Post-rock is a form of experimental rock[3] characterized by a focus on exploring textures and timbres, as well as non-rock styles, with less emphasis on conventional song structures or riffs.[4] Post-rock artists typically combine rock instrumentation with electronics.[5][6][3] The genre emerged within the indie and underground music scene of the 1980s and early 1990s. However, due to its abandonment of rock conventions, it began to increasingly show little resemblance musically to conventional indie rock at the time,[6] borrowing instead from diverse sources including ambient, electronica, jazz, krautrock, dub, and minimalist classical,[3] with these influences also being pivotal for the style of ambient pop.[7]

While being from separate scenes in the United Kingdom and the United States, artists such as Talk Talk and Slint have been credited with producing foundational works in the style in the early 1990s.[3][6] The term "post-rock" was notably employed by journalist Simon Reynolds in a review of the 1994 Bark Psychosis album Hex, with it being regarded as stylistically solidifying with the acclaimed release of Tortoise's 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die.[3] The term has since been used to describe bands which differ widely in style, making the term controversial among listeners and artists alike.[8]

Etymology

The concept of "post-rock" was developed by critic Simon Reynolds,[9] who used the term in his review of Bark Psychosis' album Hex, published in the March 1994 issue of Mojo magazine.[10] Reynolds expanded upon the idea later in the May 1994 issue of The Wire.[5][11] Writing about artists like Seefeel, Disco Inferno, Techno Animal, Robert Hampson, and Insides, Reynolds used the term to describe music "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords". He further expounded on the term that

[p]erhaps the really provocative area for future development lies [...] in cyborg rock; not the wholehearted embrace of Techno's methodology, but some kind of interface between real time, hands-on playing and the use of digital effects and enhancement.

Reynolds, in a July 2005 entry in his blog, said that he had used the concept of "post-rock" before using it in Mojo, previously referring to it in a feature on Insides for music newspaper Melody Maker.[12] He also said he later found the term not to be of his own coinage, writing in his blog "I discovered many years later it had been floating around for over a decade."[12] In 2021, Reynolds reflected on the evolution of the style, saying that the term had developed in meaning during the 21st century, no longer referring to "left-field UK guitar groups engaged in a gradual process of abandoning songs [and exploring] texture, effects processing, and space," but instead coming to signify "epic and dramatic instrumental rock, not nearly as post- as it likes to think it is."[13]

Earlier uses of the term include its employment in a 1975 article by American journalist James Wolcott about musician Todd Rundgren, although with a different meaning.[14] It was also used in the Rolling Stone Album Guide to name a style roughly corresponding to "avant-rock" or "out-rock".[12] The earliest use of the term cited by Reynolds dates back as far as September 1967. In a Time cover story feature on the Beatles, writer Christopher Porterfield hails the band and producer George Martin's creative use of the recording studio, declaring that this is "leading an evolution in which the best of current post-rock sounds are becoming something that pop music has never been before an art form."[12] Another pre-1994 example of the term in use can be found in an April 1992 review of 1990s noise-pop band The Earthmen by Steven Walker in Melbourne music publication Juke, where he describes a "post-rock noisefest".[15]

Characteristics

Post-rock group Sigur Rós performing at a 2005 concert in Reykjavík.

Post-rock incorporates stylings and traits from a variety of musical genres and scenes, including krautrock, ambient,[16] psychedelia,[16] prog rock, space rock, math rock, tape music, minimalist classical, British IDM, jazz (both avant-garde and cool), and dub reggae,[3] as well as post-punk, free jazz, contemporary classical, and avant-garde electronica.[17] It can often also bear similarities to drone music, and usage of drones in psychedelic rock.[18][3] Early post-rock groups also often exhibited strong influence from the krautrock of the 1970s, particularly borrowing elements of "motorik", the characteristic krautrock rhythm.[3][19][20][21]

Post-rock compositions often make use of repetition of musical motifs and subtle changes with an extremely wide range of dynamics. In some respects, this is similar to the music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Brian Eno, pioneers of minimalism who were acknowledged influences on bands in the first wave of post-rock.[19] Post-rock pieces can be lengthy and instrumental, containing repetitive build-ups of timbres, dynamics and textures.[5]

Vocals are often omitted from post-rock; however, this does not necessarily mean they are absent entirely. When vocals are included, the use is typically non-traditional: some post-rock bands employ vocals as purely instrumental efforts and incidental to the sound, rather than a more traditional use where "clean", easily interpretable vocals are important for poetic and lyrical meaning.[3] When present, post-rock vocals are often soft or droning and are typically infrequent or present in irregular intervals, and have abstract or impersonal lyrics. Sigur Rós, a band known for their distinctive vocals, fabricated a language they called "Hopelandic" ("Vonlenska" in Icelandic), which they described as "a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music and acts as another instrument."[22]

Often, in lieu of typical rock structures like the verse-chorus form, post-rock groups make greater use of soundscapes. Simon Reynolds states in his essay "Post-Rock" from Audio Culture that "A band's journey through rock to post-rock usually involves a trajectory from narrative lyrics to stream-of-consciousness to voice-as-texture to purely instrumental music".[23] Reynolds' conclusion defines the sporadic progression from rock, with its field of sound and lyrics to post-rock, where samples are manipulated, stretched and looped.

Wider experimentation and blending of other genres have taken hold in the post-rock scene. Cult of Luna, Isis, Russian Circles, Palms, Deftones, and Pelican fused metal with post-rock styles, with the resulting sound being termed post-metal. More recently, sludge metal has grown and evolved to include (and in some cases fuse completely with) some elements of post-rock. This second wave of sludge metal has been pioneered by bands such as Giant Squid and Battle of Mice. This new sound is often seen on the label of Neurot Recordings.[24] Similarly, bands such as Altar of Plagues, Lantlôs and Agalloch blend between post-rock and black metal, incorporating elements of the former while primarily using the latter.[25] In some cases, this sort of experimentation and blending has gone beyond the fusion of post-rock with a single genre, as in the case of post-metal, in favor of an even wider embrace of disparate musical influences as it can be heard in bands like Deafheaven.

History

Precedents

A precedent to post-rock is the late 1960s U.S. group The Velvet Underground and their "dronology"—"a term that loosely describes fifty percent of today's post rock activity".[26] A 2004 article from Stylus Magazine also noted that David Bowie's 1977 album Low would have been considered post-rock if released twenty years later.[27]

British group Public Image Ltd (PiL) were also pioneers, described by the NME[28] as "arguably the first post-rock group". Their second album Metal Box (1979) almost completely abandoned traditional rock and roll structures in favor of dense, repetitive dub and krautrock inspired soundscapes and John Lydon's cryptic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The year before Metal Box was released, PiL bassist Jah Wobble declared that "rock is obsolete".[29] Dean McFarlane of AllMusic describes Alternative TV's Vibing Up the Senile Man (Part One) (1979) as "a door opening on multi-faceted post-rock music," citing its drawing on avant-garde, noise and jazz.[30]

This Heat are regarded as having predated the genre, while also being credited as an influence on bands in the first wave of post-rock.[31][32][33] Their music has been compared directly to Slint, Swans and Stereolab.[31] Stump were referred to as "a significant precursor to post-rock" due to the "strictness" of the band's avant-garde approach, and their musical characteristics of uncertainty and unevenness.[34]

1990s: first wave

Post-rock group Mogwai performing at a 2007 concert.

Originally used to describe the music of English bands such as Stereolab,[35] Laika,[36] Disco Inferno,[37] Moonshake,[38] Seefeel,[6] Bark Psychosis, and Pram,[5] post-rock grew to denote experimental, jazz and krautrock influenced, often instrumental, and electronica-tinged rock-adjacent music.[6][3] Bands from the early 1990s such as Slint or, earlier, Talk Talk, were later recognized as influential on post-rock.[6] Despite the fact that the two bands are very different from one another, with Talk Talk emerging from art rock and new wave and Slint emerging from post-hardcore, they both have had a driving influence on the way post-rock progressed throughout the 1990s.

Post-rock group Do Make Say Think performing at a May 2007 concert.

Groups such as Tortoise, Cul de Sac, and Gastr del Sol, as well as more ambient-oriented bands like Labradford, Bowery Electric, and Stars of the Lid, are often cited as foundational to the American first wave of post-rock.[39] The second Tortoise album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, made the band a post-rock icon,[6][40] with bands such as Do Make Say Think beginning to record music inspired by the "Tortoise-sound".[41]

In the late 1990s, Chicago was the home of a variety of post-rock associated performers. John McEntire of Tortoise and Jim O'Rourke of Brise-Glace, both of Gastr Del Sol, were important for many of these groups, with them both also producing multiple albums by Stereolab in the 1990s and 2000s.[42] One of the most eminent post-rock locales is Montreal, where Godspeed You! Black Emperor and related groups, including Silver Mt. Zion and Fly Pan Am, recorded on Constellation Records;[43] these groups are generally characterized by a melancholy and crescendo-driven style rooted in, among other genres, musique concrète, chamber music, and free jazz.[19]

2000s–2010s: second and third waves

In the early 2000s, the term had started to fall out of favor.[44] It became increasingly controversial as more critics outwardly condemned its use.[3] Some of the bands for whom the term was most frequently assigned, including Cul de Sac,[45][46] Tortoise,[44] and Mogwai,[8] rejected the label. The wide range of styles covered by the term, they and others have claimed, robbed it of its individuality.[47]

In 2000, Radiohead released the studio album Kid A, marking a significant turning point in their musical style, with Reynolds describing it and the 2001 follow-up album Amnesiac as major examples of post-rock.[48][49] Meanwhile, as part of the second wave of post-rock, Explosions in the Sky, 65daysofstatic, This Will Destroy You, Do Make Say Think, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Mono became some of the more popular post-rock bands of the new millennium.[50] Sigur Rós, with the release of Ágætis byrjun in 1999, became among the most well known post-rock bands of the 2000s due to the use of many of their tracks, particularly their 2005 single "Hoppípolla", in TV soundtracks and film trailers. These bands' popularity was attributed to a move towards a more rock oriented sound with simpler song structures and increasing utilization of pop hooks, also being regarded as an atmospheric variation of indie rock.[51] Following a 13-year hiatus, experimental rock band Swans began releasing a number of albums that were regarded as exhibiting post-rock traits, most notably To Be Kind, which was named one of AllMusic's favorite indie pop and rock albums of 2014.[52] The Swedish post-rock band Oh Hiroshima received positive reception for their album In Silence We Yearn, released in 2015.[53][54]

See also

References

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