All the footprints you've ever left, and the fear expecting ahead
December 13, 2012 7:20 AM   Subscribe

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, epic, cathartic, 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:

2. Screamo*. Hardcore punk and emo in California spawned the genre in the early 1990s. Bands like Orchid, Saetia, 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:

3. Envy. 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 and Killie, who took this marriage of genres and turned it into a epic, messy divorce.

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.
posted by legospaceman (30 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, how have I never heard of this awesome band? Thank you so much, legospaceman. I am going to be happy all day with this.
posted by koeselitz at 7:25 AM on December 13, 2012

Ooooh a post involving post-rock. I hope that Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky aren't considered abrasive, they've always been on the mellower end of the genre. Something like 65daysofstatic or, judging by my girlfriend's reaction at the concert, Caspian might be. The glitchier stuff I can definitely understand being abrasive, they fire that brain-stabbing high pitch stuff at you without the long build-up sometimes. For a slow rise to a cathartic climax, I don't think you can do better than This Will Destroy You.
posted by Peccable at 7:28 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought this was going to be about Sleepytime Gorilla Museum but this is a fine alternative.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:29 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also if you're in Boston around New Years, please go see the Last Night on Earth show for some neat post-rock. It runs annually and is one of my favorites.
posted by Peccable at 7:30 AM on December 13, 2012

Actual, non-rhetorical question- is there post-rock with more energy than God is an Astronaut?
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 7:34 AM on December 13, 2012

Awesome post. I'll just leave this here as my contribution.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:37 AM on December 13, 2012

Actual, non-rhetorical question- is there post-rock with more energy than God is an Astronaut?

If you don't mind glitchy noises once in a while, 65daysofstatic is pretty high energy. Red Sparowes still have a little bit of that morose sound but are heavier than usual post-rock.
posted by Peccable at 7:39 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't forget Majority Rule from the pg.99, city of catepillar, malady family! I love that virginia sound.
posted by anoirmarie at 8:00 AM on December 13, 2012

'Post rock' invented a good, thoughtful forge for all sorts of beautiful new music *of this time*. And it's sort of slowly folded the wider world into the pleasures of the avant garde (as hip hop did with musique concrete). Odd, I resonate with lots of unlikely or strange musical sounds and forms, yet the human voice in "screamo" remains a big sonic challenge for me, maybe its unrelenting intensity. This is a good frame to rethink it all. Thanks for the post!
posted by methinks at 8:00 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't forget about Tristeza. They sure aren't abrasive.
posted by thylacine at 8:18 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actual, non-rhetorical question- is there post-rock with more energy than God is an Astronaut?

Meant to mention those guys. I think Mutyumu at least rivals them.

Other notables:
Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson
From Monuments to Masses
Up C Down C
Fall of Efrafra

Things that come to mind that don't really fit:
Goes Cube
Who Calls So Loud
posted by legospaceman at 8:34 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a good frame to rethink it all.

That was the intent, thanks!
posted by legospaceman at 8:46 AM on December 13, 2012

Hehe. Post-rock is totally the closest thing we have to classical, other than these three other things, one of which is also called classical.

But it's totally the closest thing.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:16 AM on December 13, 2012

I often peruse the local craigslist musicians section in the vain hopes of finding someone who might want to play music with me and I frequently run into ads with terms like "screamo" or "[something familiar-ish]-core". All I can say is "thank God for Wikipedia."

Now get of my lawn, I need to take a nap.
posted by tommasz at 9:20 AM on December 13, 2012

Oh goodness, so many new bands to try!
posted by themadthinker at 9:31 AM on December 13, 2012

Totally thoughtthis was going to be about Fred Durst.. Thank God i clicked in anyway
posted by spicynuts at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

@legospaceman You might like In/Humanity.
posted by shoepal at 11:21 AM on December 13, 2012

A number of bands I've learned about through seeing them do live film scores are apparently post-rock. I've been interested in exploring the genre but apparently I'm coming at it bass-ackward.
posted by immlass at 11:21 AM on December 13, 2012

Another band of interest at that intersection is Pianos Become the Teeth, here's the first song off their album "Old Pride", Filial.

Some of their other stuff is less so, but that album at least I'd describe as a emo/post-hardcore band that ended up playing post rock, but kept the vocals.

Some tracks from Circle Takes the Square have a post-rock sensibility to them:

Interview at the Ruins sets up short, chaotic screamo song early on, but then the song keeps going.
Non-Objective Portrait of Karma starts with a long, slow post-rock build up, gets to the other parts about half way through.

I think the choice to focus narrowly, on the emo side here, on short, fast, chaotic in the Orchid style does a disservice to understanding the context for that kind of stuff though. There was always a strong experimentalism in that scene, and I get a proggy sense of expansionism from a lot of it, which made post-rock a pretty natural fit, in addition to the focus on tone mentioned earlier.

For example, look at I Would Set Myself On Fire For You, which isn't post-rock, but it sure is... something.

Or going earlier, there's Moss Icon, who managed to pull off epic slow builds and do tension-release things without changing their sonic palate too much from some of the more conventional hardcore stuff they did. See Lyburnum Wit's End Liberation Fly. Builds and builds and builds and finally gives on that around 10:20.

Neither of these bands are using the sounds of post-rock, but I think there's something of the sensibility there. Neither of them are using the sounds *or* sensibility of Orchid style screamo either, but that's a different issue, point being that this kind of stuff was in the broader scene, so the marriage of screamo and post-rock never seemed that unlikely to me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:28 AM on December 13, 2012

Peccable: "If you don't mind glitchy noises once in a while, 65daysofstatic is pretty high energy"

I can't find an actual download, but there's an absolutely incredible bootleg of their first album laid on top of the original recording of The War of the Worlds. It's good enough that it's basically overwritten the original in my head....
posted by schmod at 12:59 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh shit. I just heard of Envy the other day in a "suggested" Youtube sidebar offering.

My ex and I were drawn to each other over a love of common musical interests - post-rock being one of them.

Her son is in a "screamo" band now.

She always shared music with her son and so he knows of Post-Rock.

I shared them with her and wanted to see if he knew of them or what his thoughts were.

As much as I can't stand screamo I would much rather have the vocals with post-rock music than with the standard screamo music.
posted by symbioid at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2012

I've been quite partial to the type of screamed poetry that's done by old school mewithoutyou and La Dispute. I suppose they're more post-punk or post hardcore, and these are quite good also.
posted by daHIFI at 7:46 PM on December 13, 2012

I'm partial to how nordic people approach post-rock, most of the american (and some british) stuff ended up locked up in that start-stop crescendo "dynamics" thing, formulaic, and more sappy than melancholic.

Some cool stuff:

under byen: legesag (live, hot damn), om vinteren (or on spotify, i don't think any of these work in the US, boo), mission.
lampshade: fjäril, disse fugle, because trees can fly.
jeniferever: closing in, winter nights, atlantis arise.
samuel jackson five: skinflick dress rehearsal, michael collins autograph, song for sarah.
audrey: mecklenburg, views.
múm: map of the piano, green grass of tunnel.

Post-metal bonus: finland and waiting for you from cult of luna, and suffocate for fuck sake.

I mostly liked () from sigur rós, but i can barely stand the band nowadays, early mogwai could fit as well (you could even make the case that scots are nordic people :P), but it's so bland now, if i was sitting down i would've fallen asleep at the show (i saw quite a few people sleeping on the seats above), it's like Albini says, i guess: "Hey, breaking up is an idea that has occurred to far too few groups. Sometimes to the wrong ones."
posted by palbo at 8:12 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, my favorite Mogwai song is Superheroes of BMX.
posted by palbo at 8:16 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

(To americans' credit, i think they do post-metal better, with ISIS, Russian Circles, Neurosis, etc.)
posted by palbo at 8:26 PM on December 13, 2012

There was always a strong experimentalism in that scene, and I get a proggy sense of expansionism from a lot of it, which made post-rock a pretty natural fit, in addition to the focus on tone mentioned earlier.

I think you're totally right. I was at work when I typed this up and I glossed over a lot of things just because I didn't have my music in front of me.

Awesome links, folks.

Also, this song blows me away every time. It just keeps getting better and better. Monster riffs.
posted by legospaceman at 12:12 AM on December 14, 2012

Hot Cross right before they broke up were fucking amazing. That last album was a glorious noodly mess.

And shit, there's all kinds of euro stuff that really gets me going.

Sed non Satiata
Amanda Woodward
La Quiete

Amanda Woodward especially. They have this insane dense sound, with that sproingy plodding guitar. If Trollhunter were a Western, it would have this as the soundtrack. Also, reggae?
posted by legospaceman at 12:40 AM on December 14, 2012

I was thinking that, were I writing a near-future novel, the post-grunge, post-emo music genre would be called Bawl. It would lyrically consist mostly of primal screams of inchoate rage, with the lyrical content being restricted to infantile protests at the lack of immediate gratification (a step down from late-period emo records whose themes are basically whining about girls not putting out). Musically, I don't know: I imagine a combination of commercial punk and brostep?
posted by acb at 3:21 AM on December 14, 2012

This seems like an appropriate thread to recommend Boris to anyone who isn't already familiar. (Try starting with Farewell, from the album Pink.)
posted by mnfn at 6:01 AM on December 14, 2012

One reason that I think the label(s) have met with some distaste and feel a little embarrassing is that they are the product of something very different from past "scenes." The was coined by a journalist (Simon Reynolds) or at least gained traction with his usage, and he was grouping a number of bands (Bark Psychosis, Tortoise, etc.) by qualities he found in the music, rather than their geography, their relationships, how they made the music, or any number of other things the musicians would actually care about. Contrast that with The Memphis Sound, or the Dischord bands, or a hundred other such examples. "Post-rock" was something that those bands, whatever their affinities might have been, never got to own or develop themselves. Someone they didn't know (or barely knew) slapped a label on them from afar, which has to feel like being boxed in or reduced to a simplistic version of some aspects of what you're trying to do. But it's in print in Mojo and Spin and the NME and now it's a question everyone asks you every time, despite it still being this abstract idea that you have no stake in and no control over. And then come the imitators. How could anyone with any sense not want to put some distance between themselves and that? How does it not end up being condescending? I see bloggers sometimes who seem to just be trawling through myspace and bandcamp, looking for any artist with three things in common and declaring it a microgenre. (Witch house! PsyTrap!)
posted by el_lupino at 12:22 PM on January 4, 2013

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