Violence, Lust, Life: The Birth Of Post-Rockby Pablo Tsolo / 02.04.2012
“What can you do to it? Nothing. It’s not like you can actually dance to it,” this guy said to me.
“I don’t know if I should wash my hair, go to bed, or make a sandwich while listening to this…” were the words of some girl on another occasion.
These people were griping about post-rock. Talking to the first person, I remember replying, “You can do better than just dance: you can actually feel to this.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve swayed to repetitive post-rock rhythms, patiently waiting for my heart to burst with the pulsing euphoria of an acid trip. It feels like sex every time. The genre of post-rock serves as a vehicle for a plethora of emotions and it paints just as many images. It was once the guilty pleasure of prodigal rock musicians, new-sound junkies, skaters, and the random kid trailing the back isles of music stores looking for cool album covers. Now post-rock is enjoying a cult following among discerning music listeners everywhere. Among artists however, the term has stirred debate for over 15 years because of its broad inclusivity. Like a foster home, post-rock has housed countless diverse bands whose only similarity was their refusal of the traditional rock sound.
During the 90s era, two well-known albums, the bass-droning and poetic Spiderland and the lyrical, jazz-influenced Nassau, established their respective bands as being ‘post-rock’ –despite the difference in each album’s texture and style. It’s little wonder then that so many of my favorite post-rock bands have come to care less about the title and more about just making good music. A lot of the older guys made their bones by pioneering fleshed-out sonic textures in their own ways. The movement grew, bands started emerging. Some were good. Some sucked. Others followed influences that nudged them in a different direction. One band that rode the natal wave is Tortoise. They became a beacon of the movement in ’96 with Millions Now Living Will Never Die. Most of their follow-up studio work has continued to combine an experimental blend of jazz and minimal.
Local and international acts like KIDOFDOOM, Mono, This Will Destroy You and Explosions In The Sky all continue to push the envelope, along with many others. Creating expansive and, often, heavily layered compositions is the aim of a lot of bands of the 2000’s. Listening to Do Make Say Think and Mogwai, I believe that bands that have expanded their typical rock instrumentation to include keyboards, violins, and even wind instruments, have made themselves even more engaging.
Most bands still don’t use vocals. When they do, it’s often to overlap rhythm at infrequent intervals without particularly meaning anything. Sigur Ros is famously known for this. They’ve even put together their own language of nonsense vocals, “Vonlenska”, which serves as an instrument in its own right. The contrasting effects of distortion and sampling have been gaining popularity. Eyes Like Mirrors sample a jarring piece of film lines in their song ‘A Forked Tongue Cuts like A Knife’. Post-rock artists convey moods and themes in their songs through instrumental narratives that are surprisingly vivid. For instance ‘Stop Coming To My House’ by the Scottish group Mogwai has an alienating tone that conveys a feeling of repulsion. ‘Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean’ by Explosions In The Sky quite literally submerges one as deeply as the name implies. Tenderly, The Appleseed Cast’s ‘One Reminder, An Empty Room’ is soaked in reminiscence.
Explosions In The Sky have quite accidentally and beautifully ruined my life. When I listen to this band’s discography, my mind gropes at the edge of a million experiences. These Texan boys’ first album How Strange, Innocence (2000) is a favorite for its strength of substance. The song ‘Remember Me As A Time Of Day’ conjures such a profound mood of existence in what can be described as an elegy to the self. Other equally stirring songs are ‘Look Into The Air’ and ‘A Song For Our Fathers’. The latter sounds like a war tribute while ‘Look Into The Air’ revels in optimism.
The sleeve art on The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003) by artist Esteban Rey, who is also the band’s tour manager, shows a tree in season shedding leaves that transform into birds (This was hardly a novel concept though, and I’m sure whether intended by Rey or the band, it was a subtle reference to the art on Talk Talk’s seminal ’91 album).
Nonetheless, the five songs on The Earth soar triumphantly. ‘Your Hand In Mine’ soon became probably the most blissful post-rock song I’d ever heard. In late 2011, with 5 studio works under their belt, EITS graced the scene with their new work, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. The beginning track, ‘Last Known Surroundings’ is a testament to how classic their unique sound is. In an age of corporate compromise by many artists, including those in this sacred genre, Munaf, Michael, Mark, and Chris of Explosions’ have shown that their roots grow deep.
While post-rock’s place and influence in the world can hardly be disputed, the real question is then, perhaps, its legitimacy as a movement on our own shores. For a look at the local post-rock scene, tune in tomorrow.