What is your favorite instrumental music?
October 19, 2008 3:01 AM   Subscribe

Can you name some modern instrumental bands/albums that are interesting, lively, and unpretentious with a bit of a dark edge?

I'm looking for some music that like Tortoise, but darker and maybe less... perfect.
Or like Godspeed You! Black Emperor but less dramatic and epic.
Or like Dirty Three but without quite so much scratchy violin and a little more variety in song structure.

Yeah, I know. Picky, picky.
posted by bigtex to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't heard Do Make Say Think, you probably ought to.
posted by iamcrispy at 3:09 AM on October 19, 2008

Oh, Slint. But they're not 100% instrumental, though. And you probably already own "Spiderland". (If not: Buy. Now.) Still!
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:12 AM on October 19, 2008

Earth are pretty awesome, still kind of epic though.
posted by Venadium at 3:15 AM on October 19, 2008

Also, Pelican
posted by Venadium at 3:22 AM on October 19, 2008

Seconding Do Make Say Think.

Also I like these:
Gastr del Sol
Explosions In The Sky
Trans Am

Tortoise can be very...precise, yes, but they let their hair down on a couple of collaborative albums. If you haven't already, check out the In The Fishtank EP with The Ex (actually, if I can recall this is a sort of stiff effort) and The Brave & The Bold covers EP with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. Also, just for fun, Bumps is like an even more.... perfect... Tortoise.

Mick Turner (guitarist for Dirty Three) has some solo work (and some other stuff) that stands very well on its own. It's by and large gentler and dreamier than the DT material, but I highly recommend it for a drowsy afternoon.
posted by carsonb at 3:37 AM on October 19, 2008

I'll take some liberties with your criteria, as there's plenty of great instrumental (or largely instrumental) music out there, that I think you may like. Here's some:

Yume Bitsu
The Six Parts Seven
The Cinematic Orchestra
The Album Leaf
Mice Parade
Kaki King (the first two albums, anyway)
Cricket Rumor Mill
The Beans Band (or just Beans)
American Football
posted by iamcrispy at 3:45 AM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe Dysrhythmia?
posted by carsonb at 4:01 AM on October 19, 2008

Pell Mell are very good at this.
posted by macdara at 4:11 AM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also, Don Caballero were instrumental until their latest record. They're a bit of a mixed bag, but you need to hear 'Haven't Lived Afro Pop' from their American Don album.
posted by macdara at 4:13 AM on October 19, 2008

I'd def. second Rachel's.

Saxon Shore
The Octopus Project
Boxhead Ensemble
This Will Destroy You
Chicago Underground Trio/Quartet
Tin Hat Trio
Hungry Ghosts

[no order, sorry for repeats]
posted by mandal at 5:40 AM on October 19, 2008


"They typically compose lengthy, instrumental guitar-based pieces in the post-rock tradition. They are usually focused around the elaboration of a single theme and are known for dynamic contrast, melodic bass guitar riffs, their use of guitar distortion and effects."

Personally one of my favorites, and the favorites of many others around the world. They are scottish. And produce incredible music.


posted by Nillocsoc at 6:29 AM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Trans Am
The Psychic Paramount (I love this track)
Jackie O Motherfucker
Susuma Yokota
Bell Orchestre
Kammerflimmer Kollektief
Casino Vs. Japan
Lightning Bolt
Triple Burner
Tren Brothers or Tren Phantasm or Mick Turner (basically Dirty Three sans the violinist)
posted by Manhasset at 7:17 AM on October 19, 2008

Whoa, do Hochenkeit still exist? One of the bands I liked for a minute back in Portland.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2008

Also, James Blackshaw and Amiina.
posted by Manhasset at 7:41 AM on October 19, 2008

Surprised no one has mentioned them yet, and they're not strictly instrumental, but I think you'd like Sigur Rós anyway.
posted by phaded at 7:41 AM on October 19, 2008

I don't think they still exist, no.
posted by Manhasset at 7:42 AM on October 19, 2008

Estradasphere, Secret Chiefs 3, Isis
posted by Mach5 at 7:49 AM on October 19, 2008

You may enjoy The Mercury Program.

Maybe not as dark as you'd like, but definitely both instrumental and lively.

Check out the album by them: A Data Learn the Language
posted by alligatorman at 8:00 AM on October 19, 2008

skeletonbreath. Might still be too heavy on the "scratchy violin" for you, but I particularly like "Circus Train" from their album Louise. There's also this craptastic youtube video of a song I'd never heard before, so thank you!
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:15 AM on October 19, 2008

Grails. Fits your description perfectly. Think of them as the soundtrack to smuggling heroin throughout Southeast and Central Asia / driving drunk at high speed along the silk road and running into random outtakes from rock and jazz history. Less epic than "Wow this is really fun but I hope this doesn't suddenly turn into a bad trip". Their latest, Doomsdayer's Holiday, is a lot darker than previous albums, according to critics - I don't really see that much discontinuity. In any case, they haven't put out a bad album yet.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:15 AM on October 19, 2008

I second, third, fourth and fifth American Football. Their final record was absolutely great. I love Lanterna, as well. I'd recommend the album "Elm Street".
posted by littlerobothead at 8:24 AM on October 19, 2008

Red Sparowes. You absolutely MUST listen to Red Sparowes. I'd recommend starting with Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun, it's the darker of their works. They just released a new EP with a new album to follow, so hopefully they'll be touring again soon- if so, do not miss their show, because they're totally AMAZING live. You can check out some live recordings from Archive.org here. That's a good way to get a taste of their sound, but I'd recommend getting familiar with the albums before you really jump into the live sets.
posted by baphomet at 8:34 AM on October 19, 2008

Battles. Although there is technically some singing, it is quite disguised, and they come across as mostly instrumental.
posted by timmow at 8:36 AM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Explosions in the Sky.

Also, SonVer.
posted by K.P. at 8:39 AM on October 19, 2008

Instrumental riff-metal with probably more of a pop edge than you're looking for, but might be nice as outliers: The Fucking Champs and Amish Jihad
posted by milquetoast at 8:56 AM on October 19, 2008

Grails, yes (preferably Black Tar Prophecies Vols. 1, 2, and 3), but also:

Natural Snow Buildings
The Fun Years
posted by RGD at 9:02 AM on October 19, 2008

Under Byen.
posted by krisken at 9:59 AM on October 19, 2008

Thanatopsis is a fantastic progressive electronic/rock hybrid, whose guitarist also happens to be Buckethead. He is known for his shredding and other sundry guitar wankery but he has a surprising versatility. I recommend anything by Thanatopsis, and also Buckethead albums such as Colma, Population Override and Electric Tears (all of which are instrumental only).
posted by kurtroehl at 12:33 PM on October 19, 2008

posted by jcruelty at 1:03 PM on October 19, 2008

You might like Ghosts I-IV by Nine Inch Nails. I first heard it in this puzzle game posted to Mefi, and found the tracks both soothing and a little creepy.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:24 PM on October 19, 2008

The Jimmy Cake, from Ireland I believe.
Pivot, Australian Instrumental/electronic act, have one of the most amazing drummers, and are fantastic live.
posted by robotot at 2:04 PM on October 19, 2008

A German band called Couch. More on the Tortoise end of the spectrum, but where Tortoise is jazzy Couch imports a mildly industrial sensibility.

Seconding DMST and Rachel's.
posted by Beardman at 3:13 PM on October 19, 2008

Two of the three bands you listed are pillars of post-rock. Therefore, I should recommend the two other pillars of post-rock, Mogwai and (though not usually instrumental) Sigur Ros. And nth Explosions in the Sky.
posted by abcde at 4:28 PM on October 19, 2008

Holy crap, no one's mentioned Feel Good Lost by Broken Social Scene. Or is that just too obvious? Video of I slept with Bonhomme at the CBC. Some of the songs are uplifting, but some are moderately disquieting. All are mellow, if that makes sense. Anyway, I think they meet all your criteria except possibly having a dark edge--more like a depressive edge.
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:59 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might like Paik. Daturah have a dark edge that appeals to me, but might not quite fit the 'unpretentious' category. Or what about Cul de Sac? Or Jakob?
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:06 AM on October 20, 2008

Seconding Lightning Bolt and Pelican.
posted by kpmcguire at 3:15 AM on October 20, 2008

I'm late to the party as usual, but please please check out Ireland's The Redneck Manifesto.
One of my very favorite bands and by your criteria, soon to be one of yours!
posted by arcanecrowbar at 2:40 PM on October 20, 2008

nth-ing Grails. I'd recommend their Burning Off Impurities. I'd also second the recommendation for Tarentel.
posted by klausness at 3:45 AM on October 23, 2008

...and I'll also second Mogwai, Larsen, and Mono (I think their collaboration with World's End Girlfriend might best meet your criteria, but all their stuff is good)....
posted by klausness at 3:48 AM on October 23, 2008

Boards of Canada. Not that dark, not that unpretentious, but interesting, lively, and instrumental. Yes.
posted by papafrita at 10:40 AM on October 25, 2008

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