Hello! Yet another year goes by where post-rock and post-metal continue to do way more interesting things that people give them credit for. It seems that both genres are doomed to suffer from one of the worst images in the public eye, deemed as boring and repetitive while bands do a million different things with their basic premises and building blocks. To be honest, at this point I've given up on trying to change that image and I just focus on the real reason we continue to cover the spaces on the blog - excellent music.
This year, we kept words to a minimum, instead throwing in three excellent lists of ten albums which share quite a few releases between them but also have their own flavor, reflecting our diverging interests in the post field of music. I hope you dive into these selections and see just how many colors, styles, and approaches are continued therein so that maybe the erroneous idea that all of post-rock is just one big buildup and crescendo is a lie.
In previous years I have included bands/albums that pretty squarely fall under the instrumental prog label, and while I don’t regret that, I think it probably goes against the spirit of what we’re actually doing here when there are plenty of more “traditional” post-rock/metal albums to highlight. All of that’s to explain why Night Verses doesn’t appear in my list here despite releasing one of my favorite albums of the year.
10. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - Oscillating Forest
Not that the experimental Aussies in TToL were trending towards accessibility, but their previous record No Tether at least seemed to find the band in their comfort zone and moving towards really honing in on a particular sound. Welp, forget that. Oscillating Forest is the band’s most challenging and inscrutable release to date, more of a stew of percolating noise and propulsion than collection of easily-definable songs. It might not be my favorite release of theirs, but it’s one that has left me with more than enough to chew on with every listen.
9. Bear the Mammoth - Purple Haus
What I always appreciate about Bear the Mammoth is the ease in which they slip in math-y and more progressive structures and time signatures without breaking the flow of their cinematic compositions. Purple Haus takes all of that and throws it into a dreamy synth-filled blender for a psychedelic post-rock trip that can be as smooth (“Cridge”) or boisterous (“Freshwater”) as they like.
8. Hashshashin - Śaraṇaṃ
Just realizing now front-loaded this list is with Australian acts. Not intentional, though it’s a testament to the strength of the post-rock/metal scene there that so many released amazing music this past year. Anyway, Hashshashin occupy a truly unique place in post-rock with their dedication to employing central Asian instrumentation (namely the rubab), modes, and composition in their work. On their latest release, Śaraṇaṃ, the result is even more transportive and intoxicating. The three tracks are built on simple enough ideas that loop, drone, and grow beautifully into off-kilter groove machines. Many bands will borrow bits and pieces of middle eastern and central Asian music tradition to simply augment their own thing, but Hashshashin continues to be the only band that can fully embrace the musical culture and infuse it effortlessly with post- and progressive rock language.
7. Liongeist - S/T
Oslo’s Liongeist came out of nowhere this year to drop one of the heaviest and energetic albums that can still be called “post-rock” instead of metal. You can likely thank the band’s roots in post-hardcore for that, which places a premium on both uncompromising loudness and melody. You can also thank that bass, because hooooo-boy does it go hard. S/T should have been a breakout success in 2023, so hopefully we can play some part in rectifying that oversight by others now.
6. Ranges - 33
There’s a reason why Ranges have become one of the standard-bearers of modern American post-rock. Every release they put out feels like an immaculately planned and executed package, from art to concept to the music itself. 33 is yet another meticulously-constructed album of emotional and heavy post-rock, one that absolutely deserves a place high up on people’s lists despite its late release.
5. Scaphoid - Echoes of the Rift
Hello, can I interest you in some delicious and nutritious riffs? The latest from Austin’s Scaphoid is packed to the gills with them, enough so that I almost didn’t include them here for the same reason why I ultimately didn’t include Night Verses. Echoes of the Rift has enough atmosphere and non-technical elements going for it though that I feel comfortable with its inclusion (or perhaps I’m just being arbitrary). As Eden mentioned in his writeup in this column over the summer though, what prevents the album from being just another technical exercise is that there’s actual human emotion and complexity beyond the riffs. It’s a gorgeously composed album and has a ton to offer beyond the initial excitement of its more technical side.
4. Reformat - Precursed
With the unfortunate recent news that Three Trapped Tigers are throwing in the towel, someone would need to step in to pick up the mantle of high-octane synth-led post-rock. Thank god for Reformat. Their first album, The Singularity, displayed flashes of brilliance and potential to be in league with the likes of TTT and 65dos. Precursed, however, takes things to the next level and delivers a complete package of thrilling and breathless electronics-tinged instrumental rock. And I truly mean breathless. Every track after the eponymous intro picks up where the last one ends to pass the baton of ceaseless momentum. Filled with catchy melodies, knotty chord progressions, driving bass, and enough synths to throw a Bladerunner-inspired rave, Precursed is a near flawless album for both synth rock enthusiasts and more casual instrumental fans who just want to feel alive for 38 minutes.
3. Breaths - Floruit
As a general rule I tend to not put a ton of stock in one-man projects, especially as most seem to be guitar showcases with the rest of the instrumentation relegated to an afterthought or simple shoegaze projects that sound like every other bedroom shoegaze project. Breaths, aka Jason Roberts, seems determined to be an exception to that rule though. Floruit is a doomgaze/post-whatever album that explores both the best and worst that humanity has to offer. For every triumph of beauty through art or innovation that improves the lives of people, there is as much, if not more, greed and avarice that leads to unnecessary suffering. In turn, the music of Floruit is a showcase of genuine musical beauty and gentleness through its frequent layering of bright guitar chords and earworm melodies as much as it is a crushing exploration of doomy post-metal. That the tension never overwhelms the music and instead works synergistically to further emphasize the qualities of the other is a testament to Roberts’ prowess as a songwriter.
2. Grails - Anches En Maat
Thank the maker that Grails exists and is still around creating unique musical worlds. Every album that the Portland collective puts out at this point feels like a gift we don’t deserve, especially ever since they started taking a broader, cinematic approach to their compositions with Deep Politics. Anches En Maat is true soundtrack music in the best kind of way that heavily evokes imagery and screams for film to accompany it. What I appreciate in particular about Anches is that for as rich and dense the music often is, it frequently doesn’t go for the easiest path to build up tension and excitement through climatic use of strings and guitars, instead allowing each composition to exist on its own terms and simply play out. Seriously though, just let Grails score a spy thriller already.
1. Spurv - Brefjære
Now this is podracing. I can’t think of a single album that better represents what the genre is and its everlasting potential than the latest from Oslo’s Spurv. Brefjære is what happens when you take the best of cinematic post-rock’s past from the likes of Mono, GY!BE, Explosions in the Sky, and others and place a unique spin on them. From the opening chorus of Krokete, rettskaffen” to the final climatic piece of “Urdråpene,” Brefjære is beautifully and meticulously plotted out to follow traditional storytelling forms of establishing place and time, of rising action and conflict, and of brilliant climax and resolution. If I wanted to get someone who’s heard some classic post-rock into and excited about the modern form of the genre, this is easily one of the few records I would send their way. It should be treated as part of the modern canon.
I usually sneak a bunch of screamo-laden post-rock onto my year PRP list but there was a surprising lack of that in 2023, so you get a more purist list this year… with a couple of exceptions, albeit good ones.
10. Shipwreck Karpathos - Being Human
A refreshingly eclectic take at modern American guitar-centric post-rock. It aptly shines in its ability to display the full range of human emotions, with plenty of wistful yearning and moments of passionate fury. With drawable lines to big names like Explosions in the Sky and Russian Circles, it isn’t reinventing any wheels, yet does enough subtle things around the margins to stand out and provide a complete package of a post-rock listening experience.
9. Liongeist - S/T
The debut LP from Norwegian group Liongeist was a surprise treat this year. The former post-hardcore band has shifted towards a more instrumental post-metal sound, but some of that oddly distinctive European atmospheric post-hardcore sound is still discernible in their music, with frequent shifts in tone and velocity. The audible rumbling bass is a really nice touch here, giving the whole thing a layered heaviness even during the relatively lighter moments.
8. Faced Out - Faced Out
Put simply, if you like Black Country, New Road, you need to give this little band from Missouri some love. Faced Out takes that orchestral post-everything formula with sleepy, sometimes spoken-wordy vocals and gives it a bit of an American Football midwest-emo spin, complete with plenty of trumpet and adequately twinkly riffs.
7. Reformat - Precursed
Ever wondered what a collaboration between 65daysofstatic and Astronoid would sound like? It might just be something like Precursed. The eclectic electronic rock group Reformat’s impressive sophomore release sees them take their fusion of sounds to greater, more optimistic heights with further prog-influenced song-writing, effective vocoder usage, and soaring sci-fi-fueled synths.
6. The Infinity Ring - Nemesis & Nativity
Anytime a band brings some fresh ideas and creativity into post-rock is welcome, which made The Infinity Ring’s debut Nemesis & Nativity one of the more memorable releases in the genre this year. Their fusion of post-rock with a dusty gothic country sound, built around some Nick Cave-esque vocals provides a very immersive and transportative listening experience. The occult-like repetition and ominous folk instrumentation takes this even further with dramatic tension. The Infinity Ring have produced an album with tremendous substance and a lot of character, and I can’t wait to hear whatever they do next.
5. NYOS - Waterfall Cave Fantasy, Forever
Whenever an artist releases two albums in close succession I can’t help but approach it with slight apprehension. The Finnish two-piece NYOS captured my attention last year with their release Celebration making my 2022 PRP year-end list. Fortunately, they’re evidently still overflowing with creativity and have maintained their inertia this time around with another great album in Waterfall Cave Fantasy, Forever. They bring a mix of energetic, tapping-loop-driven math rock with explosions of heavy distorted post-rock, backed by a really inspired drum performance. This dynamic creates a fun balance of the playful danciness of bands like Battles and And So I Watch You From Afar with the sheer force of heavier instrumental acts such as Russian Circles. This album is kind of like observing a friend taking psychedelics, towards the beginning it feels like one the most joyous releases of the year, but fair-warning, it seems to get progressively weirder as it goes on.
4. Austin TV - Rizoma
Mexico isn’t typically known for its post-rock, but Austin TV is looking to change that. They’ve somehow slid under the radar for 20-years now since their debut, but with their now 5th album Rizoma, that should really be changing. This thing is diverse, energetic and plain fun, delivering about every little aspect of the genre that I love. There’s just a warmth too it like a comforting blanket, that gives all of its contemplative reflection, tension and passion a sense of safe familiarity in the best sense of that word. The guitar and synth tones in conjunction with their song-writing, all carry this zesty, colorful warmth in a way that maybe only a band from Mexico could.
3. World’s End Girlfriend - Resistance & The Blessing
World’s End Girlfriend are both a daunting band to listen to, and to write about. The enigmatic Japanese solo-artist has crafted 18 albums since 2000, including several soundtracks and collaborations with the likes of MONO and Vampilla. Their music spans post-rock, modern classical, glitchy breakcore, and ambient sound collages, often flirting with all of those in the space of one song. This is generally the case on their intimidating new release Resistance & the Blessing, which spans an admittedly overly long run-time of almost 2.5 hours. That being said, if you’re not in the mood to sit down for a feature length theatrical performance (which this very much is) it’s probably best to not treat this like a regular album. Either divide it into multiple sittings, or find what you love about it (which for me, there was plenty of) and revisit those segments of tracks. Despite the total length, this album delivered more individual moments of brilliance than most other releases I heard this year in full, and there’s a good chance I end up revisiting those specific tracks more than I will other albums that executed better brevity.
2. Abriction - Interstates
This one-woman bedroom project was another surprise standout for their raw and emotional take at a lo-fi post-gaze sound that fully embraced the meaning of the genre modifier “bedroom” in the best way. Building off their great split earlier in the year with Sadness, Interstates fused the expressive passion of blackgaze with the introspective melancholy of post-rock. A real lonely late night drive through the city album, or sitting with your cat watching the world go by out your window. Beyond the great textural walls of atmosphere, there’s a pure earnestness here that’s really refreshing.
1. Sprain - The Lamb as Effigy
Undoubtedly the most uncomfortable and shocking post-rock listening experience you’ll find this year, Sprain’s blend of experimental, dissonant, and anxiety-inducing noise rock with droning early-wave post-rock is a harrowing and incredibly human experience. The whole thing feels like a harrowing tension-building journey into a tormented and deranged mind, all leading up to the monolithic 24-minute Robert Eggers-esque climax of “God, Or Whatever You Call It.” There was nothing else quite like The Lamb as Effigy released this year, and our collective mental health is probably the better for that.
2023 wasn’t the strongest year for me and the wider “post” genres and subgenres. Which is probably more to do with me than any indication of the quality of music released this year; I was simply craving meatier, more direct albums this year. Then again, I can easily write this top ten list and there are some phenomenal albums on it, including some of my most listened to releases. So, take the overall narrative, as always, with a grain of salt and let’s just focus on how good these releases really are.
10. Lethvm - Winterreise
It takes a lot from a post-metal album to really grab me these days and Winterreise did that and more. It is Lethvm’s most complete release to date, perfecting their blend of sludge, post-metal, and even hardcore into one moody, aggressive album that really delivers on the promise first sketched out on 2017’s This Fall Shall Cease. If you’re looking for a darker, heavier album from this list but still want to keep the flourishing, emotive palette that usually arises from these spaces, then Winterreise is for you; it’s one of 2023’s more expressive, and harrowing, albums.
9. TDK / ТДК - Namaste
Namaste is probably 2023’s biggest “what the fuck” moment for me. Usually when I drop the word “jazz” in this column, you imagine a very specific sort of sound or maybe two; perhaps you envision the technical, agile virtuosity of jazz-fusion or the warmer tones of post-rock but both wavelengths are warm and somewhat diffuse. Namaste is neither of those things. It is all edges, fury, and angular assault, channeling post-punk, post-metal, and a weird, contorted sort of jazz to create its dark music. OK, just listen to this one, yeah? It is intense and challenging but also expertly written and performed. It’s a doozy and a half.
8. Leonov - Procession
The first half of this list is dark as fuck, huh? Leonov continues the dominance of post-metal in this list but with a more ethereal spin, led by its beautiful and haunting vocals. The instruments seem to be built around their excellent timbre, creating the build-ups and the back-drops for their unfurling and alluring sound. Which is not to say the instruments aren’t great in their own right; Procession has some fantastic moments of tension and release, leaning hard into classic post-metal structures while always keeping them tight, executed with restraint and attention to details where others would be satisfied with a simple copy. Procession is an album for reflection and introspection but also for some fantastic crashes and crescendos.
7. Ambia - Sometime
OK, the releases are getting slightly brighter. Sometime is probably the most “classically post-rock” album on this list, built out of a series of build-ups and crescendos. However, look out for some incredibly powerful vocal passages (think more choirs than lyrics) and an overall dedication to tight, well placed musical moments. These ideas and recurring themes emerge from out of the overall abstract compositions to create powerfully arresting moments, channeling that good old catharsis that this kind of post-rock is so well known for. Sometime proved to me that there’s still some value in “cinematic” post-rock, if only the people making it are dedicated to keeping things interesting and have put in a lot of thought into the identity of the release, as Ambia obviously have.
6. Empires of Light - Aberrations
Alright, the next few entries were placed together on purpose in this list and, to be honest, you can swap out their order as you see fit (what really is the difference between spot six and spot five after all?) They’re all of a brighter sort of post-rock and the first two blend that sound with a lot of progressive metal. Also, two of them are solo projects! The first one is Portland’s Empires of Light which does an exceedingly good job of taking progressive metal and, instead of learning into the darker themes which it often uses, melding it with the bright-eyed, hopeful atmosphere of cinematic post-rock. The result is an expansive, but denser than usual, release that was a joy for me to dive deeper into in the first half of last year.
5. Scaphoid - Echoes of the Rift
So if the previous entry was lighter than progressive metal tends to be because of its post-rock influences, Echoes of the Rift is darker for its post-metal influences. But it’s also a very technical and cleverly constructed release, full of intriguing musical moments and lots of groove. As I’ve just intimated, it takes from post-metal thick tones and darker timbres, creating a winding release that’s easy to get lost in. However, it also has a lot of emotive substance to it, channeling a full gamut of themes and states of mind. It is also this solo project’s most ambitious release to date, driving its sound to new levels of expression. In short, it rocks, a lot.
4. Ranges - 33
The last of our triptych of releases, 33 is perhaps my favorite Ranges album to date and that’s saying something. It feels more focused than previous releases, really paring down the Ranges formula to its necessary parts. It contains both the brighter elements mentioned above, in the form of Ranges’ expansive and ultimately hopeful soundscapes, and the darker elements, in the form of the edge of Ranges’ riffs and groove. It is a crazily complete album, leaving no stone unturned as it pursues its ideas across its run-length, developing every line, recurring theme, and passage to its utmost conclusion while staying tight and lean. That is perhaps the most impressive thing about it: its Ranges at their most ambitious but somehow their most accurate and restrained as well.
3. Reformat - Precursed
Ah, electronic post-rock! Sort of like its somewhat adjacent sibling genre of synthwave, its peak has come and gone very fast. But there are still bands out there making the kind of electronic post-rock which I love, namely the richly textured, synth-heavy, forward thinking sort. Precursed is all of that and more, turning the redolence dial all the way to eleven for Reformat. There are all sort of wonderfully produced and executed synth tones on this release, embellished with great percussion and some tastefully used vocals as well. The album is also short, condensing its formula into a potent pill of beats, grooves, and fierce delivery. It is the only electronic post-rock album I listened to this year and, frankly, the only one I needed since it conjures everything I love about this subgenre.
2. De Lumière - Nebulae Come Sweet
Back to the darkness of post-metal, this one is maybe the darkest release on this list. Channeling those good Hypno5e vibes, Nebulae Come Sweet is an ambitious work of heavy, rich, and flagrantly theatrical post-metal. It is laden with choirs, spoken passages, rich vocals, even richer strings, soaring leads, and killer solos. It reaches extremely high with its concept and, somehow, absolutely nails the landing even as it tackles concepts like death, aging, time, loss, divinity, memory, and absolution. It is everything I want post-metal to be, unapologetic about its scope but still very much grounded in immensely well written moment to moment tracks, fueled by brilliant chords, massive riffs, crashing percussion, and soaring, impossible to deny vocals. It is one of 2023’s best deliveries, cashing in on its scope by absolutely nailing the execution.
1. Go Go Penguin - Everything Is Going To Be OK
Only Go Go Penguin could release an album titled Everything Is Going To Be OK and make it not cheesy. Only they could still write it as an incredibly bright release, almost (but not quote) devoid of darker contrast, and still make it interesting. Powered by enhanced synth tones and more willingness to experiment with the structure of both the album at larger and the individual tracks, Everything Is Going To Be OK is Go Go Penguin at their best. It’s not only an interesting musical experience but an essential emotional one as well, filling me with strength and perspective in a year where I desperately needed both. It’s not necessarily true that my most listened to albums end up on my end of year lists but it is in this case - in 2023, I kept coming back to Go Go Penguin’s agile, intelligent, and expressive album again and again, as it became the soundtrack to the reforging of my life.