There came into existence in the late 90s,
two genres of music that took rock music, using just about any metric, to opposite extremes. Then someone came along and decided to cram them together into the same songs.
A decade down the line, the names of those genres, having a labelling / confining effect, are much-maligned, and in the way of all youth culture, embarassing to use. The un-coolness of naming things, or the tyrrany of irony
, leaves us almost incapable of discussing these things earnestly. The other reason is simply that they have been used so widely for subgenres that have completely diverged, that they only stand in as a poor man's shorthand. There are an awful lot of cringe-inducing "post-x" terms here, deal with it.
1. In the 90s, bands like Mogwai
in the UK came to be described as post-rock
, aptly defined quite early on as "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords". The music as a whole took aspects of shoegaze, drone, minimalist classical, and transformed it into these haunting soundscapes that played with variations on a theme
. Later on, there was significant emphasis on start-stop dynamics, intricate layers gradually building into bright
, distorted climaxes
. Various bands that have been so labelled: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
, Sigur Ros
, Do Make Say Think
, Coma Lilies
, and Explosions in the Sky
. The music has also cribbed from math-rock
, and as such post-rock is the closest thing we have to classical music that's not prog-rock, prog-metal, or, well, modern classical. Some of it has turned pop.
All of this music seems considered, deliberate.
This is in direct opposition to:
*. Hardcore punk and emo in California spawned the genre in the early 1990s. Bands like Orchid
, pg. 99
, and Hot Cross
played mostly short, dark, chaotic songs with abrupt pace changes, heavy on the harmonics, emotive, sometimes political, and usually with screaming. Lots of passionate screaming. For most of these bands, the lyrics mattered a hell of a lot despite the fact that you couldn't understand any of it. What they had in common with post-rock was the emphasis on tone. It was atmospheric
, even when the songs lasted less than a minute.
*The snark is so reactionary against this term, given the number of bands that strayed from these roots into boy-band territory, that in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion people actually renamed the older screamo genre 'skramz' to differentiate it.
Cue Japan. Japan was maybe the first country outside the Western hemisphere to perform the wholesale consumption and regurgitation of Western pop trends. Then, in a logical progression that seems universal to all new cultural modes introduced anywhere, they went from imitating the music to reconstructing vast swathes of what can be generally construed as 'Western' music. They have their own Ramones
. They have their own everything
. Well before the over-saturation of post-rock, and soon after seminal screamo bands were releasing their seminal LPs, there came out of the Japanese hardcore scene:
. They evolved from hardcore punk
rock to something that is, in the best ways possible, a fusion of screamo and post-rock. There were other bands that had experimented with this, most notably Envy's US tourmates, City of Caterpillar. But no one did it like this. The tone of the guitars
, the huge guttural riffs
, the beautiful twinkly lead-ins
, and the frontman's voice
, switching rapidly from an accomplished singer's
into a kind of white-noise scream
so granular, it almost seems smooth
Hugely influential, Envy essentially set a new course for Japanese screamo, and lead to bands like Heaven in Her Arms
, who took this marriage of genres and turned it into a epic
Much of this music is, in the conventional sense, abrasive. But I find it difficult to believe that people who are genuinely into music cannot, after a certain break in period, recalibrate their brains to look past the superficial tone of the music. The collective output of the previous three bands I've mentioned is staggeringly beautiful. I am sometimes amazed that a group of people could get together with specific intent and agency to create this. The thought will sometimes flash through my brain when I'm listening to these bands, "they meant
to do this." It's wondrous.