Godspeed You! Black Emporer – and what the hell is post-rock, anyway?

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I’ve been spouting rubbish about music now for 17 years, and in that time I like to think I got a pretty decent handle on what most genres sound like. However, there’s one thing that continues to flummox me, and that’s the difference between “post-rock” and “math rock”.

I managed to annoy someone earlier by describing Foetus as “math rock”, because I mentally categorise the newer stuff along with Battles, who are listed in Wikipedia under the heading “math rock”. Post-Cardiacs progressive rock with a healthy dose of bombast and an equally healthy disregard for regular song structures. I’m reliably informed that the difference between math rock and post-rock is that Battles are math rock and Godspeed You! Black Emporer (who I was hearing for the first time just now) are post-rock.

“Post-rock” – the one that isn’t math rock – is the more shoegazy stuff. It’s still “experimental”, but characterised almost entirely by its eclecticism. It ticks off the boxes of influences – Kraftwerk, Steve Reich, Brian Eno – so it’s not surprising when it turns out to be warm and lush-sounding lengthy pieces of minimalism and dissonance. Math rock is more known for the odd time signatures (such as 7/8 or 11/8) – but it’s not always there in music by its key acts.

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I don’t think Cardiacs would be half as fascinating as they are if all their songs featured stop-start rhythms, or atypical time sigs like Day Is Gone. Battles – poster-children for math rock – normally have very standard time signatures in their songs – sure, sometimes they go “the Cardiacs” route, but they’d be very boring if they did that on every song.

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Again, the list of influences are predictable: the progressive rock groups of the 60s and 70s, composers like Steve Reich and John Cage – so really it’s none too surprising if bands I like who like that stuff end up sounding like that from time to time.

As for Godspeed You! Black Emporer, I wasn’t remotely surprised to like them immediately. Shame that clip cuts off a bit abruptly, but it’s certainly enough to get me hooked.

Does it answer my question on genre, though? Well, here’s the thing: genres themselves are termed by reviewers to easily communicate to a reader approximately what something sounds like – the same way we give names to colours – but ultimately they can never be a substitute for going out and hearing it yourself. I also have no real idea what puce is, other than it’s a shade of red. “Post-rock” is a shade of noise – but, like “math rock”, it’s also a term music writers use when they just don’t know what the hell is going on.

One comment on “Godspeed You! Black Emporer – and what the hell is post-rock, anyway?

  1. Pingback: Genres: What are they good for anyway? « Reinspired

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