When putting this year of post into perspective, I think the best place to go is the very beginning. In our first column from this year I remarked at the fact that right from the get go 2019 was shaping up to be an absolute gangbusters year for post-rock. January saw the release of albums from the likes of Old Solar, We Are Impala, Long Hallways, Endless Dive, A Swarm of the Sun, Mono, At the End of the Ocean, Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters, and plenty more. How’s that for an opening salvo? At that point I had also heard upcoming incredible releases from Latitudes, SEIMS, and Town Portal. So yeah, I was feeling pretty bullish about the year to come.
Now at the end of the year, I can say with an even greater degree of certainty that 2019 was, in fact, a year for the ages in post-rock, and not only because the number of high-quality releases was bountiful. It also has served as a fitting capstone to a decade in which post-rock has systematically revitalized and reinvented itself in the face of increased ambivalence from more mainstream circles. As you’ll see in our four essays below, there is a ton to celebrate within the wide realm of post-y music, and our one wish for the decade to come is that we can all continue to grow and enjoy the fruits of this wonderful labor. And that’s all I have to say for now. Read on to find out more about why we’re so damn optimistic and excited to be involved in this beautiful spectrum of music and the communities within it.
. . .
America Is Not A Cold, Dead Place – A Country United In Music
It’s easy to fall into step with certain cliches in the moment, especially when you continually hear them repeated, or experience certain truths that blur together with the falsehoods. One cliche that has buried itself into the back brains of the post-rock community is that “post-rock is dead.” Before we go into anything else, let’s just dispel the myth and assert that this statement is complete and utter bullshit. And I’m not just saying that because I’m directly involved and I want things to be otherwise. You know what genre is dead? Ragtime. Ragtime is dead. It had its time, it had its popularity, and that popularity ended before 99.9% of the current living population of the earth was born. No one plays ragtime anymore. Ragtime is dead. I’m not trying to shit on the genre here, it just happened to be the first example that popped into my mind.
Post-rock isn’t dead; in fact, the genre as we currently know it didn’t really come about until the mid-90’s at the earliest. It has become incredibly tiresome hearing music snobs that don’t follow the genre in the first place try to demean the music with statements like “it just doesn’t have the outside-the-box impetus and creative daring of Spiderland.” Going into a new decade, can we all just make a pledge? Can we stop using Spiderland as an example when discussing modern post-rock? Nothing makes my eyeballs want to roll out of my skull faster than hearing some curmudgeonly nerd name-drop Slint, or Bark Psychosis, or Talk Talk, less because they actually want to offer a valuable critique of the development of post-rock and more because they want everyone to see that they know things and can name bands. That kind of talk may be perfect for sounding smart in a coffee shop to someone who honestly doesn’t give a shit about what you’re referencing in the first place, but anyone who has even an inkling of understanding of modern post-rock knows that name-dropping Spiderland in 2019 is like criticizing Knocked Loose because they don’t sound enough like The Buzzcocks. You just sound like an old asshole. You know what’s dead? Spiderland is dead. I’m calling it, and I’m nailing the coffin shut. Starting in 2020, no more name-dropping Slint in post-rock conversations.
Post-rock as we know it in modern times started with Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Tortoise and Sigur Ros in the ‘90s. But those bands have largely spread their influence around Europe since those salad days. The reality is that what we know as modern American post-rock began with Explosions in the Sky’s 2001 album Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever. That was 18 YEARS AGO. People who were born that year are just now exiting high school. How can a genre that young have been dead for all the years some people claim it has been already? How can a genre that was never meant for mainstream placement be considered dead simply because, after receiving surprising amounts of positive press in the mid-2000s when a couple of bands licensed their music to popular movies, it simply settled back into its rightful niche?
I had a discussion with some guy online earlier this year. There were two things about this guy that were very obvious, even though I’d never met or spoken to him before. First, he clearly fancies himself as the “guy with elevated knowledge who’s gonna tell you how it really is.” Second, he clearly doesn’t follow post-rock. But boy, did he have some strong thoughts. I’ll boil them down to this: post-rock is dead because Pitchfork doesn’t talk about it anymore. Keep in mind, Pitchfork famously rated Lateralus a 1.7, and gave Frances the Mute a 2.0. They also dripped more sap than a sugar maple in this hilariously overwrought tribute/review piece about Lil’ Peep. So… it might be safe to say that, despite its relevance to popular music, Pitchfork in fact has zero relevance to post-rock. To bemoan their lack of genre coverage is like getting your feathers ruffled because The Hollywood Reporter overlooked Mandy. It’s incredibly important to keep things in perspective. There’s no point in determining the value of a niche genre based on the reaction, or lack thereof, from a publication that makes its money covering pop culture. While we’re at it, there’s also no sense in trying to make definitive declarations about music you don’t really care about in the first place. Just sayin’.
If you want to analyze the state of modern American post-rock, you need only consult the raw data for a few seconds. In 2009, I was already deeply into post-rock, and had been following it since 2001. Here is a pretty-complete list of all the bands I knew at that time: Explosions in the Sky, Caspian, Russian Circles, This Will Destroy You, Red Sparowes, Pelican, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, Tortoise, 65daysofstatic, Mono, and God Is An Astronaut. That’s it. Of course, there were others out there, but not a ton. Measure that against what’s out there now and it’s not even the same ballpark. There are thousands of post-rock bands around the world now. The big knock is that a lot sound same-ish. Are some of them derivative? Yeah. But this is what happens when a genre grows in popularity, not when it dies. To call back to earlier, did you see a bunch of ripoff ragtime artists kicking around in the ‘30s? No, because that genre was dead, and new things were happening. Imitation doesn’t equal extinction, but it does suggest interest.
Building off of that idea, the exponential growth in the sheer volume of post-rock bands from 2010 to 2019 suggests that it is, in fact, one of the most inspirational modern genres, rather than a shadow of its former self. Prominent examples of genres from recent generations that went from 0 to 100 with blinding speed are hip-hop and EDM, both of which have undeniable commercial viability. Current statistics show that instrumental music has experienced a 42% growth over the past several years, making it one of the most rapidly-increasing artist bases in the world (oddly, heavy metal leads the list at 154%, which I suppose bodes well for this blog).
Let’s bring it back in to the American scene. In the past three years, we have seen dunk!usa and Post. Festival pop up as the first post-rock focused festivals on American soil. Bands like The End Of The Ocean, If These Trees Could Talk, HarborLights and others have signed to big labels. Crossover bands with overt post-rock influence like Deafheaven, O’Brother, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and Foxing have flourished. More and more bands that warmly embrace the post-rock niche like Holy Fawn, Glassing and Emma Ruth Rundle have taken huge leaps in the past two years. There are all kinds of exciting hybrids popping up, blending elements from shoegaze, dream pop, emo, math rock, black metal, doom, slowcore and other genres. Caspian and Russian Circles are headlining festivals and have achieved legitimate levels of recognition. This should be a time of great excitement and, despite the naysayers, it has been exactly that for most of the people who are actually involved day-to-day.
Almost all of this growth has sprung from the low and mid-tiers, with a bunch of people from DIY music backgrounds who found their way to this music and discovered how much they loved playing it and sharing it; and also, one by one, found out how welcoming and warm the community is as it has formed in front of their eyes. I’ve been lucky enough to bear witness to a lot of it over the past few years. When I was writing a review for sadly now-defunct Arctic Drones of RANGES’ The Gods of the Copybook Headings, a conversation with guitarist CJ Blessum turned into much, much more. He introduced me to his fledgling company, A Thousand Arms, which at the time was mostly doing screenprinting and merch fulfillment. He had been dreaming up this idea of putting together free digital post-rock compilations for release on Bandcamp. Knowing that my position at Arctic Drones could open up some avenues of communication, he asked if I wanted to help him put it together.
I don’t think either of us expected the kind of response we got from bands, and as the list of participants grew we landed on the idea of splitting the comp into two “sides,” with Side A featuring 18 American bands and Side B 18 international. CJ coined the name Open Language, referring to the way that post-rock translates across cultures and continents, and lined up still-rising Brian Morgante of Flesh and Bone Design to do the simple but compelling artwork. The response was strong enough that we were back at it within a couple of months, assembling another 36 artists for the first Hemispheres comp, with art from Error! Design’s Xavi Forne, and featuring 18 bands from the Northern Hemisphere and 18 from the Southern. Needless to say, both of our early artists have risen to impressive heights in the time since then. We’re now working on our 8th comp for this coming January, and A Thousand Arms partner and L U X I N V I C T U S head Wilson Raska (a former RANGES guitar player, now their photographer/videographer/graphic designer/jack of all trades) has designed the past five.
It’s been incredible to see how these simple compilation albums have helped bring artists together, especially here in the States. I fondly recall watching as musicians fawned over new band discoveries, and subsequently built relationships with other bands from the comps, some of which blossomed into actual partnerships in touring and other endeavors. And this was only the beginning. CJ and I worked on bringing dunk!festival to U.S. soil, acting as the reps for dunk!usa. That festival saw the birth of fruitful relationships between bands like RANGES, Tides of Man, Man Mountain (who didn’t play the festival, but played a show in town the night before and attended both days of the event), Coastlands, The End Of The Ocean, Pray For Sound, Appalaches and Au Revoir, five of which have played dunk!festival in Belgium since then (and Pray For Sound played there a few months prior to dunk!usa).
dunk!usa eventually led indirectly to Post. Festival (and dunk! is now a partner with the event), which both A Thousand Arms and I have been directly involved with. In April 2018 I started my PR/etc. company Young Epoch, which I am proud to say now boasts a roster of nearly 30 post-aligned bands and 5 labels, as well as dunk!festival and Post. Festival. This year’s Post. Festival was a rousing success despite some over-zealous scheduling, and although I can’t reveal any spoilers, fans are going to be really excited for what’s coming in 2020. Everything I just mentioned has, amazingly, taken place in a period of just three and a half years. There are so many more details that I haven’t covered in the interest of length, but even without them there are a staggering amount of indicators of positive growth during the second half of the decade. The night before dunk!usa I ran my first show ever as a promoter, a pre-festival celebration that featured Man Mountain and the powerhouse Austrian band (and favorite of Caspian members) Lehnen. Back then I had no idea how difficult it was for a post-rock band (or any indie band, for that matter) from another part of the world to tour the States. But now I can say that all of the U.S partners are working together to get bands from abroad onto American soil, which will serve to further tighten the community that has already flourished domestically during the past few years.
Point being, post-rock may not be commercially viable, but it was never supposed to be. Anyone claiming that post-rock is dead most likely hasn’t listened to a post-rock album since the mid 2000’s. Believe me, as someone who is often directly involved with the scene in the U.S and sometimes abroad as well, I don’t think there has ever been as brightly burning a passion and as vibrantly pulsing a heartbeat within the genre as there is right now, heading into a new decade full of promise and possibility. With that, I’ll leave you with my 2019 Top 10. A lot of great albums got the axe to narrow this list down to where it is now. So make sure you go back through all of our Post-Rock Posts from the year to get a full recap on the amazing array of strong releases that came out in 2019. See you next decade.
David’s Top 10 Post-y Albums:
- Her Name Is Calla – Animal Choir
- Minor Movements – Bloom
- Old Solar – SEE
- Outlander – The Valium Machine
- Flodhast – Unos dias en la Tierra
- PILLARS – Cavum
- RANGES – Babel
- Lonesome – To Myself, From Myself
- Feed Me To The Waves – Intill
- Pelican – Nighttime Stories
It’s a Small Post-World – How Post-Rock Became More Connected Than Ever
As David has already beautifully explained, the American post-rock scene is experiencing a surge and the kind of synthesis that can fuel momentum and further growth. Surely much of that has to do with the bands themselves and the work they’ve put in. But while there has been growth and a general uptick in the number of bands creating this music, there also isn’t strong reason to believe that there are a lot more bands active in the States currently who are just better at this than their predecessors. So what has changed? I think there’s an easy case to be made that the key difference now is in the infrastructure present and available to bands to connect them to each other, to people who can effectively put together festivals, to labels to distribute LPs and merch worldwide, and, perhaps most critically, to fans.
Let’s start with the US. It’s fair to say that the single most noticeable addition to the post-rock world here in the past decade has been the founding and expansion of A Thousand Arms from a DIY shop to service merch for Ranges and friends to possibly the definitive American post-rock label and community focal point in the 2010s. Through years of building a network of up-and-coming bands through their incredibly well-researched and curated compilations and working with partners in Europe and across the world (more on them shortly), A1KA have become central to the identity of this new American post-rock environment. They’ve also made this center one that is as self-reliant and DIY-driven as it ever was but far more cohesive, collaborative, and, honestly, straight-up rewarding and fun. It is fairly impossible to imagine the genre and scene being nearly as strong as it is currently without them.
Beyond them (and through them), however, an entire network of like-minded artists and individuals have coalesced to shape this new American post-rock identity. It’s in large part due to A1KA’s work with dunk!festival and their connection in the US with the band Pillars that Indianapolis natives Nason Frizzell and Derek Vorndran could team up and start Post. Festival, currently the only post-centric fest in the states, with the backing of A1KA. I’ll have plenty more to say about Post. Fest and A1KA in my longer feature on this year’s Post. Fest (which I know I keep teasing and will come, I swear), but suffice it to say that they’ve been driving forces in building this strong community that is spreading throughout the country and across the world. In addition to the festival, Post. Fest also have been dipping their toes into the micro-label scene as well with the formation of Post. Recordings this year, which has a working relationship with, you guessed it, A1KA for production and distribution. There’s even a look and aesthetic that has become strongly associated with the American post-scene thanks in large part to A1KA. Brian Morgante, aka Flesh and Bone Design has become a common fixture for post-rock album art/design and merch, working with bands like Old Solar, Staghorn, Man Mountain, Circus Trees, Tides of Man, Pray For Sound, Telepathy, and really countless others, including this very website.
These kinds of interconnected infrastructures and artistic languages are crucial pillars to developing and sustaining a scene, and it’s something that has felt missing from post-rock and metal for years since its original heyday. There were certainly pockets of it in places like Texas and Chicago that established certain musical touchstones that would be passed around and built upon, but it’s only been over the course of this past decade that those who follow the music closely can put their thumb on something that looks and feels like a true American post-rock scene, identity, and, probably most importantly, community. As David explained in his piece, the connection between the bands/labels/fans and the support network present to help each other out and create something bigger working together has only served to create better music and a better experience for everyone involved.
It’s not only in the US that we’re seeing this kind of interconnected and shared infrastructure sustain and develop post-rock though. If anything, the US is really just joining the party that Europe has been throwing for years. Due to a number of factors, post-rock has proliferated and thrived across Europe for a long time, even as it struggled to regain any sort of foothold to the west. There is perhaps a very simple and logical reason that helps explain much of this. Europe is a continent featuring dozens of nation states, many with their own language, culture, and identity all within a rather contained space. So between the fact that there has been now a long post-war history of pan-continental cooperation and sharing through the EU (Brexit notwithstanding, of course) and the fact that most post-rock/metal is wordless (or at least usually de-emphasizes lyrics and vocals), it makes sense that it would easily translate across the continent and breed a larger community to support it through larger concerts and festivals like the aforementioned dunk!festival and VIVID in Norway (as well as heavy emphasis in broader fests like ArcTanGent). So perhaps the US is really only just starting to catch up to Europe a bit.
But more so than that, what we’re also seeing because of this is a much greater connection and exchange between the two. Look back at A1KA’s site and the list of labels they partner with for US production and distribution, and you’ll see a who’s who of prominent post-rock labels in Europe, including dunk!records and Pelagic Records but also smaller ones like Aloud Music from Spain, Elusive Sound from Switzerland, Golden Antenna from Germany, and Voice of the Unheard from France. Golden Antenna and one of their bands Törzs in particular is a good example of all of this in action. Prior to this year the band were virtually unknown outside of Hungary and that region of Europe. With the release of their third album Tükör though, the band found an entire new audience in the west due in large part to the connection with A1KA. US bands are frequently making their way to Europe now for fests like dunk! and tours while smaller European bands and labels are being connected with bands and fans in North America like never before. That kind of cultural exchange has only served to strengthen the global post-rock community as a whole and bolster regional scenes as well.
Beyond North America and Europe though there is still plenty going on in ways we haven’t seen before. In Australia, which has a very strong and closely knit community of its own of bands like sleepmakeswaves, We Lost the Sea, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, SEIMS, and Hashshashin, labels like the absolute powerhouse that is Art as Catharsis have become a global phenomenon, all the while partnering with foreign labels like the UK’s Small Pond Records (The Physics House Band, Town Portal, Alarmist, and others) to cross-pollinate distribution around the world. In India the ascendant post-rock blog WherePostRockDwells — a fellow sponsor of this year’s Post. Festival — just organized its first tour in the country from Swiss band Hubris.. Much of Asia in general still appears to be a bit of an untapped resource for this burgeoning global community despite its very strong post and math rock scenes, but outlets like social media, Bandcamp, and blogs have done a huge amount of work in bringing the music to a global audience.
For my money though, I think the next big explosion in global partnerships and exposure will be coming from Latin America. As of now the only band to have reached significantly global exposure is Labirinto, but South American bands have been making their way onto the dunk!fest stage for a few years now. There were also plans to have Chile’s Baikonur play at this year’s Post. Fest until last-minute visa issues interfered (believe me, there’s an entire essay about how America’s long-standing broken immigration system has negatively affected its exposure and access to foreign bands that could be written). I believe in the next few years though we’re going to be seeing and hearing from a lot more bands from that part of the world, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some key bands and labels start to find their way into partnerships with the likes of A1KA and others. If you haven’t already read through David’s ridiculously extensive deep dive into Latin American post-rock, you’re really gonna want to do so now.
All of this is to say that, yes, 2019 was indeed a banner year for American post-rock and the close of a decade that has seen the genre revitalized in a way it hasn’t been since the early 2000s. But the story of American post-rock in 2019 is very similar and also inextricably tied to the story of the global post-rock community in 2019. As the genre has shrunk in popularity as a whole relative to other genres and styles, it has become more possible and necessary to tie bands, labels, and fans together from across the world in order to make the whole thing succeed. With that infrastructure in place, the genre is more poised than it has ever been to lift itself up and more than sustain itself for many years to come. For the first time in a long time the future feels bright for post-rock in truly material and substantive ways, an odd feeling for a group who have become accustomed to the motto of “post-rock is dead.” We have more than kept it alive though, and there’s more reason than ever to think that the next decade will see it fully thrive.
Nick’s Top 10 Post-y Albums
- Alarmist – Sequesterer
- Latitudes – Part Island
- Glacier – No Light Ever
- Hashshashin – Badahkshan
- We Lost the Sea – Triumph and Disaster
- Town Portal – Of Violence
- Wander – March
- We Are Impala – Visions
- Infinity Shred – Forever, A Fast Life
- Tides From Nebula – From Voodoo to Zen
While the Earth Remains – Post-Rock and Climate Change in 2019
OK, here we go. You might have noticed that my review of 65daysofstatic replicr, 2019 was a bit unusual. More specifically, it didn’t contain any words about the music itself. Sure, part of it was just a stylistic choice, making for a different kind of review than your usual stock of music-words. But a lot of it came from a deep, painful, and frightening place. Earlier this year, I attended ArcTanGent. During 65daysofstatic’s set, I believe it was Joe Shrewsbury (but it might have been someone else; I was standing pretty far from the stage) came back again and again to politics. Amidst calls to not vote for conservatives and a general “Fuck Tories” sentiment (fuck Tories by the way), he also spoke about how fortunate we really were to be able to even attend a festival. In the world we’re living in, hundreds of millions don’t have the privilege of clean water, health-care, a living wage, a roof over their heads, let alone the privilege of attending a music festival. This kind of rhetoric has also been bleeding over to 65daysofstatic’s other modes of communication, like their newsletters, and, indeed, their music. 65dos are fed up, fed up of living under capitalism, fed up of watching the world come undone, fed up of seeing all of us, and those weakest among us, plummeting into a climate change oblivion which could have been prevented.
And, you know, I’m fed up too. So when I sat down to write my review of their latest album, the words from their live set echoed in my head and I realized there are big things happening in the world right now than this album or that and that replicr itself was a response to these things. A guttural response, coming from a dark, hopeless, angry, disillusioned, and fierce place. Anger is one of the natural reactions to climate change. In fact, it’s one of the best ones. Climate change did not happen to us; it was done to us. Those who are responsible for climate change have names and addresses and in a just world, they’d be stopped. But who are we in the face of the brutal violence of late capitalism? Who are we when the hammer of culture comes swinging down, flattening the future and art with it? We’re not much. And that makes me at least, really fucking angry. And so, my own anger and 65dos’s palpable anger on the album came together to create my review of replicr, a review that was nothing more than me crying my anger about the way the future is probably going to look on to a page.
But anger is not the only response to climate change. Or, at least, not this kind of guttural, abyssal, low-boiling anger as expressed so successfully on replicr. Interestingly enough, other post-rock bands (or, to be more accurate, post-rock and post-rock adjacent bads) have touched on the issue of climate change through their music. One of them is Australian group The Crooked Fiddle Band and their vitriolic, dizzyingly agile, and raw Another Subtle Atom Bomb (“Climate inaction, apathy, greed / Every one, another subtle atom bomb”). The album, by the band’s own admission, channels “all of our frustrations, fears and hopes about climate change into the music”. And you can hear it; the album has a desperate and cloying feeling to it on one hand, fueled by the high strung (pardon the pun) tone of the violins and the urgent way they’re played and fueled by the often heavy, always frenetic, supporting roles the vocals and the rest of the instruments. But unlike replicr, there’s also a layer of burning anger and defiance on the album; Another Subtle Atom Bomb’s is more about burning while we still can, taking the fight to those who are killing us, defying them until the end even though we know we’re fighting a losing battle:
“We are the kings
of mud and of string
and all of the things that no one can own
to the ends of the earth
We battle and burn
and rage through the dust
the dust and the snow”
Even though there are probably plenty of other albums released this year about climate change, and some of them are probably even within the same post/progressive rock spaces I’m talking about (like We Lost the Sea’s Triumph & Disaster which focused on the story of migrants or Cult of Luna’s Dawn to Fear which is dripping in existential dread), for the sake of relative brevity there’s only one more I want to bring up here (that’s partly because I’m having a hard time writing this without breaking down) and that’s Old Solar’s SEE. Beyond this album’s inexplicable beauty (it’s my number one post-rock album released this year for a reason) it also offers us a novel way to look at everything we’re about to lose. As I covered extensively in my Deep Dive on post-rock and religiosity, Old Solar are motivated by deep-seated religious feelings.
Their music, and the themes which the band explores in their music, is tied to the inherent relationship between god, nature, and humans. If you think back to one of the oldest stories we know, that of the Garden of Paradise, it is a story about this relationship. So are many others in the Old and New Testament. Basically every other religion covers it as well, from Shinto’s complex relationship with place all the way through to the nebulous, misunderstood, and yet clearly nature-focused religions of many indigenous people across the globe. What we ought to do with nature, how we ought to treat “the commons”, what should we do when someone acts against all our interests, these are all questions that are inherent to religion. In fact, one could argue that the attempt to answer them is religion or at least one of the first things that gave religion its impetus.
All of this and oh so much more comes flooding out of SEE. Covering the seasons and the culturally rich emotional tapestries which they’ve come to represent for us, the album explores the awe, fear, melancholy, joy, and love with humans have come to view “The Book of the World”, god’s greatest creation, nature itself. But how can that love be untainted, today, when we watch more and more of that creation disappear in front of our eyes, helpless to save it? How can we celebrate nature when we are all of us a part, even if we bear miniscule responsibility, of what is happening to nature? It’s impossible and thus, whether the band meant it or not (and I think they did), it is impossible to consume a genre such as post-rock, which is so inherently tied to nature and the feelings it sparks, without thinking about climate change. Or, at least, it is for me. It was no surprise then that I suddenly found myself with three amazing, deep, and emotionally challenging post-rock albums about climate change.
I assume, I know, that I’m not alone in this; that these emotions are bubbling beneath the surface of many people. That the anxiety, fear, anger, and downright sadness that the thought of something so awful, so seemingly inevitable, as climate change is something which is now running as an undercurrent beneath our entire society. Thus, should we really be surprised that post-rock, a genre focused on the earnest, evocative, and grandiose expression of emotions, is picking on these cultural streams and giving them voice? We should not. Honestly, in retrospect, it would have been weirder if 2019 produced no post-rock albums about climate change. We should all expect more of them on the way; if this “first” wave was anything to go by, it is that the combination between this common fear and one of the more powerful genres I know makes for masterful, difficult, important, and, above all, excellent albums.
Perhaps, too, post-rock is a natural channel to think about climate change because it offers us hope in the face of the hopeless; the genre has always been about wrestling the future from the lost, about finding peace in the turmoil, about carving forward even when hope is lost. Is hope lost? Perhaps hope is lost only if we lose it and, perhaps, post-rock, with its melancholy-tinged, bright-eyed, awe-struck vision of the world, is the perfect vessel to think about climate change through because of that. Maybe, in the dark corners of replicr, in the staccato and off-kilter shrieks of Another Subtle Atom Bomb, in SEE’s majestic crescendos, we can hear a voice saying “I know it’s bad. It’s going to get worse. Don’t give up hope. Don’t stop fighting. There’s too much at stake”.
“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”
– Genesis 8:22
Eden’s Top 10 Post-y Albums
- Old Solar – SEE
- We Lost the Sea – Triumph and Disaster
- Driving Slow Motion – Arda
- Latitudes – Part Island
- We Are Impala – Visions
- Town Portal – Of Violence
- Ranges – Babel
- Infinity Shred – Forever, A Fast Life
- Atsuko Chiba – Traces
- Goodbye, Kings – A Moon Daguerreotype
Forever, A Post Life
This year we saw further development of the natural development of post-rock as a genre and song writing style. Fortunately for us, genres do a fun thing where they sometimes escape from their own bubble. While post-rock “proper” certainly had a wonderful year, several of my favourite releases of 2019 were from artists who take the stylings and fabric of post-rock and combine it successfully with the foundations of outside genres. We’ve seen this for years with American emo, British math rock, Japanese screamo, Scandinavian dream pop, and so on. These regional scenes have seemed to find a way to develop a relatively distinct niche, building on already established and successful art forms by lacing them with that increasingly globally recognized post-rock sound. In 2019 we saw several artists take on this challenge from a variety of angles, including: Infinity Shred, Illyria, Blankenberge, Vi som älskade varandra så mycket, and We Are Impala.
Going all the way back to mid January, the Spanish We Are Impala delighted us with a colorfully energetic blend of psychedelic prog rock and post-rock with Visions. It’s not often you hear this level of riffage within the genre. Hypnotic grooves and adventurous basslines are intertwined with cathartic builds up and crescendos. I really wish more of the genre would take note of the bass guitar involvement here; not only is it noticeably audible, it’s almost always doing something different from the two guitarists while remaining harmonized. The occasional synthesizers augment that psychedelic feel further, creating one of the most unique releases I heard in the genre this year.
Next up on the release schedule, we move into April where Russia’s Blankenberge gave us More. Combining shoegaze and dream pop with the driving guitar work of post-rock, Blankenberge create a vibrant, optimistic and surprisingly poppy sound. Atmospheric and dreamy vocals deliver that signature shoegaze touch, but the music itself takes some of the upbeat nature of a re-emerging 80s post-punk style. Given these influences, More is of course clouded in melancholy, yet manages to contrast that with stabs of unconventionally bright fun. For a release still soaked in the garments of post-rock, but bundled in complementary colours, the latest offering from Blankenberge is a must listen.
One of the most common proliferations of post-rock into another genre over recent years has certainly been that of post-black metal. For one of the most unique takes at this style this year, we head down-under to Australia where Illyria climbed The Carpathian Summit. This album is a smorgasbord of post-rock influenced progressive metal, black metal and folk metal. Often, the music condenses down to just one clean or acoustic guitar track oozing with the melancholic wood-scented longing of neo-folk. Their Agalloch-esque ability to then bridge that sound with post-black is one of the highlights here, as these ambient sections merge with blackened screams and the distorted tremolo picking carries you away. For post-rock fans who are averse to black metal vocals, there’s now an all instrumental version available on bandcamp. Combine all this with some surprisingly jazzy vibes (“Echo Flower, Pt II” especially), groovy bass-lines and progressive elements and you have one of the most daring and creative post-black releases of 2019.
Post-rock and screamo have a rich and intertwined history together, going back decades we saw bands like City of Caterpillar and envy fuse the two, allowing their highly emotive and visceral screamed vocal style to augment the atmospheric catharsis. Sweden’s Vi som älskade varandra så mycket (translates to ‘we who loved each other so much’, wholesome) have picked up that torch, and with their second full length Det onda. Det goda. Det vackra. Det fula. they have cemented themselves at the top of this reviving sub-genre. An instrumental version of this album would likely still be among my favourite releases in the genre this year, but the vocals (all sang in swedish) just give it that little something extra that is sometimes welcome. Like a lot of metal, they operate as another textural instrument on top of everything else. The instrumentation itself is energetic and relatively aggressive for post-rock, but maintains the explosive swells and contrasting calm and fury we’ve come accustomed to in the genre.
For a year that had a release from 65daysofstatic, surprisingly my favourite hybrid of electronic music and post-rock came from Infinity Shred. With Forever, A Fast Life, they look to post-rock for it’s cinematic song-writing prowess, and unlike really any other artist I’ve heard, combine it with synthwave. The result is an ethereal soundtrack to a murky dystopian future, that would not feel out of place on the latest Blade Runner soundtrack. Dark and bold synths replace distorted guitars but emulate the same overall feel of modern hard-driving post-rock. I’m excited to see where they can take this sound further, and more so if this inspires a renaissance of new electronic post-rock acts.
I’m eager to see what else post-rock can infiltrate this coming year. I’m sure we’ll see even more experimentation from the post-black circle; I’d be curious to hear more swaying into dark jazz like White Ward have done with their recent blend of post-black metal, and previously from the likes of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. That sort of moody lounge vibe I think could fuse quite well. The re-emerging post-punk/new wave sound would compliment it equally well, as well as shoegaze derivatives like slowcore” (à la some Planning For Burial). Wherever it takes us, post-rock will never die, but you will.
Trent’s Top 10 Post-y Albums
- Latitudes – Part Island
- The Appleseed Cast – The Fleeing Light of Impermanence
- We Lost the Sea – Triumph and Disaster
- LITE – Multiple
- Blankenberge – More
- Alarmist – Sequesterer
- The Pirate Ship Quintet – Emitter
- Infinity Shred – Forever, A Fast Life
- Oddarang – Hypermetros
- We Are Impala – Visions