From Talk Talk to Swans: our guide to the best Post-Rock
Post-rock is dead. Long live post-rock.
Once we were besotted with post-rock; it became the new alternative culture, a form of groundbreaking music none of us could take our eyes or ears off. These days, it’s replicated at such a diminishing rate of returns that we’re lucky if we hear an innovation, or even a slight tweaking, to its sound. What is post-rock? Post-rock is, to an extent, a bit of rock music history.
It’s hard to know exactly where post-rock started off: some see Talk Talk’s attempt to destroy new wave and put something in its place as the genre’s birthmark, while others consider Simon Reynolds’ use of the term to describe Bark Psychosis’ masterpiece Hex as the genre’s own bat signal. All in all, the term ‘post-rock’ started to mean so many different things, the genre linking distant-sounding bands as cousins. What most would say is that it’s music that uses the instrumental set-up of rock music, tweaks it a little, and reroutes the dynamic journey. Songs build, and build, and build, and then release in the name of catharsis.
This isn’t exactly true of all the band’s you’ll read about on this never-ending listicle. But it is true of the big dogs: Explosions In The Sky are chief among them, and you might know a thing or two about Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But as the term ‘post-rock’ unravels and starts to mean everything and nothing, we can come to appreciate the bands who truly moved rock music into places of discomforted genius. Some of these post-rock bands didn’t just build to crescendos, but also raised question marks, as if ambiguity was the best thing about rock ‘n’ roll all along.
Best post-rock bands
He said it’s my life and he meant it. Mark Hollis, the chief-in-command of genre-hoppers Talk Talk, said yes to life, taking his band out of their commercial safety net and into the great post-rock unknown. Starting off as a new wave outfit and potential EMI cash cow, the London band started to grow restless, imagining a world with more colour and higher fantasy. After two safe synth-pop records they released The Colour of Spring, one of the first records to give off the scent of post-rock. Still a catchy, hook-laden record, it experimented with song structure and dynamics, suggesting something altogether weirder at Talk Talk’s heart.
And then they went and did it: Spirit of Eden, their fourth record, tore apart their sound and recast Talk Talk as a band of jazz heads, ambient fans and classical students. A serene mix of baroque and surrealism, the now revered post-rock staple bought them a one way ticket to obscurity -- EMI took the album’s inaccessibility as a personal affront and ditched them from the label. Perhaps incensed by this music industry reckoning, but likely just alive with the power of post-rock, Talk Talk went on to release Laughing Stock, an aesthetic sibling to Spirit of Eden that delved even further into the band’s atmospheric post-rock sound.
You could argue Talk Talk were always Talk Talk, so long as they had Mark Hollis’ soft-spoken coo at the fore, but it’s latter day Talk Talk we remember: they just about invented post-rock.
The forgotten legends of post-rock’s grimier architecture, Bark Psychosis made a classic record, a second one, and then ditched on us forever. Sad, I know, but can we stay mad at the post-rock band that gave us Hex? The Londoners were the first band to be given the post-rock accolade, Simon Reynolds inventing the term for them in his Mojo review of their magnum opus. With a jittery and gleefully counterproductive rhythm section, weirdly affected guitars and barroom piano, the band crafted a twilit sound for the world to gracefully collapse to. Not only did it belong to post-rock: it set the benchmark for all bands looking to express their melancholy.
After Hex, Bark Psychosis packed it all up, but we did get one more record out of them. A decade on from their classic, they released Codename: Dustsucker, a record which frontman Graham Sutton used for further experimental outlets, making for an even more scattershot record, an indecipherable blueprint of hard to hear whispers and melodic swirls. It was a gorgeous tone poem, but became lost to time as bands began to grow away from this type of post-rock and into the widescreen version of the second gen: crystalline guitars and anonymous melodies would replace the creepy, backstreet sorrow of Bark Psychosis
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Montreal’s best ever band became synonymous with the word post-rock through a series of lamenting political soundscapes. Efrin Menuck and co. offered the genre at its most literal: beyond using a traditional rock band set-up of guitars ‘n’ drums, they started trading in string swells and horn sections. Rock music met classical, the two dancing around one another until they realised a common truth: climaxes are good.
The first record proper we heard out of this elusive bunch was F#A#∞, a beguiling sound collage in which tape samples and fragmented band playing became a kind of go-nowhere film soundtrack. It’s one of the most thoughtful, considered pieces of apocalypse art to ever be released, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor continued to top themselves: Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada was a bleak funeral march with epic, string-addled climaxes, and stands as one of post-rock’s finest and most simply effective moments. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven saw them trade in ambient interludes and big band melodies, and Yanqui u.x.o was all noise and bluster, the hopeless sound of bombs falling as Godspeed bowed out with one final political statement.
After a long sleep, they returned with a series of records less convoluted and conceptual, hinting at a newfound doom metal influence: the post-rock of recent LP Luciferian Towers is slow and stern, but also joyful, suggesting they’re going loud with hope. Never before has their sound been so bold and communal as it has recently: the riffs are riotous but righteous, the post-rock as happy as it’s ever been for anyone.
The Dirty Three weren’t so dirty. In fact, their music was, if I may be so bold, downright nice. Comprising violinist and bassist Warren Ellis, drummer Jim White and guitarist Mick Turner, the group improvised a goldmine of instrumental goodness, creating a sound that juxtaposed low-key dynamics with melodic melodrama.
In some ways, they were as good as a folk band, Ellis’ violin offering an overarching pastorality that set them apart from other post-rock bands, even those using string swells. There was something in the sparsity of their sound, along with its improvisational unknown, that kept you hanging on their every movement: you never knew how they’d round out a song, or if they even wanted to, so you kept listening. Horse Stories was their best example of this: a record that sounded like it was beholden to the elements and they were just trying to hold on to it.
For my money, though, their best record is Ocean Songs, a gorgeously aquatic collection of disquieting and lamenting songs. It’s the best example of how post-rock worked, for Dirty Three: both performer and listener were surprised when the climax came, when it suddenly opened a song up into something larger than the life it felt safe and sound in. With their calamitous, unexpected twists, Dirty Three’s post-rock had hints of free jazz about it, and their classic record Whatever You Love, You Are took influence from the avant-garde era of John Coltrane’s career, skewing them just that little bit astray from the beaten path.
Do Make Say Think
The origin story of Do Make Say Think is that they were having a little practice for their as-of-yet unnamed post-rock band in a school classroom and saw four words painted on the walls: Do, Make, Say, Think. Never has any story about a band been more fitting: built out of serendipity and intuition, this band sound like they’ve cobbled together their tunes by chance, absentmindedly alchemising pure gold. If a post-rock band could be a jam band, it’d be Do Make Say Think, a band with more melodies, riffs and gorgeous moments than their province of Ontario can hold on to.
Full of math-y noodling and serene repetition, their early records sounded cinematic and homely at once -- lovely, pastoral instrumentals bubbled up through trumpets and guitars, hitting breaking point and then crashing back down for a rest. Post-rock at its simplest, they soon implemented odd drum time signatures, hummed vocals, even folk music: eventually, they landed on You, You’re a History in the Rust, a cult classic in post-rock circles that fused in noise rock and pop music, cementing the bond between the band and their associates Broken Social Scene.
Do Make Say Think’s most recent record is maybe their best. Stubborn Persistent Illusions saw the band writing their most conceptual and imaginative work, the record themed around dream worlds. At times it is a manic and surreal crash of instruments; at others, the band stretch out to make their most meandering, go-nowhere material, breaking down post-rock so that it’s not about quiet to loud, but moment to moment. Their music is just beautiful, if you want the short version.
Scottish post-rockers Mogwai have written enough bangers to contend with the charts. Really, their tunes are the ones I’d put on a jukebox at my local and get rowdy to: put on “White Noise” and I’ll sing along as if there are words. Instrumentalists led by nothing but emotion, the band have created some of post-rock’s loudest and proudest music, screeching their way into life on Young Team and keeping the feeling going into 2018. Now that’s what I call Mogwai.
Young Team is their post-rock opus, but we’ve all got our own office favourite: I’m partial to Come On Die Young, their experimental melting pot of ASMR post-rock in which instrumental whispers became screams, climaxes stretched out and songs accidentally formed. The synth-addled Happy Songs for Happy People is another winner, a record in with Stuart Braithwaite stopped singing so tunes could develop their very own serenity. And then there’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You WIll, a masterstroke of aggy noise and diluted dance.
Despite largely remaining the same band with a signature sound, Mogwai have been ripped apart and rewritten, the band filtering their trademark climaxes through new iterations of rock music.Still going strong, they’ve found a new home as a soundtrack band, offering a commiserating tone for Les Revenants and Mark Cousin’s movie Atomic. It makes sense: their music is one of expression, and long may the lend it to us.
Explosions in the Sky
The key band in post-rock’s second wave, Explosions in the Sky created (or perhaps just strengthened) the sound that everyone after them wanted to make. You can hear it in every new post-rock band that crops up, and in some of the gnarlier post-metal bands too: they’re all aching to turn their lucid, crystalline guitar tones towards a burning sun, to get the climax as gorgeous and euphoric as that first time they heard The Earth Is Not a Dead, Cold Place.
Can you really blame them, when the very band responsible are doing the very same? Since making their opus, Explosions in the Sky have been trying to remake it, making records out of the very same quiet-loud siren song, treading the same maximalist ground through All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone and Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. Finally, on 2016’s The Wilderness, they made a record worthy of their early accolades: an epic record with their old spirit and vitality, it proved post-rock can still sound fresh, when the right energy is behind it.
Explosions in the Sky’s sound is, at this point, a staple. It is rock music as boundless symphony, and for that they remain one of post-rock’s most iconic outfits.
Disco Inferno knew what they wanted to do and they knew it was, well, you know, unorthodox. A mere trio, they made a maximalist sound far and beyond its embryonic set-up of guitar, bass and drums. Through three records they evolved post-rock out of post-punk, grassing up the early, slightly more straightforward sound of Open Doors, Closed Windows with the absolutely madcap post-rock experiments of D.I Go Pop.
Of course they didn’t go pop. With that eye-rolling album title they awarded themselves the free reign to go loopy, taking on a sample-heavy approach to composing and creating a record that road tripped around English environments both rural and urban. The band became quite shapeless, and it suited them: it’s the version of “post-rock” that doesn’t rise out of one linear point into another, but rather creates a jumble sale of rock music’s history, moving sideways and diagonal through maddening tunes.
After the more pop-oriented experiments of their third record, Technicolour, Disco Inferno called it a day, having burned through more post-rock possibilities in three records than most can in ten. They rival This Heat for the avant-garde rock band crown, if you ask us.
They’re just about the sweetest people in the world, are Sigur Rós. They write music in their own made-up language (Hopelandic, a cute bastardisation of the band’s native Icelandic tongue). Their frontman has a coo that I’m sure angels, if they exist, would be jealous of. They once named an album Takk, which translates to thanks. Never has a band had a kinder, more lovely way of doing this whole post-rock thing.
Building their songs on the classical minimalism of old, Jonsi Birgisson’s soft-laced falsetto and the well-loved bowed guitar, Sigur Rós released a series of purely beautiful records, gaining critical plaudits with their sophomore record Ágætis byrjun. A mixture of fuzzy guitar and ambient orchestration, it became their signature sound for a while, resonating through the gorgeous melodic repetitions of ( ) and the advert-baiting Takk.
Sigur Rós deserve credit for being more than that, though. Their post-rock became pastoral pop on the polarising Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust; soon after they eschewed their pleasant aesthetics for putrid ones, creating the heavy as hell Kveikur -- a record that repeated ghosts of the post-rock past, as the band departed EMI in an extremely Talk Talkian move. We haven’t heard from them since 2013, but we can only guess they’re scheming something new, something strange, something for us.
Slint were wee bairns when they started playing together. The nearly forgotten Tweez is the work of kids trying their hat at their favourite music, a record of garage-rehearsed punk tunes with the kind of edge you get from wanting to play fast, and hard, and nothing much else. By no means was it a bad record, but it’s not what we know Slint for: that would be the iconic Spiderland, its drowning-band artwork and subtle post-rock scar tissue.
Released back in 1991, Slint’s post-rock opus still resonates to this day, its jagged tone, shredded guitars and wacky structures sounding nothing like the records that go along with it in this list. For one thing, this record sounds dirty: the word “industrial” comes to mind, even if it doesn’t fit there, because this record sounds like something confined to an abandoned warehouse. Scratching at their guitars and drums, Slint seemed resigned to their obscurist trade from the go, deigning to whisper where they could shout and overdrive the bass wherever they were about to be heard well and clear.
Half-mumbled spoken word and broken time signatures; slapdash distortion and lyrics about going outside to take a piss. It’s not the angelic, skygazing post-rock we think we know, but something else: Spiderland is weird and humane and triumphantly disgusting, and Slint made it the guitar record to beat for years and years and years. They play a show or two, when they want, but we should be glad they never tried to reunite for real, instead leaving us with this dastardly legacy.
Wetherby super-siblings Chris and Richard Adams spent their teen years getting into indie pop and its weirder electronic cousins, coming out the other end with a cracked sense of songwriting sensibility. After a few seasons playing the drabbest and most decrepit venues Yorkshire had to offer, they started making their own, homespun brand of post-rock, stitching together long lists of songs with silly names and dour melodies. Cabled Linear Traction was the first glimpse we got of the band’s versatile sound, and through a series of gentle plucks, mumbled instrumentation and pastoral slowcore, they ended up with a place on Domino Records.
The later days of Hood’s career brought them the most success. They started adding detail and precision to their sound on Cold House, a masterpiece of indietronica that gave post-rock a kind of black comedy pathos. With contributions from Anticon’s esoteric indie rapper Doseone, the record became a stay-at-home version of Kid A, more self-aware and slapstick, but even stranger, in its way. They followed it up with the more concise Outside Closer before disappearing to do things on their own -- Chris as Bracken, a one man dub-techno project, and Richard as The Declining Winter, a deeply melodic, extremely sad indie pop outfit. It was as if they’d taken their favourite bits of Hood and divvied them up amongst themselves -- but the decidedly Northern post-rock sound of Hood will linger long in the memory.
Namechecked alongside many others in Simon Reynolds description of an early-access post-rock, Labradford didn’t so much fit into the genre as they did float alongside it. Coming up next to ambient and drone acts such as Stars of the Lid, this Kranky contingent started playing shows with post-rock titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and things snowballed from there. Listen to their records, though, and something else is at work: guitarist and wayward-vocalist Mark Nelson wrote slow-cooked tunes that were more impressionistic than structural, utilising guitar processing and reverb to create what many would distinguish as its very own thing: ‘drone rock’.
Labradford burned bright and brief, releasing six records in under a decade. But their dark, droning approach to the dynamics of post-rock is felt all over: it’s because of them that psych rock bands feel comfortable going on and on, creating a rock music more spread out over the spectrum than it is tight and compact. Their first LP, Prazision, was simple and economical, conducive to the futures of bands like Loop and Low -- hushed guitar lines and meandering vocals, both utilised for a tone poem style. The band would go on to become instrumental, in the main, but the captivatingly disaffected vibe Nelson laid down on that 1991 record stayed in tact for a good eight years.
Michael Gira’s pet noise project Swans started turgid and tumultuous, crafting repulsive experiments like Filth and Cop, music of spite and transgression. Alongside an early line up that included vocalist and songwriter Jarboe, their music wasn’t so much post-rock as it was non-rock, an attempt at breaking sound apart and seeing what cult would be left to follow it. Maybe, as time went on, Gira became dissatisfied with the nihilism, or just this one way of presenting it, and before they disbanded Swans started making listenable, even palletable versions of their sound: a clean but desolate post-punk appeared on White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, which was expanded upon in great detail on early opuses The Great Annihilator and the droning, vacuous spaces of double-disc Soundtracks for the Blind.
As Swans became one of avant-garde music’s favourite live acts -- their shows were long, overwhelmingly loud travesties -- they started using live albums to fund studio work. Fourteen years asleep led them to My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope to the Sky, a newly disdainful record Gira had made with an all-new line-up. It turned out to be a test-run for a trilogy of investigative post-rock records, each two plus hours in length: The Seer seemed like a one-off at first, but was followed by the chiming, chanting, never quite ending To Be Kind and The Glowing Man. It is amazing that a rock band initially from the 1980s made their most immense and challenging work forty years later, but that’s the way it is: Swans took post-rock, threw mud over it, and then ritualised it anew.
Flying Saucer Attack
Where better to ponder space, stars, and potentially being an astronaut than the West Country? Tripped out Bristolians Flying Saucer Attack were one of the first bands to take on the archaeology of the sky, creating a post-rock that looked ever upwards in hope of some sounds off earth. Years of appraisal has ended with them being described as the architects of ‘rural psychedelia’, a movement primarily coming out of their home city. The truth is that Flying Saucer Attack absorbed old sounds to create their post-rock, making do with fuzzy dream pop, kosmische aesthetics and psych rock repetitions to create something way, way more beautiful.
It’s hard to acclimatise Flying Saucer Attack to the post-rock we’re now familiar with. Other bands are cinematic; their music is lush, and pindrop perfect too. But Flying Saucer Attack were a rough proposition: theirs was a lo-fi sound heavy on grain and obfuscation, their movements protected by a constant blanket of ambient texture. Like countrymen Hood, their sound feels a little more private, introspecting and hibernating rather than providing you with a crystal-clear movie score.
Flying Saucer Attack combatted post-rock with shoegaze and drone, the duo creating a mismatched sound held together by a sort of unifying delicacy. David Pearce’s vocals were, all things considered, just another layer: they appeared on records like Flying Saucer Attack and Further as subtle pulses, or else as their own sustained drones. Each record moved slowly and subtly, making you think of fields and insects as well as planets and galaxies. Rural psychedelia indeed.
Mixologists Tortoise know a thing or two about that there post-rock. But, you know, why dive right into that? They’re also famed jazz musicians, minimalist maestros and prog aficionados, happy to throw it all in and see what happens. Despite their myriad styles, this Chicago outfit have made a whole host of records marked by super-tight playing, compacting their inspirations into one neat package.
Neat, yes, but exhilarating: the gorgeous, jazz-tinged Millions Now Living Will Never Die is a record that starts meticulous and becomes bracing, breathless in its instrumentation. Beacons of Ancestorship features twists and turns into dub and prog, while the marvellous TNT tried out a veritable fusion of genres, bringing krautrock grooves to the playful theatrics of the Tortoise sound.
As far as post-rock bands go, Tortoise might be the funnest; their free-for-all genre-hop gives them an aesthetic that can be squelchy and smooth, never sitting still even if they’re always keeping time. The band’s collaboration with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is just one more example of their boundless musical interests: turns out they like sad music, too, maybe? For them, anything can be post-rock, for post-rock is rock music and everything else on top of it.
Best post-rock albums
Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die
It’s hardly fair fixing the word post-rock on this one. Maybe it’s best to think of ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ as the hyphen between post and rock, the bridge that carries all things over for us. In the twenty minute opener that this record is renowned for, they deliver dub, krautrock, jazz vamps and psychedelia, the whole thing housed off in their warm but surrealist aesthetic. From there they continue to do what they do beast, teasing melody out in smaller, more aphoristic portions. It always sounds like it’s building to something, but Tortoise’s world is stranger than those of their peers. Their post-rock travels sideways and diagonally, and with, ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ they made an utterly singular record.
Bark Psychosis - Hex
Famed music jorno Simon Reynolds described Hex as post-rock and thus was the term born. Maybe. History’s always a little shady on the details, but Bark Psychosis certainly made one of the genre’s formative records, offering post-rock for twilight, for backstreet, for barroom. The aesthetic is lazy and lamenting, Graham Sutton devising ornate orchestration in a way that never feels intrusive or exaggerated. Instead, Hex feels like a vacuum symphony, full of desolate soundscapes for the discerning homebody. It’s special because each listener seems to take it for themselves; the fact that we don’t talk about it with the same reverence and frequency as other post-rock classics makes it all the more special.
Mogwai - Young Team
Our resident post-rock uncle and Mogwai fanatic Ian describes this record as the roughest and most delinquent of Mogwai records. With bellicose guitars, a less studious production job and a knack for melodrama, Young Team causes chaos all over the place, offering a band whose experiments are more prankish than usual. The guitars positively whine in places, and though Mogwai’s music would go on to be more pristine, this record sees them clamouring and caterwauling. As such, it remains a special record in the post-rock canon -- before the genre’s traditions caught up with them, Mogwai were weird as hell.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F#A#∞
Before we even knew who they were, Godspeed You! Black Emperor were telling us about the end times. In this immaculately crafted collage of sepia toned post-rock, the group made one of experimental music’s finest releases, using samples and field recordings to create the uncanny corners of a wasteland. With gorgeous string melodies and barren, drain-circling guitars, F#A#∞ carried massive emotional weight, trading off hope and despair until they were the very same thing. They never released a record so iconic: the locked groove that keeps this record going for infinity is our favourite ever gimmick.
Hood - Cold House
Hood’s classic record doesn’t really care about post-rock all that much. Teaming up with Anticon alt-rappers Doseone and Why?, the band provided their indietronica with rambling bookends, echoing the ‘rural psychedelia’ of bands like Flying Saucer Attack but with a melancholy, disaffected tone better suited to the peaks and moors of Yorkshire. It’s often compared to Kid A, but in truth they’d recorded the record long before Radiohead released their opus, and its mumbly, discombobulated aesthetic makes me think of an electronic version of Phil Elverum’s music, more than anything. It’s post-rock in the details -- post-rock for pendants.
Whispering through their murky guitar strings, Slint made their own fantasy novel on Spiderland, imagining a sprawling urban landscape with its own cast of shady protagonists. It’s one of the most strained and sonorous albums on this list, its guitars offering an anti-jangle that was somehow ensnaring. They shredded discordance and made climaxes out of nothing, somehow even managing to create beatless crescendos with nothing but the scuzz of their guitars. The record is beloved, but it’s a cult classic for a reason: even though we know the band, and know the Spiderland story, something about this grey, greasley record feels shrouded in mystery.
Sigur Rós - Ágætis byrjun
On this record Sigur Rós brought their segmented post-rock sound into its own, utilising their distorted guitars alongside gorgeous instrumentation and the evergreen coo of frontman Jonsi. Listening to tunes like “Olsen Olsen” again is like listening to them for the first time, all over again: their bright, buzzing melodies turn into a technicolour symphony. As with the best Sigur Rós songs, the material on Ágætis Byrjun feels important without ever telling us why, its deeply impressionistic vibe helping us catch feelings we’ll never be able to explain or do away with.
Talk Talk - Laughing Stock
You can see why they got kicked off EMI: in the latter days of their career, Talk Talk were living in their own world, and while it had lush environments and wide open spaces, things like commercial success and critical acclaim didn’t quite exist. Laughing Stock is beloved now, though: its atmospheric take on post-rock imbibed jazz, minimalism and other classical avenues, with Mark Hollis’ voice finally finding the right musical template to reside over: on these songs he sounds like a God creating the universe from scratch.
Explosions in the Sky - Those Who Tell the Truth
Perhaps not what the connoisseur expects, given the praise heaped on The Earth Is Not a Cold, Dead Place, Explosions In the Sky made an absolute jammer with their second record. Its builds are as impactful and the warm basslines reign supreme; hearing this at the time, it felt like the sentimental apex of the genre, a totally heart-on-sleeve moment from an utterly vulnerable sounding band. Marching drums and ecclesiastical guitars mark this album, along with its album art’s strange backstory: a drawing of a plane crashing houses the album, released weeks before the 9/11 attacks.
Disco Inferno - D.I. Goes Pop
The class clown and bad boy of our post-rock list is definitely D.I. Goes Pop, a mischievous little punk that inadvertently brought the ‘90s experimental rock scene up to speed on itself. After a making a record of neatly conforming post-punk tunes, audiences weren’t expecting the heel turn DI Goes Pop provided. It’s post-rock that brazenly chops down melody, structure and any semblance of normality in favour of a record that burns new ideas into your brain. This chaotic collage of sound was one of those transcendental records that only made sense by the time you were ready to admit that none of it made sense.
Dirty Three - Sad and Dangerous, Mysterious and Exciting
The first LP proper from Dirty Three saw a band, now renowned for their tight instrumentation and telepathic improvisations, in a state of flux. The dynamics were all out of whack, and jubilant for it: the melodies were played softly and then they were thrown out into the wild, not patiently and with great designs, but at will. It was the first sighting of a band who truly maneuvered the gravity of post-rock, letting free jazz and folk music filter down into the genre and create a whole new sound. Dirty Three’s brilliant awkward waltzes all started with Sad and Dangerous.
Do Make Say Think - And Yet And Yet
Do Make Say Think’s early record And Yet And Yet saw them find form amongst the guitar noodling. Their post-rock was soft-brushed at this point, its climaxes subtle and well-earned, never veering into the deep end as many other bands would do. Instead, Do Make Say Think had the most fun in the eye of the storm, building subliminally through repetitive but instructive guitar riffs and jazz-inflected drumming. It may not be their most intricately structured release, but it’s perhaps a better example of a band who played best when they played with love and abandon.
Labradford - Mi Media Naranja
Labradford’s fourth record was their best; don’t you dare argue with me about it. Post-rock adjacents, Mark Nelson’s band found comfort in shapeshifting, Mi Media Naranja offering a somehow meticulous smorgasbord of influences from dub, new age ambient and hymnal songwriting. It’s in touch with their doomified aesthetic, but it does invite in some light, with vocal samples and melodies bringing the band a little closer to the archetypal idea of post-rock. Labradford’s main form of expression was in long, sustained drones, but Mi Media Naranja let life creep in.
A Silver Mt. Zion - This Is Our Punk Rock
Efrim Menuck started the Silver Mt Zion project as a home away from home, a place to try out things Godspeed You! Black Emperor were constrained against doing. Initially, it was a place for him to practice writing music scores; eventually, it garnered wonderful records like This Is Our Punk Rock, a warbling hybrid of lo-fi folk/communally chanted post-rock in which he experimented with vocal harmonies and new weird America. It’s up there with the weirdest and most challenging post-rock records and it puts Menuck’s unabashed vocal yelp at the forefront.
Swans - Children of God
Once goths of a sound more sour, 1987’s Children of God saw Swans transition into a more palatable sound, one that better resembled the post-punk band who would see fit to cover Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Perhaps it’s not post-rock in the genre’s great tradition, but this forward-thinking record combined the avant-sound of old Swans with fresh ideas: acoustic guitars offered the kind of folk music Michael Gira would make with the The Angels of Light, while the more melodic elements of the record would go on to characterise the morose but chantlike songs of their future work.
Even more of the best post-rock bands and albums
We could write about post-rock forever, but we've gone on enough. Here are a few more pointers for you.