In Music

Why Canyons of Static stands out among Milwaukee music

Understandably, the term "post-rock" can be misleading for those unfamiliar with the term. First you've got that pesky prefix in there implying that rock is dead or something and that this is what's happening in its place, and then there's the actual word "rock," alluding to the idea that the music it's describing that is potentially rock-like.

The reality of the genre is that neither of the implications the name suggests are very true and that the only thing post-rock really shares with its predecessor are the instruments involved. As a general rule -- one that is continually being bent and stretched to encompass new direction and styles -- post-rock's musical approach tends to be lengthy, mostly instrumental and characterized by epic build ups and textured layers admist an abundance of reverb (think Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the such.)

For what it's worth, it should be noted that this sound is not one for which Milwaukee's music scene is especially known -- even remotely -- but that just might be what makes bands like Canyons of Static stand out as something worth paying attention to.

Ross Severson, the guitar player for the five-piece band from West Bend, fully admits that when the band first came together in the dark doldrums of a Wisconsin winter the only real reason it went the instrumental route was that, quite simply, the members didn't know anyone within arm's reach who could sing. Fair enough. But what has developed over the last year is a band so in tune with its own dynamic that to change it up and add vocals at this point would feel as drastic as starting over from square one.

"A singer would remove us completely from the instrumental genre, which can be a nice niche to be in -- it is a fairly small genre that is really just in the beginning stages, making its own rules," says Severson. "We like being there because it gives us as a band a chance to grow with the genre. If we had a singer right now I'm not sure any of us know what type of band we would be or what we would sound like."

But does type matter? How much does knowing which category your music falls into influence the way you compose a song?

"Me and Chris (Biertzer, bass) were in a hardcore band together. We focus a lot more on the music now then we did with a singer (in that band). Vocals can tend to take precedent over the music in some bands and usually a singer is writing the songs. We as a band write all the music collectively."

Canyons of Static -- also comprising Aggie Severson (keyboard), Nate Gaffney (drums) and Rebecca Friedel (violin) -- has only one release to date, a four-song EP that opens with "Floe," a sweeping movement of sound and reverb that amazingly clocks in under the three minute mark and carries on with the soft intensity of a vocal-less Slowdive song.

When playing this and other songs live, the band projects film during its set -- a favorable move, as it's not hard to imagine many of its songs working well as movie scores.

"The films just add to the entertainment of the show," says Severson, who uses his own footage for the films when time allows. "When I make the films I try to get as much movement and color as possible. The first few movies were original but it is hard to continually get new footage. I was making a new film for every show and it got overwhelming. Right now I just splice together movie footage and distort the images to save time. If we ever tour I will make one original video to correspond to our set. The film really adds an ambience to the room -- people react differently to the music when we play them."

Sound interesting? Canyons of Static plays its music and film this Saturday, Dec. 9 with Drago and Chicago's Arks at the Riverwest Commons. Showtime is 8 p.m.


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