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Friday, January 16, 2009

Reposting: Post-Rock

I've always felt that music -- speaking only from my experience -- tends to conjure "geographic memories" particularly when I hear something I've heard many times before. By this, I mean that hearing a song could cause me to think of the first time I heard it -- what I was doing, where I was, what point of my life that the memory came from, etc etc. Or, maybe a song would evoke a noteable time that I heard it before, not necessarily just the first listen.

Yesterday, iTunes was DJing for me through my external hard drive's 16000+ MP3's. I like listening to music this way... I won't lie and say I am completely familiar with every single band or song I have downloaded; actually that's probably very far from the truth. Occasionally, I'll be brought to a new song to love from that point on, but I also like it a lot when some of my old favorites pop up too.

Allow me to rewind a bit, we'll get back to the iTunes story later: I discovered the spacey, epic strand of music designated by that term you're supposed to love/hate, "post rock," when I was emerging from my punk rock phase. That phase dominated my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school.

I loved Pennywise, dug into a bunch of ska, discovered the more indie-tinged strand of 90s emo a la Promise Ring and Sunny Real Estate, and I skateboarded (haha). Many people who met me at Westwood when I was a sophomore bonded with me over a mutual love of punk... I specifically remember a bunch of diehard fans of The Impossibles being fun to hang with and catch their mosh-heavy but totally fun Emo's shows. I also recall sitting with Dan G. in Algebra 2 asking "so hey dude are you into emo music? It's really cool huh? Let's hang out sometime" (I wonder if Dan recalls this). I didn't listen to anything but those records for a good couple of years before I started to think it was pretty limited, maybe a one-trick-pony as 'they say.' There I sensed that I was kinda limiting myself by only having a steady diet of punk... SO: At that point I was certainly forming the roots of my music obsession that has grown to today. I knew I had to branch away from Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords for at least a while if I was going to be satisfied.

I guess you could say I 180's on punk after I decided to buy some records I wouldn't have normally thought to purchase. I went on the recommendations of some friends I had on Audiogalaxy (may it RIP). This is when I picked up Bjork's "Homogenic," Explosions in The Sky's "Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die," and some Godspeed You Black Emperor! (AT THIS TIME, THE EXCLAMATION POINT WAS AT THE END, I WAS THERE) albums. This also coincided roughly with the period I first discovered I enjoyed smoking grass. With that territory came my philosophy which you can find in some of my diaries at the time. I called it radical pragmatism, which was basically my idea that in order to live a good life you should constantly be making good, pragmatic decisions so you'll be in the best position to continue making decisions like that (I know, totally mind-blowing shit right). Epic space-rock jams and being stoned is one of the matches made in heaven for music, I think.

I was a pretty optimistic kid back then.. I had just dropped out of sports because I wanted to focus on music more (became a choir boy), I was making new friends at my new school, had a girlfriend, got into a band. You know, things were looking good. So any music I hear from this period really makes me happy and pretty nostalgic. From those three initial purchases I mentioned above, I basically took my love for punk and traded it in for something else, diving into the sea of nineties post-rock and experimental stuff. I found a lot of great shit I had definitely been missing out on with the help of the then-not-quite-nascent-but-not-yet-a-cultural-zeitgeist-machine (THE WEBSITE THAT CAN'T BE NAMED) P****fork, Audiogalaxy, and allmusic. Tortoise (I'd definitely name "TNT" as one of my top ten favorite records of all time), Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and all the other guys that got lumped into the post-rock boat really blew my mind and influenced my guitar playing quite a bit. I think that's why you could say my high school band, Iconoclast, ultimately amounted to a punk-space-rock jam band.

All this back story builds up to the moment yesterday when iTunes queued up "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong," definitely one of my favorite Mogwai songs from one of the sadly overlooked later records in their discography: "Rock Action." The first time I heard that tune was actually just after I had purchased my first turntable and had a few friends over to hear it work over my stepfather's mean stereo system. It's a classic thematic build-up song that Mogwai has been known to do many times over, but it's definitely a standout on that album. Nathan Heep picked up a guitar and began to play along with it, saying that he'd always loved this song and wished he could be in a band that did this kind of music to a really huge effect. I totally agreed with him; it was one of my early points of bonding with that guy. We ended up jamming to it when Iconoclast went to the studio for the first (and only time), and it was just really epic. It certainly was epic to us.

Hearing that song yesterday made me remember all of that. It made me think of how far I've come since then, and what I had to do to get to Chicago where I am happy to be today. It can be heavy to think about some of the steps which weren't so pleasant at the time, but they were probably necessary in many respects. What's weird about this Mogwai song, though, is that its tone kinda lends itself to a nostalgic thought session. It's a major key repetition pattern, but it has a strange sense of longing to it. I think it probably comes from the use of suspension chords and tones, which is something that Mogwai can nail when they really do it right.

"2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" is probably not going to be the most well-remembered track of Mogwai's career, and it's probably not anywhere near the best one either. I'd have to give that honor to some other songs first like "Burn Girl Prom Queen," the massive "Like Herod" that seems to be their most critically respected song, "Mogwai Fear Satan," or even the pristinely beautiful "Christmas Song." But it's "2 Rights.." that puts me back in time the most, to that geography in my memory that is my junior year of high school. It's fun to go back like that, don'tcha think?

Yeah well then my external hard drive broke because my fucking cat is fat and she knocked it over while she tried to jump onto the kitchen table. She miscalculated the height / her fatass-ity and ended up pulling basically everything off of the table as she clawed into the tablecloth. I'm just happy my laptop didn't die with it, but that hard drive had like 90% of my music and pictures on it.

Somehow I still love that cat.


In the middle of writing this nostalgia thing, I decided to comment generally on post-rock. What I've taken it to mean over the years since I've been exposed to it is basically this: a combo that uses that traditional rock setup (electric guitars usually, bass lead and rhythm, and the drumkit) but creates a sound that isn't the same 40 year-old retread of what The Rolling Stones did. The problem with that definition, as you might already be thinking, is a bunch of bands do just that. Of course, this is true. It's not just a phenomenon of the nineties at all, you begin to realize. Bands from wayback when like Can and Faust could definitely be included into the term's scope.

But since it arose as a term of the nineties (at least, as I understand its origins it is that) it tends to apply just to the bands of that era...

Here's a pretty cool piece of writing that you can't find through a google search anymore, but if you use the wayback machine ( -- it's pretty interesting, check it out) you can find it: . I consider this to be one of P********k's best pieces because it brings attention to a lot of groups that got little or no exposure due to the hugeness of grunge that overshadowed other types of atypical rock bands that worked in the nineties. The recommendations that they put forth in it are pretty right-on too. I'd like to comment on some of the groups and albums that they mention ...

Talk Talk will be mainly remembered as the band who wrote "It's My Life" as covered by the lovely / hately Gwen Stefani, and that's a damn shame. The reason why: they created one of the most perfect statements of rock's boundaries being pushed on the album "Laughing Stock." I definitely consider this album to be perfect from start to finish, and it's sadly underheard to this day. It has the most amazing, consistent tone to it that makes you feel like you are walking through an impressionistic painting. The musicianship and arrangement sophistication certainly suggests that these guys were masters and geniuses. I can't compliment this album enough sometimes; but for the people I've bashed over the head until they listen to this album, they always end up thanking me profusely for turning them on to this stuff. Definitely a to-do album if you haven't ever experienced it... Their other records from the late eighties aren't so bad, but they don't have quite the level of production that makes "Laughing Stock" so near-perfect. Talk Talk's lead singer also made a follow-up record in 1998 after he disbanded the group... His name is Mark Hollis, and his work on the album nearly reaches the highs of "Laughing Stock." It's definitely worth a tasting if you find that you're in love with "Laughing Stock."

Disco Inferno is a band I've started talking about as if I am spreading the gospel. I discovered their EPs that they released from 1992 until they disbanded a few years later (1998 ish), and was completely blown away to the point that I now consider them to be one of my top 3-5 favorite bands (a list that dances around REM, Radiohead, Animal Collective and Liars if you must know). It's usually much easier for people to locate this band's LPs first, which is somewhat unfortunate because they are not the real substance of this band's greatness, oddly enough. Their last record "Technicolour" is definitely poppy and accessible much like the EPs are, and is worth a listen for sure. "DI Go Pop" is a startling masterwork of experimental rock music, but it is really, really one of the strangest albums I've heard ... probably ever. No understatement, you'll know what I mean if you track it down. What makes this band so amazing is their integration of sampling into the rock context far earlier on than when this technique would become fashionable / commonplace in the canon of alternative music. "DI Go Pop" features a really aggressive sampling aesthetic such that the band almost seems to be creating songs based on field recordings in some cases. It's a wild but amazing ride. The earlier LPs from the late eighties (basically before "DI Go Pop") are not too interesting because they had not yet done the work with sampling that made their band so fascinating. If anybody at all would like to have the songs that are from their EPs (they are notoriously hard to track down commercially or digitally) I would be pleased to send tracks to you over instant messenger or email.

Extra Disco Inferno reading material:

Finally, I want to talk Slint. "Spiderland" has always been one of those records that I respect a lot more than I love (other examples of this: records by The Ramones, Led Zeppelin, "Sister" and "Evol" by Sonic Youth, a lot of Fugazi.. I could go on). It has a weird, abrasive tone to it that suggests that the mixing or recording was done on a pretty shoestring budget. Some of the treble that comes out of that record could probably slice your eardrums in half if you listen to it loud enough. And although I really like to gripe when albums just don't have enough production love (I did this a lot about "Loveless" and was logically psyched to hear that they are / have already remastered it), I can see why "Spiderland" is a touchstone recording. I won't ever say that it created or founded post-rock as I've heard some say or read some write, but it's just one of those artifacts of early ingenuity in the alternative context that pushed the envelope just enough to merit a big mention. I felt like they took the punk rock charge out of Sonic Youth's "Daydream Nation" aesthetic to create a polyrhythmic sound that would conjure jazz or classical when I first heard it. Perhaps they should be credited with inspiring math rock too. I bought it on vinyl mainly to show it off.

I think that's all I want to say about that for now, but seriously I'd love it if more people got into Disco Inferno so don't hesitate to ask if you want those EP tracks.

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