A Post Rock Analysis Media Essay

Modified: 1st Jan 2015
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In the year of 1994 highly acclaimed music critic Simon Reynolds was embraced for fabricating the term ‘Post-Rock’ in the popular modern music magazine ‘The Wire’. He defined the term post rock as “using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes” and “using guitars and facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords”. From this moment onwards the genre began to expand with the immersion of various Post Rock artists slightly differing in style. In the remainder of this essay, I aim to explain what the complex genre of Post Rock is, how it began, how it developed and most importantly, what sets it aside from traditional rock and roll.

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With the emergence of countless pop artists at the start of the 1990’s such as Rick Astley and Mariah Carey many journalists and critics alike labelled the 90’s as the death of rock and roll. However the introduction of Post Rock seemed re-invent rock music in a totally different form. Post rock was something totally different and was seen as a breath of fresh air to the music industry. Everyone knows that numerous groups of musicians struggle to find a suitable vocalist, and this was one of the main reasons for the beginning of post rock. Post rock is largely instrumental with any included vocals normally being sample and effect based. In this genre freedom is basically unlimited; this is why many post rock acts sound very different in style. For instance ‘Don Caballero’ and ‘Tortoise’ who were seen as founders of the post rock movement bare very little similarities.

The main idea behind post rock was to totally ignore traditional musical structures and concentrate on throwing various creative ideas to produce a ‘piece’ rather than a track. Due to the total dis-regard of verses and chorus’s, the motif of each ‘piece’ will normally build up over the duration, normally reaching a climatic stage at the end. Post rock artists admittedly took a lot of influence from the velvet underground and their implementation of the musical technique; dronology. Dronology is the use of repeated sounds or notes. Post rock uses an extensive range of instruments, stretching from traditional rock and roll instruments, to brass to a diverse sweep of electronic instruments and samples. Post-Rock is probably dependent on the effects that are implemented on nearly every instrument, basically making a guitar sound nothing like a guitar. Post Rock has changed throughout its current 20 year timeline, as it’s believed we have endured 3 waves of post rock material. However, from the very beginning of the post-rock movement nearly all artists follow ‘The DIY conception’. This means that artists will have not contracts or sponsorship from famous and corporate labels. A majority of their work is produced and distributed by the band themselves with the help of other post rock bands. The belief of the ‘DIY conception’ is that if music becomes accessible to expensive labels the artists will be stripped of their creativity and freedom.

During the lifespan of the post-rock genre we have been spiked with 3 waves. The first wave of this genre included acts such as ‘Slint’, ‘Tortoise’ and ‘Talk Talk’. These artists are seen as being architects of the genre that gave post rock the foundations to grow further. However, not entirely post rock; this was the start of the genre. The Album entitled ‘Spiderland’ by ‘Slint’ is seen as many as the birth of post rock. Released in 1991 this album contained various features that were unheard of in traditional rock music. Such as, no singing vocals, all vocals being spoken similar to a narrator building up a story as the song continued. Drummers working with totally irregular time signatures and basing all their beats and fills on the snare and tom drums, totally abandoning the use of cymbals. Guitarists creating tones rather than riffs, and also implementing of the technique howling feedback. Many bands took influence from this album, including post rock mainstays, Mogwai.

Another essential post rock release was Ágætis byrjun in 1999 by Icelandic band ‘Sigur Ros’. This album help shaped the genre as it showed listeners that post rock could branch off into other genres, as this album was seen as being ambient post rock. Sigur Ros produced this effect with various musical techniques. The main technique they used was playing guitars and bass guitars with a bow rather than plucking on strumming. This technique helped produce a very atmospheric effect which added to the overall ambient sound. The band continued the idea of minimal vocals when they produced they’re own gibberish language entitled ‘Volenska’. This is an Icelandinc take on the old jazz technique that was dubbed ‘scat singing’. Sigur Ros are seen as being definers in the second wave of post rock. Soon after Ágætis byrjun came the release of ‘Lift Yr. Skinny Fists like antennas to heaven’ by Canadian artists ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This album as seen by many fans and critics alike as the most definitive post rock release to date. This album combines various musical concepts such as chamber music, minimalism, drone and of course crescendos. As well as covering a lot of concepts, it also covers many genres such as rock, ambience, jazz and classical. Following Post-Rock trends the album has no ‘tracks’ as such, but 4 pieces which last a total of one hour and twenty minutes, these pieces are named movements. Also, as before, no vocals except one movement which uses sampled inserts.

The start of the 3rd wave of Post Rock was started with the album ‘Mirrored’ By Battles. The bands consists of Ex-Members from other post rock groups such as ‘Don Caballero’, who helped pioneer the genre. Mirrored started to using a lot of math rock as well as post rock in this album, it is also described by many as having a ‘weird alien sound’. Along with Mogwai, Battles were one of the first to start doing this. Battles re-invented post rock to some extent with new techniques such as the introduction of ‘beatboxing’. However they also continued other post rock trends such as effect driven vocals which sound like gibberish.

Scottish band ‘Mogwai’ have cemented themselves as principal artists within post rock genre due to the release of 6 well received studio albums. Mogwai have been vital in the development of the genre as they have influenced bands as far a field as China as Chinese post rock ‘Wang Wen’ claim to be influenced by them. American rapper/singer/songwriter Jared Evans also claims to be influenced by the Scottish post rock mainstays. Although Mogwai are in theory a post rock band, they branch off into other genres such as math rock, shoegazing, art rock and even metal. This showed us that post rock could take various paths and this helped development the genre as it heightened up and coming bands ideas. The bands influences mainly come from punk. Bands such as Fugazi, Sonic Youth and the MC5 are said to be among the bands main influences, and of course like many other bands of this genre, they were influenced by Slint. Their tracks are normally long instrumental pieces focusing on guitar and melodic basslines with heavy breakdowns with metal properties. Due to metal properties the band has, they have a heavy usage of effects, with distortion and overdrive taking centre stage. Mogwai were another band the follow the ‘DIY conception’ rule within the post rock genre by having their first album signed by independent record label ‘Chemikal Underground’ in Glasgow, Scotland in 1997. “Lyrics are a real comfort to some people. I guess they like to sing along and when they can’t do that with us they get a bit upset”. This line by Stuart Braithwaite, the guitarist of Mogwai. The line does a good job of explaining the acquired taste of Mogwai and Post-Rock in general. This is why Post-Rock was stuck in the underground bracket for sometime.

Another band who has had great critical acclaim within the genre is ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor’. The band from Canada influenced by Tortoise and Slint have released 5 albums since 1994. Even tough the band has 9 solid members; they have had as many as 20 members on the stage at once. The band use various techniques and concepts such as drone, minimalism, chamber music, music concrete and sampling. Also the band totally dis-regards any vocals except sampled inserts. As said before, the band have undertaken many changes, covering genres such as post rock, experimental rock, ambient, jazz and traditional rock. Once again the band follows the ‘DIY conception’ as they produce they’re albums through a small independent record label in Montreal, Quebec.

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Perhaps the most important articles regarding the genre was the description of the band ‘Bark Psychosis’ where the term was first properly coined. Simon Reynolds described Post Rock as “using rock instrumentation for non rock purposes’ using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords”. Simon further expanded on the term stating that “perhaps the really provocative area for future development lies… in cyborg rock; not the wholehearted embrace of techno’s methodology but some kind of interface between real time, hand on playing and the use of digital effects and enhancement”. This description helped drive the genre forward as other artists started being labelled ‘Post-Rock’ and listeners started understanding what the music was. It describes the balance of electronic effects to hands on traditionally rock instruments.

Even today, some original post rock albums from the early 90’s are still receiving sparkling reviews. From a review in 2010 from music website ‘Sputnik Music’, ‘Spiderland’ by ‘Slint’ is said as being “classic” and received a 5/5 rating. The journalist continued to explain “You can ask me to explain why I love it, or why it works, or the situational context in which it was created. Just don’t ask me how they did it. Please, just listen.” This shows that original Post-Rock artists will continue to have a positive affect on those who are listening to it from the first time, and who don’t quite understand it yet. There are various sources online which help with the understanding of the complex genre. Such as www.postrocking.org which is a post rock radio streaming website, which lets up and coming artists submit their tracks. It also contains a popular forum where fans can share their views. Also killwhat.com which is French fanzine company which cover and cater for post rock fans.

One main entity of post rock bands is that to grab media attention, they usually have strange band or album names. For Example ‘Godpseed You! Black Emperor’ and their album ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven’. Other examples of this are bands such as ‘ILiKETRAiNS’ ‘Meanwhile Back in Communist Russia…..’ and ‘I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness’. The list is endless. The strange and abnormal band names partially tie in with the unique and somewhat strange sounding music they produce.

I have included 3 Audio files with the essay. The first track being ‘Nosferatu Man’. This shows what the birth of post rock was like and how it was essential. It also shows how vocals were in a narrator style and how the time signatures were irregular and ever changing, as the song switches from 5/4 to 6/4 to 4/4. The track also gives a decent idea of the ‘howling’ guitar sound used by the band. The next track is ‘Christmas Steps’ by Mogwai. This track pinpoints and shows the soothing melodic side of post rock and also the steady build up to the more aggressive and distorted crescendos. This giving a good insight to what the development and definition of post rock sounds like and how even genres such as heavy metal can have an influence. It also considered a post rock ‘piece’ as it lasts 10 minutes. The last track is ‘Atlas’ by ‘Battles’. This shows the current state of post rock and how it differs. It lets us hear how effects are implemented more to create an ‘Alien Sound’ Also how post rock can branch into other genres and while still keeping traditionally ideas such as ‘gibberish’ vocals, build up sequences, crescendos, tom based drumming and longer track times at seven minutes long. Battles are a good example of keeping traditional ideas but bringing new ideas to the table.

Overall, Post Rock is a creative genre which gives artists unlimited freedom. Pioneered by ‘Slint’, Defined by ‘Mogwai’ and evolved by ‘Battles’, it seems that it’s a really complex genre that’s tough understand, but it definitely is genre you have to appreciate due to the creativity it requires and it’s uniqueness. Post rock is still evolving and new artists are still peddling out year after year with many bands producing new styles and techniques. However the roots of Post rock constructed by Slint and Tortoise are still evidently rooted within the music.

 

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