Post-Punk Rundown

It’s been such a great year for stoner/psych/doom that I’ve just been soaking in it like a hot spring, and neglecting other genres. I’ll always have room for post-punk, and have been following the releases pretty closely. It just hasn’t been as busy a year for high profile releases as 2012-13 (Savages, Beastmilk, PINS, Weekend, Holograms, Palma Violets, Merchandise, Deep Time, Makthaverskan, etc.). Still, there’s some albums worth noting. Not anything (yet) that’s going to haunt my top 40, but hovering just under, with the exception of some albums where post-punk is an element, but not the primary one, like the latest from Wovenhand, The Sea KingsThe New Christs, Swans and Parquet Courts. Coming up on October 20, The Mark Lanegan Band’s Phantom Radio will have some post-punk influences. “…although the Trees drew on Nuggets psychedelia, 13th Floor Elevators and Love, we were actually listening to Echo And The Bunnymen, Rain Parade, the Gun Club. A lot of British post-punk. We loved that stuff. I just waited until I was in my late forties before I started ripping it off” Lanegan told Backseat Mafia.

There was a bit of anticipation for the recently released second album by Merchandise, which took an audacious new pop direction to mostly successful ends. Interpol’s first album in four years and first since a lineup change was both anticipated and dreaded by fans, often simultaneously, for good reasons. But the results are a pleasant surprise.

Interpol - El Pintor (Matador, 2014)Interpol – El Pintor (Matador)
Interpol have been my post-punk whipping boys for well over a decade. Despite the ridiculous lyrics, the music of their debut Turn On The Bright Lights (2002) has stood the test of time. But I guess part of me never forgave them for an interview where they claimed having never heard The Chameleons, Comsat Angels, and probably some other key post-punk pioneers. That was complete bullshit, as I heard their influences all over the record. They might as well have denied knowledge of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Smiths. It’s one of the reasons I prefer metal bands, who would never be so disingenuous as to blatantly deny their obvious influences. Antics (2004) seemed a complete letdown at the time, but compared to the greatly diminished returns of the next two albums, it doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect. I admit I experienced some schadenfreude from their failure, but I still kind of hoped they could bounce back and make another great album. And so with these greatly diminished expectations, we are presented with El Pintor. It’s a promising title, a little bold and cocky sounding, though it simply translates to “The Painter.” They shed Carlos Dengler and his dark energy, and singer Paul Banks gamely took on bass duties. It’s early to say it’s a total triumph, but it’s definitely a comeback. I don’t know if they redeemed themselves by kissing Mark Burgess’ ring, or if they’re just refreshed after a long break and culling the herd. From the slow buildup to a pretty great, high energy single in “All the Rage Back Home” to “Anywhere,” “Ancient Ways,” “Breaker 1,” “Everything Is Wrong,” to even the somewhat odd pop of “My Blue Supreme,” they hit the target every time. They may never match their debut, but this is easily better than Antics, which is more than anyone ever expected.  I’m glad they stuck it out.

The Estranged - The Estranged (Sabotage/Dirtnap, 2014)The Estranged – The Estranged (Sabotage/Dirtnap)
This Portland band started out with a pretty great set of singles, collected on Type Foundry Session Vol. 1 (2009). It’s rough hewn post-punk with relentlessly scorching guitars informed by local legends The Wipers, and maybe a touch of Aussie influences in Radio Birdman. The singles were much more electrifying than their first album Static Thoughts (2008), which has them taste-testing a variety of 1978-82 era material from Wire, The Cure and Gang Of Four, while The Subliminal Man (2010) saw the band, whose members have roots in hardcore punk, expanding their range to include The Chameleons and a bit of jangly pop. Four years later they’re sounding better than ever on their self-titled third, growing into their own skins and shedding more obvious characteristics of their influences. So not so much angular UK post-punk, and more hard-edged garage rock along the lines of the latest from The New Christs and Hits I recently raved about. The band has tightened up, and while there is still some rawness in the guitar sound, the playing is cleaner and more focused, with an extra layer of complexity that lends to more rewarding repeat listens. Keith Testerman’s drumming is relentlessly propulsive like Anton Fier’s work in The Feelies.  At times he could use a touch of the flamboyance of the likes of  Echo & the Bunnymen’s Pete de Freitas. But couldn’t everyone? Mark Herman’s vocals remain understated, preferring to blend in with the music rather than parade in front of it like, oh, Simple Minds after they started losing the plot in ’83, or a million other bands that try too hard. Rather, they sound like a band that’s been at it for several years and are simply letting it flow.

Total Control - Typical System (Iron Lung, 2014)Total Control – Typical System (Iron Lung)
The Aussies are killin’ it this year. This Melbourne band had an excellent debut that flew under the radar for many, Henge Beat (2011). Their latest smooths out some of the more prickly garage punk into some synth pop (“Glass”). Not entirely though, as they still retain their rough-edged, minimalist eclecticism  and Fall/Kosmische drones (“Black Spring”) in a way that’s both more challenging and satisfying than (to pick a more popular example) Parquet Courts. Even under some of the more sleekly rhythmic and hypnotic tunes lies a seething, rotten heart, spewing bleakly venomous lyrics that could make a even a seasoned grindcore band take notice. So visceral are these songs that frontman Dan Stewart can’t cope with regurgitating them in live shows. Wussing out like that leaves no doubt they don’t have what it takes for metal, but at least we’ve got this document as confirmation that not every great band is willing paste on smiles and play nice. Oddly enough, MTVIggy gave a glowing recommendation “for fans of Tubeway Army, The Chameleons, Magazine, Merchandise” and even included them in one of their artist of the week popularity contests. I didn’t see the results but chances are they lost big-time. But over time they’ll probably be the band that’s remembered.

The Blue Angel Lounge - A Sea Of Trees (8MM, 2014)The Blue Angel Lounge – A Sea Of Trees (8MM)
There’s certainly a precedent for blending psychedelia with post-punk, from The Teardrop Explodes, the Bunnymen, and a little bit with Magazine, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Sad Lovers And Giants and The Chameleons. This German band takes a more delicate, ornate approach to the mix with some lovely, melancholy results on their third album since forming in 2006. Unfortunately they announced on July 5 that they broke up.

Mode Moderne – Occult Delight (Light Organ)
Vancouver-based jangle pop heavily influenced by The Smiths and Interpol. What at first seemed lightweight stuck to me over a period of months until I loved it. On their previous EPs from 2009-12, they were much more synth pop. The new direction suits them much better.

Lower – Seek Warmer Climes (Matador, 2014)Lower – Seek Warmer Climes (Matador)
While some liken Lower as a “sister” band to Iceage, that seems a little patronizing, just because they’re also from Copenhagen, Denmark. Iceage is more volatile, but I prefer Lower’s style on this debut album, which is just as aggressively intense, but not such a jaggedly difficult listen.

Rat Columns – Leaf (R.I.P. Society)
Rate Your Music confusingly called them a San Francisco band, but they’re actually from Melbourne, Australia. Murky, jangle pop, like lo-fi Felt.

Ought – More Than Any Other Day (Constellation)
I was on the fence about the vocalist’s Jonathan Richmanisms, but won over by good associations with early, shambling Raincoats and Clinic.

Post War Glamour Girls – Pink Fur (HSR)
Percussion-heavy debut of London band with fascinating lyrics and eclectic sound. Not sure why no one has taken note.

Esben And The Witch - A New Nature (Nostromo, 2014)Esben And The Witch – A New Nature (Nostromo)
I haven’t seen much buzz about this band previously, but I enjoyed their first two albums of witchy, gauzy, darkwave post-punk. They weren’t packed with memorable tunes, but the atmospherics were spot on. On their third album, they decided to switch things up and get heavier, recording it with Steve Albini. And no wonder, it sounds as if they were imagining what 90s era PJ Harvey would sound like backed by members of Talk Talk, Slint and The Dirty Three. The weight and intensified dynamics serve them well, lending more emotional heft to their compositions. Rachel Davies’ voice is too fragile to measure up to Polly Harvey, but she successfully taps into a shattering desolation of later Portishead that could actually be an improvement on Harvey’s performances this past decade. Still, the songwriting chops aren’t as world class as their influences, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Merchandise - After the End (4AD, 2014)Merchandise – After The End (4AD)
After several cassette releases, Tampa Bay, FL’s Merchandise hit all the right post-punk buttons with the excellent Children Of Desire (2012), an alluring mix of Joy Division inspired darkwave and post-Jesus & the Mary Chain fuzz. After the transitional Totale Night EP (2013), the band has self-produced their all-out pop assault as promised. And like a lot of pop albums, it’s a mixed bag. When it nails a great tune, it’s transcendent, such as the earworm candy jangle pop that’s an unlikely union of Felt and Interpol, “Little Killer” and the gorgeously loping Lloyd Cole influenced “Enemy.”  “Telephone” is particularly interesting, a kind of stupidly simple lyrical hook adorned with a great guitar line that could have been a lost outtake from Television’s second album. It’s loaded with insouciant confidence. However, many other tracks are meandering dirges completely lacking in hooks. I mean, if you’re gonna go pop, go all in. I don’t know what they’re trying to get at, some sort of lost alternate reality 1985 recording where Scott Walker collaborates with Talk Talk? Actually that sounds pretty awesome. Too band the rest of the album doesn’t quite measure up.

More (check back here and I may update this):
Cosmic Thoughts – Cosmic Thoughts (Cosmic Thoughts) | Bandcamp
Three Dimensional Tanx – Three Dimensional Tanx (Sunstone) | Bandcamp
Low Life – Dogging (R.I.P. Society)
Eagulls – Eagulls (Partisan)
Protomartyr – Under Cover Of Official Right (Hardly Art)
Chrome – Feel It Like A Scientist (King of Spades)
Creative Adult – Psychic Mess (Run For Cover)
Have A Nice Life – The Unnatural World (Enemies List) | Bandcamp
Cheveu – BUM (Born Bad) | Bandcamp
The Nightingales – For Fuck’s Sake (Nightingales) | Buy
Criminal Code – No Device (Deranged) | Bandcamp
Die Nerven – Fun (Fin Du Monde/This Charming Man)

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