With his new book, ‘Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-Rock’, writer Jack Chuter takes a detailed into the evolution and history of the post-rock genre. Chuter’s aim of the book is to provide a strong, consistent understanding of the genre and the story behind it.
The genre has a compelling and confusing history. It challenges the dynamics and conventional format of rock songwriting yet is as effective as any other genre. Through ‘Storm Static Sleep’, Jack speaks to various bands and influencers as he looks into the development of post-rock.
We recently asked Jack Chuter to give us a list of 10 influential post-rock records. And although this feature falls under our “Influences” umbrella, as Jack explains, this isn’t an essential list of records just a set of albums that have shaped the genre.
There’s no such thing as a definitive list of post-rock records, because post-rock itself is far from a definitive term. The label is riddled with contradiction and misunderstanding, splaying itself over an incredibly vast, yet endlessly fascinating, stylistic ground. Here are 10 fantastic records that post-rock bumped into on its wayward travels across the plain of music.
1) .O.rang – Herd Of Instinct (1994, Echo)
Everybody raves about Talk Talk’s role in the formation of post-rock, but less has been said about what happened after their demise. Drummer Lee Harris and bassist Paul Webb took the spontaneous side of Talk Talk to a liberating extreme in .O.rang: a democratic, mask-wearing collective who danced beneath strange visual projections and surrendered themselves to the weirdest reaches of improvisatory reflex. One of the results was Herd Of Instict, which was a sloshing potion of dub reggae, pan-global beats, psychedelic rock, warped synthesisers and yelping voices (one of which belonged to Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, no less).
2) Stars Of The Lid – Music For Nitrous Oxide (1995, Sedimental)
The press release for ‘Music For Nitrous Oxide’ revealed that guitar was the predominant building block for the record’s ethereal textures. Part of me wishes that this had remained a mystery. As drones slid into view on ‘Before Top Dead Center’, emerging slowly like tectonic plates, the source of the hum was unclear. An orchestra drowned in reverb? Synthesisers melted into formless pools of tone? When the results were as serene and beautiful as this – swerving and gleaming like tropical oceanic flora – did the point of origin even matter?
3) Don Caballero – What Burns Never Returns (1998, Touch And Go)
‘What Burns Never Returns’ was a masterful exercise in musical misdirection. As soon as the listener aligned themselves to one time signature or tempo, everything changed – the drums of Damon Che veered from lethargic stumble to a flurry of sudden energy, while the guitars recalibrated adroitly to the change in scenery, spinning and spiralling through plectrum tapping and crooked harmonic shapes. Before the term “math rock” was introduced to (inaccurately) articulate such a sound, post-rock was used to plug the gap.
4) Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun (1999, Smekkleysa)
One of the great contradictions of post-rock is its reputation as an instrumental genre, despite one of its most renowned outfits centring on the genderless vocal swoops of Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson. Ágætis Byrjun struck a strange balance between otherworldliness and the emotional intimacy of home, and while there was a fantastical element to how bowed guitars, violins and pianos exploded inside pockets of echo, Sigur Rós ultimately spoke the language of human sadness and wonder.
5) Do Make Say Think – Goodbye Enemy Airship The Landlord Is Dead (2000, Constellation)
There are grounds for accusing post-rock of being too panoramic in its emotional reach, with melodies reaching a grandeur that no longer empathises with the individual. That’s why Do Make Say Think are so great. Goodbye Enemy Airship… was flecked with the noise and grub of imperfection, built upon both the stutters of human experience and bloody, sweaty conviction. The studio production was such that the listener never forgot about the bodies behind the instruments: the warm breaths gushing out of trumpets, the fingernails catching guitar strings, the scrapes and shuffles of bodies moving around in stereo space.
6) 65daysofstatic – The Fall Of Math (2004, Monotreme)
By slamming the frantic bewilderment of electronica into the cathartic fervour of rock, 65daysofstatic created a soundtrack for everyone that felt spun into personal crisis by media and political dishonesty; hurtling around the corners of bent truths, plummeting down potholes of deceit. The Fall Of Math was put together in a few manic days of hammered pianos, sudden ruptures of distorted guitar and the glitches of facts that simply don’t add up. Unsurprisingly, such frantic methods generated an immensely frantic result.
7) Isis – Panopticon (2004, Ipecac)
Where post-metal often has a reputation as post-rock with harder edges, ‘Panopticon’ was actually an incredibly fluid work. Climaxes occured as clouds of guitars and electronics condense into tidal surges of distortion, whose intensity resides in their inexorable movement rather than their explosive impact. Often, the listener felt airborne as they climbed toward the summit of tracks like ‘Backlit’, which mutated from idle daydream to radiant, fizzing epiphany.
8) God Is An Astronaut – All Is Violent, All Is Bright (2005, Rocket Girl)
No one knew how to label an atmospheric rock band with their roots in trip hop, which is why God Is An Astronaut found themselves bundled under the post-rock banner. ‘All Is Violent, All Is Bright’ was their second full-length, and marked the point at which the Irish group started to hone their combination of comet trail synthesisers, elegant guitar work and drums with a ferocious forward thrust.
9) Mogwai – Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006, Rock Action)
There are now countless examples of post-rock being utilised TV and cinema. Explosions In The Sky put together a wonderful score for Friday Night Lights, while This Will Destroy You have found their music repurposed as sonic scenery for Hollywood films such as Moneyball and Foxcatcher. Mogwai’s soundtrack for Douglas Gordon’s documentary about footballer Zinedine Zidane remains one of the best. Each song ambled along gently, with guitars and drums kept to a hush of contemplative gestures. It set the tone for the entire film, and within the frame of such grace and careful execution, the viewer was subtly drawn toward the artistic finesse and facial expressions of the film’s central protagonist rather than the aggression and grit of the game around him.
10) Tides From Nebula – Eternal Movement (2013, Mystic Production)
The current incarnation of post-rock is one of immaculate symmetry and technical finesse. The melodies are still radiant and brimming with heart, yet the execution is much more direct and concise. Songs bubble and explode in the space of five minutes rather than dragging themselves out for 10. Synthesisers glint amidst the guitars that spiral and erupt like a meticulously co-ordinated fireworks display. ‘Eternal Movement’ was a beautiful instance of this, sonically enacting the intricate, multicolour prism that occupies the album cover.
‘Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-Rock’ by Jack Chuter is published on November 30th through Function Books.