From Monument to Masses, God is an Astronaut, Grails, Mogwai, Red Sparowes, The Cancer Conspiracy et al. These are what is known as “Post Rock” bands but are they really just Prog Rock bands from the underground scene come to surface? Post Rock has been around for a couple of decades now but largely unknown to the public ears because they’ve stayed in the underground far too long and only now in the 21st century are they making grounds and paving the way to public attention. But what is exactly “Post Rock”, it’s primarily instrumental to what I originally called “Soundtrack Rock” because that’s what it sounded like to me, avant-garde fusion based soundtrack music to dark and deep thought and indie films you only see at film festivals like TIFF (Toronto International Film Fest) and Cannes etc. The music is that intense and deep at times. It carries many of the elements of Prog rock and songs are at some great lengths at times. They include many of Prog’s essential recipe ingredients and mix them well in to a splendor of impressive sounds making it often complex and intricately detailed. Some pieces occasionally do have vocals in them but are rare and in cases like bands such as “Mogwai” from Scotland I find the vocals buried deep in the mix or heavily filtered through effects making them indiscernible most of the time. Having put out many albums and Ep’s over the years this band has made their carbon footprints well known all over the world. Songs like; “Travel is Dangerous“, “Hunted By a Freak” and “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” are stand out tracks for me, the last Morrison titled song made me laugh so hard I just had to look it up and find out what that was all about to which to my surprise a brilliant piece of music to which no Doors reference was made showing the band’s humourous side at not taking song titles seriously and rather focussing on the music more so. There are a ton of live shows audio and video circulating the trading circles for Mogwai so you won’t have a hard time tracking those down should you wish to see them out.
Odd images of streets and signs, random photographs and avant-garde artwork make up the album covers of this heavy at times and intense for of music. Things that make no sense to the common eye or a new listener to the genre just now exploring their music and even to a more advanced listener to Post Rock may have no clue to what the album cover is all about but that’s the beauty in the genre of Prog music and all its facets and sub-genres, does it matter? Not really but making it more obscure and as diverse as possible gives the music an edge that you just don’t get with Pop Culture music, their album covers are too direct and self-explanatory the majority of times and a lot of Punk records look like they forged it with paint, magic markers and duct tape giving them their own rights to the beauty of their genre. Post Rock looks like that often as well, album covers that look like a grade 6 art project so one never knows what could happen there.
This genre showed up after Prog Rock had pretty much died in the mid to late 80’s from the public eye for the most part and went underground for some time with few exceptions who remained to put records out and fight the good fight of keeping the flame alive so-to-speak but Post Rock lived under the stairs in the basement of the musical world for some time, emerging only to perform then returning to the shadows downstairs. Perhaps I am wrong and it was flourishing well beyond its means and I knew nothing about it when it first came out but from where I stood I heard not a blip until someone said that I need to check out this band, “Red Sparowes” from Los Angeles. Ok. I’m game, let’s check it out and when I did I listened to their album “At The Soundless Dawn” from 2005 which left my jaw dropped, stomach muscles tense and tightened and the back of my neck tense from not moving my head away from what I was hearing. It reminded me of the gut wrenching soundtrack from “28 Days Later” with a ferocity of sound and music like none I have ever heard before. Immediately hooked and wanted more and now, NOW kind of more. I haunted the lands for bands like this and found a treasure trove of them, mostly thanks to YouTube but regardless, this was bizarre how unnoticed it has gone by since the mid-late 80’s. If you have ever listened to or are a fan of King Crimson and have had the opportunity to hear some of the insane improvs they did in the 70’s either through bootlegs or the newly released box sets of “Starless and Bible Black“, “Larks Tongues in Aspic” and “Red“(All worth getting BTW) then you have a pretty good idea of what Post Rock is all about already because that’s really close to what it sounds like for a good part of it.
Now it’s not all insane driven loud angry guitars, steamrolling drums, thunderous bass and squealing solos, there’s a lot of ambient movements as well, acoustically paced songs that gather no moss as they travel through spacial passages that revert you back to days of “Krautrock” and early “Prog Rock Canterbury” almost. Post Rock most definitely came out of the ashes of many of Prog’s big names who called it a day by 1985 as well as a blending of hard rock bands, metal, punk, ambient and fusion all combined in to a mixture of sound that built up a beyond concrete wall of terrifying new concepts that record companies wouldn’t release it to the general public as the money machine of “Pop” music was still on a roll. Another band that had me at note one was from Portland, Oregon is “Grails” a mixture of light and heavy tracks that blend a unique form of jazz chords, ambient passages as well as electronic effects along side your standard accompaniment of musical instrumentation. Putting out albums since 2003 they have established a complete style all their own and each album is a far cry from the one previous allowing themselves to be absconded from following up with anything similar. There are a few bootlegs of their shows that I have managed to find and procure to listening to and their raw energy is ever present live as it is in studio making them true to their fan base and not disappointing audiences with an alternate live performance from their records. Releasing an album almost every year since their inception they have not disappointed me that’s for sure and their music breaks grounds with every note.
“God is an Astronaut” from County Wicklow, Ireland formed in 2002 consider their albums to be a “sonic photograph or snapshot of who we are in that moment of time” according to the band. A very profound statement and their music shows for it. They utilize their own made video montage at their shows and edit it themselves as per their shows requirements giving off a very Prog movement of both sight and sound. Creating songs that incorporate many Prog’s essential ingredients as well as putting their own spins on old recipes with new ideas they have maintained sell-out crowds in New York and Los Angeles since their first tour where on their last day their gear worth about $20G was stolen and with no insurance the whole thing was a bit of a bust but having returned later they have garnered a wider and more attentive audience making them a mainstay in the genre. “Sunrise in Aries” and “Radau” from their album, “Far From Refuge” was my first experience in to their mellow driven but direct sound which isn’t really mellow per se but when you listen to them you’ll see what I mean. A serious approach to guitar effects making it heavy but not distorted in a fuzz sense. “From Monument to Masses” is a band described “politically charged post rock band” from San Francisco that lasted a good ten year tour of duty in the field of Post Rock performing their last show in 2010 at the great American Music Hall. With four albums out in ten years they made little headway in being highly influential to the masses as their name states but their name means more than just that, a paradigm shift as they called it where the monuments erected of “important” people aren’t the ones who make history but the masses who struggle to change life as we know it. Their debut release from 2002 I found to be their most energized and influential record to me with deep tones that stretch the sounds to a farther region that brings you a greater appreciation to California music than just the beach side stereotypes of the 50’s and the early 80’s heavy metal bands like Metallica to which are not bad bands at all, on the contrary, both types of that music helped created From Monument to Masses as they were because snippets of both the Metallica type bands and the 50’s surfer crowd sounds helped forge the band to become who they were by 2002.
Another band formed in 1990 in Chicago, Illinois is “Tortoise” another almost entirely instrumental band blending jazz fusion, post rock, progressive rock and various fragments of other styles to add to their repertoire of sound. Their album, “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” was my first venture in to their lair of instrumental music and I found it very avant-garde and with songs that stretch past the standard cookie cutter format of music they create evocative spacial passages as well as short trips to Jupiter. The entire album is a rites of passage to the genre and aside from all their other albums this record is their 1996 masterpiece in my opinion. Our last band to look at is “The Cancer Conspiracy” from Burlington, Vermont, a power trio that is on again off again with only a couple of albums out and an Ep but well worth seeking out and listening to. Drawing heavily on King Crimson, Yes, fusion formats and what is known as “Math Rock” (another sub-genre that uses rare and varying time signatures in music) this band made a small but important contribution to the genre in 2002, and only being around originally form 2001-2003, hardly enough time to impact large numbers of people despite extensively touring during those years. Their album, “The Audio Medium” is the one record to explore and introduce yourself to as it captures the band at their peak of energy and raw power giving off a brightness of sound and really existentialist rock that in 2002…. nothing in mainstream would even go near with a ten foot pole! Similar in ways to Red Sparowes they use intensity as a musical weapon but not to harm us but enlighten us to an adverse style that is beyond what you would expect to find in a Prog like band or even to be an extension to get you out of the cookie cutter box that most of us happen to fall in to now and then which is why we have in all of my reader friends on here and elsewhere around the world; music, poetry, art, painting, writing, photography et al to break us free of this box that so many people want us to live in. HELL NO!!, Is the answer we give them and this is why we have music like Post Rock and Prog Rock and Krautrock, to break us out of the chains of pop clap trap nonsense commercialism! It’s not just these genres that break us free musically, there’s everything from A to Z that makes life interesting and exotic to our ears. Ok, I’m off my proverbial soapbox now and let’s turn it up as we acknowledge “Post Rock” i to the annals of the Halls of Prog Rock as the Friars of Prog look upon them happily and swing the doors open cheerfully to take their place beside the greats that have entered before them. Enjoy.