Saturday, February 20, 2010

Playlist: Post-Rock

The Car's On Fire, And There's No Driver At The Wheel...

If Marilyn Manson was right when he declared Rock dead, post-rock is its aftermath. As I posted on my review of a recent Do Make Say Think concert, that show revived my longtime interest in the genre, and prompted by a friend's curiosity, I've taken it upon myself to bring it a little attention.

Like any "genre," as these songs will show, it's incredibly diverse, and difficult to put into a box. On its many corners, it shares borders with jazz, pop, classical, folk, punk and certainly much more - and the result is incredibly colorful and sophisticated. It's a reminder of times when latching on to the avant was easier to do.

There are some distinct traits that bind the genre together. Songs tend to be very long, and are often instrumental. While based upon rock instrumentation, many artists augment it with horns, pianos, strings, and other classical instruments. Structurally, the bands aspire to deconstruct rock, borrowing from the complex sequencing of classical music. When they do so, they often build songs with the dramatic dynamics of 19th-century Romantic composers. And like many sub-genres, it has flourished under the patronage and influence of a cutting-edge independent label, Montreal-based Constellation Records.

I love this stuff. I hope you enjoy.

Sigur Rós - Glósóli
Album: Takk
EMI, 2006

Perhaps no band builds drama and tension so delicately and explosively as Iceland's Sigur Rós. I think this video complements the song beautifully. Its climax is never loud enough. This ought to make a fairly accessible introduction.

Tortoise - Crest
Album: It's All Around You
Thrill Jockey, 2004

Tortoise hails from Chicago - Close enough to Canada. This band, in my opinion, represents the apex of the genre's complexity. Of the many bands I've seen live, their musicianship is among the most impressive.

Explosions In The Sky - Yasmin the Light
Album: Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever
Temporary Residence Limited, 2001

Austin's Explosions in the Sky, using traditional rock instrumentation, play heavily with contrasting dynamics, just restrained enough not to edge out their subtleties, but bold enough to bring a satisfying listen. Their live show is among the most energetic I've seen.

Mogwai - Thank you Space Expert
Album: The Hawk Is Howling
Wall of Sound (UK), Matador (US), 2008

It's ill-advised to show up to a Mogwai concert without earplugs, but if they're the last thing you ever hear, it wouldn't be a bad way to finish. As this song shows, while often being absurdly loud, this Scottish band has tremendous talent for melody and atmosphere.

Do Make Say Think - Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Album: Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
Constellation, 2003

Toronto's Do Make Say Think show the kinder, gentler side of Canadian post-rock. Their songs, while experimental, are beautiful, restrained, and carry an innocent, feel-good vibe.

Broken Social Scene - Passport Radio
Album: Feel Good Lost
Noise Factory, 2001

Modeled as a musical collective, Toronto's Broken Social Scene have somehow morphed between post-rock and indie pop without ever losing touch with their artistic direction. While it's tempting to post their much more accessible later work (OK, I can't resist, you should really listen to This, This, & This), BSS's first album shows how founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning began their project firmly rooted in experimental, patently Canadian post-rock.

A Silver Mt. Zion - God Bless Our Dead Marines
Album: Horses In The Sky
Constellation, 2005

An uplifting song from Montreal's A Silver Mt. Zion, an experimental band founded by a member of post-rock mainstay Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It's yet another example of Constellation Records' impact on the genre.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - The Dead Flag Blues
Album: F#A#∞
Constellation, 1997

Motherfucker = Redeemer, Part 2
Album: Yanqui U.X.O.
Constellation, 2002

We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death...

To know Godspeed is to know post-rock. It's not easy to find an earlier, deeper and more inaccessible pioneer of the genre. Relying on samples and spoken word for lyrical content, but ultimately leaning on their instrumentation, Godspeed's music conveys plaintive images of violence, brutality and darkness (The album cover of Yanqui U.X.O., with its image of falling bombs on a beautiful, green countryside, says it all). Yet, couched in such sadness, the music itself is a distant glimmer of hope and optimism, even if not a very bright one. I've purposely started out with more accessible music, but if you want to know what post-rock is, I challenge every one of my readers to put on a pair of headphones, sit in a dark room, and listen to both these songs from beginning to end, perhaps when you would otherwise be watching TV or playing video games. Your time will be well spent.

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