And what is the deal with post-rock bands?!

The other day, this song by a Finnish band called Magyar Posse came up on my iPod.

Magyar Posse- Ballistics (live)

My reaction was not positive. This song exemplifies a songwriting strategy, common among post-rock bands, which I find completely infuriating. Namely: write one riff in an odd time signature and play it over a rotating harmonic foundation. Repeat ad infinitum.

When appropriate, your drummer may shift into double-time while riding on the crash cymbal. Also: VIOLIN.

I have heard so many post-rock bands write this song that I’ve lost count. I’m continually dumbfounded that anybody still thinks this method is original or interesting.

Shit, the techniques that are used for this composition aren’t even limited to post-rock anymore. Here’s an example of them used for something good:

Mastodon- Hearts Alive

What makes this song good, while the other one’s not? Well, for one thing, this is only a four-minute section of a song that’s over twelve minutes long in total. For another, it’s a much better performance. For a third, there’s an actual harmonic progression here that builds to climax, instead of just repetition that the band attempts to cheat into climax just by playing louder. For a fourth: it’s fucking Mastodon, fuck you.

You know another post-rock band that bugs me? Mono.

My god, it takes forever for anything to happen in this band’s music, and when it does it’s always the same Sonic-Youth-with-tons-of-echo junk. Personally, I greatly prefer what Boris did with their empty swimming pool:

I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m partial to metal versions of post-rock, so here’s Pelican demonstrating why even bands that play mostly slow music still need a decent drummer:

And here’s the Mercury Program, who are handicapped by a shittier band name and song title, illustrating the difference it makes:

The Mercury Program- There Are Thousands Sleeping In Peace

Eh:

YUH:

C’est Mortel- Your Misfortune Is Our Mirth

And of course, the poster children for dull post-rock are Explosions in the Sky:

OK, Maserati, I set ’em up for ya- KNOCK THAT SHIT DOWN

24 thoughts on “And what is the deal with post-rock bands?!”

  1. Right there with you on the Pelican, in particular — I can’t even listen to “City of Echoes” anymore, because their can’t-keep-a-steady-beat drummer drives me crazy. You’d think nobody but the band listened to the damn album before they released it.

  2. There’s something very sound-tracky about a lot of these. Lots of dramatic swells and heartstring-plucking melodic progressions without actually going anywhere.

    The Boris stuff was cool though, thanks for that.

    1. Lots of dramatic swells and heartstring-plucking melodic progressions without actually going anywhere.

      My point exactly.

  3. I enjoyed this a lot. I love taking a break from grading papers to read about post-rock and its predictability. If fact, I can only listen to post-rock, like Caspian for example, while grading papers, because THERE’S NOTHING GOING ON. Just kidding–kind of.

  4. Right on the money – Snore Fest. Unless a band has that extra special je ne sais quoi. I do like Mercury Program, tho.

    (S&S dipped its toes in these waters on a couple songs, to my short attention-span having chagrin.)

    1. I perhaps wasn’t totally clear- the Mercury Program, C’est Mortel and Maserati are supposed to be examples of post-rock that I actually like. I suppose my commentary was a little opaque. 😉

      1. I caught that you liked the Mercury Program and I think that may have been the one I liked by far the most. I imagine the drummer from Pelican sitting there listening to the scratch track and trying desperately to get everything in time. Or even going one drum or cymbal at a time a la Bob Mould.

  5. I don’t have a problem with ‘not going anywhere’ as long as your up front about it and not trying to be ‘Hey guys we’re going somewhere!’ when really you’re not.

    Like the Maserati doesn’t really go anywhere. Doesn’t need to, it’s already in a good place.

  6. Oh man I love Grails. They’re a great example, though they are admittedly a little less soundtracky than most. Mono are actually good if you see them live; I think they’re just that kind of band, where the recording doesn’t do justice. I have one of their albums, and do generally find myself a little bored by it, but when I saw them live at Terrastock (where I also saw Grails for the first time!) they were really impressive. There’s something about that slow building wave of sound that just escalates and escalates that sounds really pointless when you’re listening to it on your stereo or in your car, but is really entrancing live, with the sound almost palpably surrounding you.

    1. Yeah, Grails are good.

      I’ve seen Mono and didn’t care for them live either, I’m sorry to say. Explosions in the Sky I remember being a little more fun, although they were opening for Fugazi so there might have been a bit of a halo effect.

  7. It’s weird that “post-rock” has mainly come to mean this sort of GSYBE knock-off stuff. Before that for a few years, it meant “Tortoise”, but before that, in the mid-90’s, the term encompassed a much wider variety of bands and sounds, and was sort of a catch-all term for some really interesting and exciting stuff.

  8. Really happy to see C’est Mortel get some love. Those guys absolutely killed it live every single time (appropriate name, I guess). They came out of such a small (but awesome) handful of Georgia bands and had main gigs elsewhere (the far inferior Jet By Day)–I never thought I’d seem them mentioned by anyone else.

    I agree with the sentiment here, though I do have a lot of room in my heart for post rock bands. It’s pretty easy to fall back on the technique of “repeat this riff until someone has to go to the bathroom” and I think it has to do with bands perhaps not listening to their own music. Starting quietly and getting progressively louder feels like you’re doing something. Turning from your Rhodes to play a glockenspiel feels like you’re adding to a song. Perhaps the songs are long to give the guitarists time to frown thoughtfully at their pedalboards, trying to recall which of the seven reverbs to use on the loud part.

    Sometimes it does work. A lot of Tarantel’s stuff should be boring as hell, but manages to find enough variation in what they’re building to keep it interesting. This Will Destroy You has managed to out-Mogwai their way through four or five albums.

    At any rate, I’m half a year late to this article. Glad I found it. RIP Jerry Fuchs.

  9. Post-rock is underrated!

    Tracktitles for a post-rock album (Vol. 1):

    1. The future is the home of memory.
    2. SandRecorder.
    3. Let’s get away from traffic!
    4. Coming up with disguises.
    5. Outside of the singing malls.
    6. Shaking hands with movers.
    7. FogSpeaker.
    8. Crooked hands of the pop-station.
    9. Selling the light of the city.
    10. Do you understand the code?

    Strinda Typing/2011

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