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Post-rock is a music genre characterized by nontraditional use of instruments and high musical density. Although firmly rooted in the indie scene, post-rock's elusive and complex style bears little resemblance musically to indie rock or other styles more commonly associated with the scene. The connection with the indie scene is more closely related to the fact that post-rock music is often recorded on independent labels, and therefore sharing the same level of obscurity.

The term was coined by Simon Reynolds in issue 123 of The Wire (May 1994) to describe a sort of music "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and power chords."

Originally used to describe the music of such bands as Cul-de-Sac, Stereolab, Disco Inferno, Seefeel, Bark Psychosis and Pram, it spread out to be frequently used for all sorts of jazz- and Krautrock-influenced, instrumental, electronica-added music made after 1994. Bands from the early 1990s such as Slint, or earlier, such as Talk Talk were influential on this genre.

As with many musical genres, the term is arguably inadequate: it is used for the music of Tortoise as well as that of Mogwai, two bands who have very little in common besides the fact that their music is largely instrumental.

History of the scene

The band Tortoise was among the founders of the movement. After the second Tortoise LP Millions Now Living Will Never Die, the band became a post-rock icon. After many bands (e.g., Do Make Say Think) began to record music inspired by the "Tortoise-sound", and were often described as post-rock.

In the late nineties, Chicago, Illinois, became the home base of many different groups. John McEntire (of Tortoise) became an important producer for lots of them, as well as Jim O'Rourke (of Brice-Glace, Gastr del Sol and many more). Godspeed You Black Emperor! (from Montreal, later renamed Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Mogwai (from Glasgow) were among some of the influential bands of the scene to arise during this time. Post-rock began to range from the slow, guitar-based ambience of Boxhead Ensemble, through the mid-tempo rock of Radiohead, to the up-tempo electronica of Stereolab.

By the early 2000s, the term had started to fall out of favor. It became increasingly controversial as more critics outwardly condemned its use. Even the bands for whom the term was most frequently assigned (for example, Cul-de-Sac, Tortoise, and Mogwai) rejected the label that it placed on them. The wide range of styles covered by the term most likely robbed it of its usefulness. Bands like My Bloody Valentine are often referred to as post-rock thanks to the overuse of the term when categorizing rock bands with a more experimental edge to them.

Today, despite criticism of the term, the post-rock genre lives on. Explosions in the Sky and Mono are among the post-rock bands which have recently risen in popularity, due to the emphasis on melody and emotional content within their music. Some relatively "commercial" bands such as Yourcodenameis:milo and Hope Of The States have adopted the quiet-loud-quiet-loud songwriting approach used by bands such as Mogwai. However, the movement hasn't caught on significantly in mainstream music. Many new post-rock bands remain in the underground; notable examples include Akira, Because of Ghosts and Red Sparowes.

The post-rock sound

As mentioned above, the post-rock sound incorporates a wide variety of musical genres, such as ambient, jazz, electronica, experimental, and sometimes even rock itself. The post-rock approach to music, including emphasis on instrumental work and sound textures, is similar to the earlier New Age movement, which came out of the modern folk tradition. Another genre closely related to post-rock is math rock, characterized by more percussive timbres, more dissonant harmonic gestures, and more prog-influenced arrangements.

Lyrics are often omitted from post-rock music, however this does not necessarily mean vocals are always absent. Some post-rock bands employ vocals as an instrument, incidental to the overall sound, rather than the more traditional use where clean, interpretable vocals are important for poetic and lyrical meaning. Post-rock vocals are usually soft and droning, and can be infrequent or present in irregular intervals. Jessica Bailiff is a good example of this style of droning vocals. Sigur Rós, a band known for their distinctive vocals, have even fabricated a language which they call 'Hopelandic', described by the band as "a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music and acts as another instrument" [1].

Wider experimentation and blending of other genres have recently taken hold in the post-rock scene. Many bands such as Red Sparowes and Pelican have been fusing metal with post-rock, the Appleseed Cast's Low Level Owl project of 2001 saw the previously emo band totally expand their sound with an ambitious double-album suite of atmospheric songs and ambient instrumentals. Some post-rock bands such as Bossk have even been using vocals similar to those found in death metal. Bands such as 65daysofstatic and From Monument to Masses incorporate electronica and sampling elements into their tracks. The lines between post-rock and post-hardcore are also slowly being blurred by bands like Oceansize, Peace Burial at Sea and Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. Other bands such as Rachel's and Clogs combine post-rock with classical music.

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