Pretensions aside, post rock is a genre that is standing in brackish water right now. I suppose it’s true that it is better to have a glutton of bands in a specific genre than not enough to find some enjoyable acts, but this genre is really testing the limits of what is considered plagiarism. In terms of looking at it as the rabid fan that I am, the overarching issue seems to be the exclusion of different influences. Post rock has been living in a bubble for so long that it rarely seems like it carries any emotional weight at all, and unfortunately it just doesn’t take long for bands to keep recycling the same drivel over and over again. Moody, subdued pieces build up to a climactic fury before it fades into obscurity; it’s becoming a familiar story to say the least, and unless a band does it extraordinarily well, it’s practically always a snoozefest for the listener. In lieu of these points, I would like to direct you to some of the lesser-known post rock that are simply doing things just a bit differently than most out there. These are the bands that make me sit back and close my eyes, the bands that take me to the edge of a precipice and spring my eyes open, revealing all of the world’s problems and the beauty that surrounds us. You see, post rock in its purest form is really just trying to articulate that life is individually depressing but unilaterally beautiful, and thus worth it. That is my interpretation of it, and these bands bring these hard-to-explain emotions to light better than most.
Giants have all of the makings of a great post rock band, but the thing that sets them apart from the myriad of others that sound similar are the stark differences in atmosphere that they employ. There are these passages of absolutely beautiful guitar work that create focused pieces of ethereal music, exploding into cathartic and majestic distortion. However, the most interesting oddity that makes them different is the meandering little guitar lines that are incredibly reminiscent of late-nineties Modest Mouse and the minimalist drums that accompany them; Giants aren’t afraid to sound bombastically larger than life one moment, and then morose and delightfully one-dimensional the next. It’s the aural equivalent of plodding along a path, one foot in front of the other, until you raise your head and see a vast expanse in front of you. Giants’ 2008 release Old Stories takes on a story of a fisherman at sea, and delivers perfectly. The somber atmosphere explodes at just the right moments, and they take ample time to build up to their individual water-soaked climaxes. Take a listen to the pensive and dreading “Fisherman’s Prayer” and watch it transition into the joyous and sun-filled conclusion of “At Last, Ashore”, and you’ll be able to see exactly why this band is so special. This is a band that can tell a cohesive story without any words, and one with a happy ending at that.
2. Joy Wants Eternity
On the outside, it would be easy to assume that Joy Wants Eternity is just another post rock band. That’s certainly what I thought when I first listened to You Who Pretend to Sleep. It sounded formulaic to say the least, and after I purchased it, I didn’t come back to it for quite some time. One fateful night, I was tossing and turning in bed with a fever that just would not go away. Simultaneously sweating and freezing, I miserably tried to find something, anything to take my mind of my sickness. I chose Joy Wants Eternity, and 38 minutes later I was floored. The low feeling that everyone encounters when being sick was what it took for me to understand why this band was incredibly unique; they were beautifully melancholic. When I say that, I don’t mean that they had some pretty and depressing twinkly guitars that reminded me a dead dog; it was deeper than that. Whether Joy Wants Eternity is punishing the listener with spastic and fuzzed-out guitars (“Existences Rust”) or creating subtle mood with ambient-esque soundscapes (“Death Is a Door”), they are tapping into the human condition in a way that is incredibly difficult to do. Mellow keyboard work meshes with post rock bravado to create something that is starkly different.
Much of this genre is about isolation; post rock often hints at the despondency associated with it. It is a logical theme to grace the music; after all, how emotionally affecting can a peak be without valleys? Lavinia take this idea to an extreme and are all the better for it, taking their brush and painting Impressionist valleys and Jackson Pollack-like peaks. Instead of bothering with any sort of positive climax, Lavinia take depressive atmosphere and superbly craft it into angry and aggressive pockets of music. Nate Schumaker’s vocals sound like Robert Smith from the Cure decided to try his hand at a heavier approach to music, these elements coalescing into some of the strongest songs of the genre. Hell, how they are able to make this angry music sound so beautiful is certainly beyond my understanding, but they are treading new terrain on a planet that appeared devoid of new life.
4. …Of Sinking Ships
…Of Sinking Ships is a creation of ex-Hopesfall guitarist Chad Waldrup, and it’s about as unique as a one-man post rock outfit can get. In Hopesfall, Waldrup would utilize clean-sounding guitar to accent the more oft-used heavily distorted passages, which was a revolutionary stylistic departure from what a lot of melodic hardcore was seeing. With …Of Sinking Ships, Waldrup does the exact opposite, using the distortion of the guitar to create an underlying atmosphere and allowing clean guitar lines to breathe in all of their beautiful glory. The unique aspect of his music is that it focuses on the journey, rather than reaching any sort of definite destination. Instead of incredibly serious passages building up to cinematic explosions, OSS is content to take a gorgeous melody and jam on it for several minutes at a time, employing very small variations as the song goes on. It creates a hypnotic appeal, and sunny disposition heard in the majority of these songs give it a starkly different feel than most of his moody contemporaries. …Of Sinking Ships knows exactly how to have fun with an album, and luckily for us, Waldrup included us fuddy-duds on the guest list.
5. The Candlepark Stars
There aren’t many post rock bands that are able to make music as beautiful as Kerry Muzzey. The man behind The Candlepark Stars moniker, he has continued to put out gorgeously-textured soundscapes that are incredibly affecting for years now. There is a contemplative atmosphere that exists in Muzzey’s work that allows for the listener’s mind to wander to its own set of desires and worries, and then float away into the relaxing and vast expanse. Sometimes music becomes too convoluted for its own good, allowing image and genre restrictions to edge out what really matters. The Candlepark Stars simply make beautiful music to remind you that the world is, well, beautiful. If it doesn’t seem like that novel of a concept to you, I’d say that you’d be hard-pressed to name an album similar to this gorgeous ambient-meets-post rock hybrid. Sit back and enjoy a beautiful moment in life while this man guides you through it in your headphones; we certainly all deserve and need it.