A beginner's guide to post-rock, in 11 parts. Why? Because for the better part of the past two years, my listening habits have been overwhelmed by this kind of stuff — and because I want it to be a part of your life, too. Post-rock is the genre tag that's been slapped on a diverse family of bands vaguely unified by an approach which adopts rock instrumentation... and then completely abandons anything resembling the traditional, linear verse-chorus-verse structure of rock music. A lot of this stuff is instrumental, and much of it suggests full-on composition as much as (or even more than) songwriting — complex, layered, thick with atmosphere and, as often as not, rife with catharsis.
Anyhow. Turn up the volume, take a listen, and remember: when it comes to post-rock, patience is rewarded.
1. This Will Destroy You: The World Is Our _____
I know virtually nothing about this band, other than the fact that they're from Texas, they have a tremendously cool name, this song is from their inaugural release Young Mountain, and this music typifies everything I love about the genre: an echoing, atmospheric, gorgeous slow build to the moment when the night suddenly explodes in fireworks — blinding and brilliant to the point of being almost overwhelming, then lingering in your sense memory long after the moment has passed.
2. The Unwinding Hours: Knut
D'you know Aereogramme? Probably not, but you should. They were one of the great bands of the past 10 years, largely unheralded on these shores but critically adored (and justifiably so) in the UK. Anyhow, the band sadly imploded following the release of My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go in 2007... and then there was silence. Several years of silence, in fact. So when Glaswegians/ex-Aereogramme guys Craig and Iain unveiled their new project The Unwinding Hours earlier this year, it's not an understatement to say that anticipation and expectations were sky-high. This song is how they launched their eponymous debut, and... my goodness. Well played, gentlemen. Well played, indeed. Unlike most of the music on this list, this piece features vocals (and clear, understandable vocals, at that) — but it's only 9 words total, and repeated over and over in the service of a slow builder that, by its end, should have the little hairs on your arms standing on end.
3. Mono: Ashes In The Snow
Given my well-established proclivities as a slave to the mainstream, it probably came as little surprise when my Best of 2009 post at MamaPop declared that the year's finest album was a slab of epic post-rock awesomeness by the Japanese trio Mono. This piece, which opens Hymn To The Immortal Wind, probably exemplifies the band as much as anything else you'll hear. Is it almost 12 minutes long? Yes. Is it worth 12 minutes of your life? Absolutely. Prepare to have your socks blown off.
4. Caspian: Some Are White Light
You may have heard this song via this site before. Well, good news: here's your chance to hear it again. Caspian consistently produce some of the most breathtaking music on the planet, and this song may (repeat: may) be the best thing they've ever done. Play loud.
5. Hammock: Breathturn
They say writing about music is like dancing about architecture. They also say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I'm not sure how these two things tie together, but I'm going to let this video do my explaining for me.
6. The Gloria Record: Miserere
Man, do I miss The Gloria Record. Over the course of two EPs and a single full-length, they produced some of the most inscrutable, sad and gloriously shimmering music I've ever heard. "When you go to sleep at night, don't you ever feel the weight of all the things that make you happy? That float around you, pull you down? And don't you ever want to stand up on the waves and run?" Yeah. I think we all get that.
7. God Is An Astronaut: Tempus Horizon
They're Irish, they're incredible, and they've unleashed several albums worth of incredible music that you've never heard. Start with this, and begin exploring. You won't regret it.
8. The Appleseed Cast: As The Little Things Go
Four and a half minutes that lull you into a sense of deep relaxation, and then: BLAM. By the time the vocals finally kick in - something like six and a half minutes into the song - you're hooked, and then it kicks up into yet another gear, and... ye gods, I love this. (I'm sure you can hear where my love of shoegaze comes into play here, as well.)
10. Russian Circles: Philos
Like any worthwhile musical school, post-rock has generated offshoots and subgenres. One worth exploring is that of post-metal, which melds the textural emphasis and compositional approach of post-rock and marries it to more aggressive instrumentation and (not infrequently) vocals to create hard music for thinking people — stuff that may call to mind some of the more atmosphere-drenched work of, say, Tool or Deftones. Isis, Pelican, Cult of Luna and many others have explored this space (some to great effect), and Chicago-based Russian Circles falls somewhere into this category as well. Their most recent effort, Geneva, is probably the best thing they've done thus far, and Philos finishes the album on a staggeringly powerful and moving high note. I've probably listened to this song a thousand times this year, and it evokes what I can only say is a legitimate emotional reaction each time I hear it. Stunning.
11. Explosions In The Sky: So Long, Lonesome
Explosions in the Sky is basically ground zero for post-rock as a genre... there are plenty of other touchstones you could point to who preceeded them (e.g. Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis, Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Mogwai) or who've garnered more mainstream visibility (e.g. Sigur Ros), but really: any conversation about post-rock begins with this Austin-based gang of four. To be honest, the song I've chosen here isn't really the most emblamatic of their sound - you can check out The Only Moment We Were Alone or The Birth And Death of The Day for evidence of that - but nevertheless: it's gorgeous, and at just under 4 minutes of shimmering guitar and piano, it's the perfect way to complete this exercise.