I have no idea when I first heard about post-rock, or even heard it. But I feel like the band Tortoise was the obvious starting point for me. I’d always called them a jazz-rock band, but also knew that wasn’t quite right, so even if post-rock sounds a bit snooty, a bit academic, it was good to have a new handle to attach to a band that seemed to sit out and away from both jazz and rock, whilst using aspects of both and always to create a unique soundscape.
Now post-rock feels like a done-to-death term. One that could describe anything and everything and is almost always just a stand-in for instrumental music that features guitars.
Then there’s the variations within that, there’s math rock and minimalism, there’s neo-classical and ambient and if an ambient band has guitars they are probably post-rock…
I’m glad I don’t really have to worry about such things anymore. I’m neither a music retailer, nor a music critic. For a time, I was both – and that was probably the time when post-rock was coming on hard and thick. From Tortoise, to Explosions In The Sky, via Tristeza and then Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
I never thought I’d have to have a band with an exclamation mark in the middle of their name in my collection! (See, that’s where exclamation points go – at the end of what you’re saying). But goddamn Godspeed. They were just so good. I would write the exclamation mark after Godspeed instead of after You. And then I’d have to go back and change it. But I guess I wasn’t exactly copying out the band’s lyrics, so there was time made up there.
Wikipedia reminds me the critic Simon Reynolds is to blame for the first official use of the term. He was dropping it in the mid-90s. And then giving the long division on what it all meant as far as he was concerned. And then it became a form of lazy shorthand for us all, a way to describe textural, timbral instrumental music that might get noisy but wasn’t about metal-edged riffs. It was about layers and shimmers and feels and the grooves were usually loping and slow-building and it all washed over you just so.
Wiki tells us enough to get us started – as is its way. And if post-rock is something you’ve never really thought about you might find you have actually listened to a bunch of things that fall under the shade of that umbrella, or your synth-pop favourites and contemporary classical composers are working in adjacent fields. There’s also this Wiki-list of post-rock bands. Which is both heaps, and not enough. Many of them are no more, and I feel like a few of my favourites aren’t on there at all.
It was hard work for a while too, because Explosions In The Sky did some nice soundtrack work but their non-soundtrack work didn’t mean anything, and there was Russian Circles that did it better, and then other bands – dozens – that were either better, or just the same. And just as I thought I’d found my new favourite genre, I started to feel very lost.
But post-rock, as an idea – if indeed the idea is to look at the standard rock-band format as a template for making music that escapes the confines of standard rock-band format music (ie: songs) – is still a great idea to revisit. And I find it has probably been the go-to genre for me across most of the last two decades.
So many memorable shows. And some incredible albums.
It’s the music I put on, or attend in concert, to both focus closely, and to totally zone out. Both can be achieved. When you’re right in the zone, and the band is too, and I’m thinking here of our own Jakob – a band I love so dearly – then you get that zone-out/checked-right-in feeling so often as a simultaneous vibe.
I’m waffling. Losing you left, right and centre. And I’m unsure what I even wanted to say.
This is just me pre-ambling as I set up a small handful of favourite post-rock clips and tracks.
Earlier this week I was reminiscing about seeing Yawning Man – a sublime experience, and an utterly wonderful band. And then, lo and behold, I get on Tubi – and if you’re a regular reader you’ll know, I’m a BIG FAN of TUBI – and I find Yawning Man Live At Giant Rock, a sort of modern, stoner-rock take on Pink Floyd’s classic Pompeii concert film, where there’s no actual audience in the venue, and the venue is all about the outdoor location.
I’m reminded of how much I love this band, how after that early 2020 gig – which I could have never known at the time, but it would be the last gig I’d see for a year or more – I went on a big Yawning Man binge. I love how much the guitar features in this band as a soloist statement, but never really a big actual ‘statement’. There are hints of shred, but it’s always for the greater good.
Sometimes in post-rock the guitars are barely recognisable as guitars. Jakob has that aspect to some of their work, although when you watch them live the magic is revealed; you see the sound as it emerges. But you’re still baffled as to how subtly it all emerges and how deftly it is woven.
I went on Bandcamp and bought Dominion by Jakob. And I reckon you should too. It’s my absolute favourite thing by them. A single track that clocks in just under half an hour, it was released on CD – and I had it once upon a time and would dearly love it again. It’s there for free on YouTube and Spotify too, and wherever else. Free to listen to on Bandcamp too of course. But I wanted to contribute something – because this song, this EP, this album (it’s not really a song, and it’s so much more than just a single ‘song’ anyway) has travelled with me around the country and even a little way around the world. It has been such a comfort for so many years. And it’s a lighter side of the band in some senses too. A little bonus-disc. A wee standalone. Nearly an anomaly – but at the same time it is actually indicative of the group’s greater-good team-play philosophy. Three brilliant instrumentalists that find their strength in unity, their band dynamic the perfect platform for all three of them.
Wellington duo, Into Orbit features Paul on guitar and Ian on drums. Both of them are in a death-metal band called Dark Divinity. And have other solo and side projects. I consider them friends, and I met them through their music. When I first saw them play live, I was won over. When their debut album was released, I stayed up most of the night just playing it on a loop.
I was telling a friend the other week, that he really must put the word in and get them commissioned as the soundtrack composers for a film that that is being made from one of his novels. I feel like their music would be perfect for it. I think about that when I see them play, when I listen to their albums; so filmic. And I don’t know if they are what you would call post-rock, or if that even matters. They are possibly ambient metal, but what is that anyway?
These genre names are silly.
But the experience I am drawn to and trying to describe here is a vibe. A mood. A feeling conveyed through the sound.
I’ve been lucky to see so many of these great bands, all of the ones I’ve mentioned here and so many more. Many of them more than once.
But at the same time, like any genre, it has to hit you at the right time and in the right way.
I sometimes listen to this music as I drift off, other times it accompanies me driving, it’s good to work to, great to relax with; so multi-purpose, and in a way that is not always the case with other genres.
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