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Post-Rock is a very hard-to-define genre. Generally, it's a style that needs to be heard to understand. While the genre might be associated with long compositions with crescendos, many post-rock bands, especially from the "first wave" write relatively short songs. Most commonly defined as a band that uses traditional rock instruments to play non-traditional rock music, whether it be modern classical, ambient, noise, or so on, though there are occasional exceptions.

Post-Rock has a very confusing history. Some people credit the Velvet Underground for starting it with songs like "Heroin" which started off extremely quiet and ended in droney, massive climax. Other sources give credit to the "Krautrock" movement of The '60s and The '70s. Another possible Ur-Example is King Crimson's slowly unfolding song "Starless", which contains a lengthy, Boléro Effect-laden instrumental passage typical of the genre, while others point to the works of Public Image Ltd. (particularly their 1981 album The Flowers of Romance), the short-lived experimental group This Heat, and David Bowie's 1977 album Low. Chamber rock bands such as Univers Zero and Present are further candidates, given their lengthy compositions, usage of the Boléro Effect, and incorporation of instrumentation from classical and chamber music as core elements of their sound (see "La Faulx" from Univers Zero's 1979 album Heresie for a particularly good demonstration of all of these characteristics).

However, all sources seem to agree that the movement "officially" started either in 1991, when Slint released their album Spiderland and Talk Talk released Laughing Stock, or in 1988, when Talk Talk released Spirit of Eden. All three albums are considered classics and are extremely influential, and are generally agreed to have been the first albums that coalesced the traits that are now hallmarks of post-rock into a single cohesive unit. The term "post-rock" itself is generally considered to have been introduced as a descriptor for music of this genre in a review of Bark Psychosis' 1994 album Hex by music journalist Simon Reynolds which appeared in Mojo in March of that year, although Reynolds claims to have used the term before that reviewnote ; Reynolds specifically invoked the term when comparing the album to Spirit of Eden. Reynolds clarified the term in an article for The Wire published later that year, describing it as music "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures, rather than riffs and power chords."

For the first few years many music enthusiasts had trouble differentiating this and the genre of Slowcore. This is because Slint were heavily influenced by Codeine, often considered the first Slowcore band. For a while the droney sounds from the two got many Slowcore bands mislabeled as Post-Rock and vice versa. Another genre which Post-Rock is often confused with (and, indeed, does overlap with in some cases) is Space Rock, which was an influence on it, but which has a somewhat different (read: drug-oriented) focus.

Throughout the The '90s bands such as Cul de Sac, Tortoise, Labradford, Bowery Electric, and Stars of the Lid helped mold the genre into what it resembles now. The movement sparked mainly from three different cities with their own separate scenes: Chicago, Glasgow, and Montreal.

Then, in the late 1990's and 2000's, the critical and commercial success of bands such as Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Explosions in the Sky - each considered to be the "big 4" of post-rock - helped elevate the genre even more. Additionally, Radiohead brought post-rock to the mainstream consciousness with their heavily experimental and electronic-driven New Sound Album, Kid A, and its jazz-influenced sequel Amnesiac. Around the same time, a number of Sludge Metal bands started picking up on the genre, resulting in "post-metal" or "atmospheric sludge". (Post-metal has actually been around since at least 1992, with Neurosis's trope-making effort Souls at Zero, but experienced an explosion in popularity during the 2000s with releases like Isis' Oceanic and Panopticon and Cult of Luna's Salvation and Somewhere Along the Highway). The genre has even been combined with Black Metal, resulting in fusions like the works of Alcest and Deafheaven (whose 2013 effort Sunbather became the most favourably reviewed album of any genre that year). Needless to say, the underground is now littered with Post-Rock bands.

Acts that are generally considered to be post-rock or have dabbled in the genre (post-metal included):

  • Silver Mt. Zion (side project sharing several members with GY!BE. Notorious for changing its name from release to release, though it's almost always some variation of "Silver Mt. Zion"; the one exception has been an EP where they were credited as "Thee Silver Mountain Reveries". Currently "Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra")

Tropes common in the genre

  • Boléro Effect: While this wasn't universally common among post-rock bands when the genre was in its infancy, it's nowadays considered one of the most noteworthy characteristics of the genre.
  • Darker and Edgier: Post-metal is essentially Darker and Edgier post-rock. Similarly, Black Metal/post-rock fusions tend to be Darker and Edgier post-metal (though they also tend to be Lighter and Softer when compared to most other black metal acts).
  • Drone of Dread: Although it doesn't show up in every song, it's a fairly commonplace trope.
  • Epic Rocking: It's difficult to find a post-rock band that hasn't used this at least once. Twenty-minute-plus songs are a staple of the genre, and some bands go well beyond that.
  • Genre-Busting/Genre Mashup: Owing to its introspective and contemplative nature, its diverse instrumentation, and especially its heavy use of crescendi (the obvious compositional choice for building a song to an epic climax), post-rock mixes well with other genres, and it's an intrinsically experimental and avant-garde genre in the first place - in fact, it was itself an case of Genre Mashup before it was codified. Thus, it's extremely common to see post-rock fused with numerous other genres - the number of times the Genre-Busting trope is potholed above probably provides a clue on this count.
  • Instrumentals: Many bands do not use vocals. In fact, instrumental groups are probably more common in the genre than vocal groups.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: Even if there are lyrics, they probably won't take up much of the song, or be particularly wordy. The ultimate example of this is Sigur Rós' album ( ), whose eight songs all contain the exact same nonsense line as the only lyrics on the entire album.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: Some of the bands are fairly well-known, but due to the length of their songs, they rarely get played on the radio.
  • Metal Scream: Extremely common in post-metal, and not entirely unheard of in post-rock either (Slint probably started it out with the epic screams at the end of "Good Morning, Captain").
  • No-Hit Wonder: Again, while many bands have received a fair amount of commercial success, hit singles aren't really the province of the genre. In the case of Kid A, it was outright invoked; Radiohead deliberately chose not to release any singles or music videos for the album, instead opting for a series of "blips," short videos set to brief excerpts from the album.note  Despite this, several of the songs on the album became big enough fan-favorites to appear on their Greatest Hits Album (which, granted, was put together without their involvement and long after they left their original labels).
  • Progressive Instrumentation: Goes hand in hand with Boléro Effect.
  • Sampling and Spoken Word in Music: Perhaps due to the influence of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Swans, these are frequent characteristics of post-rock music, as well as music influenced by the genre. Slint also did a lot of the latter trope.
    • Disco Inferno took this up a notch by transforming their instruments into samplers that could be triggered live.
  • Spiritual Successor: The genre is sometimes considered this to Progressive Rock and Krautrock.
  • Uncommon Time: Again, a characteristic of the genre that can probably be traced back to Slint, who are also called Math Rock for a reason.