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How We Became Post-Rock

There seems to be very little consensus on exactly where Rock crossed the line and became Post-Rock (a term popularized by Simon Reynolds), but most people agree that the two bands that galvanized the movement in the last two decades are Tortoise and Mogwai. The roots of the genre run deep and in many directions (e.g., Prog, Brian Eno, Jazz, CAN, PiL, Industrial, Jim O’Rourke, et al.), but for our purposes, we’ll start roughly with those two.

Mogwai live [photo by Leif Valin]Mogwai is consistently one of my most-listened-to artists. This is partly because they make great sleepy-time music, but also because their blend of mellow prog, raging guitars, and soundtracky drama has held my attention for years. Where Tortoise tends toward a shuffle and strum, Mogwai has a propensity for rumble and roar. Structurally, if the former were a lattice partition, the latter would be a brick wall. Simply put, there’s just a lot more tension and release with Mogwai.

With that said, the brand of Post-Rock that I am drawn to owes more to Mogwai than Tortoise (Explosions in the Sky and Kinski, for example), but this is not to paint Tortoise (and their brethren, June of 44, Rodan, et al.) out of the picture. Each of the new crop of these bands owes a great debt to the mathematics of Tortoise and Slint, the guitar textures of My Bloody Valentine and The Cure, the orchestrations of Radiohead, and the experiments of electronica. But they’re each taking this loose foundation in new directions. Hood, 65daysofstatic, The Notwist, and 13 & God all slouch toward electronica; Isis, Cult of Luna, The Ocean, and Jesu all lean on the metal; dälek blast Hip-hop through their wall-of-sound; Explosions in the Sky, God is an Astronaut, Caspian, Saxon Shore, and This Will Destroy You all play the middle ground, holding the core of instrumental post-rock together with fervor.

Thanks to a series of tips from longtime music friend Wayne Wambles, these last few bands are among my recent most-listened-to artists. I’ve been listening to quite a lot of Explosions in the Sky over the past year or so. Wayne caught wind of this and recommended several bands to me, all of whom toil similar musical soil to Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai.

These four bands are the logical heirs to the Post-Rock torch. Their compositions wax and wane in a similar emotive fashion to their forebears, building tension and releasing it in flurries of guitar noise. There’s not much more to say by way of description, but here are brief synopses of each.

Caspian often starts off with near silence but builds into a wailing wave of guitar. They’re the most organic of this new crop, careening off the rails and staying at the edge of control at all times.

With vocals sometimes employed, but used as not much more than another instrument, God is an Astronaut flies somewhere between Sigor Ros and Mogwai. With four great records out, they’ve been around seemingly forever (see one of their videos below).

On the flip-side, Texas’s own This Will Destroy You has had a brief but successful history, having only been a band since 2005 and having blown up right out of the box. The youngest of all of these bands, they’ve already proven themselves worthy of the post-rock mantle with 2006’s Young Mountain EP (Magic Bullet) and their recent self-titled full-length.

Saxon Shore remind me more of Mogwai in that they seem to rely on electronics more, and, like Mogwai, they’ve worked with David Fridmann (who is best known for his pioneering work with The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev). Fridmann produced their last record, The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore (Burnt Toast Vinyl, 2005), and his influence is heard in its epic drive and many climaxes (They’re currently working on new material).

Here’s the video for “The End of the Beginning” by God is an Astronaut from the record of the same name (runtime: 3:43):