I want to add that I'm no fan of post rock. Sans-vocals bands like Explosions In the Sky just don't do it for me. Great, you can step on your delay pedal and downstrum spacey chords for an hour. I know that's unfairly downplaying what they actually do, but my point is that it's nice in small doses, but an albumsworth of material? I don't know. It kind of loses its effect.The exception is Sigur Ros, who is something of a post rock band. While they are rarely in my steady rotation, I enjoy their music--but I'd argue that talent-wise, they're a few steps above your garden variety post-rock outfit.
But post rock bands don't qualify for this list anyway. We'll strictly be dealing with instrumental tracks by predominantly vocal-based bands. Let's look at some honorable mentions.
Two artists who don't shy away from instrumentals are M. Ward and Tom Waits. Both appear in the top 11, but I had to parse through quite a few selections. Ward prides himself on breezy guitar arrangements, which is why you'll hear at least a couple on any given album. "Afterword/Rag" from Post-War and "Duet for Guitars #3" from Transfiguration of Vincent are two to check out. There are plenty more, too.
Waits, as you might guess, gets a bit more out there with his instrumentals. "Rain Birds" is an eerie loungepiece that closes Swordfishtrombones, while "In Shades" from Heartattack and Vine is straight divebar blues. "Midtown" from Rain Dogs is somewhere inbetween--quite fittingly, it conjures the image of midtown Manhattan. Remember what I said about instrumental tracks perpetuating an aesthetic? One other honorable mention that's also by an artist who has another song on the top 11 list: "The Fool" by Neutral Milk Hotel.
Here are some others I enjoy:
- Andrew Bird - "Yawny at the Apocalypse"
- Led Zeppelin - "Bron Yr Aur"
- The Avett Brothers - "The D Bag Rag"
- Bob Dylan - "Nashville Skyline Rag"
- The Pogues - "A Pistol for Paddy Garcia"
- The Whiskeybombs - "Untitled (instrumental)" [ed: Yes, this is my group. But this was sort of an off-the-cuff recording I think this tune turned out great. You should check it out. Written by my cohort Ben, he's on chord organ and percussion, I'm on guitars.]
*An excellent example of instrumental segues can be found on Dave Matthews Band's masterpiece Before These Crowded Streets. While they aren't actual tracks, there are instrumental segues that appear after the fade-out of several of the album's longer tunes. I'm a little embarrassed to even mention that I'm a fan of 90s DMB--goes to show you how that guy is perceived these days.