Rock music is wonderful, but do you ever get bored after listening to it all the time?
Do you want to escape the verse-chorus structure and the typical four piece band to venture into the vast word of powerful crescendos and largely lyricless pieces? If so, you’ll probably fall in love with post rock, a genre characterised by the use of rock instruments to create new sounds and textures. Here are five albums to help you get acclimated to the intimidating genre.
1)Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1991)
This somber record is considered by many to be one of the first post rock albums ever, and its influence on the genre is huge. Its use of long improvised sections composed of a wide variety of instruments, like violas and subtle horns, would go on to creep into hundreds of post rock albums that followed. Tieing everything together is Mark Hollis’ beautiful guitar work, which gently strums along, allowing the listener to take in every string being plucked. This record actually has some vocals, so it’s a good entry point if you’re not used to pure instrumental albums yet. Also check out this album’s younger twin Spirit of Eden by the same band.
Key track: After the Flood
2) Slint – Spiderland (1991)
Here we have another foundational LP that came out in the same year. Louisville, Kentucky band Slint probably had no idea the impact they would have when rehearsing this album as teenagers in their basements. It flips rock on its head, but still uses the conventional instruments of guitars and drums. Like Laughing Stock, Spiderland also features quite a bit of singing, but accompanied by plenty of spoken word parts, which is a trope that would later pop up all over the genre. Everything about this album can be summed up with one word: intense. The guitars screech and whisper, and the drums constantly change rhythm, keeping the listener on their toes as vocalist Britt Walford tells unsettling tales.
Key track: Washer
3) Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada (1999)
Now we move into the “second wave” of post rock, where artists began to develop more subcategories of post rock based upon the work of artists like Slint and Talk Talk, among many others. Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a band that many would describe as the “soundtrack to the apocalypse,” and there’s some truth to that. A Godspeed album seems like an artifact; even the packaging evokes some sort of long lost time. Their music is highly political and highly urgent, filled to the brim with crashing crescendos, mind boggling string arrangements, and samples of spoken word recordings that just get under your skin. Their second release, an EP called Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada, is the perfect introduction, as it features their signature buildups and dramatic flair in a digestible half hour. If you love it, then look no further beyond one of my favorite albums of all time, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!
Key track: Moya
4) Sigur Rós – Ágætis byrjun (1999)
Sigur Rós is an icelandic post rock band that puts their heart into making everything they touch beautiful. You could probably guess that they were icelandic just from the way this record sounds; somehow it sounds cold. It evokes imagery of icebergs and snow and frozen rivers, and it feels like you could reach out and touch the blissful guitar work by Jónsi, who plays his instrument with a bow. Jónsi also contributes his falsetto voice, singing in both icelandic and in a language he made up. Either way, it doesn’t matter, as his voice is just as much an instrument as anything else on the record. Give it a spin when it starts to snow.
Key track: Svefn-g-englar
5) Explosions in the Sky – The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
Finally we enter the third wave of post rock, which admittedly is where the genre starts to run a little thin. A few bands stand out among a sea of acts that mostly sound the same, and one of those is Explosions in the Sky. Their third and most famous album, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, found a way to condense the lovable intensity of bands like Godspeed into songs that clock in at under ten minutes. It’s a little more straightforward, and much more rocklike than any of the other bands on this list, as fewer instruments other than guitars and drums enter the mix.
If you loved what you heard, check out acts like Bark Psychosis, Disco Inferno, Mogwai, and Tortoise to keep scratching that post rock itch.
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