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I have a bit of a knee-jerk negative reaction to instrumental rock bands. Let’s face it — “instrumental rock” can be code for “stoned late-night jam sessions.” That’s why Bellingham, Washington math-rock band Rooftops was such a pleasant surprise. A Forest of Polarity is absent any psychedelic tangents or one-note solos.
The album isn’t completely instrumental. There are sparse vocals on a few tracks — namely, the jerky, wandering “A Layer Fits” and “Era Falsity” — but the majority of the album consists solely of delicate guitars, staccato drums, and the occasional trumpet and violin.
By now you may be thinking this is Explosions in the Sky I’m talking about. Nope. Although it’s a fair comparison, Rooftops stand out in a few key places. Where Explosions are delicate and sparse all the way through, Rooftops have a more substantial, rough-edged sound. They make songs that are warm, fast, and bright, with rhythms that are somehow both unconventional and catchy.
After the short and trippy intro track, A Forest Of Polarity blares into life with the fiery “Astray Life,” full of lots of fancy guitar fingerwork. Later comes “Raft Easily,” which sleepily circles a pretty riff for a while, then suddenly becomes a pop song, complete with handclaps and strummed chords. “Leafy Stair,” the second longest track at six minutes, best displays the band’s ability to transition, from pretty and gentle to percussive, and back again.
And for those of you who have picked up on a pattern from the track names I’ve mentioned — yes, each track title is composed of the same ten letters. I don’t know if there’s some hidden meaning behind this, or if the band just wanted be clever. I’m sure some people will think it’s corny, but I’m impressed that they took the time to do it. Anagrams are hard, man.
You’ll hear a repeated song structure throughout the album: pretty fingerpicking, followed by drum fills and some stronger guitar, followed by a percussive breakdown of the initial riff, then back to fingerpicking. Although this makes the album as a whole feel kind of predictable, each song on Forest is a gem, taken individually. The band’s sound is complex, but not heavy; bright, but not overly sweet. These musicians have talent and a pleasantly original approach.
Thank you, Rooftops, for not being one of those average instrumental rock bands that disappoint me so much.