I had a slow start in covering everything I wanted this year, due to being preoccupied with life shit. These post-punk albums didn’t get full reviews, but definitely deserve some attention before we move forward to more anticipated releases this year. Most can be heard on this Spotify playlist.
Male Gaze – Gale Maze (Castle Face)
I’ve always been a big fan of combining psychedelic rock with post-punk, as pioneered by Siouxsie & the Banshees, Teardrop Explodes, The Soft Boys, Echo & The Bunnymen and Chameleons. Lead by Matt Jones (Blasted Canyons, Mayyors, The Mall), who also co-runs the Castle Face label with John Dwyer, Male Gaze adds some garage psych color to the monochromatic post-punk we’ve been hearing out of Scandinavia lately (see bands listed below in the RA review). It’s the absolute perfect mix of brooding cool and raving fuzz guitars. Jones has a great baritone that balances his gothy darkwave and melodic gifts. Blink and you’ll miss the songs as they blast by, slowing down only on the psychedelic guitar licks on “Gale Maze.” My only real complaint is the fact that this is only a min-LP under 25 minutes long. It’s just too damn short, and searching for older material only brings up last year’s “Cliffs Of Madness” single, backed with the demo-quality but super catchy “Think Twice.” I hope this band turns out to be prolific, because I’m already jonesing for more nice “slaps in the brain” as Dwyer put it. | Buy
LoneLady – Hinterland (Warp)
When Julie Campbell released her debut Nerve Up (2010) as LoneLady, there was a lot of focus on her being from Manchester, because she was clearly following the templates of that city’s great post-punk bands, Joy Division, The Fall, Magazine, The Smiths. Five years later, she’s still loosely playing with the genre, but with a more diverse approach, including minimalist funk experiments of A Certain Ratio and other electro/synth and dance pop of the era. While I might be more partial to the guitar music, there’s no denying her second album is more accomplished and impressive for it. More diverse sounds, synths, dance beats, but still with a distinctive baleful industrial Manchester feel. Cold and twitchy, but also quite infectious, it seems to be a sleeper, but should make a strong showing on year-end lists. | Spotify
RA – Scandinavia (Adrian)
There’s been a particularly heavy strain of apocalyptic post-punk that I’ve been enjoying via Finland’s Beastmilk (now called Grave Pleasures), Philly’s Dark Blue, and Denmark’s Iceage and Lower. Now Sweden submits their entry with RA (there’s a million bands who have called themselves that, so I hope they can keep it). Joy Division and Killing Joke are essential early building blocks for these bands, but then they branch out enough to all have their own flavors with metal influences and other more modern sounds. RA self-describes themselves as “Nordic noir-punk,” which works for me. Some songs may blend into each other with their monochromatic sound, but it’s a great start. Among the standouts are “Bloodline,” a static charged death march that was featured on their first EP (I hope they make that available on Bandcamp too!). Available on vinyl here. | Spotify
Desperate Journalist – Desperate Journalist (Fierce Panda)
“Desperate Journalist” was a defensive song by The Cure aimed at NME critic Paul Morley. In the end, both emerged unscathed, with The Cure becoming international stars and Morley was often the first to recognize the brilliance of a lot of bands in the post-punk scene, while occasionally panning others. To be honest, he might be just as hard on this band as he was on The Cure back in the day, who certainly weren’t perfect. I was chuffed and fluffed when their debut EP Cristina was released in 2013, but while their debut full-length has a handful of good songs, it too often falls into a pretty familiar jangle pop sound rather than the more pointed post-punk I was expecting. There’s plenty of great Smiths-influenced guitars, and while some of the songs blow past without indenting my memory, they do exude the breathless energy of the young Chameleons. The songs may not haunt me, but Jo Bevan’s voice and the band’s sound do leave a compelling afterglow that keep me coming back. | Spotify
Nite Fields – Depersonalisation (Felte)
Brisbane, Australia has offered a lovely new addition to the post-punk family with some record nerds (frontman Danny Venzin runs the Lost Race label) who start with early Cure and New Order, and build a beautifully gauzy, dreamy sound that draws on 4AD’s proto-shoegaze (Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil), the delicate guitar picking of Felt and Vini Reilly, melodic gifts of The Monochrome Set and psych pop drones of Spacemen 3. Their brooding sound may be too wispy to make a huge impact on a big audience, but there’s enough swoon in their gloom to recommend fans of these styles.
Motorama – Poverty (Talitres)
Russia seems like an appropriately grim place that would inspire dark post-punk music. I wonder if there aren’t a bunch of bands I’m missing out on. I certainly missed the boat on Motorama’s first two albums ALPS (2010) and Calendar (2012). They exude similar darkwave energy as bands like Beastmilk, but not as heavy, with guitars that ring and chime rather than slash. Think early Comsat Angels with Johnny Marr’s melodicism, coloring their Ian Curtis influence with Lawrence’s (Felt) vocal mannerisms. I wouldn’t mind a bit more passion to override their mannered style, but it’s been in constant play since January.
zZz – Juggernaut (Excelsior)
This Dutch duo has been around a while, putting out a couple Krautrock influenced electro albums in 2005 and 2008. During their long break they focused on some more traditional songwriting, at least on the first six songs, which feature Björn Ottenheim’s rich baritone that could easily fill in for the lead in Interpol and Editors. With nothing but drums, organ and some effects, they create some nicely sleek, moody post-punk tunes, and one garage psych rager in “My Girl.” They shift gears again on the instrumental cosmic organ exercise of “Red Beat.” The slightest cut on the album, it does serve as a warmup for the 20:29 long motorik epic “Juggernaut,” which sounds like a lost Harmonia outtake from 1974. If they could have combine their psych and post-punk urges into a more cohesive whole like Male Gaze, I’d be going insane for this band. Schizo as they are, they’re good enough at both styles to be worth the time. | Spotify
Marching Church – This World Is Not Enough (Sacred Bones) – A sort of supergroup project made up of members of Danish post-punkers Iceage and Lower, among other bands, including Iceage lead vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. This is a kind of tribute to garage noir as architected by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Gallon Drunk, along with Tom Wait’s bent Americana.
Rule Of Thirds – Rule Of Thirds (Mass Media)
Another entry from Australia, this one from Adelaide. On their self-titled 7″ single in 2013, they had a rough, distorted death rock vibe, that could be interpreted as either amateur or intense. On their full-length debut, the noise is toned down, and they emphasize the spare, bass-driven sounds of Joy Division, early Cure and The Sound, with a twist of goth. I’m still on the fence on Freya Zaknich’s tuneless vocals, but suspect they can deliver live (currently in the middle of their first U.S. tour).
Soko – My Dreams Dictate My Reality (Babycat)
Soko is a French singer-songwriter who released an acoustic debut several years back, and has also acted in a couple Spike Jonze films. While this seems to strain my definition of post-punk, her second album does pay homage to early Cure quite a bit here, with some pretty infectiously entertaining songs like “Who Wears the Pants?…” and “My Precious.” My least favorite songs are probably the two where she collaborates with Ariel Pink, who I’m frankly sick of. | Spotify
Canada’s Viet Cong has been getting a ton of attention for good reasons and bad. I’m back and forth on them, generally lukewarm enough that I’d recognize at least these ten albums first, despite the fact that their popularity eclipses all of them. First wavers Wire, The Monochrome Set, The Pop Group and Gang Of Four have all released albums this year, mostly disappointing. The Pop Group is probably exciting news to a small group of fans. I was enamored by them back when their albums were difficult to find. I was proud of uncovering a copy of For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980), which I occasionally played on my Bucket O’ Nasties show 25 years ago. But it was just as difficult to listen to as it was to find, and never got played regularly. Their first album Y (1979) which has been reissued over the years is a better place to start, and for most, to end.
The next big post-punk releases is probably Ceremony, The L-Shaped Man on May 18. A post-hardcore band, they made a dramatic turn with Zoo (2012) into post-punk, with very promising results. From what I’ve heard, the new one nails down the songwriting nicely.
PINS, Wild Night, on June 8. Their excellent first album Girls Like Us (2013) was unfairly ignored because for some reason many people thought there was only room for attention for one band, and that went to Savages for much of the year, and belatedly Beastmilk. See their new video below, along with their cover of Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments.” Speaking of Beastmilk, their new incarnation, Grave Pleasures are promising a new album sometime this year.