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.
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.