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October 9, 2000

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Just how far is this post-rock thing going to go, anyway? If Joan of Arc has anything to say on the matter, which, incidentally, it has just about as much as anyone else going, it’s going to go a lot, lot further. The Gap proves just that.

If Joan of Arc is right, and this album does nothing but show just how right it could be, whatever fears indie rockers have of having their precious scene swallowed up by the mainstream are totally unfounded. With the band’s latest it swings away from the electro-pop that ran around the edges of its quirky sound, as it instead embraces avant-garde experimentalism with new vigor. A loose, airy collage of wispy melodies, haunting atmospheric sounds, electronic plinks and squawks and, of course, singer Tim Kinsellas’ trademark whine, The Gap pushes Joan of Arc further away from traditional songwriting than ever before.

That’s not to say it’s been abandoned entirely, however. There’s still an undercurrent of convention holding Joan of Arc’s most eccentric songs together, though at times, such convention is so badly abused by the band it’s surprising the relationship hasn’t fallen apart all together. While the band’s previous work fiddled with layered pop, The Gap concentrates more upon its looming sense of space, and the power its emptiness creates. Songs like "Knife Fights Every Night," which stammers between lilting piano melodies and sharp stand-up bass, and "Me and America (or) The United Colors of the Gap," with its stumbling rhythms and in-and-out stretches of melody simultaneously contradict and abide by standard songwriting formulas. Rhythms, melodies and arrangements move in great arcs, making it difficult to grasp them until they’re viewed with an eye to the grand scale.

Kinsella’s lyrics prove just as fragmented on this record as on other albums, with the exception of "Zelda," a collected remembrance of schoolboy days. Other tracks, however, bustle with unfocused energy and impressionistic fragments. More disjointed than on previous lyric tracks, Kinsella floats through hazy themes that further enforces this album’s experimental leanings. More often than not, The Gap’s vocal tracks serve only as an irritating distraction from its interesting soundscapes.

The Gap shows just what it claims: the gap separating Joan of Arc from the packs of post-rock songwriters; the increasingly large gap between the band’s pop sense and its experimentalism; most importantly the gap between its aim and its reach. While The Gap hints at freewheeling experimentalism that could blossom into a powerful new force in indie rock, though at this point, the band is mired in its most confused and scattered album to date.


Matt Schild