3rd December, 2008

I LOVE post-rock; its simple yet hypnotising melodies and harmonies tap themselves together and twirl me around and around like Dorothy, whisking me to a magical magical place.

But as This Will Destroy You’s gig at Jilly’s Music showed, post-rocks’ largely limited soft-loud-permutation formula and a dominant inability to make music different from Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai is slowly consigning it to the status of background music, and after that, the cold dead place at the bottom of the trash/least played on iTunes.

Firstly, let it be made perfectly clear that post-rock is not some kind of innovation desert, not only parching the world’s creativity but stifling and strangling any hope of new birth. No, no, my friend. Godspeed You! Black Emperor (and its child, A Silver Mnt. Zion) and Sigur Ros, to name but three bands, are often held up as the kings of the genre, closely protected by its slightly less weird but by no means interesting bodyguards: Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Mono. All well worth a listen, if you ask me.

The issue of the bands’ styles and sounds is where the genre’s main problem lies. GY!BE and ASMZ make for a discordant, yet strangely mournful and beautiful listen, using orchestral instruments and samples, silences and vocals that to the uninitiated sound like a three year old learning the violin. Sigur Rós create the musical version of those pictures you see on nature programs of grand glaciers and awe-inspiring icicles and secret ice valley hideaways. Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Mono, however, are all proponents of the guitar-bass-drums-here’s-a-melody-now-let’s-spin-it-out-over-seven-minutes mantra. However, post-rock fans would argue that they do it well, each with their own subtle differences; Mono, for example, incorporate violins into a sound that can make a grown man cry with joy or produce enough power to run that ridiculous experiment in Switzerland.

This mantra is by far the easiest to copy (it’s hard work getting twenty or so people together who can’t read music, and tell them to jam until something otherworldly emerges). Better to grab four people and copy the soft-loud masters, since all you need are the guitarist’s basics; dynamics, alternate picking, and an ear for knowing what sounds pretty and what sounds like the devil just farted in your ear.

It’s all perfectly pleasant, but what can you actually do with it? You could add electronica, more distortion, tune your guitars down, add some different instruments, sing a little, but wait, we already have bands for these things. God is an Astronaut, 65daysofstatic, Timonium and ISIS, to name a few, and it is only a matter of time before carbon copies of all of those mentioned appear. For people who want something a little different, the post-rock catalogue range expansion is slowly grinding to a relentless halt, and is in danger of shrivelling like some kind of prize winning marrow that’s been left in the sun too long. One cause of this could be that this genre is one of the most conservative styles of music around. Thinking of adding a few swept-arpeggios? NO! HOW DARE YOU! And don’t even think of speeding it up (unless you’re 65dos).

The range might be shrinking, but the number of identical products is increasing. If post-rock did release a catalogue, it would be like Argos publishing their home-furnishings section ten times in the same book, each time with a different font face (chose from five). A few truly great sofas and shelving units, and then a ton of stuff that would either last a month, gather dust or just be forgotten about. This Will Destroy you shot themselves in one foot by picking two support bands that were to all intents and purposes identical to their patron, (and shot their second foot by picking a third act who were totally void of confidence and even cut songs short to avoid any further embarrassment) largely because there isn’t much variety to choose from.

I’m over simplifying slightly; there are many bands that do this very well and manage to inject their own style. If that wasn’t the case, then post-rock would stone dead. But looking at the genre as a whole, not only is the field full to the brim and lacking in scrumptious greenery, but it’s also hard to see any life beyond its boundaries. All genres lose popularity and yes, there is a large element of hindsight here, but in comparison to the blues and classical music, it doesn’t have all that much to offer to future generations. As an instrumental expression of thought it certainly has power, but often the thoughts are simplistic and easy to copy and manufacture. Standing in the cold, nuclear-bunker like Jilly’s, I realised post-rock is like some kind of musical hermit, living in a cave, shut off from the rest of humanity, intermittently poking its head out of its hole to preach and gather followers.

Published in Student Direct, December 2008

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