Music 2016 Wrap Up!

2016 was the first year in which I set out to listen to as many new albums as possible. And while I didn’t sample as many as I’d hoped, my listening pile was yuge. Rather than focus simply on the best albums of the year, I give you: Music 2016 Wrap Up!

Let us start with Most Disappointing albums of the year. There were many to choose from, but here are two artists who I’ve really enjoyed in the past whose 2016 offerings were not up to par:

Violent Femmes  – We Can Do Anything
Ronnie Spector –   English Heart

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Many well-known artists released new albums, so I give you Legends of 2016:

Bob Dylan       Elton John       Eric Clapton
Jeff Beck          Paul Simon      Prince

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We got a Folk Icon and the Best Punk album of the year.

Joan Baez – 75th Birthday Celebration
Bleached – Welcome the Worms

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Strangest Idea for an album had co-winners.

Steven Tyler – We’re All Somebody from Somewhere, Tyler’s take on country
Train – Train Does Led Zeppelin II, and the title says it all

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Dream Pop became a popular genre.

Janel Leppin   Daddy             Frightened Rabbit
Mitski              Money             School of Seven Bells

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Some excellent traditional country albums were released.

Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming
Cyndi Lauper –       Detour

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And from the Do You Remember? files, many artists from the past put out new albums in 2016.

Blink-182         De La Soul        Red Hot Chili Peppers
Foghat             Pet Shop Boys   Rick Springfield

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The Most Surprising album of the year was Origins, Vol. 1 by Ace Frehley. I expected to hate it but instead… loved it!

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And the highlight of 2016? Here are some of my Favorite Albums of 2016.

David Bowie – Blackstar
Monkees – Good Times!
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

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Some of these albums have been written up in previous posts, others probably will come in the future. Today I simply offer you a sampler. So dig in, put your feet up on the cat and enjoy your Music 2016 Wrap Up!

Listen Up! December New Music Arrivals

As we wind down the year it seems like my top pics have turned fairly low key. Pick up one of these new arrivals and take a little breather. Place your holds now.

Cover from Ro James's album EldoradoRo James – Eldorado – A soulful RnB offering full of lush sound. While James has a bit of an old school dusties feel to his music, he avoids sounding like a carbon copy by bringing his own updated style.

Album cover image from Jim James's Eternally EvenJim James – Eternally Even – Jim James’s (My Morning Jacket) solo offering is a psychedelic indie rock album with a touch of the blues and a heavy dose of instrumental tracks. Simple sultry vocals with an air of mystery, punctuated with some upbeat organ riffs.

Album cover for Warpaint's Heads UpWarpaint – Heads Up – Labeled ‘dream rock’ for a reason, Heads Up makes a great companion to a good book or a late night drive. It’s just engaging enough to enliven you, but doesn’t rock hard enough to distract you from the task at hand. This might seem like odd criteria for liking an album, but I’m one of those people who is very picky about my reading music; it needs to be interesting, but not so lively that it distract me.

Martha Wainwright – Goodnight City – Bluesy folk-rock that really showcases Wainwright’s very versatile voice and vocal skills. Goodnight City draws from a lot of musical styles, mixing synths and horns with the more-traditional guitar, drums, and bass accompaniment of the genre.

Album cover for Tanya Tagaq's RetributionTanya Tagaq – Retribution – This is one of those albums that can be a music selector’s and cataloger’s nightmare; it’s virtually impossible to pick one genre for it to live in on the shelf. Retribution is a surreal mix of rock and traditional Inuk throat singing, with a healthy dose of electronic music influence mixed in. At times hard-hitting, and at others very dreamy, it provides a very unique listening experience.

Enjoy the rest of 2016 – I’m looking forward to bringing you more great music in the New Year!

101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die

101-artistsWhat better way to end the year than to read 101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die by Ricardo Cavolo? Sure, you’ve got your end-of-year best-of lists to explore, but this graphic novel includes a solid group of musicians from the last 300+ years that you can rest assured are worthy of your time. “Graphic novel” you say? Why yes indeedy, it is.

It might seem odd to present music reviews in a graphic novel format, but Cavolo’s artwork is an integral part of this exceptional book. Amazing portraits of the artists incorporate symbols, iconography and bits of history in a unique style unlike anything I’ve seen. Each picture is worthy of extensive study.

The book’s prose is also unusual and captivating. Writing about music is a most difficult task and Cavalo, who does not consider himself a musician or a skilled music reviewer, excels at it. He approaches music from an emotional and visceral angle, describing how it makes him feel, not attempting to fit the abstract into an intellectual box but using poetical descriptions to communicate his reactions. It’s a highly effective strategy.

The book is fairly chronological, starting with J.S. Bach and ending with Chief Keef. Between the two we find most every kind of music imaginable. For example:

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Old Crow Medicine Show (old timey), Leadbelly (blues), Woody Guthrie (folk), Dolly Parton (country), Buddy Holly (50s rock), The Sonics (garage rock), Black Flag (punk), Notorious B.I.G. (hip hop), Elliott Smith (indie rock) and The Chemical Brothers (electronica) to name just a few.

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And here are a few artists I recommend for my end-of-year best music official list thing.

djangoDjango Reinhardt – He’s the king of gypsy jazz, the man who can play more notes with two fingers (the other three were injured in a fire) than I will ever play in my life. Driving rhythms, virtuoso soloing, jazz violin courtesy of Stephan Grappelli.

 

vuThe Velvet Underground – They included Lou Reed and John Cale, they associated with Andy Warhol. At a time when youth culture was exploding and rock music was exemplified by the muscular guitar solos of Jimi Hendrix, The VU put out quiet little gems, rough around the edges and filled with beauty.

 

zombiesThe ZombiesTime of the Season is a favorite of many, but not a lot of other songs by this British Invasion band are remembered. Yet their catalog is filled with material as good as their more popular contemporaries. Take a listen to their album voted the 100th best album of all-time by Rolling Stone magazine.

 

iggyIggy Pop – The godfather of proto-punk has been recording albums since 1969. This year he released a new one and it’s quite good. A bit of Middle Eastern influence, dreamy vocals, and at age 70 he still can’t keep his shirt on. Don’t expect Stooges energy but anticipate a full frontal assault on new musical frontiers.

And so we say goodbye to 2016 (the first of many such goodbyes) and prepare to make lists and to share them with unsuspecting citizens. Your mission, should you accept it, is to find CDs of the artists listed above (hey, try looking at EPL!). Check them out. Listen. Make a list. Lather (optional). Repeat.

And now you’re ready for 2017. Happy listening.

Best of 2016: DVDs & Music

We conclued the Best of 2016 staff picks list with our DVD and music selections. So many titles so little time. If you want to take a look at the full list of staff picks, check out the Library Newsletter.

DVDs

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The Nice Guys
In 1970s Los Angeles, a mismatched pair of private eyes investigate a missing girl and the mysterious death of a porn star.

Director Shane “Lethal Weapon” Black uses action genre as background for brutally funny and incredibly twisting and twisted story performed with brio by Crowe as the brutal private eye and Gosling as his incompetent sidekick. Pure fun. -Alan’s pick

Zootopia
Zootopia city is a melting pot where animals from every environment live together. But when optimistic Officer Judy Hopps arrives, she discovers some are turning vicious.

A terrific film for old and young alike, Zootopia says as much about racism and bigotry as it does in believing in yourself. And it’s masterfully done. And funny. Good for 8+ -Alan’s pick

Where to Invade Next
Presents the theory that the American dream, all but abandoned in the United States, has been adopted successfully in other countries, including Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Tunisia, and Iceland.

Love him or hate him, agree with him or not, Moore is a brave filmmaker who knows how to craft a compelling film filled with evidence and lots of style and humor. -Alan’s pick

Legend
The true story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ron Kray, both portrayed by Tom Hardy. This crime thriller takes viewers into the secret history of the 60s and the events that secured the infamy of the Kray twins.

Tom Hardy continues to be the best actor of his generation, and he has so much to work with here: one brother is conflicted, complex, genteel, the other savage. Beyond this acting showcase, this is the best gangster film since Goodfellas. See it. -Alan’s pick

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Deadpool
The origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool.

As a longtime fan of snark and a new fan of comic books, I was excited to see this on Valentine’s Day with my husband (my idea–it’s totally a love story!). I loved every second; it has the best opening credits sequence EVER! -Carol’s pick

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 1
A successful, driven, and possibly crazy young woman impulsively gives up her partnership at a prestigious law firm and her upscale apartment in Manhattan in a desperate attempt to find love and happiness in suburban West Covina, California.

Hilarious, heartwarming, and utterly frustrating at times (Rebecca Bunch, what are you thinking?), this musical comedy is unlike any TV show I’ve ever seen. Season 2 just started, so now’s the time to catch up with this award-winning show! -Carol’s pick

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A defiant and troubled orphan finds himself on the run with his grizzled and very reluctant foster father in the wild New Zealand bush. With the two at the center of a national manhunt, they are forced to work together to survive.

This unaffected, emotional story has everything–drama, action and comedy! This mismatched-buddy pursuit movie was directed by Taika Waititi, who directed/wrote/starred in one of my fave films from 2014. What We Do in the Shadows. This film is PG-13. -Joyce’s pick

The Fits
Director Anna Rose Holmer’s gripping feature debut is a psychological portrait of 11-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower), a tomboy assimilating to a tight-knit dance team in Cincinnati.

The dreamy, beautifully syncopated movie—a coming-of-age tale—is extraordinarily watchable, made more so thanks to the thrillingly kinetic, fierce dancing. -Joyce’s pick

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Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Boyhood) hits it out of the park with this story of a freshman’s move from constant adult supervision to a new exciting life with his skirt-chasing, rabblerousing college baseball teammates in 1980s Texas.

The title (and movie poster) seemingly indicate dumbed-down, predictable shenanigans, but as author and director, Linklater has a bewitching touch which makes this comedy worth watching. –Joyce’s pick

Dark Matter Season 1
Awoken from stasis with their memories erased, the crew of the spaceship Raza has to find out who they are and why everyone hates them so much as they rampage through the galaxy.

This TV series is classic over the top Sci Fi complete with a universe ruled by evil corporations, a sentient AI, self-repairing nanotechnology and, of course, space zombies (kind of). -Richard’s pick

Music

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Good Times! by The Monkees

The Monkees reunite to create an album that sounds like the best of their 1960’s output due mainly to excellent guest songwriters from Ben Gibbard to Andy Partridge.

Tuneful, hook-laden, and loaded with perfect pop songs, what’s not to like? Plus, you get to hear the voices of the dearly departed Harry Nilsson and Davy Jones on 13 new songs. Much better than their last, dreadful 80’s reunion. -Alan’s pick

Blackstar by David Bowie
David Bowie’s heavy, difficult, yet meditative industrial art-rock masterpiece recorded as he was dying from liver cancer.

Bowie recorded Blackstar to say goodbye. No one, including the musicians, knew this. They may have been distracted by this inspired genius incorporating hip-hop, jazz, folk, etc., into a stunning, sad, and beautifully dark album. Best of the year. -Alan’s pick

Everybody Wants by The Struts
Rock music with toe-tapping melodies, clever lyrics, and attitude.

ROCK IS NOT DEAD. Anyone who has told you that needs this CD. Lead singer Luke Spiller has an amazing vocal range, guitarist Adam Slack has some hot licks, and the whole band is covered in glitter and yelling at me– and I love it. -Carol’s pick

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Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs by Laurie Berkner Band
Laurie Berkner presents a treasure trove of well-loved traditional children’s songs plus six of her most popular originals.

This is classic kid’s music at its best!  From “Alouette” to “Zodiac,” these songs have great arrangements and delivery. Not just kiddie music, you’ll love it too. Fantastic! -Leslie’s pick

Puberty 2 by Mitski
Gritty but lovely indie rock.

Mitski Miyawaki explores love, loss, anxiety, and depression in this emotionally-raw album. -Lisa’s pick

Habib Galbi by A-Wa
Three sisters with a love for electronic music, reggae, and Yemenite women’s chants.

It’s a really fun, upbeat, dancy album. -Lisa’s pick

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Awo by uKanDanz
This group considers their style “Ethiopian Crunch Music,” which is a wonderful combination of world music styles.

It’s a thoroughly-satisfying mashup of metal and hard rock guitar riffs and power chords; a blues and jazz horn section; and amazing vocals that expressively wail, croon, and keen. -Lisa’s pick

LateNightTales by Ólafur Arnalds
Down-tempo dreamscapes with some trip hop beats interspersed.

Fans of Bjork, Prefuse 73, and Sigur Rós would probably be into it. ‘Icelandic’ would be the best adjective to describe this album. -Lisa’s pick

No Manchester by Mexrrissey
A bit mariachi, a little bit rock and roll – all Morrissey.

I love the variety of artists and styles used to cover some very well-known Morrissey hits. Dedicated fans and those only slightly familiar with his work will find something to enjoy. -Lisa’s pick

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Buenaventura by La Santa Cecilia
A fusion of Latin jazz, rock, Mexican folk music, rockabilly, and more.

Toe-tapping tracks are full of guitars, horns, accordion, and gusty bluesy vocals in Spanish and English. -Lisa’s pick

The Impossible Kid by Aesop Rock
This is the kind of hip-hop album that you’ll listen to a hundred times and probably notice something different each time.

Intricate, powerful rhymes do acrobatics with the English language, making the listener sit up and take notice. -Lisa’s pick

Adore Life by Savages
Adore Life is a solid rock album that brings to mind the likes of Joan Jett, The Pixies, and Fugazi.

I really appreciated the progression of the album; it has the ability to rip things apart and then slow everything down with a lyrical and melodious groove. -Lisa’s pick

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Outskirts of Love by Shemekia Copeland
A fiery, driving mix of blues, rock, and soul.

It’s the type of album you want to listen to on repeat. -Lisa’s pick

Tower Music by Joseph Bertolozzi
A hard album to define! This album was made by using the Eiffel Tower as a percussion instrument.

The music is somehow lively and minimal at the same time. It really is impressive how intricate each track is, and the range of sounds the artist was able to create using the iconic landmark. -Lisa’s pick

Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka
First and foremost a soul album, but with hints of rock, blues, gospel, and even a kind of classic rock feel at times.

It’s very beautiful, grand, and political. -Lisa’s pick

Listen Up! New Fall Music Arrivals

Collage of album covers

KT Tunstall – KIN (Caroline Records) – acoustic-guitar-driven power-pop. A little folky, very laid back.

Bobby Rush – Porcupine Meat (Rounder) –  blues, funk, and a heavy horn section act as your guides through what sounds like one heck of a breakup.

Charlie Hunter – Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth (Ground Up) – irresistible instrumental blues with NOLA-style jazz brass accompaniment.

Skye & Ross – Skye & Ross (Fly Agaric Records; Cooking Vinyl Limited) –  Skye & Ross is a side project of British trip-hop legends, Morecheeba.  It should be no surprise then that this album is packed with ethereal, sensual, downtempo. jazz, rock, soul, and trip-hop goodness. This seems to be classified as an electronic release everywhere, probably because of the band’s lineage but to me it listens more like a very low-key indie rock album.

Madeleine Peyroux – Secular Hymns (Impulse!) – beautiful vocal jazz with blues, folk, and swing undertones.

Amanda Shires – My Piece of Land (BMG Rights Management) – soft, gentle country music with a touch of folk.

Gallant – Ology (Mind of a Genius Records; Warner Bros. Records)  – smooth and loungy RnB that makes you want to get up and dance.

Jamie Lidell – Building a Beginning (Jajulin) – Lidell departs from his electronic music roots to produce a smooth and soulful RnB record. Listeners can catch a strong Stevie Wonder influence in his sound, but it doesn’t go as far as parroting.

Pretenders – Alone (BMG Rights Management) – at times sultry, at others, gritty. This driving 10th release from frontwoman Crissie Hynde is apologetically irreverent and brutally honest.

Saint Motel – saintmotelevision (Elektra Records) – eclectic alternative rock. A strong gospel influence and an upbeat horn section give this release a lot of energy and depth.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Sea of Noise (Records) – a solid neo-soul album with lots of groove. Thought-provoking lyrics explore the issues of racial violence, political turmoil, and the everyday struggles of faith and love.

Older Titles, Newly Added

Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 (Strut Records) – Anyone interested in the history of house music needs to give this collection a listen. It’s like a musical time machine to Chicago in the 1980s.

Only 4U: The Sound of Cajmere & Cajual Records 1992-2012 (Strut Records) – Get in that musical time machine to Chicago and fast forward 10 years. This collection picks up on the Chicago sound from where the Hardcore Traxx collection leaves off.

What’s New in the Northwest?

By my amazingly accurate calculations, Everett Public Library added 160+ rock and country albums that were released in 2016 to its CD collection. Of those, 15 albums are by Northwest artists. So what’s hoppin’ in America’s upper left-hand corner? Let’s find out, shall we?

thermalsWe’ll start in the southern quadrant of the PNW. Portland has an explosive music scene, and many of the local acts have gained national recognition. One of the more successful PDX bands is indie rockers the Thermals, and their latest album, We Disappear, shows that the success is deserved. Featuring music that’s loud and raw yet still intimate, We Disappear is filled with fun, fuzzy, lo-fi power pop and heavy lyrics touching on the ability of technology to isolate people. If you like energetic and edgy rock, check this one out.

esperanzaAnother Portland success story is bassist, singer and songwriter Esperanza Spalding. No slouch, Spalding has won four Grammy Awards, was Jazz Artist of the year in 2011 and was selected by Obama to play at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2009. (This elicits an involuntary Wow! from me.) Her latest, 2016’s Emily’s d+evolution, is hard to categorize. Elements of jazz, rock and funk pervade the album, and songs vary wildly in feel and style. The music is poppy yet bizarre. For those living beyond the edge of our musical galaxy, this is an outstanding album.

Other Portland releases include the dreamy folk pop of M. Ward on More Rain, Distortland by garage rockers The Dandy Warhols and the metal stylings of The Body on No One Deserves Happiness.

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Next stop to the north is Seattle.

carseatheadrestCar Seat Headrest began as Will Toledo’s lo-fi recording project, releasing 12 albums on Bandcamp and developing a large online following. He signed a deal with Matador Records in 2015 and just this year began touring with a full band. Teens of Denial, the band’s 2016 release, takes the group in a new direction while retaining Toledo’s strong songwriting and trademark lo-fi sensibility. The music is quite varied from song to song, always staying close to the world of pop, but also exploring post-punk and other quirky genres. The album has been well-received and points to great things yet to come.

7yearbitch7 Year Bitch was an all-female punk band that played from 1990 to 1997, so it might seem odd that they’re included in a review of 2016 releases. Well, a recently-found recording of the group performing at Seattle’s Club Moe in 1996 was released in 2016 as Live at Moe. Fortuitously, this performance came when 7 Year Bitch was at its peak, so the CD is a most excellent listen. Lyrics are filled with social commentary and the music leans toward a riot grrrl/punk aesthetic. If you prefer the raw DIY sound, check this one out.

Other Seattle releases include Beautiful Broken by long-time rockers Heart, Tacocat’s mixture of pop-punk and feminism on Lost Time, the noise rock of So Pitted on Neo and the psychedelic garage rock of Night Beats on Who Sold My Generation.

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 Finally, a short hop on I-5 takes us to Everett.

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In the last two years the Everett music scene has, well, started to exist! A crop of bands are playing shows, releasing albums and having success. 2016 saw the release of two local 3-song EP’s, What Is Crystal Desert? by Crystal Desert and Walking Blind by Tellers (the band formerly known as Preacher’s Wife). Crystal Desert describes itself as post-punk, garage and psychedelic, and this seems fairly accurate. Their music has a mix of influences from the dark side, crunchy guitars, a bit of a heavy sound. Overall their offering is quite enjoyable, and these lads show the potential for better things yet to come. Walking Blind is filled with slow tempos and dramatic vocals, music akin to soundtracks and the stuff found in dreams. Tellers self-describe as dark and heavy with a post-rock influence. Check out both of these groups to see what’s going on in your own town!

And this is just scratching the surface of Northwest rock. Check out our ever-expanding Local Music collection to find some more gems. And yes, we have a New Music display as well! In the immortal words of the Ramones: We want you to check out some groovy CDs from your local library!

It’s No Longer Just For Fences

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Post-rock.

Let the hyphenated word flow over you like butter melted on a half-cooked flapjack: post-rock.

What in tarnation does it mean? The term elicits visions of a doctoral thesis with footnotes and a sports coat with patched elbows. A man in thick glasses and a pointy beard explains, in multi-syllabic folderol, the relationship of epistemology and horror punk while Abba plays endlessly through unseen speakers. Meanwhile, in a nearby room, banjos and mandolins attempt to tune.

But in reality it’s not that complicated. First of all, it’s important to know that there’s not agreement on what is meant by post-rock. The music tends to emulate a soundtrack (and, as it turns out, music by post-rock bands is often used in soundtracks) and is frequently free of lyrics, although a voice might be used as another instrument (i.e. singing without words). The music is generally minimalist, highly repetitive, changing slowly and exhibiting extremes in dynamics to create different moods/emotions. Unlike most soundtrack music, post-rock is performed on typical rock and roll instruments.

Caveat: This is not a genre I frequent. In fact, it is new to me. And it’s not a favorite I must say, but still worth exposing the huddled masses to (whoops, ended the sentence a preposition with). Please, do not attempt to review these bands at home, but listen to them from a safe distance and draw your own conclusions.

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SlintSpiderland (1991) is considered by some to be one of the most important albums ever. The band has performed on and off since 1986, but have not released a recording since Spiderland. Their music is sludgy and ponderous, with many moods and tempos coexisting within a single song. It’s hard-edged, hard rock, even metallic. Vocals are used, although at times they are too quiet to clearly hear.

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Swans – Not a band that easily fits within a single label, Swans’ experimental music exhibits many of the characteristics of post-rock. The Seer (2012) is almost operatic in scope. Drama and emotion are created subtly rather than with sweeping dynamic changes. Some tracks include singing and lyrics in a traditional song form, while others challenge the listener to find minute variations hidden in extreme repetition.  And yet other bits are similar to avant-garde classical music, featuring shimmering drones filled with ethereal timbre shifts. A beautiful, if not straightforward, listen.

Godspeed You! Black Emperorgodspeed – First of all, this could be my favorite band name of all time. But more relevantly, out of the groups I’ve explored for this post, Godspeed You! Black Emperor (it feels so good just to type the name!) strikes me as the most talented. Their music is slow-moving with lots of little stuff going on at any given moment, hard-edged and passionate. Unlike most post-rock musicians, band members are politically active. In fact, this lot is often referred to as anarchists, though they do not verify this claim. I’d give them a 12.

Explosions in the Skyexplosions – Explosions (as I’ve decided to call them) exemplify the epitome of post-rock as soundtrack. In fact, many of their songs have been used in movies and television. Almost exclusively instrumental, their music drifts along slowly, hitting emotional highs and lows with a vengeance. Dynamic extremes and more dynamic extremes are used to communicate these different moods, as well as to affect musical movement.

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Tortoise – Perhaps the most popular of the post-rock bands, Tortoise’s music is very different from the groups mentioned above. Their 2016 album, The Catastrophist, is not so much a soundtrack as it is instrumental rock songs. The album relies heavily on synthesizers and does include some vocals. Fans of mainstream rock music could easily get a groove on to the post-rock sounds of … Tortoise!

And this barely scratches the surface. Kaada, Mogwai, Steroelab, Pelican and Sigur Rós all are worth checking out for their varying interpretations of post-rock. Aaaand, if you want to take a listen to the classical music that post-rock borrows some tricks from, try Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Expand your horizons! Or don’t. But do enjoy some good music.