Instrumental Clinic: Tones latest is a post-rock master class.s latest is a post-rock master class.
Instrumental Clinic: Tones latest is a post-rock master class.s latest is a post-rock master class.

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Slow, deliberate build-ups, heavy on repetition, reaching greater and greater heights until a climax in a maelstrom of instrumental high emotion—you know, the whole post-rock thing. But long before Godspeed You! Black Emperor was earning indie accolades and Explosions in the Sky was inspiring Slate writers to invoke Ralph Waldo Emerson, D.C.’s Tone was making sometimes brooding, sometimes ebullient, and always artful instrumental rock.

It’s strange this stuff is still called indie, given that term’s connotations of understatement and remove. Tone’s sixth full-length, Priorities, is a veteran distillation of post-rock’s grandiose possibilities. It pans across big, triumphant battlefields, cycling through massive highs and crushing lows, aching with conflict and longing for some ineffable catharsis. There’s no ironic detachment, only Kodachrome color, visceral evocations of drama, and deeply committed execution.

Each of the five songs stretches past five minutes, and all of them center on shimmery guitars that slowly gain intensity. While none of the tracks has quite the emotional impact of, say, Mogwai’s 1997 post-rock bar-raiser Young Team, they also avoid that band’s missteps (there’s no filler). Priorities is nothing if not mindfully crafted, and the record subtly showcases a diversity of influences within its unbending framework. The well-named opener, “Chrome Heart Shining,” is immediately hopeful; “Prototype” is tense and downcast; “A Just Shoot ” makes much of its marching snare drums. If you know the scene, it’s not a revelation. But it is excellent incidental music. Each song identifies a set of fluid emotions and fully realizes them.

The longest track, “Crop Circles,” opens with several minutes of densely saturated guitars before drummer Gregg Hudson pounds a single beat. Richly textured layers of distortion swell from peak to mountainous peak—with extended, percussion-free valleys separating crash-heavy crescendos—until the song reaches its thudding finale, undulating with an ocean liner’s weight. The whole record trudges toward a majestic final resting place that’s less nimble than the works of Tone’s younger contemporaries, but never lacking well-earned dignity. After 20 years of making music, Tone may not take many left turns, but at least the band knows precisely where it’s going.