Godspeed You! Post-rocker

A drum set
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Not Electronic, not Rock: Post-rock

When I submitted Airship to online music distributors, I had to choose a genre for the album. From the official options, it came down to either “Electronic” or “Rock”. I selected “Electronic”, the closest generic match, but my music actually falls somewhere in between. It falls under Post-rock, a genre that is somewhat difficult to define.

The problem with “post-rock”

Its exclusion from the available options is, perhaps, not all that surprising because as a descriptor of a creative category, it tells you almost nothing about an artist’s sound. It includes so vast a range of musical styles that it is rendered just about meaningless. For purposes of classification, this is a nightmare, but for all others—particularly the creation and discovery of music—it is positively heaven sent. I could, for example, describe my work as “experimental post-minimalist ambient electronic progressive rock” (or something equally absurd and pretentious), but how practical is that melange of identifiers to me, or a listener who hopes to discover it? “Post-rock” is a neat, necessary and welcome contraction. Whilst in its “strictest” sense it is essentially non-traditional rock music made with rock instruments, that definition only considers bands such as Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You, whose music epitomises post-rock in its “purest” form. But over time, through a kind of osmosis, the term has come to encapsulate a host of sub-genres, making up a particular body of experimental music. Today, it includes ambient bands like Hammock, experimental projects like Jónsi & Alex, shoegaze bands like Jeniferever and even dream pop groups like Kyte.

Close-up of a musician on stage
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In praise of post-rock

Post-rock is therefore almost a necessarily nebulous term. In his Treblezine article “10 Essential Post-Rock Albums“, Jeff Terich describes post-rock as follows: “It’s a genre in which texture, tone and atmosphere has a more prominent role than hooks or verses and choruses. Its song structure can vary widely, or in some cases be nonexistent. There is both more improvisation and more complex editing techniques. Sometimes it’s all instrumental, and in other cases it’s built on samples or spoken word passages. The rules are pretty pliable, as long as it’s not really a straightforward rock song.” You can tell by his description that there are hardly any rules; and post-rock artists break whatever rules there are in every conceivable direction, rewriting them in their own image. This creates a treasure trove of musical experimentation, a genre that introduces music lover and maker alike to a plethora of ingenuity. It delivers everything from the clean, natural compositions of Balmorhea, to the texture-laden, synth-driven depths of Belong; it embraces the vast, rock-instrumented symphonies of Mono and the sublime, cinematic soundscapes of Eluvium; but it also celebrates the melancholy strings of Stars of the Lid, to say nothing of the aching lamentations of Sigur Ròs. It is a universe of the new, the interesting and the strange.

A post-rock novice

A newcomer to the field, I tentatively describe my music as “ambient electronic post-rock” because those are key themes I can identify. Within these parameters I can explore and develop rules of my own. The process is challenging, even intimidating, but that is the nature of exploration—and I would like to think that I am here to explore.


More Mixing Madness

Airship album tracklist
The exported audio files. “Airship” (singular) will be the final album title and the title of track three (currently, “Maiden Voyage”). The title of the last track will change to “The Return”.

The listening game

I finished mixing the last track for the Airship album, today. I worked on each track in the order it appears in the tracklist. I do this because it gives me a feel for the final album, how it will sound and how it will develop for the listener. I can tentatively say that I’m pretty happy with the mixes and the tracklist as they are, right now, but that will probably change, as the listening game begins. I have exported the mixes to audio files, so I can play the tracks in their proper order. This way, I can listen for any inconsistencies or issues with the tracklist or the tracks themselves. I will go through this process, again and again, listening to the tracks on different speakers and headphones, looking for weaknesses in my mixes, testing them to see how well they hold up in different sound environments. By the time the album is released, I will have listened to it more than a hundred times, I’m sure!

My mixing process, briefly

I do my first mixes through my iPad speakers, at fairly low volumes. Because the speakers are limited in their capacity, it requires me to listen very carefully. I manage to create a pretty good preliminary mix this way. Because I can only hear the major parts of the track (hardly any of the subtleties are translated by the speakers), I usually end up with a simple, straightforward mix. When I then move to my desktop monitors (nothing fancy, just midrange Logitech speakers that are nearly a decade old), I can begin to pick out subtleties in the music. For about a week, I’ll mix and listen, mix and listen, moving between the desktop monitors and a pair of fairly decent Sennheiser headphones. The headphones let me know if anything is seriously wrong with the mix. They also help me refine panning levels. Panning is basically sending a sound to the left or right speaker, like a swoosh sound moving from your left ear to your right ear. It gives a track a spacial dimension, as if you’re “in” the music. Headphones translate this best, in my experience.

The final mixdown

I am now in the final mixing phase. I’ll be listening for how well the tracks perform on speakers other than the ones I use, primarily. I’ll be playing the tracks in cars, on small headphones, on laptop speakers, etc. I’ll also check how well the tracks work together as an album. If I’ve done my work right, there won’t be any major edits required, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes a track sounds great on your headphones, but terrible on someone else’s, or the tracklist might need to be reordered (but, I’m confident that won’t happen). Once this phase is done, the tracks will be sent to the mastering house for final touches. As I write this, I am nervous and excited. I cannot wait to put this out into the world!