Imitation Electric Piano: Trinity Neon (Drag City)

Imitation Electric Piano’s Trinity Neon does indeed sound like a party, the kind that only classy, creative people are able to throw.

There doesn’t seem to be a truly useful term yet for rock music that is largely instrumental. For some reason, groups like Tortoise, Kinski, Tristeza, and Mogwai are often referred to as “post-rock.” What the hell does that mean, exactly? Doesn’t it mean “after rock?” When did rock end, exactly? And how is instrumental rock an indication of the aftermath of something? I’m only wondering, because Brighton, England’s charming Imitation Electric Piano deserve a more adequate description than “post-rock.” Their first full-length release, following a well-received self-titled five-song EP last year, is Trinity Neon, and it’s just damned adorable. Instrumental except for a few almost wryly tossed-off vocals, it’s more melodic and soothing than Tortoise, more layered and diverse than Tristeza, gentler than Mogwai or Kinski. The band Imitation Electric Piano most closely resembles stylistically is Stereolab (perhaps unsurprising, since that band’s bass player, Simon Johns, is the guiding force behind this project), but they’re a bit jazzier (and of course, there are no French vocals!). There’s also a few similarities to Barrett Martin’s Tuatara project, but minus that outfit’s cinematic bent. This is uplifting, immaculately well-crafted, tastefully arranged modern instrumental music. And it’s not an “imitation” of anything, of course. The name is just a wink, and the music is a full-on flirtation.

With Johns on bass, guitar, and keyboards, Chris Baker on his wonderful Hammond, Andrew Blake on bass, guitar, and percussion, Ashley Marlow on drums, and the ultra-cool Nick Wilson on trumpet, Imitation Electric Piano create 11 compositions that ebb and flow, shimmer and shimmy, glide and glisten. “An Hour Is Sixty Minutes Too Long” blends a crisply realized rhythm track with some prog-ish but simple keyboard runs to beguiling effect. Whoever is playing drums on this track (hard to tell since everyone seems to play everything on this disc) does a dandy job. “Small Science” is a sweet, luminous little tune that recalls the High Llamas (the common thread there would be Fulton Dinghey, who mixed this record and has worked with the Llamas before). “King’s Evil” features Christopher Cordrey on a hammered dulcimer, of all things, before a ’Lab-like driving rhythm kicks in.

And speaking of driving rhythms, “The Khartoum Venus” gets a “10” rating for sounding utterly fabulous on my car stereo, my preferred litmus test for new discs. Commencing with an alluring blend of Wilson’s Miles Davis–like trumpet and an organic sparkle of a keyboard part, the tune blasts into high gear suddenly with a thrilling uptempo rhythm, making for a very happy car ride indeed. It returns to the slower trumpet-keyboard part for a spell, then kicks back into the up-tempo portion again, adding some swell handclaps. “Venus” is one of the snazziest songs I’ve heard this year, truly. And the pleasure continues: “Don’t Tell Me I’m Wrong (But You Are)” sounds like a meeting of the minds between Tortoise and Stereolab, with every detail of the dense arrangement map-ped out carefully; “Em-phatic Yet Melodic” (love these titles!) is both but warmly soothing in the process; and “It Sounds Like a Party” is, like “The Khartoum Venus,” an outright gem—blissfully performed, cleverly constructed, sparkling modern instrumental music that defies easy categorization.

Imitation Electric Piano’s Trinity Neon does indeed sound like a party, the kind that only classy, creative people are able to throw. Lucky listeners everywhere should accept this “invitation” from their “Imitation” hosts.

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