A drawing for an article on post-rock shows a girl listening with earbuds while music notes float in the background.
Illustration by Alyssa Tarry, University of Michigan, Stamps School of Art & Design

Want Music To Both Trip and Study? Try Post-Rock

Combining excellent music with creative instrumentals, this lesser-known genre will improve your study experience.

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A drawing for an article on post-rock shows a girl listening with earbuds while music notes float in the background.
Illustration by Alyssa Tarry, University of Michigan, Stamps School of Art & Design

Combining excellent music with creative instrumentals, this lesser-known genre will improve your study experience.

Post-rock is an incredibly beautiful style of music that takes the intensity of rock, the complexity of classical and the aesthetic ambiance of shoegaze and blends them into one genre. It’s the perfect music to listen to while studying since it’s almost always entirely instrumental, so there are no vocals to distract you. As a genre known for its emphasis on atmospheric sound and grandiose, beautiful crescendos, it also makes a perfect background noise for psychedelic experiences.

Before you immediately search up post-rock and add songs to your playlist for your next acid trip or study session, you should know that while it is beautiful, it’s like alcohol in that it’s a bit of an acquired taste. To start listening to the stuff that will make you cry each time the crescendo hits, you’ll need to have built up an appreciation for some of the nuances. But please don’t let that deter you; there are plenty of easily digestible options for you to start with that will build up your tolerance.

A good band to start out with is Explosions in the Sky, a Texas quartet that has made some of the most accessible post-rock music to date. In fact, their music is so accessible that you’ve probably heard some of their songs without knowing it. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Friday Night Lights,” then you’ve already experienced one of their most popular tracks, “Your Hand In Mine.” It is perhaps one of the most emotional songs I have ever heard.

In addition to elevating the tone of the movie, its slow, drawn-out build-up is a perfect way to get a feel for how bands within the genre approach music. Aside from “Friday Night Lights,” the band also scored the movie “The Lone Survivor,” which again showcases the emotional weight of their music. Arguably their best song from that movie, “Never, Never, Never Give Up” takes military-esque drumming and turns it into something far more interesting. The track is a great place to start since it offers the same intense crescendos that many other tracks do while lasting less than three minutes.

Aside from their movie scores, Explosion In the Sky and their primary discography are nothing less than breathtaking. One of the best albums to start with is “How Strange, Innocence,” which turns away from the inspirational tone of the previously mentioned tracks and instead focuses on feelings of nostalgia. The best example of this is the final track on the album, “Remember Me As A Time of Day,” which is so emotionally potent that it almost literally sounds like the feeling one would have while remembering a lost loved one. If you decide to use psychedelics for self-growth instead of to party, then this is definitely one of the best entry songs to listen to on the come-up. As far as the rest of their album and discography goes, well, it’s more of the same stuff.

Once you’ve listened to Explosions in the Sky, you’ll probably be hooked on the genre. From there, you can start listening to the longer and more ambitious post-rock bands and albums out there. A perfect album for this next step is “Plains of the Purple Buffalo” by *shel, which is a 13-track concept album filled with all sorts of instrumental bliss. The first track introduces the theme of the album, as “Journey to the Plains” brings such a heavily cinematic tone to its near 8-minute run that it put me in the moment better than just about anything else I’ve listened to. The spiritual and expeditious style of this album makes it a perfect fit for psychedelic experiences, and the homage to old tribal ways of life only accentuates its ethereal potency. Additionally, like almost all other post-rock albums, there are few if any vocal portions to distract you if you choose to listen to this one while studying.

The next step from here is to listen to the longer and more ambitious post-rock tracks out there, which can reach lengths of up to 30 minutes per track. Trust me though, once you develop the patience for this stuff, nothing else can top it. The first band that comes to mind is Yndi Halda, an English post-rock band whose name literally translates to “enjoy eternal bliss.” In accordance with their name, their music is a safe bet for first-time psychedelic experiences. Listening to their music yields an unwavering sense of bliss throughout their long, masterfully crafted tracks.

Despite their excellence, some of their later works are not as enjoyable as their debut album, “Enjoy Eternal Bliss.” The four-track album features some fairly lengthy songs, with the shortest of the bunch clocking in at 4 minutes long and the longest reaching 19 minutes. The long tracks make for some of the best music to have as a study background because they all merge together as a single instrumental atmosphere. Despite their length, no part of any of the four songs feels dull or out of place. Instead, every minute works to elevate the overall quality of the track itself and builds into incredibly powerful crescendos that would otherwise not be rewarding had they not taken their time building up to them.

And finally, arguably the best post-rock band of all time, Godspeed You! Black Emperor sets a new precedent when it comes to instrumental soundscapes. If you’ve gotten past Yndi Halda, then there’s really nowhere else to go. Though their name might be a bit pretentious and strange (it’s basically a hallmark of the genre at this point), Godspeed You! Black Emperor orchestrates their music with a modest yet ambitious attitude that is seemingly insusceptible to error.

Combining the emotional weight of Explosions In the Sky, the thematic consistency *shel features in their “Plains of the Purple Buffalo,” and the ambitious song lengths that Yndi Halda has mastered, Godspeed’s discography is the jack of all trades. But once again, their music is probably the most ambitious and difficult to digest of all the ones listed thus far, so jumping right to them would be like taking 10 grams of shrooms for your first trip. Though certainly a memorable experience, it just wouldn’t be the right time.

The best intro to Godspeed would have to be their second album, “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.” Much like Yndi Halda’s debut album, LYSF creates some of the most rewarding crescendos you will ever have the pleasure of listening to. Every track is around 20 minutes long, but they feel no longer than 2 minutes. The individual songs fit together better than toast and jelly, the build-ups are slow and cohesive and the crescendos are so emotionally compelling that you might not even need the psychedelics to have a profound experience. The only downside to this album is that it might be too good for you to be able to listen to it and study at the same time.

Coming to appreciate post-rock may be a bit of a journey, but that’s what makes it perfect to listen to whether you’re studying for an exam or tripping on psychedelics. There are plenty of exams to study for so there’s tons of time to develop a taste for its nuances. When you’re not studying educational material and instead studying the limits of consciousness, post-rock is there to elevate your experiences. Whichever activity you choose, the genre will definitely guide you along the way.

Writer Profile

Kirk Chamberlain

Marist College
Philosophy

A passionate pursuer of ideas who loves to play devil’s advocate. In his free time, he enjoys watching films, listening to music and playing video games.

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