I believe most music genres are nothing more than suitable titles for journalists to write about something of nothing. Brit Pop is probably the best example. Where there was no movement, no classification and generally speaking, nothing cohesive about the artists that were told they belonged to this genre. Simply devised as a way for British journalists to write about home grown music, swamped by American culture, in much the same way Cliff Richard was hyped by the NME in the 1950s as our very own answer to Elvis Presley, Brit Pop was nothing more than British Pop Music!
So I was intrigued to read Jack Chuter‘s new book, Storm Static Sleep – A Pathway Through Post-Rock. A genre name that was originally coined by music journalist Simon Reynolds in a Melody Maker article in 1993. He went on to use the term several times until the term began to get used in wider circles. One phrase he used to somehow gel different artists with one tag is “rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes” – a definition Reynolds used in a 1994 article for The Wire.
Jack Chuter introduces his book and the foundations of post-rock by way of a sea-change in the music emanating from two bands independently at the turn of the 1990s. Talk Talk in London and Slint in Louisville USA.
At the time, I was deeply absorbed by Talk Talk and the way they had re-created themselves from being a second-rate synth pop boy band in the early 1980s to the altogether more brooding, spacey and jazz-influenced direction of The Colour Of Spring in 1986. While their last album, The Laughing Stock (1991) is one of the most dynamic, powerful and absorbing albums I have ever heard. For me, there was a natural progression from The Colour Of Spring, through Spirit Of Eden (1988) and arriving at a masterpiece. But even so, it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. But disenchanted with the music press some years before, I was unaware I was listening to something that would be generally be perceived as the foundation of post-rock.
Storm Static Sleep chronicles the evolution of post-rock and it’s rise in popularity through chapters covering the bands that have defined the genre. In writing this book, Jack Chuter undertook over 30 interviews with some of the most influential names and figures including Mogwai, Tortoise, Steve Albini, Mono, Isis, Slint, Sunn O))), This Will Destroy You, Disco Inferno, Piano Magic, Constellation Records as well as writer Simon Reynolds, the main proliferator of the term ‘post-rock’ itself.
Each chapter of the book explores a different stage of post-rock’s development, by looking at the influence and sound of key bands as well as the insight of influential writers of the time. The chapters not only discuss how the bands all fit within the post-rock bracket but they also explore what directed them to this particular style and what they achieved musically in doing so. ‘Storm Static Sleep’ doesn’t just set out to explicate and contextualise the history of post-rock, but to also re-define what post-rock actually is and means to those who were and are directly and inadvertently enveloped by the term.
In one chapter, Chuter interviews Simon Reynolds. As I began reading the book my head was filled with other likely contenders to the roots of post-rock. The likes of Public Image, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Krautrock, Prog Rock – artists and previous genres that would most definitely have influenced this so-called movement, if not be tenuously connected by the definitions themselves. A smile spread across my face as the Chuter and Reynolds recounted the very same names and thoughts, in the book.
“In some ways ‘post-rock’ is just a continuation of impulses that crop up within the progressive era, and then again with post-punk. Leaving behind rock, taking on outside influences, responding to the cutting edge of black music, etherealizing to the point of losing the rhythmic pulse ” – Simon Reynolds,
Over the past twenty-five years post-rock has evolved from a handful of bands challenging the dynamics, timbre and conventional format and concept of rock songwriting, into a scene with a huge international community of likeminded artists and fans. Not only does post-rock now have its own dedicated festivals such as ArcTanGent but it is also widely used in soundtracks, advertising and has become a broadly accepted genre that attracts new listeners every day.
Storm Static Sleep is a brilliant read. The best book on music I have read for a very long time. It’s up there with Simon Reynolds’ fantastic Rip It Up & Start Again on post-punk music for the very same reasons – it is very well written, and with such passion and knowledge that Chuter’s enthusiasm adorns every page.