As I finalize my year-end summary, here’s a teaser for one of my favorite genres. The recent trend of metal musicians getting involved in post-punk projects is a promising sign that the genre is done with suffering the indignities of going in and out of fashion. It simply is. While there were energetic supporters of all their albums, I was not taken with this year’s offerings from the older legends – Public Image Ltd., The Pop Group, The Monochrome Set, Wire, The Fall and The Names. And while Killing Joke’s latest got plenty of acclaim, I felt that many (42, in fact) younger bands made better albums this year. While nothing got the critical acclaim the way Savages did two years ago, it was a great year for post-punk.
While Algiers have post-punk elements like early Bad Seeds, they also dip into 70s psychedelic soul of The Temptations, The Isley Brothers, and further back into gospel, but laced with electronic drums that reference both 80s electro and 90s industrial. While early TV On The Radio took a somewhat similar approach with doo-wop and Massive Attack with dub and soul, Algiers sound completely original. On top of that, they have smart, confrontational, political lyrics and seem like a real passionate powerhouse live band, lately augmented by Bloc Party’s drummer, Matt Tong. The songwriting could be developed more, but their potential is massive. Part of the issue might be the fact that the band developed their music remotely online with singer Franklin James Fisher, originally from Atlanta, now located in New York and guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan living in London. The best songs are clustered in the middle, including the savage “Blood,” accented with gutteral grunts and rattling chains. “Old Girl” is like stumbling upon a gospel revival, only to find dancing demons within the church. “Irony.Utility.Pretext,” augmented by a situationist style video, full of New Order beats, Art Of Noise effects, and Miami Vice era production, while still somehow sounding new. “Games” is a more restrained hymnal, and extremely effective. With a tour or two under their belts, I’d love to hear what they come up with next. I predict righteous greatness.
While this is technically their debut album, Grave Pleasures is essentially the same band as Finland’s Beastmilk, who’s 2013 debut belated stirred up a buzz. When guitarist Johan “Goatspeed” Snell left, they changed their name, added guitarist Linnéa Olsson of psych noir hard rockers The Oath, and later Uno Bruniusson of the recently broken up trad metallers In Solitude. With lead singer Mat McNerney also serving time in avant folk psych band Hexvessel and guitarist Juho Vanhanen of the avant-psych black metal Oranssi Pazuzu, they’re more of a supergroup than ever. The metal, avant folk and psych lurks in their blood, straining to be let out, but is more a vein of molten lava ominously rumbling beneath the ground. It’s perhaps this tension and restraint that makes the band so compelling. The songs are based on fairly traditional wireframes, but there are all kinds of moments where it seems like they are going to go completely off the rails, and you are reminded that they are complete batshit lunatics. But disciplined lunatics. “Crisis,” starts out sounding like a croony ballad, but picks up steam as it goes along, adding some pretty great vocal harmonies along the way. “Crying Wolves” and the sweeping romanticism of “Girl In A Vortex,” are the honeypot to draw in fans of the poppier side of 80s post-punk, while there’s plenty of crazed, apocalyptic ravers to hold the interest of those who loved the Beastmilk album. “No Survival” brings to mind some of the great cold war paranoia of 1980 era The Sound.
03. Cold Showers – Matter Of Choice (Dais) | Buy
Aside from the crossover success of a few bands (New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Cure), post-punk became a commercial dead end as the classic post-punk era wound down in the mid-80s. Albums by Comsat Angels, Breathless, Opposition, Sad Lovers and Giants, Lowlife and The Passage remain relatively hidden, perfect glittering jewels get passed around and inspire certain musicians seemingly every generation. Los Angeles band Cold Showers blocked out the sun created a convincing aura of Manchester gloom on Love And Regret (2012) and various tape releases. On their second album they honor the time-honored tradition of introducing more synths to their sound, but with sure, deft hands guiding the fresh, tart songwriting. While they have become more melodic, the retain the darkness, striking a nice balance between dirges and ditties.
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.
05. Girls Names – Arms Around A Vision (Tough Love)
Kicking around since 2009, the Belfast’s Girls Names have already released four albums and several EPs and singles. They have evolved their sound with each release, progressing from jangly pop to heavier post-punk on The New Life (2013), its reputation only growing in the following two years. The eleven minute “Zero Triptych” single released earlier this year suggested the band was veering toward a synth driven kosmische/Station To Station meets psychedelic shoegaze direction. That turned to be more of a one-off experiment, though there are some synths on the latest album, and a couple motorik grooves. But there’s also some New York no wave added to the mix. There’s still plenty of great guitar work, invoking the great John McGeoch and Magazine. Cathal Cully’s sneering vocals are consistent strongpoint, invoking The Fall, The Birthday Party and The Stranglers without being derivative. The new batch perhaps sacrifices some melodic immediacy of the last album, but makes up for it with gripping tension.
06. Publicist UK – Forgive Yourself (Relapse) | Bandcamp
Like Grave Pleasures, Publicist UK are made up of mostly metal musicians (Municipal Waste, Revocation, Goes Cube). Aside from the densely weighty guitars, you wouldn’t guess it from hearing them, though there’s more and more metal bands coming out of the closet as fans of post-punk. Singer Zachary Lipez sounds a bit like Michael Gira of Swans, but much more melodic. Touches of hardcore and post-rock in their sound ensures they won’t be confused with any vintage Joy Division or Killing Joke. Their most transportive moments are the soaring melodic choruses that will inspire metal, goth and new wave fans to all pump their fists.
The unglamorously named Lunch hail from Portland, the same scene that spawned Shadowhouse and The Estranged (a band I went nuts for last year), and Arctic Flowers, who’s Stan Wright recorded this album at Buzz Or Howl Studios. Their roots are embedded in a mix of British post-punk (Echo & the Bunnymen, The Chameleons, The Sound, Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry) and the American garage noir of Gun Club and The Wipers. In contrast to the band name, Prometheus Wolf is a pretty grandiose name for the lead singer, and he seems to pull it off with just enough charisma in his baleful, yelping vocals. “Madness Openly” has that compelling Gun Club vibe (who’s “Sex Beat” they covered on an EP), while brilliant standout single “Not An Ocean” has more of a British feel, combining an acoustic guitar with a spidery lead that references Felt’s Maurice Deebank and Rowland S. Howard’s punk noir sound in The Birthday Party, underlined by a bass worthy of The Cure’s Simon Gallup. “Pouring Light” has that lurching early Birthday Party feel combined with some skronky Pere Ubu saxophone. There’s really no end to bands in local scenes throughout the world who worship the same bands, but very few who can come out with such an assured statement in a debut album like Lunch has done.
Protomartyr are a difficult band to get into. You can’t just absorb them in the background, as Joe Casey’s unmelodic monotone reinforces the grey grimness of their Detroit post-punk garage noir, which threatens to blur into undefined shadows unless you focus. Shine a light on them and the music becomes bolder where others would retreat, with Casey’s brainy but dark lyrics inspiring reviewers to break out the thesaurus to analyze and heap praise. Others have written about death and illness in Casey’s personal life with uncomfortable detail. I think the songs can tell the stories without the help of a press release. Balancing out the intense emotions and stories are moments of delicate beauty, such as the chiming lead guitar in “Pontiac 87,” and “Clandestine Time,” where Casey surprisingly clamps down on a quite lovely vocal melody. So he can sing, but chooses not to. The romance of “Ellen” would be greatly enhanced by stronger melodies. So far his approach generally meshes well with the music, but still, they remain easy to admire but difficult to love. For those who find thrills in deep despair and regret, there is much to wallow in here, along with some fine artistry to provide solace in a crumbling world.
In Denmark, Hand Of Dust drop the subtlety and turn up the overwrought, seething vibe into overdrive. In general, this can be very entertaining, like early Birthday Party, though admittedly without the macabre humor. But rather than slip down a sinkhole of gothic bluster, they inject a potent dose of Western noir Americana, like Gun Club meets Sixteen Horsepower and Black Heart Ensemble. Case in point, “Roses In The Sawmill.” The twang, the pain! The atmosphere may only change shape slightly like smoke from dying embers from menacing to eerie, but it’s well done, charred to near perfection.
10. Shopping – Why Choose (Fat Cat) | Bandcamp
This East London trio emerged in 2013 with Consumer Complaints, their sound, with up front bass and skeletal guitar, clearly rooted in Gang Of Four, Au Pairs, Delta 5 and later Slits. Their second album sticks with the template, but also shows the band’s progress, making their deceptively simple minimalist funk even more danceable, with vocal interplay between Rachel Aggs and drummer Andrew Milk. Shying away from explaining their politics the way Savages have engaged the press, the band prefer to let the music speak, and the bodies dance.
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.
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.
When they formed in 2005, the Bay Area-based Ceremony were a hardcore punk band. After three albums, they did a 180 with Zoo (2012), which explored 80s-era British post-punk and even a bit of jangly indie rock and new wave. This intrigued some old fans and perplexed most, but also brought new ones on board like myself. If the band intentionally named themselves after the song that bridged the transition from Joy Division to New Order, this is most likely a return to the band’s earliest influences. There are actually not that many bands currently taking on such a muscular approach to the genre (Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures, Dark Blue, RA), which makes this an even more welcome addition to the post-punk family. Everyone will likely hear different things, but to me it evokes Comsat Angels’ Sleep No More (1981), 1980-82 era Cure, and the gleaming obsidian oughties production of Interpol. Producer John Reis (Rocket from the Crypt) created a suitably stark, cavernous sound befitting the themes of destroyed relationships, isolation and despair. It’s Ross Farrar’s most emotionally charged writing, best exemplified by “The Separation,” the ringing melody is uplifting, making the painful sentiments all the more poignant.
- Rats On Rafts – Tape Hiss (Fire)
- Cold Beat – Into The Air (Crime On The Moon)
- Heat Dust – Heat Dust (The Flenser) | Bandcamp
- Spector – Moth Boys (Fiction)
- Membranes – Dark Matter/Dark Energy (Cherry Red/Metropolis)
- Ought – Sun Coming Down (Constellation)
- Sexwitch – Sexwitch (Echolyn)
- Nite Fields – Depersonalisation (Felte) | Bandcamp
- Motorama – Poverty (Talitres) | Bandcamp
- The Underground Youth – Haunted (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
- Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)
- Gold Class – It’s You (Felte) | Bandcamp
- Cathode Ray Eyes – Eyes In The Melancholy Palm (Cardinal Fuzz)
- Desperate Journalist – Desperate Journalist (Fierce Panda)
- Taman Shud – Viper Smoke (Trashmouth) | Bandcamp
- Penetration – Resolution (Polestar) | Buy
- zZz – Juggernaut (Excelsior)
- PINS – Wild Nights (Bella Union)
- Drenge – Undertow (Infectious)
- The Soft Moon – Deeper (Captured Tracks)
- No Devotion – Permanence (Collect) | Bandcamp
- Marching Church – The World Is Not Enough (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
- Wax Idols – American Tragic (Collect)
- Rule Of Thirds – Rule Of Thirds (No Patience) | Bandcamp
- Sauna Youth – Distractions (Upset The Rhythm)
- Zun Zun Egui – Shackles’ Gift (Bella Union) | Bandcamp
- Conduct – Fear And Desire (Conduct) | Bandcamp
- Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie (Rough Trade)
- Flesh World – The Wild Animals In My Life (Iron Lung) | Bandcamp
- Killing Joke – Pylon (Spinefarm)
- Sleaford Mods – Key Markets (Harbinger)
- The Granite Shore – Once More From The Top (Occultation) | Bandcamp
- Soko – My Dreams Dictate My Reality (Babycat)
- The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It (Fiction)
- Crispy Ambulance – Compulsion (Factory Benelux)
- The Libertines – Anthems For Doomed Youth (Harvest)
- The Nightingales – Mind Over Matter (Louder Than War)