Thursday, October 30, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: 30 Rocktoberfest (Spooky, Scary)
So, there you have it - a whole month's-worth of post-rock posts. Sure, most of the third-party contributions fell through and I never did get around to writing about Papa Sprain but what are y'gonna do?

As somebody recently pointed out to me, if you think about it, Post-rocktoberfest should actually be in November. So maybe I'll find time to do that Papa Sprain post after all. Or maybe I'll write something about post-rap.

I hadn't thought about - or listened to - post-rap for ages, until: (a) I got into a comments box debate about it; (b) I heard a few tracks off the new Restiform Bodies LP - which is shaping to be one of my albums of the year.

We'll see if it makes the cut when I do my end-of-year list in December. Boy, you really do have a lot to look forward to don't ya? All this plus the 30 Rock season premier tonight and Halloween just around the corner.

To get you all psyched-up for the ensuing goodness, I'm providing some relevant streaming media content in the player below. Please enjoy responsibly and try not to get too spooked.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Post-Rocktoberfest 2008: Scorn
Here's what Mark E. Rich has to say about Scorn. This is cross-posted over at Expressway:

If I were to prescribe to Sam's definitions of the three stages of Post Rock (and I do) then I would have caught on to the genre midway through the second stage, with Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die being the launching pad. Post Rock to me, at the time, meant Tortoise and it's many offshoots (Isotope 217, Chicago Underground Duo 217 etc.), Cul De Sac, Gastr Del Sol and the then burgeoning Constellation Records scene (Do Make Say Think, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and A Silver Mount Zion). In all honesty, most likely due to the ignorance of the press I was reading at the time (Spin, Alternative Press and Rolling sue me! I lived in a small town where the only outlet to new music were in these music rags), I had no idea there was a post rock scene that preceded this North American one, much less on the other side of the pond. It wasn't until a few years later when I got into UK groups like Seefeel that I found that post rock was originally a British-coined term denoting, as Simon Reynolds (the man behind all this confusion) put it, "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and powerchords." Well that sure widens the scope of this already confusing genre tag.

This brings us to the album in question--Scorn's Evanescence, which I am still becoming acquainted with, and which was recommended by thee Post Rock Ombudsman himself, to be reviewed by me for Post Rocktoberfest. After several listens over the last few weeks, I still wonder how this fits into the post rock category. I hear more in common with dub, electronic and industrial musics than I do with the mainstays in the post rock genre, or with rock music in general. Most of this album sounds as if it were created on a computer or in a lab rather than by a band using their rock instruments in a forward-thinking manner. In fact,
Evanescence sounds a hell of a lot like fellow UK act Meat Beat Manifesto and their two albums, Subliminal Sandwich and Actual Sounds and Voices, and who have always been associated with the industrial-rock scene of the early-mid 90s. Need proof? Check it...



Both groups share a penchant for simplistic, dubby grooves, slowly spoken vocals, creeping guitars and synths, and dark, industrial-like noises and tics. So why is that MBM were never slotted into the post rock category? And why was Scorn ever put there in the first place? Both bands created similar works during the same era and in the same part of the world. Perhaps this is what always confused me and many others when having to define post rock and when to assign certain groups into the wide scope of the genre. Some groups made the post rock cut while others were left in the dust.

If you take a look at the current crop of noise rock mongers like Hair Police or Wolf Eyes and place Simon's definition of post rock over top, it becomes a perfect match. Here we have a great example of groups who use rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes. Yet no one dares call Hair Police post rock even though, by definition, they fit the mold perfectly. So are we now in the fourth stage of post rock? Should the "third stage" of post rock (ie. the boring, instrumental "dog shit" rock of Explosions in the Sky and latter day Mogwai) even be included under the post rock umbrella? If Scorn and Meat Beat Manifesto rely on the studio more than rock instruments are they still post rock? Unanswerable questions, really.

The point of writing this was to help contribute a meaningful review of a post rock album to Sam's blog. Instead I think I have just made the already muddy post rock waters just a little murkier.

Scorn Bonus Features

More goodness from ReynoldsRetro. Click the links below to take a closer look:

Review One

Review Two

And two rather amusing live videos from YouTube: one from the very early 90s, when Scorn were still a pre-post-rock metal group and one from the 00s, by which time Scorn had mutated into Mick Harris's solo post-post-rock electronica project.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: Simon Reynolds on Techno Animal
To celebrate Post-rocktoberfest, Simon has given me permission to re-post a few of the vintage article scans he's been uploading to his ReynoldsRetro blog. First up, we have an interview with and a review of Kevin Martin's Techno Animal. Click the links below to take a closer look:

Interview Part One

Interview Part Two


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: Perpetual Motion Machines
My current favourite UK post-rock album is Motion Pool by Main. This monumental three-12" set has to stand as one of the few truly innovative post-Loveless guitar albums. It makes perfect sense, then, that Main went on to release a split 12" with Christian Fennesz. More than any other popular musical artist today, Fennesz beautifully exemplifies the original definition of post-rock: "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and powerchords."

Well then, this seems like as good a time as any to break the exciting news that Fennesz's long-awaited follow-up to Venice is finally about to arrive. Even more exciting - for me, at least - is the news that Black Sea should be available as a vinyl LP in early November, a full two weeks before the CD is set to arrive. It won't be issued in a triple-12" deluxe edition but you can't ask for everything now, can you?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: The Three (de-facto) Ages of Post-Rock
As regular readers will know, I'm something of a post-rock fundamentalist. When I use the term "post-rock", I'm referring to that so-called "lost-generation" of left-field UK indie bands from the early 90s - bands such as Moonshake, Main and Papa Sprain.

Post-rock was first identified as a distinct musical genre by Simon Reynolds in issue 123 of The Wire (May 1994). Simon used the term to describe a wave of acts "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and powerchords." In more mundane terms, Simon was simply grouping together a fairly diverse collection of UK bands he happened to like at the time, including Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis, Insides and Seefeel.

Now, even a post-rock fundamentalist like myself would have to admit that these are not the bands most music fans think of when they hear the term post-rock bandied about. The fact is that - in the eyes and ears of the public - any musical genre will be largely defined by its most popular acts. The vast majority of acts in the first wave of UK post-rock achieved little or no commercial success. Those that did get somewhere were either only loosely associated with the post-rock scene (e.g. Stereolab) or achieved their success by sheltering under another marketing umbrella (e.g. Seefeel associating themselves with Warp's "electronic listening music" scene).

Post-rock as a genre term did not receive any widespread recognition until two years later when Simon identified a group of American bands that he believed represented a Johnny-come-lately American equivalent of post-rock. This coincided with the release of Tortoise's classic second album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die. In his book Bring the Noise, Simon expresses confusion over the way the influence of Millions... came to define the sound of post-rock.

Doubtless, Simon would be even more confused to realise that Tortoise-style jazzy noodling no longer defines post-rock in the popular perception. The fact that post-rock has now entered a de-facto third age was recently brought home to me by a series of rather distressing online experiences.

You see, I made the mistake of joining some post-rock discussion forums,
notably the AfterthePostRock forum and the Post Rock group on Last FM. I thought these groups might provide some information on and insight into the work of Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis et al (or at least Tortoise). I was dismayed to find that the discussions never got much further than: "Post-rock is a bit of a meaningless term, isn't it but Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky are rather super, aren't they?"

This was a major WTF moment, for me. Who on earth would join a forum dedicated to the discussion of a musical genre they didn't even believe in the existence of? And how had "post-rock" come to be synonymous with "dogshit awful instrumental indie rock"?

Well, for better or for worse, the two aforementioned acts (it would pain me to type their stupid names again) alongside Godspeed You! Black Emperor (who I've always rather liked) and Sigur Ros are the most popular bands to be labeled post-rock in the last 10 years. Therefore, their brand of quiet-loud-quiet guitar jangle has come to define 21st century post-rock.

To my ears, A Sunny Day in Glasgow - just to pick an example - are way closer to the spirit and sound of first-wave UK post-rock. But my position as Post-Rock Ombudsman only gives me so much power.

And the mob has spoken.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: An Extremely Loud Noise Wrapped Inside an Enigma
I'm still not ready to discuss the impact that finally seeing My Bloody Valentine live had on me. Not really. But you can consider this little post a step in the right direction or - at least - an attempt to clarify some of the incoherent-with-near-religious-fervour posts that I've been leaving in other people's comments boxes.

You might be forgiven for asking
how this is relevant to post-rock? Well, obviously, My Bloody Valentine had a massive influence on the original UK post-rock scene. Moonshake's First EP and Seefeel's debut album, in particular, sound like wholehearted attempts to do something more creative with MBV-fuleled inspiration than the generic constraints of shoegazing would allow.

Mike Barnes once told me that when MBV's Glider EP came out, he thought it would create a whole new genre of music. Well, in a sense, it did. Glider's classic lead track "Soon" (plus AR Kane's experiments with dub, noise and acid house) equals UK post-rock ground zero, in the same way that Slint's Spiderland prefigured the American scene.

Examining the influence that MBV had on post-rock will tell you a great deal about what UKPR was and how it came to be. But it's unlikely to give you much insight into the continuing enigma of Kevin Shields and his merry band of noiseniks.

First of all, here's something you always have to keep in mind when considering MBV: the band's most stridently avant garde song, "To Here Knows When" (lead track from Tremelo, the follow-up to Glider), was a top 40 hit in the UK! MBV's genuine popularity set the stage for post-rock's assumptions about what might be achieved with experimental rock in the early 90s. While American post-rock was happy to noodle around in its little corner of the world, the British bands often sounded like they were out to assault a much larger chunk of the world at large.

How does this help us understand My Bloody Valentine? It doesn't. Another important thing to understand about MBV is that they can't be fitted into any standard historical rock narrative. Attempts to force MBV's work into any such narrative are almost always indicative of an understandable-but-neurotic need to gain some sort of illusory mental dominance over the inexplicabe. Normally this expresses itself as a kind of defensive flippancy.

Just look at all the
fucking idiots parading around the Internet right now, trying to make themselves look clever by glibly dissing My Bloody Valentine. I suspect that most of these people are basically narcissists, hoping to make themselves seem smart by debunking the "myth" of MBV.

The problem for these idiots is that they're basing their actions on the assumption that 15 years of silence has deepened the MBV enigma. In fact, the opposite is true: readers of Q magazine and other assorted rock bozos have had a decade-and-a-half to explain away the magic of Loveless with reference to drugs, insanity, studio "trickery" etc. But seeing the band live absolutely bulldozes these attempts at demystification. How the hell do they make that sound?

The MBV reunion is a massive fuck-you to the almost universally mediocre rock music of the last 15 years. As such, it is making all the right people feel confused and insecure.
To my ears, My Bloody Valentine are still at least a decade ahead of the game. MBV live is a unique phenomenon, more intense and nourishing than anything a mere rock concert can provide.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: The Final Nail in the Coffin
While "Mr. Wells" was indisputably the song that ended post-rock's dominance of the UK top 40, it was the arrival of Colon that consigned post-rock - that once mighty cultural institution - to the dustbin of history.

Witnessing Colon's historic first appearance on legendary BBC2 rock show Indie Club, it was hard for even the most devout Moonshake fan to deny that a new era was being ushered in. How could mere post-rock compete with a band with so much to say and such an original, eloquent, forceful way of saying it?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: Ian Crause is Alive, Well and Living in Bolivia
Recently got a blomment from Crumbs in the Butter, a delightfully Web 1.0 online magazine which claims to have an upcoming interview with ex-Disco Inferno front-man Ian Crause. The site seems to mainly concentrate on third-wave UKPR bands like Epic 45. I have mixed feelings about such acts but have to admire the way these folks are attempting to keep the flame alive.

And, in any case, the cautious re-emergence of Crause has to be cause for celebration. If you obsessively follow happenings in the comments box of Sit Down Man You're a Bloody Tragedy, you'll know that the great man has made not one, not two but three major public pronouncements recently!

Okay, so my tone may be jokey but there really is reason for joy here. Among the mildly bizarre tidbits of information Crause gives us (he's moved to Bolivia, he's never heard of Fennesz) are hints of great things to come. Or some things to come, at the very least. Crause tells us he's recently started working on music again and that what he has planned is rather ambitious.

This news, along with the triumphant return of My Bloody Valentine, is tantamount to permission for the reinitialization of innovation in rock music. Sure, Ian Crause's previous solo work, while excellent in its own way, was hardly groundbreaking and it's highly unlikely that MBV will ever release any more new material but you have to figure that just having bastions of (relatively) recent rock innovation back on the scene will impact the way guitar-wielding youngsters perceive their collective duty to the future.

Mind you, when Radiohead dropped Kid A, I thought it was going to turn alternative rock into a playground for the avant garde. All it really did was inadvertantly turn Coldplay into megastars. If nothing else, tommorow's indie rock bands will have even fewer excuses for continuing to ignore the fact that they can - and should - do better.

Since the whole Kid A debacle, I hadn't really thought about rock having a "future", as such. But then I saw My Bloody Valentine live and everything changed. More on this soon.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Post-Rocktoberfest 2008: Bark Psychosis -
"Absent Friend"
A UK post-rock YouTube fan video! Could there possibly be more of this stuff out there? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: The One That Got Away
Bizarrely enough, minutes after publishing my post on The True Cost of UK Post-Rock, I noticed that someone had put a vinyl copy of The Hair and Skin Trading Company's Jo in Nine G Hell up on eBay, with a starting bid of one pound. And you know what happened? I got outbid on the fucker!

I have to stop letting this happen to me. Regret is a terrible thing. So, this seems like as good a time as any to post my personal UK post-rock wish-list. If anyone could hook me up with a cheap vinyl copy of one or more of these recordings, I would be eternally grateful:

Butterfly Child - Tooth Fairy 12" and Eucalyptus 12"
Early singles on AR Kane's H.ark! label. Not sure Eucalyptus actually exists on vinyl, though.

Deadstock - Deadstock LP and Oedipus Sucks 10"
I believe that one of the Mordant Music guys was in this band. They sounded like "Blue" era Bark Psychosis. Again, I'm not entirely sure the album actually came out on vinyl.

Earwig - Under My Skin I am Laughing LP
Insides before they were called Insides.

The Hair and Skin Trading Company - Jo in Nine G Hell LP, Over Valence LP and Psychedelische Musique LP
The "other two" from Loop. The ones who didn't go on to form Main.

Laika - Good Looking Blues LP
Mainly for the excellent novelty rock single "Bad Times". I'd also accept the spangle-covered 7" of that song.

Moonshake - First 12"
On Creation and sounding remarkably shoegazy! This one has escaped my grasp a couple of times recently, actually but I did manage to steal the MP3s from teh intertubes.

Papa Sprain - May 12"
Another H.ark! rarity from the most mysterious post-rock act of all, this is about as desirable as rare records get, as far as I'm concerned. Hope to write about this band at greater length in the not-too-distant-future.

Seefeel - Quique LP
Fat chance of finding a cheap copy of this. Goes for a mint. I currently only have it on a US promo cassette!

The Third Eye Foundation - Semtex LP, Semtex 12" and In Version LP
Likewise, these are not dollar bin items, by any stretch of the imagination.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: Ultimate UK Post-Rock Playlist
Here's an iTunes playlist from my computer at work, presented in DivShare format, for your online streaming pleasure. Most, if not all, of these songs have previously appeared on my UK post-rock compilation CDRs but that's no reason not to enjoy them again, in a webtastic embedded media context. Those of you who are courageous enough to brave DivShare's gauntlet of sketchy banner ads and counterintuitive user interface design can get the original files here.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: Why Post-Rock Failed

It happened during a long, hot summer in the mid '90s (the exact date is lost among the mists of time). England's two biggest post-rock acts - Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis - went head-to-head, releasing new singles on the same date and directly competing for the coveted number one spot. Nobody really new whether it would be "Second Language" or "Blue" that would top the hit parade that week but we were all pretty sure it would be one or the other.

And then, something incredible happened. An unknown young band from Manchester unleashed a debut single of such raw, elemental power that it rocketed to numero uno, leaving devastation in its wake and effectively ending post-rock's stranglehold on the British pop charts. The band was called Oasis, the song was called "Mr. Wells" and the rest is history.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Post-Rocktoberfest 2008: Moonshake - "Second Hand Clothes"
I've spoken before about how much impact this video had on me back in the day.

"Here's the song that got me into post-rock in the first place. One week back in my adolescence, a friend who had satellite TV taped MTV Europe's 'alternative' show for me because The Fall were on it. The show also featured the video for 'Second Hand Clothes', a song which still sounds raw, unearthly and startlingly original.

Yep. It's power remains undiminished, even now. Really worth picking up the 12", if you can find it. All the tracks are great and there's a wicked locked groove at the end of side two - a Jaki Leibezeit-style drum pattern that more than justifies Moonshake's decision to name themselves after a Can song.

At the time, what media coverage the first incarnation of Moonshake gained mostly concentrated on the twin songwriting talents of Dave Callahan and Margaret Fiedler. But what made this EP an instant classic was the devastatingly dry-and-heavy rhythm section of John Frennet and "Mig" (real name Michael Rother, apparently!) That and the sporadic storms of guitar and sampler noise.

I know it's easier not to watch the stupid YouTube videos people embed in their blog posts but I really hope you take a look at this one, out of respect for how totally it blew my tiny teenage mind.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Post-rocktoberfest 2008: The True Cost of UK Post-Rock
Man, the ol' record-buying habit certainly started to get a bit out of control last year. There were numerous precipitating factors but a lot of it had to do with the existence of eBay. Nowadays, if you want a record, you can be pretty sure that it'll come up on eBay eventually, no matter how obscure the artist is.

So it was that I started buying classic UK post-rock vinyl. Like a lot of people, I spend a significant proportion of my record-buying cash on things I enjoyed as a youth (via the radio, dubbed cassettes etc.) but didn't have the funds to actually invest in, at the time.

It's weird that people can only afford to own much of the music they love once they get to an age at which music is no longer the be-all-and-end-all of their lives. It's important for us aging vinyl snobs to remember that we've had many of our most intense musical experiences via low-quality, high convenience media. Honestly, what's the difference between a song taped off a crackly radio show and a low-bit MP3 downloaded from some bozo's blog?

Anyway, last year's UK post-rock catch-up yielded some real gems, including the Spoonfed Hybrid LP and Papa Sprain's "Flying to Vegas" 12". But it turned out to be surprisingly expensive. Here's the thing: there is a market for UKPR but it's a very small one. Therefore, it's potentially worth a seller's while to put a choice post-rock item on eBay but there's no guarantee that said item is going to spark a major bidding war. Chances are there's only one person out there who's looking for it, so the seller is pretty much forced to fix a relatively high minimum bid or put the item up as an expensive "Buy it Now" item.

This year, the ol' record-buying habit has been kept under control by the setting of a strict monthly budget, most of which gets spent at Zulu, on electronica special orders. Buying stuff on eBay is pretty much out of the question. This is partly because of shipping, which can easily add 10 or 15 bucks to the price of a record. But it largely has to do with the inflated prices of the items I'm looking for. In any store, these records would go straight to the dollar bin but on eBay they can cost as much as $40 - before shipping!

And the fact is that - more often than not - nobody bids on this stuff. Who wants to pay $55 for a dollar record? If these prices are too high for me then who the hell is going to pay them? Behold! I am The World's Greatest UK Post-rock fan and I am not prepared to blow my entire monthly record-buying allowance on something that I should - by rights - be able to pick up for a buck or two.

Perhaps I'll have to start picking my way through the dollar bins, depressing as that thought may be. Who knows what may be hiding there?