I’m playing post-rock really loudly on my speakers right now, shortly after waking up, and thinking about why the genre means so much to me. It’s probable that I’ve already written my thoughts down on this before but, at this point (five years into my career with the blog), I’ve stopped worrying about that. I think, when you cut away the aesthetic enjoyment of the music itself, post-rock resonates with me because I’ve always been someone who has felt very strongly. My emotions tend to oscillate between peaks, whether good or bad, and I experience nostalgia and attachment to place maybe more strongly than anything else I feel. Leaving hotel rooms is torture; moving away from apartments is even worse. But it’s not exactly pain or regret; those things have their place in it but the emotion is also painted with its fair share of hope and a sense of a journey started, a poignant kind of sadness that holds expectation within it.
Is that not post-rock writ large? I think that’s why I connect with the genre so much; I still haven’t encountered any other style of music which captures those emotions as post-rock does. It’s in the build-ups first: tension is rising, something is cresting over the horizon but the moment is also beautiful and holds much to be paid attention to (if you’re listening to good post-rock, of course). Then, the crescendo: your heart swells, filled with the catharsis of the emotions contained in the build-up but also more, a kind of elation. But the melancholy is never far behind; the highest points of post-rock still hold introspection, a hint of sadness, a choice of tones that usually points to the difficult journey you’ve taken here and the difficult journey which lies ahead.
Whether this analysis is too cerebral or, weirdly, not cerebral enough (not taking into account music theory for example), I still very much feel it whenever I listen to the genre. It’s one of the reasons why post-rock is not my most listened to genre but one of the most beloved. It takes a certain occurrence or state of mind in my life to put me in the mood for all of these subtle emotions. But when I’m there, there’s nothing like post-rock to help me channel, get in touch, and accept these often hard moods. There’s nothing more cleansing for me than to hear a band dig into those places and bring forth from them great music, music which they clearly feel as passionate about me. I try to make sure that every Post Rock Post entry I write comes from this place and highlights the expansive and complicated nature of the genre. And I’m thrilled to have others along for the ride, recommending me great music and pouring their own hearts on the page. This month’s entries are especially exquisite, representing the diversity of people, places, and ideas that connect with the central goal and method of post-rock. Read on below for that and so much more.
Legendary Skies – Navigation
It seems like ages ago that I wrote about post-rock collectives and, among them, highlighted the work being down around Austin, Texas. It makes sense that you’d find lots of post-rock there; it’s one of the birthplaces of the genre (Explosions in the Sky, Balmorhea and more) but it was thrilling nonetheless to discover so many young bands working there and, more importantly, so many hopeful bands. It seems as if Austin has long shuffled the coil of melancholy from their brand of post-rock and has wholly embraced a brighter, more optimistic view on the emotional range that the genre is capable of. This is a welcome development/long-standing fact; while some of my favorite post-rock albums are melancholy, I have a dear place in my heart for a band that can make me sing, even when no lyrics are present.
Legendary Skies have always been one of those bands, ever since I first heard them when researching those aforementioned post-rock collectives, but their previous albums lacked a special little something to really make them go. I’m happy to report that with Navigation they’ve found that oomph. The beauty of it is that it would be hard for me to isolate the change to one instrument; rather, something about the communication of the band as a whole just seems to work better. Check out “Beyond the Horizon”, the second proper track on the release. Listen to how the guitars linger just enough, the several tracks which comprise them lending overtones and touches to each other. Inside those lingering spaces the bass lives, etching out little details inside the sounds, working to accentuate the nuances of the sound. Below, the drums are subdued in sound and in presence but not out of weakness or a need to hide. Rather, they go along with the rest of the instruments and, instead of overwhleming and overselling the wonderful crescendo, rather lend the whole thing a sense of nostalgia, of a picture viewed through sepia lenses.
Add to this several tracks on the album which rely heavily on acoustic guitars, more expansive and dreamy tracks like “Rogue Wave” (perhaps the biggest tear-jerker on the album), and a middle part of the album which just reaches for your throat and never lets go, and you get yourself a fantastic release that’s a marked step up for a band that’s always been good and are now great. All of these elements come together to make Navigation a joy to listen to. It’s an expansive album but one which spends its time at the edge of things looking forward rather than inward, spurring as along on our journeys towards wherever we might be heading. Through the clever use of composition and fitting production, Legendary Skies are able to claim a true stake to their name, opening for us expansive vistas of leads and tried and true post-rock ideas fed through tones of personality and a brighter touch. Simply put, the album makes my heart sing and that’s what I want out of all of my post-rock.
The Endless Shimmering (aka Best of the Rest)
The Further I Go – Every Morning is an Afterlife
Every aspect and every second of this album is concentrated towards a bigger picture, a dramatic emotion stirring piece of art which conveys a lot of feeling. I think whenever post-rock bands utilize string orchestration well it’s almost a cheat code to my heart-strings. That combined with often subtle yet tasteful use of piano throughout really creates a cinematic world to get lost in. From the first song, Every Morning is an Afterlife sets the ambiance for the album, with a very textural atmospheric backdrop to some neat electronic drums similar to something you’d hear on an IDM album. These electronic drums are used throughout to compliment the floaty cloud-like textural vibes.
To truly appreciate what The Further I Go have created here you do have to be invested in it. There’s certainly other albums that combine piano-lead atmospheres and essentially crescendocore guitarwork and song writing, but the clever drum-work, use of dynamics, consistent song-writing and fantastic production make this a stand-out for me among its piers. There’s a few songs void of any guitar and some moments of pure atmosphere, adding to the cinematic flair as a catalyst for your own thoughts and imagination to take over. When the distorted guitar is present it’s highly dynamic, ranging from soft melancholic riffs which often builds into a few moments of relatively intense heaviness delivering that final punch.
I’ve used the term cinematic a lot, but there’s moments here where it’s really hard not to visualize this as a score for a dramatic piece of film or visual arts. “The Silent Ascension” especially, feels like something out of a modern sci-fi blockbuster and is on the level and akin to some great film composers such as Clint Mansell. I can just picture the protagonist rapidly pressing keys on a touchscreen as his spaceship in slow-motion starts to implode around him, and the love interest in the escape pod silently screaming for him to join them as he sacrifices himself. It’s with these mostly orchestral and keyboard/piano driven moments that I find The Further I Go really shines, and I would not be surprised if they have already or will venture into the soundtrack composing field. However that balance they’ve found between the ambient and the more traditional rock instrumentation tracks really works on the grand scheme of this album to create something considerably above average and memorable.
– Trent Bos
Noisedriver – DORMANT [post-metal/math-metal]
Post-metal like many genres has become a bit of a vague catch-all term for anything too heavy for post-rock, while stretching to encompass several major influences such as sludge, prog and math. Belgium’s noisedriver take their foray into the genre with the latter, focusing on up-beat lead guitar riffs to carry them rather than sludging heaviness. This album takes me back to a style of instrumental metal that the instrumental prog scene has for some reason neglected, often in favor of virtuosic noodling, or pure djent. Dormant is neither of those things but harks back to two of my favourite albums in the genre that have seldom been replicated: Cloudkicker’s first LPs The Discovery, and Beacons.
If you’re familiar with the aforementioned, you should immediately hear those influences on “Oneironautics”. It balances a groovy low end that doesn’t just hit open notes, with repeated fast paced tapping riffs that knows how to slowly build that into something more. The more I listen the more I’m impressed with the transitions, which are often kick-started by the drumming and changes in tempo. I’m not sure if I’m just nostalgic and been craving more takes at this sound but this is one of very few albums to successfully replicate what I loved most about Cloudkicker’s older work. It builds through repetition like a lot of post-rock, but then more layers are added with at time 3 guitars playing different things without compromising each other, creating a very in your face landscape of riffs and textures.
“A Priori” starts off with another tapping riff that sounds suspiciously similar to a Genghis Tron song, and while it never goes full on cyber-grind the song does feature their most prominent synth usage which adds another layer to an album at times lacking in diversity. This is also one of the more dynamic tracks, with a ‘flying-through-space’ textural ambient section which transitions into a breakdown and then to some rare clean guitar tones. The tones and production are maybe not up to the standards of the bigger names in the scene, and there are times I wish the bass was more prominent and the riffs a little ‘chunkier’, but I feel going too far in that direction might upset that intricate balance Dormant carries between post-rock/metal and the math/prog metal influence.
Russian Circles are likely another influence on noisedriver, who have made their name from writing riff-driven post-metal with stellar songwriting. This shows on one of the album’s highlights “Metaphors” which is perhaps the most ‘post-rock’ song on the album with a style that could have been fleshed out further as the album ultimately ends maybe a bit too soon, coming in at under 31 minutes. That being said, I appreciate the restraint and succinctness of this album. There’s absolutely no filler, stretched out intros or unnecessarily long ambient build ups. The rhythms and riffs aren’t overly complex or technical, but they know how to structure them to create intricately layered and interesting passages which make this an enjoyable listen start to finish.
“Better Late Than Never:” Records I Missed Out On The First Time Around
December 2018 was a wild time for me, featuring much end-of-year deliberating, more back and forth than I yet care to recall and what I’m sure I’ll eventually view as an unsuccessful attempt to place a tight and tidy bow on the year that was. I spent so much time looking back this past month that I basically spent zero time looking at what was in front of me. This is just a wordy way of saying that I didn’t really discover anything from December 2018 that I feel prepared to cover at the moment. However, in proving my previous statement about flailing toward the finish line foolishly hoping that I’d covered all my bases, here are some strong releases that I’d either stowed away in the queue, explored but then tabled, or completely glossed over during the past year-plus.
ioish – Reconstructing Dreams EP – ioish is the first of two Indian bands I’ll be covering today, showcasing the strength that lies in an often underlooked region. If you’ve been around the post-rock block it quickly becomes clear that there is a healthy presence of support for the genre in India, but there are unfortunate peripherals that keep this area of the world in a state of partial segregation from everyone else, not least of all the absence of Spotify. As much as India’s artistic industries are alive and thriving and vividly exciting, for whatever reason there seems to be a wider chasm between the Western world and this country than there is with the cultural industries of, say Japan or South Korea. The Bollywood film industry has made some crossovers into Western culture (in both serious works and kitschier, silly stuff), but it seems like high time to take a deeper look into the vibrant music scene coming out of this country.
We can confidently leap into this realm with the newest release from the New Delhi band ioish, whose Reconstructing Dreams EP had been sitting somewhere in my inbox until this past week. I definitely should have dove into this sooner because it’s a compelling, nuanced, exciting piece of upbeat post-rock. In my experience with Indian post-rock I’ve seen most bands skew away from heavier tendencies and lean hard into the third-wave American post-rock aesthetic and that is somewhat true of ioish, but there is an energy and an edge that comes along with all the lush, pretty textures, as well as plenty of welcome electronic accents and additional instrumentation provided by strings and keys that give the compositions a pleasing richness.
The signature track by all accounts is “When the Dogs Define Her,” which has an intriguing arc that includes a super dramatic, cinematic-type first quarter reminiscent of Mono, but then around the two minute mark the synth melody kicks in and the track seemingly begins heading more in the kind of inspiring direction listeners would expect from Lights & Motion. But then, instead of moving in an increasingly predictable direction, the track becomes firmly rooted in electronics for a stretch before bringing everything together for its rousing climactic push, which distinguishes itself with some unique drum patterns and the kind of soaring power chord riff that I personally can’t resist.
I’ve seen albums before, though, that are able to come out of the gate strong but can’t finish the job. Reconstructing Dreams is not an example of that though, and in fact may even get stronger as it moves into the following track “Revenant.” While “When the Dogs Define Her” is like ioish’s “Arcs of Command,” their “kitchen sink” tune where they pull out all the stops, “Revenant” is a more tightly structured and consistent track, building atmosphere effectively throughout its first three quarters, leading into a very strong, prog-laced finale that serves notice that this is no one-track wonder band. Things go in an unexpected direction from here, including a piano and electronics-led interlude and a more concise, heavier track that features vocals. I feel like the back half of the record would resonate in particular with Eden, who surely loves his bass-and-drum propelled post-rock. All told, this is an accessible and intriguing album that seems as if it would bridge the gap easily for listeners coming to Indian post-rock for the first time. Which leads us to another high-level regional effort from a band that killed on the Forest Stage at dunk!2018.
aswekeepsearching – Zia – This is one of those bands where I had seen the name floating around all over the place for a while, but for whatever reason I’d never looked into them. It took a visit to dunk!festival this past May to realize how I’d messed up. There were a few unexpected show-stealers this year, and Ahmedabad’s aswekeepsearching was near the forefront of those artists. Their daytime Forest Stage set helped capture and highlight everything beautiful, everything inspiring about this genre. There are certain bands you see and think “this is the perfect venue for them,” and that was case for aswekeepsearching out in the woods. And talk about stage presence – these guys carried themselves with the confidence of stars on stage, particularly their guitarist/vocalist Uddipan Sarmah, who brought a lightness and joy to the performance that can not be undervalued.
Their 2017 effort Zia is well worth diving into. In keeping with the themes of the region, their approach is very upbeat and focused on prettier aesthetics, and contains a joyousness that is undeniably infectious. The occasional vocals are also a masterstroke for these particular compositions, gifting the songs that extra lift they so clearly are reaching for. Seemingly counter-intuitively, I have been more and more appreciating the sporadic use of vocals in post-rock. Obviously this is a genre that thrives on its listeners’ appreciation of instrumentally-focused songwriting, but I feel like sometimes just the right amount of vocals in the right spots can give a record the extra dimension it needs, and this is a perfect example of that.
Zhaoze – Birds Contending – In keeping with the themes of the Asian continent, the dunk!festival Forest Stage and things that start with the letter Z, Guangzhou, China’s Zhaoze released a 43-minute song/album in November that they recorded in the Zottegem woods during off-time at this year’s festival, complete with the sounds of birds and nature surrounding them. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that a 43-minute track is the perfect vehicle for accessibility, but Zhaoze isn’t known for tailoring their compositions to those who prefer easy listening. That being said, it is startlingly listenable for song of this potentially intimidating length. As is often the case with Zhaoze, the focus is often squarely on the unique element brought by the electric guqin, an instrument that most of us have heard but few could likely identify by name. However, the real story here is how much Birds Contending centers so heavily around the remaining band members.
I’ve found the past that some of their compositions can become somewhat too focused on Hoyliang’s central contributions, but here the band is given space to spread their wings and it makes a huge difference. The live recording adds plenty of character as well, keeping the band from sounding too clean, which can be another downfall of their studio material. As expected, the record has its moments of quiet, contemplative beauty, but it also has a welcome heaviness and occasional ugliness that proves to be key to its success. Either steel yourself to the daunting concept of taking in an entire 43-minute song, or get into the headspace that you’re just listening to a full record front to back, but make sure you give this a chance because it may be the band’s finest work to date.
BRUIT – MONOLITH – Moving across continents, we have more intriguing content from Elusive Sound, this time in the form of the French quartet BRUIT. This is a particularly interesting blend of ideas – on the first track “Bloom” listeners will find something that sounds reminiscent of the soundscape experimentation of Explosions in the Sky’s tour-only EP The Rescue, the high drama of Mono, the measured, minimalist patience of string-led neo-classical and the electronic-tinged percussion of the full-band live incarnation of Arms and Sleepers.
It’s all very carefully written and professional sounding, but with an undercurrent of genuinely moving emotion that fills out all the necessary spaces. This certainly isn’t music that deals in hooks or other simplistic attention-grabbing techniques, but the pleasure is in the consistent build, the feeling of immediacy behind the contemplative presentation, the sense that, despite the willingness to take their time getting where they’re going that they aren’t wasting a single second. This is bit of a departure from Elusive’s typically-heavier roots, but the aesthetic makes sense nevertheless, as BRUIT displays a maturity and dedication to furrowed-brow artfulness that eschews overly eager instincts for more hard-earned rewards.
– David Zeidler