Why is this interesting? - The Post Rock Edition

On music, New England, and new scenes

Annie Smidt (AS) is an independent graphic designer, artist, antique ephemera dealer, and life-long music nerd. Her band, Rockets burst from the Streetlamps, made many loud swirly noises back in the 90s. 

Annie here. The post rock scene is quietly booming (pun intended) in New England and that makes me happy. The mostly instrumental, crescendo-rich, rigorous, and gorgeous sounds are inspiring artists, festivals, and my first real sense of a musical community in twenty-plus years. A cynic might say that this is for lack of corporate or mainstream interest in the genre (with the possible exceptions of Explosions in the Sky who made it relatively “big” after providing a compelling musical theme for the tv show Friday Night Lights, Mogwai, who have persevered for 25 years, and Caspian who have mysteriously attained a deserved larger following). But from my vantage point, I see a scene that genuinely values craftsmanship, supporting each other, and “doing things right”. In short, it’s a creative and ethical bunch, and they’re reviving the passion for music across multiple generations of devotees. It’s bringing back old-fashioned, true indie rock values and community.

Why is this interesting?

In New England, all the clubs I used to play with my band in the 90s are either closed, irretrievably corporatized, or have been fraught with boycott-worthy #metoo scandals. And they haven’t been replaced. For a long while, there was nothing going on around music that really inspired me to leave the house, but the post rock scene has changed that. 

Circus Trees at Post Fest 2019

This two-ish decades old, flash- and fashion-free genre is under the radar to most, yet a small cohort has recently up and run with it and is more excited than ever about new and live music. The sounds are subtle and thoughtful. Sometimes gut-wrenchingly loud and physical, sometimes quiet and brooding. Post rock fans don’t usually like the term “post rock” but have nothing better to call it. This dissatisfaction comes from the boundaries a genre name implies when post rock is about an evolution of the usual—pushing artistic boundaries and lauding aural innovation. Fans will stumblingly try to tell you, it’s less a specific sound, and more an ineffable feeling. From the outside, it might appear just the opposite. 

At the shows, amongst other stalwarts, you’ll find people like Robert McCarthy. Three of his kids formed the band Circus Trees and they’re doing something unique with their slow, sad songs, powerful vocals, and hard-hitting rhythm section. Also, they’re sisters, between the ages of 14 and 18—but you wouldn’t know that from their sophisticated music. They needed someone to put out their records and book shows at places that would let them play, so Robert founded Five by Two Records to take up the challenge. He brought like-minded bands together from around New England and hooked up with acts on tour who’d complement them nicely. For several years now, he’s been putting on fantastic post rock-ish shows, in somewhat unconventional venues: Art galleries, suburban dive bars, and even the back of a Japanese restaurant in Salem, Massachusetts. 

Other superb bands from the area, like Glacier, Girih, Pray for Sound, and Harborlights have become regulars and have built the scene further. Members of Caspian, can often be seen at these shows, supporting the up-and-comers. There is an uncommon lack of competitiveness or cattiness. Bands work with artist friends to create hand screen printed posters and with designer friends to produce expressive record sleeves and t-shirts. People who see each other at multiple shows sometimes even start to talk to each other. (And we don’t do that in Boston!)

To the uninitiated, many post rock bands may seem samey, relying on a quiet-quiet-loud formula and large rafts of effects pedals. But, just like you’ll find when delving deep into the instrumental realms of jazz, classical, or techno, there is nuance. There are the more atmospheric bands, and the ones heavily influenced by metal. The epic, quasi-orchestral types, and those with samples or more pop-tangential rhythms. There are those with vocals and those without. There are the young bands, creating something new out of nothing, and the GenX-ish folks crafting their 80s and 90s love of 4AD records, shoegaze and goth into something un-kitschy and modern. And there is a certain dopamine-exploding intensity to seeing these bands live. They are generally meticulous musicians, but lay everything so bare that you can’t help but be moved by the visceral emotion-smorgasbord. (AS)

CSS Painting of the Day:

This “painting” done in pure CSS by Diana Smith is amazing. Per her Github repo for the project, it’s done in a Flemish baroque style and based on two rules she sets for herself:

  1. All elements must be typed out by hand 

  2. Only Atom text editor and Chrome Developer Tools allowed.

Amazing. (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Annie (AS)

PS - Noah here. I’ve started a new company and we are looking for a sr. backend engineer to join the team. If you are one of those or know anyone great, please share. Dinner’s on me at a restaurant of your choice if you help us find someone.

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