Post-rock has gone from being an instinct to a genre, from a catch-all term to a pigeonhole.
First coined by Simon Reynolds, the term was a means of collating certain tropes and appetites that emerged from the early 90s post-hardcore scene - think Tortoise, Slint, and related groups.
Since then, though, it has tended to focus on glacial guitars, ethereal vocals, and volume shifts that turn the quietLOUD dynamic into a shuddering cliff-face.
Australia's sleepmakeswaves take their cues from both aspects of the term, while also continuing to surge into their own individual landscape.
Guitarist Otto Wicks-Green agreed to attempt to make sense of post-rock as a term, and touched upon a few of the band's key influences while doing so.
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Ah post-rock. Our gift and our curse. Has there ever been a more enigmatic and overwrought description of music? Out of all the many times I've been asked about the style of my band, (commonly when making chitchat with Uber drivers) I don't think I've ever answered 'post-rock' for fear of either confusing or irritating the person I'm talking to.
I'm no expert on the label, I just like delay pedals and big overdriven guitars, but the way I like to think of it is that post-rock is to rock what post-modernism is to modernity. That is, a style seemingly inhabiting the form of rock music, but playfully subverting the expectations around the genre, and challenging the typical formats. On the surface you often find rock instrumentation - there's a couple of electric guitars, a bass, a drumkit, maybe a laptop, maybe a singer. But the compositions often diverge sharply from a standard rock song, with repetition, dynamics and crescendos taking the place of verses and choruses.
If there are vocals, the melodies meander and rise and fall on a framework of connected musical ideas to form more of a musical journey than a rock song. The guitars arent hammering the I-IV-V chords underneath a vocalist, but are providing glimmering tremolo picked melodies that often take centre stage. The drummer isn't just holding down the band, they are crucial to the development and release of the musical stories.
Above all else it's a shamelessly earnest and stylised form of music. The words 'cinematic' and 'epic' are thrown around a lot. At its best it's soaring and moving, and speaks some truth through the songs about what it means to be alive, in much the same way a great classical music piece can. Often without the need for words at all.
The problem with such a broad genre is that it covers so much ground it is barely a useful descriptor. There's no guarantee at all that someone who loves Sigur Ros would enjoy Russian Circles. I'm gonna pick some of my favourite tracks that I would loosely describe as 'postock', in that they are doing something wonderfully artistic with the rock music format, and breaking away from expectations.
As for how I describe my band to the curious Uber driver, try this: "Imagine you went to see an orchestra, only instead of a bunch of violins and horns to play the symphonies it was just four dudes playing loud guitars, drums and a laptop..."
They usually nod and smile and change the subject.
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1. 65daysofstatic - 'Taipei'
The way 65daysofstatic seamlessly blend intricately textured electronics, keys and big guitar sounds to create captivating songs was a big influence on sleepmakeswaves. This record 'Wild Light' is my favourite by this band, and this song holds a lot of what I love about them.
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2. American Football - 'Never Meant'
Regarded as the quintessential mid-west emo record, the self-titled American Football album is one of my favourite guitar albums. Intelligent and complex instrumental performances cascade around mournful and strange melodies, with lyrics that speak openly and plainly of the heartbreaking reality of falling in and out of love. No distortion or crescendos needed here.
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3. Telefon Tel Aviv - 'Fahrenheit Fair Enough'
Our bassist Alex got me into this band, and I was hooked right from the start. Massively ahead of its time, TTA combined glittering electronic flourishes with a gift for engaging and memorable songwriting. This whole record is a milestone in electronic music and feels to me the perfect balance of technicality and emotion.
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4. Deafheaven - 'Brought To The Water'
Taking it to a much heavier place, Deafheaven could be seen as 'post-something' in that although they are purportedly a black-metal band, they take this as a starting point, to extend their compositions into strange and unique places. This album is a wonderfully ambitious and desolate piece of music, combining black metal and shoegaze with some 'postrock' compositional hallmarks.
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5. Pianos Become The Teeth - 'Say Nothing'
Recently discovered this band. Beautiful melodic hardcore that gleefully abandons the usual verse-chrous framework and steps into tracks like this which ebb and flow, and build to powerful instrumental crescendos.
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6. Luca Brasi - 'Count Me Out'
Friends of mine from Tasmania - they'd probably laugh at being included in this list, but after catching the powerful performance of this song at a festival I saw a lot of the same in these guys as I do in a band like Pianos Become The Teeth - a deep truth and authenticity in the delivery of the song, along side a close attention to the dynamic build and pay-off.
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7. Amusement Parks On Fire - 'Wiper'
One of my favourite records of all time. Half-shoegaze, half-punk, half-emo. The vocals come and go and soar around poignant meandering instrumental sections. I love the time taken to get the places the songs reach. It's hypnotic and mesmerising, and utterly captures the emotional impact of what they're going for. If long-buildups with big payoffs are your thing, look no further. If they're not, listen anyway, you'll like it.
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8. Rosetta - 'Wake'
'Metal For Astronauts' is one of my favourite descriptions for a band, and fits this Philadelphia four-piece perfectly. Cavernous, crushing heartfelt immensity. Must be experienced live at least once. Gives me shivers just thinking about it. Release, Revolve, Renew.
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8. The Appleseed Cast - 'Fight Song'
Such a talented band. every track feels so raw and passionate, another example of an 'emo' band breaking away from typical structure and imbuing their songwriting with patience and complex instrumental development. Nothing too technical here, just a demonstration of how captivating guitars can be when they serve a well-throughout musical journey. Was tossing up between this from 2009 and 'clearing life' from 2013's 'Illumination Ritual', but this was the first record I heard from them, and I have a massive soft spot for it.
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8. Moving Mountains - '8105'
I came across this demo when I was 17 and it changed my life. 'Pneuma' remains the most beautiful and heartbreaking EP I've ever heard. If you want sad-boy earnestness, look no further. Their other records are great too, displaying a disregard for typical rock formats in favour of songwriting that builds with the lyrics on its own terms.
The vocal deliveries are excellent, and draw the listener into the layered stories of the songs. This idea of a dream influencing your reality and vice-versa, so that the boundaries are blurred and the truth of one feels no less real than the other is a theme that has stayed with me long after I heard this song for the first. "And we will fall back into the ocean...'
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Catch sleepmakeswaves at ArcTanGent Festival (August 18th - 20th).