From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001)
Yeah, really. If post-rock were everything that happened *after* rock, then could anything ever come after post-rock? Well, obviously, post-rock is a term that's not meant to be taken literally. The fact that it sounds rather silly to say isn't the point either. What's most often suggested in describing the essence of the genre is as an analogue of 'post-modernism' in the arts and architecture (and we don't even have to worry about the inherent oxymoron in that particular term!). The idea being that certain fashions and designs of the past are extracted and reworked into a new emerging form. For post-rock, the prime sources appear to be the three-chord train rides of the Velvet Underground, the ambience and minimalism of Brian Eno and Terry Riley, and of course the gamut of classic "Dusseldorfian" krautrock artists (the original "Hypnotists" if you will), including the oh-so-hip-to-quote Neu!, Kraftwerk, Faust, and most of all, Can. (Where do you think modern bands like Moonshake, Spoon, and Mooney-Suzuki got their names, anyway?)
Simon Reynolds, who wrote the first treatise on post-rock in the UK magazine The Wire in 1994, put it like this: "Post-rock means using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and powerchords." He then goes on to say that electronics are a key issue, correctly pointing out that some artists embrace the most modern of samplers and digital equipment, others the most archaic of analogue devices. And what he doesn't say is that percussion is one of the main focal points in those that actually use it (i.e., most of what you'll hear in the show). Busy, multi-layered drumming is found throughout most of the 'kinetic' post-rock albums I've heard. (The legacy of Can's Jaki Leibezeit, no doubt.) So, suffice it to say, post-rock is where the 70s meet the 90s, or should I now say the Naughties? And so it was natural for me to gravitate towards these artists, given that a disproportionate amount of music that I mostly enjoy was created in either 1970-75 or 1995-2000. And just a little from the times in between. So post-rock is everything that the New Wave of the early 80s wasn't, it has intelligence, groove, texture, movement, and a subtle power. (Occasionally not so subtle.) But for me not to compare it with that horrible insipid music of my college years, the era of Reaganomics and Thomas Dolby, would be too much to ask! (Well OK, that "Cars" thing was kinda alright in a silly way.) In fact, the irony factor was as much a basis for my preferred alternate choice of terms for post-rock, which is Neu!-wave if you must know, than the particular artist whose 1972 self-titled debut (just now finally officially released on CD!) made such a stir when it was first noticed in 1992.
Now who exactly came first? I have absolutely no clue, 'cause to be honest, I have never heard most of the 'important' post-rock artists. Or at least the most famous names. Bark Psychosis, Pram, Trans Am, To Rococo Rot? Never heard any of 'em. And some of the names I see, like Autechre, Mouse on Mars, Seefeel, Add N to X... I get the impression (rightly or wrongly) that these are on the verge of techno/electronica, and that scares the crap out of me. But at least two of the 'biggies,' UK's Stereolab and Chicago's Tortoise I'm somewhat familiar with. In fact, Stereolab's 'Dots and Loops' was perhaps the first post-rock CD I bought knowing it was supposed to be such. And I thought it was crap. All 'style,' no substance. But for any band I have a two CD rule (before I'll completely disregard them), and so I went back and took a look at the 1993 'Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements,' and here is where post-rock may have truly gotten its start. (That is, if you ignore the Feelies' 'Crazy Rhythms' from 1980, which came about 13 years too early.) Stereolab really did incorporate the best that the old krautrockers had to offer back then... in fact, there was hardly any difference. So, I guess 'Dots and Loops' was a step forward in terms of developing a signature sound, but I prefer something different....something psychedelic and spaced-out of course! For instance, the 1996 debut of Vancouver's Pipedream ('The Journey from Hamburg to Iceland Begins') and the album 'Fraten' by the multifaceted Finnish band Circle. These are albums that I loved dearly before I would ever come across the term post-rock, but now in retrospect I see that they fit nicely within that same ideal. But I've talked enough about these two bands at length already on A-I.com, so will instead focus on some of the others I've discovered more recently.
The online radio show that is archived along with this article is meant to put sounds to words, to make up for the deficiencies in my abilities to describe the music by actually letting you hear it for yourself. I'm doing this in three parts, because post-rock is varied enough I've discovered to view from different angles. The motorik sound of Dusseldorf is indeed present in many places, and so this Part One has become subtitled 'The Hypnotists.' So it shouldn't be hard to see the common bond here through the development of rhythm...the rolling, overturning, looping feel is ubiquitous, whether straight ahead in 4/4, or syncopated a la Can. (Nope, the drummer for Karamasov is *not* Jaki Leibezeit.) And while post-rock generally focuses on the purely instrumental, there are a couple bands here and there with vocalists, though you're going to have to wait until Track 10 to hear anyone but Laetitia and Mary.
In the subsequent editions (including the 'Experimentalists' and the 'Droners'), you'll get to hear a taste of Tortoise, godspeed you black emperor!, Cerberus Shoal, Labradford, and a few more of the better known entities. And of course, more obscure artists that trend towards the Floydian space rock sound. This time, we have a 'classic' by Stereolab and another by Schema, the collaboration of Stereolab's Mary Hansen and the Seattle avant-psych-metal trio Hovercraft. This trans-hemispheric relationship leads to an interesting point...there doesn't seem to be a particular spot in the world where this music is more or less prevalent in this ever-shrinking globe of ours. However, the upper midwestern US (say, betweet Detroit and Chicago) seems to be one particular hotbed. The record labels Thrill Jockey, Mind Expansion, Burnt Hair, Parasol, and Kranky all reside in these parts and feed off the local talent. Tortoise and The Sea & Cake of course, are poster children for the 'movement.'
Several of the bands you'll hear I have reviewed in past A-I.com articles (while failing to pigeonhole them as 'post-rockers' in most cases, given my previous ignorance) such as Karamasov and Fuxa, and also Texas' AmAnSet and Transona Five, and the Lilys from Philadelphia (their normal modus operandi is more 60s pop-psych, but their 'Zero Population Growth' EP was pure Neu!-wave). Germany has their own roster of post-rockers, including Couch (who recently toured the US with Bevis Frond) and a pair from Stuttgart (Ma Cherie for Painting and Metabolismus). All wonderfully rhythmic and spacey... all in their own way. Hailing from Urbana, Illinois in the American Heartland, Salaryman is my newest fave...their most recent effort, 'Karoshi,' is an amazing example of hypnotic overload. However, I've instead chosen the "Voids & Superclusters" track from their self-titled debut to kick off this audio foray into the spacier side of post-rock that this compilation inevitably is. Salaryman is truly making modern technology sound as cosmic as old-style space rock. Tristeza (San Diego) and Salvatore (Norway) are my newest finds, and so just barely made their way onto this compilation. I think it's safe to say that there are more intriguing sounds and hypnotic rhythms from many other post-rock artists out there in the world, and I've just begun to tap them. But why wait until I actually knew what I was talking about? Why not just share what I'd learned? That was my thinking while I was putting this together. So, I hope you enjoy the show and I'll be back next time with the 'Experimentalists.' And if you'd like to let me know just how off-base I am with my presentation, well, knock yourself out. I can take it. Just make sure that as you're speaking your mind and taking me to task that you also point me towards some more cosmic, hypnotic music like these ones.
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