• Cherry Popper
Community College Portrait

Prehistoric Post-Rock

written by: on February 18, 2011

If Chicago’s Community College was a dinosaur, it would probably be a brontosaurus. It’s hard to say why exactly, but apparently during the process of the interview, bass player Keith Buzzard drew one.

Regardless of which prehistoric species Community College actually resembles, there are some facts that are undeniable. The Chicago quartet has been spreading its instrumental post-rock around the city, as well as the rest of the state, for the last few years.

While the obvious comparison would be to an act like Explosions in the Sky, Community College is able to express movement in a concise manner that sets it apart from others in the genre.

On the recent self-released split LP with Champaign’s Take Care, Community College offers up six tracks that are all unique, but never lose a sense of cohesion. “I’m Lucky Because My House is on Top of a Raccoon” sees guitarists Christian Hopkins and Lucas Dowers opening the song with punishing riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a screamo record akin to French innovators Daitro. However, the aggression doesn’t overstay its welcome. By effortlessly leading into slower indie-rock technicality, it shows the diverse scope through which Community College sees the world.

Luckily, the band never takes itself too seriously. When asked about the difficulty of being an instrumental band and how that may make it harder to engage a new audience, the band responded, “On every song we invite people to sing along with our instruments … the whole crowd starts yelling ‘widdly weedally woo boom crash tsss.’”

Given the complexity of Community College’s work, an audience would have a hell of time singing along to such instrumentation, but even sans vocalist it never feels as if that element is lacking from the band’s constructs. With instrumentation as precise and diverse as on “We’ll Drink Ourselves Out of This One Yet,” each member holds their own and knows how to properly serve the song.

The rhythm section of Community College is one of the most refreshing elements of the band’s sound. Drummer Scott Edsall and bassist Buzzard know when to lay back and allow the guitar work to flow and how to subtly build to crescendos underneath such work. The addition of synthesizer by both guitarists Dowers and Hopkins further proves the ability of Community College to function at a level that is synonymous with a private collegiate institution.

While many post-rock acts often get lost in self indulgence, Community College avoids such things through an unmatchable ability to create songs that fall into a traditional radio length. By crafting songs that often fall under the four-minute mark, Community College never allows for the listener to lose focus, and by ignoring the traditional structure of its genre, it allows for songs to quickly move from one space to another without ever feeling as if it was artificial or premeditated.

Given such a natural feel to Community College’s work, one would have to assume it would be created in that manner. However, the band disputes this.

“Well, we start with the bridge. And then on the bridge we mount a dragon … then we start to get real serious about stuff and take a long, hard look about what’s going on in TMZ.”

It’s a unique method that feels more Dungeons and Dragons than instrumental rock, but hey, whatever gets the job done.

While the band is still fairly young, they operate at level akin to Chicago’s progressive instrumentalists Russian Circles. Both acts seem to share influence in more abrasive styles that gracefully translates into the music they create. While Russian Circles could very easily be metal’s answer to indie-tinged post-rock, Community College keeps its roots in the world of hardcore. The band’s ability to write in short, powerful bursts such as “Hot Lightning” sees it constantly on the attack and not making a second feel squandered or any build go unfulfilled.

It’s Community College’s ability to never find itself content with one genre or movement for too long that keeps the band moving forward. While many acts that find themselves wavering between genres often feel directionless, in the hand of Hopkins, Dowers, Buzzard and Edsall it all seems to make sense. When many of their contemporaries are switching their scope to ambiance and even flirt with field music, Community College is forging ahead with some of the most intense post-rock in recent memory.

At times, Community College can be hard to absorb. The dense layers of instrumentation aren’t easily accessible and switch quickly from one concept to another. “If it doesn’t make sense, who cares?” says the band. “Not us.” However, despite the fact that Community College is setting out to fulfill its own goals, they do make some attempt to reach out to their audience, “I swear to God it makes sense.”

Yeah, definitely a brontosaurus.