Post-Rock – The Attempt of an Explanation

Post Rock - Collapse Under The Empire

© Monoton Minimal by Lara Void

Music beyond radio mainstream. Music to drive to, to relax, music that is equally suitable for endurance sports or yoga. Whether you need to remain focused doing paper work or whether you are searching for inspiration in your creative job: Post-Rock makes all of that possible. It is a musical genre which is capable of creating a strong emotional bond with the listener. But what exactly is meant by musicians, when they say: “We are playing Post-Rock?” We, the long-standing music project Collapse Under The Empire would like to give you an answer to and a detailed explanation for these and other questions!

Post-Rock – a term that most fans of rock and metal have possibly heard of or have read in a magazine. Nowadays, Post-Rock, Post-Metal, Post-Hard-Core have become common sub genres which label everything that does not really fit into the scheme, because most of us love order and clearly defined schemes, in which one can sort newly discovered bands, in order to find them again. Most music lovers aren’t musicologists; they do not have profound knowledge on musical semantics. They may be musicians themselves, their music may be a part of this genre, their knowledge of theory and technique may explain why and when the use of certain effects transforms a rock song into a Post-Rock song. But what makes a Post-Rock song a Post-Rock song? And how is Post-Rock composed on a musical level?
There is more than one answer to this question and maybe one can most likely say that there is no real answer to this question. Nevertheless, we will try to fill this vague concept with content.

post-rock-guitar-playing

© Monoton Minimal by Lara Void

Post Rock – Origin and Etymology of the concept

If one tries to trace back the Post-Rock term, one inevitably stumbles upon the English music journalist and critic Simon Reynolds who used the term Post-Rock, in order to characterize the album ‘Hex’ of the British band ‘Bark Psychosis’, in Mojo Magazine, 1994. He used the concept of Post-Rock, to describe a style of music that uses typical Rock instruments for non- rock purposes. Guitars are primarily used to convey tones and textures instead of riffs and power chords. In fact, the term had been used much earlier, though implementing a different meaning. Nevertheless, Reynold’s definition of Post-Rocks seems to be a solid historical foundation stone, on which the further development of the genre can be build. Musicians use guitars, basses and drums as typical instruments of Rock music, but create musical works that differ from common structures; structure such as verse-chorus-verse-constructions, technical structures, such as the use of power chords, as mentioned above, vocal structures, such as the use of music, solely to support vocally transported contents.

Musical characteristics of Post-Rock

post-rock-effect-pedals-guitar

© Monoton Minimal by Lara Void

If one knows the genre Post-Rock and if one knows a little something about playing technique, one could summarize: Post-Rock is everything that contains tremolo picking, delay and reverb and which does not often provide vocals. Of course, this is a very simple definition of the genre that cannot depict the latter in its entirety. Saying this, is almost as if claiming that Death-Metal is everything that has something to do with distorted guitar and guttural singing. In order to describe Post-Rock on a musical level, one has to climb one’s way down on the hierarchy of rock music, because this genre is so versatile that it may also be called a sub-genre.
Throughout the 20 years of ongoing development of the genre, influences of all possible music genres, such as Jazz, IDM, Ambient, Progressive Rock, Krautrock, Post-Punk and temporary classical music can be found. As previously described, Post Rock can be characterized as an escape from typical structures of Rock music. With the help of dynamics and tone modulation and the use of repetitive musical themes, a soundscape is created. The different influences from other genres do not only become apparent in song writing, but also influence the choice of instruments. Even in the very beginning of what Reynold’s later called Post-Rock, violins were used, instruments, that are now part of standard Post-Rock arrangements. Bands, such as ‘Yndi Halda’, ‘Her Name is Calla’ and ‘Godspeed You!Black Emperor’ have included the violin in their repertoire, other bands such as ‘Sigur Rós’ use violin bows to play the guitar (others use violin bows or Ebows in some pieces), and some choose from more classical instruments, like cellos, double basses and trumpets. The use of pianos and keyboards also goes back to the beginnings of Post Rock. Nevertheless, these instruments mostly play a minor part and do not serve as key aspects of the music. Since the beginning, synthesizers have often been used by various Post-Rock bands to create atmospheric sounds. The whole development was majorly influenced by Musique concrète, which uses everyday sounds from nature and environment to fabricate musical soundscapes. In parts, bands can be assigned to another sub-genre, called Ambient Post-Rock. A genre that also renunciates almost any singing.
Post-Rock pieces are furthermore characterized by an above average playing time. Neither in the very beginning, nor today Post-Rock pieces show a playing time of less than 5 minutes. In certain cases, whole epics, with a playing time of 25 minutes, have been compressed into one song, which then bears the full extent of dynamics and texture.

post-rock-drum-set

© Monoton Minimal by Lara Void

Calling Post-Rock instrumental music would not be correct

Nevertheless, the use of vocals is subject to different laws than it usually is the case with Rock music. Whereas music only seems to be accompanying vocals in other genres, vocals that are used in Post-Rock can be seen as an addition of another instrument to the soundscape. Since Post-Rock often renounces any vocals, the actual content or idea of a song is difficult to fathom and the interpretation of a song pertains exclusively to the listener. Therefore, quotes from poetry and prose and samples, taken from movies and documentaries, are often used to introduce the listener to the thematic world of the song. One band that truly perfected the use of quotes and samples is the British band ‘Maybeshewill’, that split up in spring 2016. Many of their songs contain samples from movies, such as ‘The Rules of Attraction’, ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ and ‘Network’; movies that all embody a certain social criticism.

Tracks, such as ‘Gone in Bloom and Bough’ or ‘Echo and Abyss’, from the American band Caspian’, perfectly illustrate, how vocals can add another instrumental level to the song. Both tracks contain only one level of singing, which does not focus on the understanding of the content that has been sung, but rather accompanies the music. Iceland’s ‘Sigur Rós’ is one of the greatest bands of the genre that works as an interface between form and content of singing. Hereby, it is important to note Jónsi Birgisson’s characteristic falsetto voice, mostly whispering but throughout audible, highly visible on all levels- not only as background music to the bow played guitar, but also to transport interpretable content.

Post-Rock – just a feeling?

As this text has shown, Post-Rock is not easy to define or to explain. It can generally be seen as a style of music that lives from its emotions, breaks free from conventional patterns and thus creates its own. There are some bands that stand out of the masses, there are others who don’t, but what many of them have in common is that they somewhat stumbled into the genre by simply wanting to do what they please and by doing what feels right. Post-Rock can contain hard Metal-Riffing, strictly electronical tones or even everyday sounds that have been distorted until they transformed into rhythms and melodies. Finally, there is only one explanation that is universally valid:

“Post-Rock is a wonderful feeling!”