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10 Must Listens: Post Rock Album Edition

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).


"Executioner Blues"

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.)


"Day One"

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.)


"Staralfur"

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)


"Moksha"

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.

Tent City

—Bordeaux (Una Muerte)

ALBUM REVIEW - “The Valley In Autumn” by Tent City

Tent City’s debut album is a striking one. Here we have a band that takes influences from a World and Folk stage, integrates some Pop-like structures and backs it with some wistful, melancholy singing. “The Valley In Autumn” could be best described as a Gypsy record, with strong instrumentation resembling many elements from Eastern Europe. Fairly similar to the likes of Beirut, A Hawk and a Hacksaw or Devotchka, Accordion notes, plucky Strings and Spanish guitars grace this album in a calm, reserved fashion that give it a warm, exuberant touch.

The seven piece Salem band is on Blueberry Hill Records with Chris Ward at the helm of the project. The songs on the album blend a couple of world styles, particularly closer to Spanish style songs with Eastern European instrumentation going back in forth. Songs like Ischia, Antigua, Del Sole and Irun are the best examples of this. Then you have a few songs that are a bit more vibrant and colorful like El Verano and Bordeaux (Una Muerte) that favor more of that Spanish aspect of the album and ties the whole thing pretty cohesively. The only trepidation I have with this album is that lack of variety between songs. I don’t really have anything against any one particular part of the album but there were times where I felt that I was just listening to the same song in places. Aside from that, there were a few highlights for me that i enjoyed particularly Ischia, Bordeaux (Una Muerte) and El Verano. You could almost drop on any one track and get a good feel for the band overall.

If you’re looking for a great sounding record, if you’re into acts like Beirut or Devotchka or any Gypsy Folk record, or even in the market for a great local listen, give Tent City a whirl and see if it works for you.   

Tent City | Blueberry Hill Records

Monoplane

—Break It

ALBUM REVIEW - “Monoplane” by Monoplane

You are the sum of your experiences, beliefs, and surroundings and how you portray yourself is a direct influence upon those instances throughout your life. Within the music world this absolutely rings true, even more so with some than others. Whether or not a musician is readily aware of it, how they play and conduct themselves while playing their compositions is a direct mark of their personal tastes and exposures to the music scene around them. How a guitarist picks may be a direct result of mimicking Clapton or Iommi or how a drummer clashes may be after prolonged exposure to Bonham or Grohl. Its all there. It may be subtle, but its there. So what does all this have to do with the rulers of the Cherry City? So glad you asked.

Monoplane consists of David Ballantyne, Doug Hoffman, Matt Hall and Mitch Duafa and they essentially own the Salem scene. Nothing really gets past these guys. All four are quintessential aspects to the area and their level of engagement and enthusiasm for the scene is staggering to say the least. With their self released album, it’s a testament to what’s around them and their tastes in music. Its very rare to see such influences so close to the surface but its all there, freely given. There are strong classic rock distinctions within Hoffman’s drumming, Hall’s bass work, and Ballantyne & Duafa’s guitar playing but in addition, there is an overwhelming sense of the modern that is reflective of 90s style alternative rock, hardcore punk, and indie rock.

Their self titled release in itself is a wild romp from start to finish with explosive energy and intensity that leaves the listener caught up with the pace. Cohesively, the album is tied together fairly well. Each song is laced together and flows very well between compositions, reinforcing the briskness and fastidiousness of the album as a whole. The opening track, Abortion, sets the tone with a lone distorted guitar and quickly escalates into a visceral blast of power. From there, the formula stays relatively the same. However outstanding moments appear, such as the rising guitars in Break It and various post punk instances throughout Control, Mud and Cherry House complete with screaming; from both the guitars and Ballantyne’s vocals. Why, there’s even a touch of the post rock in there if you listen for it.

Monoplane @ The Ike Box, 2011

Watching Monoplane play live is a whole other beast. The execution of their material is something to behold. While listening to them play as part of Cherry City Music Festival, there were times where I told myself, this is something special. There’s an intrinsic value to watching them perform. Getting carried away in the moment only resulted in an abrupt realization that the set is over, making you want more. They are authoritative and they are masters of their craft. Truly worth your time and attention.

Shows - Anamanaguchi @ The Someday Lounge, Portland
The 8-Bit punk rock group from New York City laid down one of the most exciting sets i’ve seen in a long time. Opening for Peelander-Z, the night was filled with whirling guitars, thundering drums, and catchy chiptunes, the recipe for an exciting, energetic show that could not be topped. Live, these guys are incredible; like if you saw Crystal Castles team up with Fang Island to create a soundtrack to a Nintendo game. The band has been one of the first on the 8bit scene as part of the 8bitpeoples, a collective of chiptune artists from NYC and have found more mainstream fame as the main music act for Penny Arcade Expo: East and recently writing the soundtrack to the Scott Pilgrim game.
Anamanaguchi : Website - Last.FM

Shows - Anamanaguchi @ The Someday Lounge, Portland

The 8-Bit punk rock group from New York City laid down one of the most exciting sets i’ve seen in a long time. Opening for Peelander-Z, the night was filled with whirling guitars, thundering drums, and catchy chiptunes, the recipe for an exciting, energetic show that could not be topped. Live, these guys are incredible; like if you saw Crystal Castles team up with Fang Island to create a soundtrack to a Nintendo game. The band has been one of the first on the 8bit scene as part of the 8bitpeoples, a collective of chiptune artists from NYC and have found more mainstream fame as the main music act for Penny Arcade Expo: East and recently writing the soundtrack to the Scott Pilgrim game.

Anamanaguchi : Website - Last.FM

Shows - Bottle Rocket @ The Ike Box, Salem

The debut album release show for Salem band Bottle Rocket solidified my perception on the 90s punk rock revival and it was a grand evening. As the night progressed, their songs became stronger and were executed so well that the set seemed short. This is an act TBSTL throughly endorses. Be sure to check them out on Thursday (April 7th) when they play again at the Ike Box as part of the Blueberry Hill Records Showcase, part of Cherry City Music Festival. CCMF runs from April 7th to April 9th in Salem.

Foxtrot

—Bystander

PREVIEW - “The Hot Commerce” by Foxtrot

The Hot Commerce By Foxtrot

Got an advanced preview of the new upcoming EP by Foxtrot, The Hot Commerce, due April 29 on Blueberry Hill Records. An album release show is planned for that night at Clockworks Cafe in downtown Salem (241 Commercial NE). Look for a full review in the coming weeks.

Music News - New Bon Iver album out June

Told you. Its been known for a few months now that Justin Vernon has completed mastering his upcoming LP and it looks like we now have a release window sometime in June. After For Emma, Forever Ago and his numerous side projects, it’s great to finally have something coming out under the Bon Iver moniker.

via Rolling StonePitchfork 

Grails

—Future Primitive

ALBUM REVIEW - “Deep Politics” by Grails

There are very few albums out there that provoke a emotional response from me. And from those albums, there are even fewer make me step back in awe. The last album to completely change the way I perceive music in this way was by Australian modern composer Ben Frost and his album, By The Throat; a completely savage noise-electronica compositional volume that redefined everything I thought I knew about music. How music can provoke such a strong response internally, how it can interact with space, how it can collaborate with multiple genres of music completely different in nature and succeed, and how an album can almost demand to heard in high fidelity. The first time I sat down, closed my eyes and listened to Ben Frost was one of those times where my view of music changed. Deep Politics by Grails, is one of those albums that returned me back to that state.

The Portland based Post Rock group have managed to create an album that I best heard described as “Pink Floyd scoring a Scorsese Western.” No. Seriously. It really does feel like that. Almost an homage to the Spaghetti Western. Straight out of the gate, Future Primitive sets the mood and almost sends you back to the old west with a piece that would be fit for the Man with No Name. The album while completely instrumental, almost creates a narrative for the listener to take part in. It’s deep, rich and vividly textured. Jazzy piano and chamber instruments flow seamlessly through the acts and provide a rich world brimming with instrumental references to 70s experimental rock. Flavorings of old classic rock greats are rampant throughout the album and throw the listener back to days when long haired titans ruled the stage. If there was a vocalist that could sing to these amazing songs, it’d have to be of Robert Plant-caliber.

Having never listened to Grails before, I almost felt ashamed having never heard so much as a song by them. The composition of each song invokes methodical thinking, and the same precise execution found in an orchestra number for a epic film. Its dark, gritty, fascinating, and just overwhelming when you sit back and let it take control of you. It’s only March and already, Deep Politics is a contender in my Top Albums of the year list.

Grails, much respect.