Post-Rocktoberfest: US Post-Rock Top Five

October 5, 2009 at 9:00 am 9 comments

Today, most people who would admit to being post-rock fans are solely interested in the third wave of epic, instrumental post-rock typified by Explosions in the Sky. Call it “emo post-rock” call it “unmitigated dog shit”, there’s no denying that this terrible, terrible music is popular. If you don’t believe  it, just take a look at the After the Post-Rock forum.

With contemporary post-rock the world over moving further and further away from anything that ever made the genre worthwhile, UK post-rock enthusiasts are feeling an increasing allegiance with fans of the early US post-rock bands. To celebrate this slight shift of allegiances – not to mention the mighty Matt Woebot’s brief overview of USPR – it seems like a good time to talk about some early-’90s American post-rock records that don’t totally suck.

Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die

Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die

1. Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)
Millions Now Living… represents the moment when a US indie/avant rock band really broke on through to the post- side. Some may feel that the album’s electronica influences have dated poorly but – to these ears – the synthetic textures and experiments in remixology showcased here still sound utterly unique and timeless. Moreover, Millions… may just be the most melodically lovely post-rock album ever released. This is a record that truly lives up to its utopian title.

Tortoise – “Glass Museum”

Tortoise – “The Taut and Tame”

Labradford - A Stable Reference

Labradford - A Stable Reference

2. Labradford – A Stable Reference (1995)
Talking of utopia, early US  post-rock had a real retro-futurist obsession with the utopian promise of America’s space program. The three pale and interesting souls in Virginia’s Labradford were very much dedicated to exploring this obsession during their early career, using a combination of twangy, Tortoise-style guitars, droning vintage keyboards and whispered vocals. A Stable Reference, is the most well-realised testament to their childlike wonder at the universe and its infinite promise. A decade and a half on, its astral beauty remains undimmed.

Labradford – “El Lago”

Labradford – “Comfort”

Gastr Del Sol - Upgrade and Afterlife

Gastr Del Sol - Upgrade and Afterlife

3. Gastr Del Sol – Upgrade and Afterlife (1996)
As Gastr Del Sol, David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke took a rigorously deconstructive approach to rock. The game was to smoke out musical and lyrical cliches, blast them into a million tiny fragments, then rearrange the wreckage into interesting new shapes. The results were cerebral, confounding and oddly beautiful. Upgrade… – their Woebot-approved finest moment – mixes modernist poetry, acoustic finger-picking and hardcore electro-acoustic noise, to mind-boggling effect. With feint-hearted readers in mind, the MP3s posted below represent two of its more accessible moments.

Gastr Del Sol – “Rebecca Sylvester”

Gastr Del Sol – “The Relay”

Bowery Electric - Beat

Bowery Electric - Beat

4. Bowery Electric – Beat (1997)
One of the problems that many UK post-rock fans have with the genre’s American equivalent is the Yanks’ avoidance of dub, hip-hop and anything outwardly, well… funky. Bowery Electric, though, were an American post-rock band that new a thing or two about a good groove. Beat layers My Bloody Valentine-style sampled guitar drones over grainy hip-hop beats, deep, lithe dub-funk bass-lines and cooing dreampop vocals. It lacks any of the fusionoid noodling commonly associated with American post-rock and instead displays a heady, relentless sense of purpose.

Bowery Electric – “Without Stopping”

Bowery Electric – “Fear of Flying”

Salaryman - s/t

Salaryman - s/t

5. Salaryman – Salaryman (1996)
Believe or not, Salaryman was the experimental offshoot of post-hardcore also-rans The Poster Children. This may explain the fact that their music is not remembered fondly – or indeed at all, for the most part. It certainly can’t be anything to do with the quality of the music on their self-titled debut LP, which is very high indeed. Like Bowery Electric, Salaryman had more in common with the British post-rock movement than the American scene (although, like much latter day post-rock, Salaryman is an entirely instrumental affair). However, whereas Bowery Electric made a sexy, streamlined noise, Salaryman was a lumbering beast with a penchant for gauche keyboard sounds and slightly fussy rhythms. The results, on this album, are never less than infectious – bearing an open-heartedness sadly missing from today’s post-rock scene.

Salaryman – “Rather”

Salaryman – “Voids+Superclusters”

Entry filed under: MP3s, post-rock, Post-Rocktoberfest 2009. Tags: , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Biggie Samuels  |  October 5, 2009 at 11:29 am

    By the way, you can vote for you own US post-rock top five over at the UK Post-Rock Group:

    http://www.last.fm/group/UK+Post-Rock/forum/118725/_/571292

    Reply
  • 2. Pi  |  October 5, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    nice write-up as usual. quite interested in some of these. I am going to grab Labradford first.

    Reply
  • 3. Biggie Samuels  |  October 6, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Yeah, that album is gorgeous. Well worth having.

    Reply
  • 4. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  October 9, 2009 at 5:21 am

    I was introduced to the world of Tortoise in early 1996 at Gloucester Guildhall, where I saw them supporting Stereolab. I thought at the time that their sound was less post-rock, more neo-jazz noodling for stroking one’s chin to. I haven’t modified that view much over the course of time.

    As for Labradford, all of their LPs are gorgeous, without exception.

    I’m a little surprised not to see Tweez or Spiderland on your list. Would their inclusion be too obvious, or would you consider them to be more, erm, pre-post-rock?

    Reply
  • 5. Biggie Samuels  |  October 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Yes, I’d see bands like Slint and Bastro as kind of “proto post-rock” – the American equivalent of UK bands like MBV, A.R. Kane and Loop. But judging by the other US post-rock top fives people have given me, most folks clearly do consider Slint to be post-rock. Anyway, It should go without saying that Spiderland is a classic.

    Reply
  • 6. gwos  |  November 20, 2009 at 5:33 am

    sweet! check out my page for news and reviews on the UK scene

    Reply
  • 7. Biggie Samuels  |  November 20, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Erm… It says that blog no longer exists. Is this a spam thing? Am I missing something here?

    Reply
  • […] didn’t quite squeeze into last-year’s US Post-Rock Top Five but it was pretty darn close. Ui was (and possibly still is) a New York-based band led by Sasha […]

    Reply
  • […] of you who remember previous posts on the subject of early American post-rock will recognize some of these tracks. Those of you […]

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