Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way–Love | When Vocals and Lyrics are Used in Post-Rock

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I share many of the posts from that blog when I write them, as they fit in well here too. This one is about Nietzsche’s philosophy as an inspiration for an energetic/emotional stance towards life, for instance. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


During the last couple nights, I’ve posted some philosophical discussion recordings (which I call “philosophy riffing”). In my last, I spoke about many things, but one topic was struggles with reconsidering my concepts and experiences of love, including the extra layer of emotional/existential difficulty of wondering if it was all in my head for reasons which I’ll keep to myself.

During the time of dealing with these kinds of thoughts and feelings, I’ve returned to the two songs here a few times. It’s interesting that they both resonate with these issues but also stand as great examples of how vocals can be used in post-rock to great effect. I’ll include the lyrics at the end of this post but will also post links in the discussion so you don’t have to scroll up and down.

As a general overview, lets contrast some aspects to begin to preemptively load the discussion upfront. The first of these songs is more of a standard rock vocal style, where the inimitable A. A. Williams agreed to a collaboration with Mono. As such, it’s a fusion of their styles – the fullest, emotive chamber music flavor of Mono backing and strengthening the soulful voice and lyrics of Williams. The second was a request from Russian Circles to collaborate with the also inimitable Chelsea Wolfe after touring together. This song hangs as a coda to the album, taking up the refrain from the first and previous songs and transforming it into something both confused and poignant; yet unlike Mono/Williams, the vocals are also dreamy and confused. You’ll feel the emotion of it as another instrument of the mix, but you’ll almost certainly have to look up the lyrics to make out the precise words. So, in one, we see a harmonizing strengthening of the vocals and words to their most shining, lifted up by the instruments behind. In the other, it feels almost more like a post-rock song utilizing a sample, to where the vocals are infused into the instruments, making the haunting, emotive quality not reliant at all on understanding each word: getting the feel of the grief, loss, and doubt without being able to hear the concepts at play.

Now, let’s look at each of these two songs on their own. First, “Exit in Darkness” by Mono and A. A. Williams is precisely that. There’s a deep set of emotions that speak of loneliness, finding a matching presence in someone else, and the struggle of loss and moving on. Honestly, from the lyrics, I’m never completely sure with this song who has left who in the separation (although it seems likely to be the singer), and there’s also the sense that there’s not a clear break in the separation – that the singer keeps the other either merely in mind or is still contacting the other person, as she says: “I can’t let you be alone” over and over. For me, this song has resonated deeply with a being apart because of the issues of the two in the connection while also speaking to how difficult this is because of how strong the connection is. I point out my own reactions because I was a bit surprised in hearing another friend’s reaction to the song. She described it as a song to her about shadow work: going through healing and processing of unwanted and difficult emotions that have been repressed from the relationship or negative patterns that need to be addressed to grow and heal. I can see this take, as the loneliness and tension of some sort of disorganized attachment style of wanting someone but pushing them away but wanting them, over and over, feels like a red flag of something to be reworked, processed, and addressed. There is some sort of growth that needs to happen within singer and/or the other party in order for this connection to grow back together or for them both to exit from this darkness.

I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

Mono/Williams – “Exit in Darkness”

Whatever the meaning, it’s hard to deny how touching this song is. It ranks highly as one of the most emotional rock songs I’ve ever heard.

Russian Circles’ Memorial is a beautiful song of grief, doubt, and the edges of madness. It caps off the album, repeating the riff of the first song, with just the slightest shift, that had also been reintegrated in a much more massive, heavy way in the immediately previous song. This refrain – the theme of the album as a whole – is now fleshed out from it’s ghostly emotional exploration with the voice of the living, a grieving vocalist considering loss and doubting her relationship to that which she has lost. Her words feel like an existential grief as well – she grieves some part of herself that has died in this connection, and furthermore, she thinks not only on her own death in this transition but ghosts of the past that make her question what she did, who she was with, and who she is now.:

What sang in me sings no more.
Where stood a wild heart stirred no more.
There stood wild heart.
And I have been slain.
Head full of ghosts tonight.
Have I gone insane?

Russian Circles/Wolfe – “Memorial”

There’s been few times that a song about sadness has really fully captured all the layers of doubt, pain, and rumination I’ve felt. This one captures much of what I have felt in a few lines, and it does it in a voice that feels weirdly stable and logical, yet dreamy. It intensifies the feeling that these reactions are a haunting certainty that stands before us in life’s moments such as this that cannot be escaped. There is no “Exit in Darkness”, only an “Exit through Darkness”, one which challenges your very conceptions of who you are and what it might be to be with other people in the future. In some ways, this is reminiscent of the stage of a spiritual path that is depicted by the Moon card from tarot.

I can go through the lyrics and ideas, as I’ve done, but I can’t emphasize enough how much these songs are examples of post-rock’s style. The vocals are treated as instruments of their own in the mix in both of these songs and handled differently to work with this, and although I started with a brief description of this, I’m going to link the songs now and suggest you listen to them to hear the full effect I’ve described. The lyrics will also be block quoted below the song links.

How long have I been underneath?
The weight of all I’m carrying
For all my life, I’ve been the one

Who abandoned everyone

But I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

How long have you been hiding there
In all the shade and all the empty air
I could have sworn in you I saw myself
And all the questions that I ever asked
But I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

But I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

I need you to know
I need you to know
I need you to know

But I need you to know
You make me whole
And I can’t let you be alone

Mono/Williams – “Exit in Darkness”

I cannot say what years have come and gone
I only know the silence – it breathed on and in
What sang in me sings no more
Where stood a wild heart stirred no more
There stood wild heart
And I have been slain
Head full of ghosts tonight
Have I gone insane?
Was it wrong to go down
To want you to stay?
Head full of ghosts tonight
Have I gone insane?

Russian Circles/Wolfe – “Memorial”

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