*overheard as Russian Circles came on stage when supporting Tool in 2007
The other day I was sat in a black mood rueing my careless slip on the ice the night before which had left me with a swollen and aching wrist meaning that I could not now get to Manchester to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor play. To some of you, one injured wrist will not sound like much of a reason to bail on a £25 ticket and a chance to see a great band, but MostlyArmless (the original name of this blog) is so named for more than just random shits and giggles! I won’t go into it all but suffice it to say I do not possess a full compliment of upper limbs (I would say I retain about 80%!), so one wrist out of action leaves even putting one’s socks on a tricky exercise! 😉
Anyway, all that aside it gave me time to think about the much maligned (in the general press) genre of post-rock and how it had become such a large part of my listening over the last seven years. I seem to remember it was late 2002 or early 2003 when peer-to-peer sharing sites were starting to get big and I had just downloaded a program called Soulseek. Faced with being able to download pretty much anything (legal issues aside, I haven’t downloaded anything illegal for a good few years now, honest!) I decided to have a listen to some Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band at that time I knew nothing about but their name intrigued me and then when I noticed a half-hour track called “Motherfucker=Redeemer” I just had to see what it was like! After all, it was costing me nothing!
From the second I started playing it I was captivated. The slow-build of the track, building to huge crescendos before dropping into silence and starting again was like nothing I’d heard before, I was converted! I downloaded a couple more and then bought the double CD “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven” and it barely left my CD player for about a month.
A couple of years before this a friend of mine had lent me Mogwai’s Come On Die Young, at this time I’d never heard of post-rock and hadn’t heard a note of Mogwai’s music and for some reason it did nothing for me. I listened to it once and gave it back. Years later after my GY!BE exposure I caught a video on MTV2 (that was a good channel, even better when it was M2 with no ads, ah good times!) for Mogwai’s “Christmas Steps” and thought “I clearly need to listen to these guys properly”, and so began my love affair with all things post-rock.
Let’s get one thing straight here, the post-rock genre is a wide one, after all its very name just implies “after rock”, it’s not exactly specific, and I will not be going into the roots of it here as there seems to be a lot of discussion on where and with who it started, was it Talk Talk with “Laughing Stock”, Slint with “Spiderland”, Bark Psychosis with “Hex” etc etc. and this could be another post on its own. I am going to concentrate on the largely instrumental, longer quiet/loud type tracks and albums like the two bands mentioned above, and arguably you could say Mogwai were one of the progenitors of this brand of post-rock.
When one starts to try and discuss or eulogise about these artists it’s very difficult to avoid sounding like a bit of a twat, but for me these long largely instrumental tracks could be seen as a modern version of the classical symphony, they’re predominantly longer than your average song, some (eg. Her Name Is Calla’s Condor & River or The Union) actually have separate movements, they have no concept of choruses or verses and, as with classical music, you need to invest a little more time and effort into listening, you can’t usually just pop it on for five minutes or so when you’re getting ready or whatever. But I have not read anywhere where people are complaining that this whole classical music thing, getting a bit tired isn’t it?! Which is largely the criticism thrown at a lot of post-rock. Sure, there are artists that aren’t really following their own path and are almost identikits of other more successful outfits, but as they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery.
To try and compress it into a few words; I’ve always liked tracks that build from a slow gentle start to a shattering climax (as it were!), I remember loving Six By Seven’s first album “The Things We Make” for this very reason (among others) and this is why I was completely in awe when I first listened to GY!BE as a vast majority of their tunes do this to a certain extent. Then when I delved more into Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Mono etc. I found this everywhere and for a while it became like a drug, seeking out that climactic hit!
Years have passed and, to be devil’s advocate for a minute, I can sort of see where some journalists come from, but it’s hard to keep fresh in any genre let alone one in particular. So, I still love it and there are still bands I’m discovering (If These Trees Could Talk for example), there are less jaw on the floor moments than there were but that only heightens them when they happen.
So, to conclude here is a list of my ten favourite instrumental post-rock albums (gotta love a list! All available tracks I mention are on this Spotify playlist)
1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (unsurprisingly not on Spotify) The Canadian band that got me into all this in the first place!
2. Mogwai – Happy Songs For Happy People (Spotify, Listen to “Hunted By A Freak”) IMHO the best album they’ve done, a lot of people say “Young Team” but I don’t agree, so there!
3. God is an Astronaut – All is Violent, All is Bright (Spotify, Listen to “Suicide By Star”) First album of theirs I heard so it is in my blood so to speak!
4. Mono – Under The Pipal Tree (Spotify, Listen to “Karelia Opus 2”) Japanese delicacy gradually morphing into guitar monster! Post-rockzilla!
5. Explosions in the Sky – Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Will Live Forever (Spotify, Listen to “Have You Passed Through This Night?”) Texan guitar loveliness.
6. Yndi Halda – Enjoy Eternal Bliss (not on Spotify, I was going to include a Youtube link but as they’re restricted to 10 mins none of this band’s songs will fit!) Hailing from Canterbury UK, not Iceland as you may have thought from the name (it’s Old Norse for “Enjoy Eternal Bliss” apparently) this band tend to use more strings than guitars on this their debut and currently only release. I wish they’d hurry up and release something new!
7. Maybeshewill – Not For Want Of Trying (Spotify, Listen to the title track if only for the sample from the film “Network” that fits brilliantly)
8. Grails – Black Tar Prophecies Vols 1, 2 & 3 (Spotify, Listen to “Back To The Monastery”) One of the more original and different post-rock bands around, using Eastern influences and a myriad of instruments to give a more psychedelic feeling than the more guitar oriented acts.
9. Russian Circles – Enter (Spotify, Listen to “Carpe”) This Chicago band are heading into more post-metal territory with more chuggier, riff driven tracks on similar ground as another Chicago band….
10. Pelican – The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (Spotify, Listen to “Ran Amber”, as it’s the only track on Spotify!)