 'chorus'(probably one of the reasons this track was picked as a single). Later on goes into a light jazzy post rock-before- post rock vibe. "Absent Friend" has more tremoloed guitar and what sounds like accordions. The dub reggae influenced bass playing (similar to early Tortoise) adds a lot to this track. Later you hear some of the classic arpeggio/cross-picking on guitar which later became mandatory for many PR bands. Some hypnotic yet melodic sequencers and some Tortoise style vibraphones at the end.

"Big Shot" is the standout track for it's dub-y drums & bass and overall atmospherics. Some more vibraphone here. Great production in this track, it really sets a mood. This is the only song on Hex recorded as a trio since one member left (more on that later). "Fingerspit" is more mellow light jazzy ambient rock. Parts of this song sound similar to some of the stuff some 'alternative' bands were doing at the time. Especially when the guitar and vocals get a little more loud and intense. "Eyes & Smiles" has more light jazzy drumming along with chorused guitar and the never offensive vocals. Atmospheric keys join in. Later the drumming gets less jazzy and some strings get added.

An atmospheric middle section with chorused guitar arpeggios slowly getting faster before all the instruments come back. Near the end the noisy free-jazz trumpet playing reminds me of Art Zoyd. A repeated phrase on distorted vocals to end it. "Pendulum Man" has 2-note guitar playing as atmospheric synths and another guitar playing 2 notes (but different notes) enter. Some tremoloed guitar arpeggios add to the atmosphere. Then a 2-note bassline as the original guitars get slightly more varied in their playing. Some ambient atmospherics as the bass plays randomly. Ends with chorused and delayed and tremoloed guitar and a few piano notes. No drums or percussion at all. Very ambient but also the least interesting song here; good thing it's at the end of the album.

Hex took over a year to record. The sessions for the album took its toll on the members. Supposedly Graham Sutton was not the easiest guy to work with. Some members quit and Bark Psychosis never toured for the album. Apparently their live shows at the time rocked more and were more spontaneous than the atmospheric music of Hex. According to Sutton 50% of the album was made using a computer. It doesn't sound like it (but it doesn't sound like it was recorded in a church either). There would finally be a follow-up album released in 2004...a decade later.

For me post rock reached its creative peak between 1996-99. The early stuff like Hex sounds like a blueprint but not so much a statement. The late 1990s saw an explosion of creativity for post rock groups. But the early 2000s saw both the original PR bands starting to loose steam and newer bands with a somewhat more watered-down formula starting to ascend. Hex is an important album as far as '90s rock music goes. It's not quite as influential on later post rock as some make it out to be, but at the same time shows how diverse early post rock really was. It's hard to give a rating to this; it has historical significance but at the same time I'm not a huge fan of the music overall. The vocals in particular I don't really care for. An interesting album nonetheless, I will give it a 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars.

zravkapt | 4/5 |

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