Four years ago I saw Texan post rock behemoths, Explosions In The Sky play at Sage Gateshead. It was a gig that will always stick with me, mainly because I and every other person in the audience were in complete awe of what we witnessed. It’s not something you can adequately describe with words. Seeing a band like that in a venue where the sound is allowed to bounce and swell into something of extreme beauty, is a transcendental experience like no other. Who knew that such a life-affirming thing could be achieved by a bunch of blokes with guitars, drums and effects pedals? Explosions… are heading back up to Sage on Tuesday 11th October (get a ticket now!) and to commemorate the genre that the band have helped perfect over the last decade, I’ve picked out my top five instrumental post rock bands you also need to hear…
These New York experimentalists are like androids of the distant future sent back in time to show us how things are done in 2116. Whether it’s the motorized dystopia of debut album Mirrored or the colourful, sporadic, mumbo-jumbo of 2011’s art rock masterpiece Gloss Drop, Battles are a versatile supergroup that push boundaries with their wacky ideas. Live shows can be something of a technical marathon, leaving audiences sweaty at the sheer complexity of the band’s semi-improvised performance methods. Ian Williams is a dexterous alien being, jabbing neurotic, melodies into his synthesisers, whilst simultaneously juggling distorted, looped guitar hooks with his free digits. Dave Konopka mans the lead guitar with genius math rock riffs and summons monstrous basslines that worm in and out of the rhythms. Drummer, John Stanier’s cymbal setup is just silly, raised about five feet in the air like a flag. Stanier is the band’s cog-like core and as if you needed any more reason to want to listen to him and his brilliant band, he’s also a proud Newcastle United fan, naming a track on the band’s latest album Tyne Wear, after the infamous local derby.
In a similar fashion to our favourite Texans, Swedish instrumentalists pg.lost create the type of wonderful earth-shaking expanses that make you want to fly across the cosmos and never come down. Majestically dark, brooding and yet strikingly euphoric, the band create templates of unadulterated post rock mastery with the primary aim of giving you goosebumps. 2009 album In Never Out Is a particularly consistent example of what pg.lost can achieve with their deft sense of spatial awareness – carving elation out of the most minimal, delayed guitar hooks, thick bass and smattering drums. pg.lost’s music has become a little heavier of late, with the introduction of grittier distorted tones, but they’ve never moved far away from the spine-tingling nature that defines their music. Latest album Versus is due out on now and if its anything like their previous, you should definitely give it a go.
If super-charged soundscapes are your bag, Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic are the ones to get in your headphones. The band are known for their eclectic mix of electronic and frenetic rock sounds, that makes for great soundtrack music. This has led them to their latest release – a slick aural imagining of new sci-fi videogame phenomenpon No Man’s Sky. In a game where there are no limits, the band have created an album of never-ending possibilities, where synthesisers soar into oblivion and guitars race eachother at lightspeed. They’ve been in the post rock arena long enough to know how it works and with future-proof tracks like Heat Death Infinity Splitter (Me neither) at their disposal, the band continues to shine in the more progressive circles of post rock music.
Glasgow’s finest purveyors of beastly melancholic post rock, Mogwai, can induce an emotional reaction in just about anyone. Their gigs have become somewhat renowned for their ear-blasting volumes, with their material evolving into an uncontrollable beast. But it’s actually the more delicate moments of the band’s sound that linger in the memory. Take I Know You Are But What Am I? a track that glitters with hope, before shuffling along to an explosive climax, or their thoughtful footy themed 2006 soundtrack Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Seminal LPs Come On Die Young, Mr. Beast and Happy Songs For Happy People have all become essential listening for those who have become uninspired by rock music’s predictable nature. Oh…and Mogwai can also be heralded for producing the best track title in existence, Stupid Prick Gets Chased By Police And Loses His Slut Girlfriend’…what more could you ask for?
Godspeed You Black Emperor!
Probably the most intense band on this list/in the history of the genre, Godspeed You Black Emperor! are not for the faint of heart. None of their orchestral, chamber rock mood pieces clock in less than six minutes, with most tracks in their artillery extending beyond the 20 minute mark. As you can imagine, this makes for some very interesting listening and viewing – when accompanied by the visual backdrop of their live sets. Their hypnotic compositions contain singular piano keys that transform into apocalyptic epics and brooding atmospheres dissecting heavenly string-sections to form spectacular soundscapes. Listening to Godspeed…always comes with an ominous sense of danger, which can take some getting used to. But once you’ve tapped into the pure ethereal beauty of the band’s hefty creations, it’s hard not to be anything other than astounded.