Avant-garde-neo-sludge-neu-post-jazz-John-Cage-core-step. (A discussion on genre.)
So… friends… I think it’s time we had “the talk”.
I’m in the process of writing a review for an album which, admittedly, some may not consider “post-rock”. I’m sorry. But at the same time, I’m not too terribly sorry, because it brings up a question that I’m constantly being asked. That question is:
“What the hell is post-rock?”
Oof da. I don’t even know where to begin… Sometimes I think it might be easier for me to just carry around a projector and Power Point presentation where ever I go. It would certainly save me a lot of trouble, because I get ambushed by this question a lot. And if I had a nickel for every time a middle-aged woman listened to me try to describe Explosions in the Sky’s music and responded with, “Oh! I love post-rock then, I still have all of my Enya and Yanni CD’s from the 90’s”… Well, I’d probably have enough nickels for a soda, but that’s still a good handful of nickels. (And for those wondering, both Enya and Yanni are two of the better known New Age artists.)
Oh shit, I just referenced good ol’ Wikipedia. Let’s ask what it has to say about post-rock…
Post-rock is a subgenre of rock music characterized by the influence and use of instruments commonly associated with rock, but using rhythms and “guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures” not traditionally found in rock. Post-rock bands are often without vocals.
How nice and, er… vague. Thanks, Wikipedia. That’s why we can’t cite you on term papers.
Well, since we’re already on the internet, let’s look up hardcore pornography. (I promise you that link is safe for work.) That’s right. As a genre, I’m declaring post-rock both a dirty, sticky, filthy, hot mess of a catch-all genre, and something that you will ultimately “know when you hear it.”
And I’m totally okay with that.
I ultimately think it is fantastic that two bands as contrasting in style and sound as Tortoise and Russian Circles can fit under one giant umbrella. I love that I can review two bands as different as Moonlit Sailor and Audrey Fall without having to make entirely separate blogs for both styles. But let’s back up, and I’ll play devil’s advocate.
While I really, really hate pigeon holing bands into tiny, bite-sized micro subgenres, I can justify the existence of said tiny, bite-sized micro subgenres. To an extent. As I stated in this post, I come from a primarily metal background, and if ever there were an umbrella term as ambiguous as post-rock, and a genre more wrought with sub-subgenres, it’s “metal”.
Here comes a tangent (with a purpose). Hold on.
I was born in Wisconsin, and live there when not attending classes in the Twin Cities. People from Wisconsin really love cheese, so I’m going to make a cheese analogy.
Let’s say you’ve recently discovered that you really like cheese. More than most people, actually. Growing up, you used to just eat whatever cheeses were available, but you’re past that now. You’ve gone beyond simple Kraft singles and those string cheese tube things (although you still like those) and would like to get to know more about, and taste more cheeses. But all you know is you really like this one particular cheese… let’s go with Meunster. Hey, don’t worry, that’s a great starter cheese. Everyone has to start somewhere, young cheese padawan.
You go for a while just eating Meunster. It’s great, but eventually you really want some other cheeses, and you start to wonder if there are some other cheeses similar to Meunster. Maybe you really like the texture, but want something a little sharper? Maybe you like the aroma, but want something a little drier? Maybe you’re
a masochist feeling adventurous and want some sort of goat cheese with an aftertaste similar to that of licking a library. Well you’re in luck because all such cheeses exist and they have all been categorized and have their own names.
For those bad with metaphors, Cheese = Metal. Meunster = subgenre. All those little specifics about the cheese= Sub-subgenres. Library Goat Cheese = Grindcore.
Wouldn’t it suck if you went to the store and they just had an aisle labeled “CHEESE” and there were absolutely no labels on anything? How pissed off would you, and everyone living with you, be if you wanted sharp cheddar and instead opened up some Limburger?
What if you wanted to hear some Opeth, but ended up listening to Agoraphobic Nosebleed? I imagine you’d be as upset as if you received a visit from the Stinky Cheese Man. (For any fans of ANb, I’d like to say I’m actually a huge fan of Agoraphobic Nosebleed.)
So, what then? Should we as a music listening community create a giant, bureaucratically complex Rolodex with thousands of tiny subgenres that only a handful of bands really fit into? No. That’s dumb. Plus, who uses a Rolodex anymore? Should we abolish genres entirely, in favor of creating some sort of constant sonic Russian roulette? No. That’s almost as dumb as using a Rolodex.
My point is this: genres, even subgenres, serve a purpose, and are a necessary evil for the sake of both making something identifiable, as well as to create interest for it before actually being able to sample it. So feel free to describe a band as progmetal, or shoegaze, or djent, or post-rock, or thrash, or even grindcore, if you think someone who already likes that type of music might also enjoy the band you’re talking about. Please, though, keep the genre names simple. Don’t make an asshat of yourself by saying something in regards to what genre a band/particular song is that sounds like it came from the comments section of a YouTube video.
And if you’d like to read the review I mentioned, it is now up and you can do so here.
If you enjoyed reading this piece, you may still absolutely hate something else I’ve written. Better safe than sorry. Click here to see all of my Advice, Stories, and Complaints, and find out whether or not we’re compatible as soulmates.