Though a mainstream majority would contest me, I’d argue the 1990’s produced some of the worst music in history. The debris of popularized 90’s garbage culminates in hip bars everywhere, where decade themed nights attract nostalgic twenty-somethings who genuinely believe they remember the 90’s, wearing their birthdays like a badge of honor. Who can resist Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” or Spice Girl’s “Wannabe”? Or what’s worse, the alternative scene’s fronting Green Day, Eve 6, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Blind Melon? Okay... okay, I am being facetious. Not all 90’s music is awful. I am offspring of the 90’s, and as much as I critique this era and its toddlers, I too have a soft spot for the bands I grew up listening to. I still cringe when friends ridicule Sublime, and I won’t deny my affections for Weezer, Fountains of Wayne, Cake, and of course, Nirvana. Even so, I won’t be seen at 90’s night. I’d rather eat my own foot.
In researching underground music from the era, I recognize there is more to the decade than what was playing on my NOW 5 CD. Anything without a catchy hook and conventional pop formula was off my radar; granted, I was still in pullups halfway through the 90’s.
Since post rock bands Explosions in the Sky and Tortoise play in Denver tonight and tomorrow, I took to investigating “post rock”. I imagine it as the gypsy cousin of the 90’s music scene. Though bands designated as post rock are, at least, refreshingly experimental, they hardly have enough in common to be considered the same category. Genre figureheads like Tortoise, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai exemplify post punk’s typically instrumental quality, and sound like they could be from same species; yet, when compared to other post rock bands like Sigur Rós and Stereolab, each could be a totally different animal. All, however, utilize rock instruments in unconventional arrangements.
Both 90’s post rock bands Tortoise and Explosions in the Sky debuted their seventh studio albums this year, providing ample fuel for their US tours and adventures abroad. I prefer Tortoise’s latest LP Catastrophist, to Explosions in the Sky’s The Wilderness, though both are worth listening to.
The Wilderness reminds me of a score for an independent movie picked up by the mainstream. Here’s the story: Boy gets lost in the woods of his own imagination, neglects responsibility of growing up until some drastic life altering event takes place and thus… he becomes… A MAN. Or it could be the soundtrack for Where the Wild Things Are in some alternate universe that for some reason still made the book into movie. It’s all very theatrical. My favorite track is “Logic of a Dream”, which begins delicately with gentle guitar pickings. Then, at minute :50, silence for 3 seconds before a roaring, deep synth chord progression for another minute. At the 2 minute mark, the fun begins. Ritual sounding drums lead into whining string instruments warped to the edge of dissonance. There’s a wild build up like someone’s about to be sacrificed and then, clear waters from minute 4 on. The Wilderness is a nicely fitting title for this album, though at points I wish it was more The Road and less Hunger Games.
Tortoise’s 2016 10-track album is the band's first release in 7 years. Catastrophe feels more congruous than prior albums, yet upholds Tortoise’s tendency toward the utterly strange. The experimental band got experimental… how meta. Breaking their 25-year streak of purely instrumental albums, Tortoise adds vocals for the first time for one song, “Yonder Blue”. The track features the voice of Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley. Her voice is low and awkward; but it’s her unpresumptuous, quirky singing makes Yo La Tengo, and tracks she is featured on, so lovable. “Shake Hands With Danger” is my personal favorite from Catastrophe, and yes, it’s ridiculous title is a major reason why. The song starts with spacey sounding percussions, then a rhythmic xylophone, which hovers, along with drums, underneath sporadic synth and guitar. Much of the album goes this way. It is less jazzy than earlier albums, like TNT, and features a wide array of production sounds. However, the band stays true to its usual instinctive instrumental escapades.
Explosions in the Sky and Tortoise remind me of popular jam bands like STS9 and Lotus. It’s comical because logically it should be the opposite, seeing as the latter bands didn’t form until 1998 and 1999. Clearly, the post rock movement influenced these bands, and in part explains the progression from rock to jam bands today.
Despite my post rock epiphany, I remain unimpressed with 90’s music. However, I am interested in seeing the post rock bands touring now, some 20 plus years into their careers, to see how they’re holding up. The life of a post rock star can’t be easy! If you also share my curiosity, check out Explosions in the Sky tonight at Ogden and Tortoise tomorrow at Bluebird. I apologize for any hard feelings I’ve inspired while belittling the 20th century. May 90’s themed parties continue to reign on college campuses and willing bars; but seriously, don’t bother inviting me. You can keep teen Justin!
Written by: Haley Midzor