An exploration into post rock

Ailbhe Daly

Credit: Soul Feeder

Tell someone your favourite genre is Post Rock and prepare to be met with a raised eyebrow and a quizzical stare. It gets worse if you tell them your favourite album is ‘The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer’. You quite literally sound like you’re joking with them, and you’d nearly forgive them for thinking that.

The origins of post-rock run far deeper than most genres, in that it didn’t come to be in just one instance. It is characterised by putting emphasis on the rhythm and melody of guitars, and not adhering to the standard verse-chorus-verse structure that most are used to listening to.

The fact it isn’t a mainstream genre may lead you to think it isn’t popular, but it is more that many tracks last well over ten minutes make them very radio un-friendly. Take Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for example. One of the most prominent and popular post-rock bands today, their first LP, ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ is comprised of just four songs – the shortest is 18 minutes long. Yet despite this, the first track on the album, Storm, has over three million listens on Spotify alone.

While many claim the real birth of post-rock was in the 90s, it started far before that. The combination of droning and thumping guitars is something that bands like The Velvet Underground and Fleetwood Mac flirted with in their heyday. There isn’t one specific track or moment that you can use to pinpoint the emergence of post-rock but rather a number of building blocks that were used as the foundation for what the genre would grow from.

The term ‘post-rock’ is claimed to have been coined by Mojo journalist Simon Reynolds during his review of Bark Psychosis’ album Hex, published in 1994. An expansion on this idea happened in May of the same year when 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.”

Kentuckians Slint was formed in 1987 and their sophomore record ‘Spiderland’ would go on to be one of the albums that many hold as the first real post-rock album. Bands like Tortoise (featuring David Pajo of Slint) and Cul De Sac went on to push the genre forward in the 1990’s but it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that post-rock really affirmed itself and found its true footing.

Icelandic Sigur Ros was one of the first post-rock bands to break into mainstream media with their fourth album, Takk. The ethereal Hoppipolla, the second single from the album, was used in numerous ads in mainstream media which led to radios picking the track up. Sigur Ros themselves continue to uphold their title as one of the most influential post-rock bands around, helped in great part by charismatic frontman Jonsi.

Post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later featured a heavily edited version of East Hastings by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Rains of Castamere from HBO’s Game of Thrones was recorded by Sigur Ros and Glaswegians Mogwai penned the soundtrack for popular show ‘Les Revenants’. As the genre itself continues to grow and change, it slowly seeps into everyday media and becomes something that you recognize without really knowing why.

Bands on both sides of the Atlantic begin to grow and create their own kind of post-rock, with the likes of Caspian, Red Sparowes and Do Make Say Think creating waves in the US while Mogwai, 65 Days of Static and Maybeshewill were doing the same in the UK, etching their names into the great stone tablet of post-rock prominence that we know today.

Here in Ireland, we have an impressive collecting of post-rock bands, many of which have made their mark further afield than just our little green island. Belfast’s And So I Watch You From Afar, Redneck Manifesto, God is an Astronaut and the now defunct Adebisi Shank are just a selection of bands from our shores that come to mind. Each band is unique in their own right but uses the same soaring crescendos, gargantuan rhythm sections and intricate guitar work to evoke emotion and assure that the hairs on your neck are grappling with gravity.

It is impossible to pigeonhole post-rock. It is a musical experience without a lyric ever needing to be uttered, one that can make you feel at peace with the world no matter what you’re going through. While this somewhat unconventional genre might be something that you never hear on your local radio station, it is something that you should try and allow yourself delve into and experience first hand.