It came from Memphis
Post-rock--that's what they call it in rock-crit and indie-rock circles, a term that has come to signify the end of rock and roll and the beginning of something new fashioned from something dead. It means, as I understand it, that all rock and roll made now is somehow beyond rock and roll--beyond the unmistakable guitar-and-bass-and-vocal-and-drums structure, even when it adheres to that staid format; it means all the clichs are used up, and all that remains now is a familiar noise that transcends a definition that's no longer valid. The phrase is meant to elucidate the so-called lo-fi movement, those bedroom rockers and four-track practitioners who distort convention and pervert formula until all that's left is a shape recognizable only when you squint your eyes.

Post-rockers love rock and roll even as they sneer at it from a comfortable distance, through distortion and fuzz and feedback; they write catchy songs then bury them underneath studio effects, and they turn their backs on the audience even as they crave stardom. The Pixies were post-rock by that definition, turning the pop song inside-out so the label was showing, and Sebadoh, Pavement, Strapping Fieldhands, and Guided by Voices now bear the moniker whether they want to or not.

The Grifters shouldn't be left off that list, either, even if their brand of post-rock was once actually closer to post-blues as befitting their Memphis, Tennessee, roots. There isn't one "pop" song on their new Ain't My Lookout, their Sub Pop debut, yet it's chock full of them; even the silence between songs has a beat. If you believe in such terms as "post-rock"--which also implies these bands skip punk, hence no "post-punk," and take their inspiration from an earlier and easier time--then the Grifters are the best of the lot, their music born in the early '70s and raised in the garage where Muddy Waters used to park his Cadillac.

For seven years, the Grifters have worked to this point of greatness: So Happy Together, One Sock Missing, and Crappin' You Negative always looked better on paper than they sounded on the stereo; each record came across as a half-cocked experiment, the band playing hide-and-seek with songs that may or may not have melodies and words that may or may not have meaning. "Get Outta that Spaceship & Fight Like a Man" off 1994's Crappin' hinted at blooze-rock genius, but most of the time the band never seemed to have their hearts in it--too much distance to feel the heat, too much irony to hear the passion.

Ain't My Lookout brings it all home: There's a force to the beat now, a heart to the melody, a sharp blade introduced to cleave away the fat and excesses. "Parting Shot" and the gorgeous "Pretty Notes" (which wonders, "Do you mean what you say?") are only two songs that readily give themselves to the audience; they don't make you struggle in vain for them, don't cold-cock you when you get too close, don't waste a single note. It's an extraordinary rock and roll record, post or pre or anywhere in between.

--Robert Wilonsky

The Grifters perform March 14 at the Argo in Denton. Red Red Meat opens.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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