In 2004, I was sitting in my English class, waiting for the bell to ring while listening to my CD player. Metal or Rock bands mostly graced my headphones, the likes of Tool, Nirvana, Linkin Park, APC, Metallica, Zeppelin, just about the most typical mix of Hard Rock that you would find in a High School Junior’s CD Case. And for the most part, I was fairly content with my listening choices. But this particular day was more or less the turning point where my life went horribly wrong. I turned around to the guy sitting behind me. The student teacher had just handed him two CDs and said that those CDs had to be one of the darkest, eerily beautiful things she had ever heard. I took a quick peek at the albums. One was in a jewel case with a frosted outer sleeve with brackets cut out of the middle. The other was a drawing of an angel fetus on a dark, lush background. I asked him if I listen to the albums for a bit, he let me borrow them and the rest is history.
If you haven’t figured it out, those two albums were by Icelandic Post Rock band, Sigur Ros; one of the driving forces behind the movement, known for their dark, ethereal compositions and falsetto vocals. I couldn’t get enough of it. From there, I scoured just about everything I came across under the genre “Post Rock.” From Sigur Ros, I dove right into Explosions In The Sky, Mogwai and other groups. In time, I started moving more into the indie realm of music.
So it comes the time to share some of these amazing albums. This list doesn’t have any particular order, it’s like trying to pick your favorite child. I also opted for a “1 album per band” method. Several of these acts would saturate this list simply by the shear volume of riveting work. So I went for the albums that I felt were the most interesting to me. Not necessarily a band’s greatest work but rather something that has an fascinating aspect to it. So here we go.
“You, You’re A History In Rust” by Do Make Say Think. (2007, Constellation Records).
DMST hails from Toronto and has been a staple to the genre for years. Their approach to music follows the Post Rock methodology of building tension, a crescendo into a explosion of sound. But along these lines, they incorporate jazz elements, indie rock and folk-style picking. Their album, You, You’re A History In Rust, is a prime example of this. The album has a amiable, wistful nature to it that almost makes it seem like you’re listening to a Broken Social Scene record. An absolute delight.
“f#a#∞” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. (1997, Constellation/Kranky)
“Dead Flag Blues”
The legendary status of this album makes it one of the main go-to records of the entire genre. The Montreal group have become one of the most prominent figures in the underground music world and have provided the world with some of the most intrinsically beautiful song writing comparable to classical and modern composers.
f#a#∞ references each side of the LP. The A side begins in the key of F# and the B side starts in the key of A#. The infinity aspect comes into play at the very end of the B side where on the vinyl, the needle enters an endless loop, giving the album an infinite play time. The album was also laden with small tokens from the band including flyers, papers and a crushed penny. Great care went into the creation of the initial 500 vinyl albums as each one was hand embossed and the cover photograph glued on by hand. Truly a piece of indie memorabilia. If you ever get a chance to hear this record on wax, you will be astonished at it’s magnificent, orchestral quality.
“Spiderland” by Slint. (1991, Touch and Go).
“Good Morning Captain”
Spiderland is a perfect representation of it’s time within the scope of the Post Rock world. During this era we saw the incoming of acts of Tortoise, Talk Talk, and several others along with the Alternative Rock movement of the 90s with such bands as Pavement, Sleater-Kinney and Fugazi: a time where rock was very reflective of its era. Spiderland falls into this generation along with Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock and becomes the stepping stone for the soon emerging artists such as Godspeed and Sigur Ros later in the decade. This my friends, is the genesis of the modern Post Rock movement.
“The Rescue” by Explosions In The Sky (2005, Temporary Residence Ltd.)
The vast majority of Explosions In The Sky’s discography is incredibly strong song writing and instrumentation at it’s finest. But what makes The Rescue fascinating is how quickly paced each song is. Post Rock songs are notorious for very long plays. This is a byproduct of letting a song fully develop and mature throughout it’s duration but in general, a post rock song still lends itself to the stereotypical ten minute plus song lengths. But here, the longest song is only a little over five minutes long; a fairly concise statement amongst the genre’s players. On top of that, you realize none of the songs feel forced. The album feels incredibly natural, an achievement seeing how the entire album was conceived, recorded and mixed in just two weeks. It’s a wonderful blend of soundscapes and textures created in that short time period that make this album staggeringly magnificent.
The album itself is also 100% free and can be found at the band’s website. Definitely another plus.
“Chasing After Shadows…Living With The Ghosts” by Hammock. (2010, Hammock Music).
“You Lost The Starlight In Your Eyes”
Dark Post Rock albums outweigh the lighter, brighter ones by a significant margin. So when you come across an album that not only uplifts and relaxes, but also captivates and clears your mind, its best to take notice. Hammock takes airy song structures and compositions and places an ambient backdrop and an expansive sense of space. Chasing After Shadows is an angelic, ethereal album that melts everything away. Its graceful, radiant, and just simply grand. If a heavenly host came tomorrow playing this album, I swear I’d mistake it for the rapture.
“Agaetis Byrjun” by Sigur Ros. (2000, Fat Cat.)
One of the most pivotal records of genre if not of the whole decade. The Icelandic band has reached critical acclaim over the past few years, becoming one of the staples to the Independent scene itself. With Agaetis Byrun, the album has become one of the measuring sticks that all Post Rock is judged by with its ethereal, hypnotic and lush qualities. With the opening Svefn-G-Englar and Staralfur, you immediately become entranced by the organic quality of the stringed instruments and Jonsi’s falsetto voice. Moving into Flugufrelsarinn and the powerful Ny Batteri, the guitars swell with power giving the middle of the album an enigmatic, solemnly dark quality that is unmatched. The album is rounded out by some of the most strikingly celestial pieces of music ever written with Vlorar Vel Til Loftarasa, Olsen Olsen and the title track. While Sigur Ros has taken more of a pop approach to their music in recent years, this album is one of the few that may define the decade as a whole.
“Mr. Beast” by Mogwai. (2006, Matador Records)
“Friend Of The Night”
What? Really? Not Young Team? Indeed. While the Scottish band’s debut may be heralded as their most prolific work, the accessibility of Mr. Beast is what makes their 2006 release the perfect introduction to the Post Rock powerhouse from Glasgow, if not to the genre itself. If you travel either direction into Mogwai’s discography, this album was something of a pivot where the band relied less on electronics and more traditional timbres of Rock music. With the Hawk Is Howling, their followup release in 2008, the band started to experiment at a lot more deeply and before with their album Happy Songs For Happy People, a slow moving, laid back sound was reached. Using many of the Post Rock structures that they had spent cultivating and perfecting over the years, the expansiveness and natural feel of many of the songs work so well. The exquisite sounding guitars and the sensational piano timbres are what makes this album. Straight out of the gate, Auto Rock slowly enters with a crescendo that thunders with power and sets you up for one of the hardest songs the band has ever written, Glasgow Mega Snake. The album has a rise-fall characteristic to it as each song builds monumental tension and slows down immediately afterward only to set you up for the next ascension. Friend of the Night might be one of the best first time listens, giving a well rounded feel for the album if not the band in general.
“Maps” by Tunturia. (2007, Self Released)
“Cast Shadows On Clouds”
No list would be complete without a band that no one has heard about, even by Indie cred standards. The Toronto Post Rock band’s debut is by far one of the greatest post rock albums of the decade, even if no one ever heard of it. They took many of the things that made the genre great from acts like Explosions In The Sky, Mono, This Will Destroy You, Do Make Say Think and just built upon them adding suspense, melodic riffs, and accessibility, perfecting it. It is a stunning release to say the least and the fact the band carefully crafted the album from start to finish is a feat by itself. If there is one album you take away from this list, its this. Oh and by the way, Cast Shadows On Clouds is that one song that every band since wished they had came up with first.
“The Four Trees” by Caspian. (2007. Dopamine Records)
The Perfect Record. Seriously. And I don’t give that award out lightly. The Massachusetts band created one of the greatest Post Rock albums of all time and it does nothing but astonishes at every turn. It does everything perfectly: its melodic when it needs to be, it builds tension at the right instant and its loud and quiet when each moment calls for it. Straight out of the gate, Moksha comes at you and sets the bar incredibly high but with every song, they clear it in strides; almost mimicking a free flowing Jazz album. At the same time, there is a certain Theatrical quality to it, as each song performs more as a Post Modern Symphony in terms of movements and styling. Digging into the gritty of it, there’s a Progressive movement to each track along with Psychedelic flourishes underlying each Post Rock strum. Throughout the entire album, there are moments that just holds your attention, making you want to repeat the song only to be astonished by a following riff. Its almost a travesty not to listen to the album in one sitting. It definitely warrants your undivided attention.
“Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward” by The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band. (2001. Constellation Records)
“Could’ve Moved Mountains”
Beauty and Grace in the darkest portions of the world. The Silver Mt Zion is the side project of Godspeed You! Black Emperor member, Efrim Menuck and has incorporated an ever changing lineup of talent over the years. Their album, Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward is one of the more Minimalist compositions out there; even if you would never have guessed it by listening to it. Each track is almost delicately pieced together, letting each of the strings and guitars ring out; vibrating with life. It is one of the darkest albums you could ever listen to but underneath that grim foreground, there is indeed an intrinsic beauty to it all.