Fester’s Lucky 13: Post-Punk

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.

01. Algiers – Algiers (Matador)

Algiers - Algiers (Matador, 2015)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. Continue reading

Post-Punk/Garage Noir: Protomartyr, Hand Of Dust & Kill West

Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art)

Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art, 2015)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.

Hand Of Dust – Like Breath Beneath A Veil (Avant!)

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.

Kill West – Smoke Beach (Crang)

Down in Argentina, Kill West’s Smoke Beach suggests an affinity for the previous two bands just from the name and title. However, the post-punk content is negligible, with much more emphasis on psychedelic and shoegaze with a touch of garage noir, but not enough for it to fit in my Psych Noir piece. Their aesthetic is way too cool to be left unmentioned. Operating in a thick haze of reverb and wah-wah, an eerie fog that swallowed a beach party whole, switching to horror movie mode and getting at the true vibe of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Kill Surf City.” On “Signs,” they hit the road for some fun fun fun on the autobahn, the motorik riddim filtered through Suicide lens. With a promising EP last year, they’re just getting going, and show great promise along with similar minded psych noir bands like 10 000 Russos, Sonic Jesus, Devil Worshipper and Dead Skeletons. Ideal for a dark autumn playlist.

Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man (Matador)

Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man (Matador, 2015)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. Continue reading

Shellac – Dude Incredible (Touch and Go)

Shellac - Dude Incredible (Touch & Go, 2014)Shellac – Dude Incredible (Touch and Go)
Despite Shellac’s infrequent shows and albums (Dude Incredible is only their fifth album in 20 years), I was lulled into taking them for granted for a while. Since first seeing them live in 1993 at the Lounge Ax, where they set up on the floor rather than the stage, and buying their first three singles with hand-painted art, I’ve been a fan. Steve Albini’s willingness to take those in the music industry to task for various crimes and misdemeanors generated split opinions about his music, leading some to misjudge his bands. Sure, there was always a molten core of punk rage to his work, but to see them live usually meant a lot of jokes. The trio exuded the good-natured aura of musicians enjoying what they do without the pressure of trying to win over a larger audience, impress industry execs or feed their families with long tours. They have their day jobs, and when they can, they do what they love best, making music with friends. While At Action Park (1994) is a complete classic which measures up to the finest work of the bands Albini admired the most at the time, The Jesus Lizard and Fugazi, Terraform (1998), 1000 Hurts (2000) and Excellent Italian Greyhound (2007) were solid, interesting albums, but felt somewhat lacking in urgency to my ears. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The New Christs – Incantations (Impedance) & Hits – Hikikomori (Conquest Of Noise)

New Christs - Incantations (Impedance, 2014)The New Christs – Incantations (Impedance) 
Someone coming across The New Christs’ latest album Incantations in the top ten for the year in the post-punk and garage rock charts at Rate Your Music could easily believe they’re a relatively new band. The sound isn’t exactly brand new, but the menacing edge and vital songwriting suggests an energy not normally associated with ones pushing 60. But they’re not so new, having been a band in varying forms since 1981, lead by the not so young Rob Younger, best known as the lead singer for the legendary Aussie sons-of-the Stooges Radio Birdman from 1974-78. Along with The Saints and The Birthday Party, they established templates in punk and post-punk that would be followed by bands in Australia and throughout the world. Continue reading

Between The Cracks Part 2 – Metro, Fingerprintz, Martha & The Muffins

between-the-cracksIn my original installment of “Between The Cracks”, nearly four years ago, I wrote about great bands that slipped between the cracks of glam, prog, art rock, metal and punk between 1973 and 1978. I covered 13 bands from that fertile period, with honorable mentions to a few others.

Deserving of attention are a few more bands who came up slightly later, releasing their debut albums between 1976 and 1980. Metro, Fingerprintz and Martha & the Muffins all had elements of prog, glam, art rock, power pop and post-punk, and could have been major players in the new wave era, but for various reasons commercial success eluded them. Despite their obscurity, the bands sound incredibly fresh and relevant today, as many current artists mine the same crossroads of post-punk and dance music those bands helped pioneer. Continue reading

The Greatest Post-Punk Bands You Never Heard

Post-Punk Mix: 54 songs, 453.5 MB, 4:23:59Interest in post-punk seems to ebb and flow in roughly decade-long cycles since its initial heyday of 1978-84. A fair number of bands emerged in 2001-04 that were influenced by the likes of Joy Division, The Chameleons and Comsat Angels, particularly Interpol and The Editors. In 2012 a new crop of young bands received attention including Merchandise, Deep Time, The Soft Moon, Wymond Miles and Grass Widow among others. Based just on an EP and a single, Pins and Savages both tied for third on the Blogs Sound Of 2013 shortlist. Old timers Killing Joke, Breathless, Viv Albertine, Kevin Hewick, The Monochrome Set, The Wake and The Distractions all released new albums last year, and Section 25 has one due February 26. Continue reading

The Sound Reissues

The Sound, Jeopardy (Renascent UK, 1980) 9+
The Sound, From The Lions Mouth (Renascent, 1981) 10-
The Sound, All Fall Down (Renascent, 1982) 9

The Sound might be the most unfairly ignored post-punk band, both in their time and currently. Whereas CDs have long been available for the past 15 years of contemporaries like Magazine, Joy Division, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, Comsat Angels, Psychedelic Furs and Teardrop Explodes, this is the first time the early Sound albums have been made available. Doubly strange are the impressive punk credentials of bandleader Adrian Borland, who died in 1999. His earlier band The Outsiders was the first punk band to release a record (Calling On Youth) on their own label in May 1977. By 1979, the band had evolved into The Sound, the most powerful live band at the time, with a voice that recalled the Bunnymen’s Ian McCullough, a heavy melodic bass style like Joy Division’s Peter Hook, and a fiery guitar style unmatched by anyone. A demo recorded at the time has just been released as Propaganda. The band’s official debut, Jeopardy, came out originally on Korova, recorded for only £800. The album starts with “I Can’t Escape Myself,” sounding very bare-bones, until the crushing chorus and guitars makes the needles jump to red. It barely hints at what you’re in for. “Heartland” is a complex pop masterpiece, a kaleidoscopic carnival ride which increases the nighttime urban imagery of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” to warp speed — “Setting out/City in your sights/You want an overview of the underground.” “Hour of Need” is reminiscent of Joy Division’s “Passover,” with synthesizers adding extra coloring. “Missiles is a classic example of the peak of Thatcher/Reagan cold war tension and paranoia. They don’t’ just sing about the damage missiles can cause, the apocalyptic guitars vividly demonstrate it in a way that U2 could never match. “Heyday” is another high-energy, spiky dust devil of brilliance, and was their first single that should have made them stars. “Desire” closes the album like it began, stark and stripped down. A nearly perfect album.

From The Lions Mouth is even better. While it doesn’t have the hard-hitting singles of Jeopardy, it has a shimmering, cohesive fusion of lyrics and sound. The album reaches a dark apex with “Possession” (“There’s a devil in me/Trying to show his face”) and the red hot “The Fire” (“Drawn towards the heat/Too fierce to contain”), and “New Dark Age,” with thudding kettle drums of doom. The press went wild for it, but sales were dismal. Possibly because the album was too unique. It didn’t fit neatly into any of the synth pop/new wave/new romantic stuff that was popular in ’81. Nor did it have the bombast that would make Echo & the Bunnymen, U2 and Simple Minds so popular just a couple years later. Korova dumped The Sound onto its parent company, WEA as a write-off, who pressured them to go more commercial.

The group’s contrarian, self-defeating response was 1982’s All Fall Down, which pleased neither the label nor the fans. Aside from stand-outs “Monument,” “Party Of My Mind” and “Where The Love Is,” the songs were fiercely uncommercial, grim and less compelling than earlier work. Surprisingly, the band carried on, and even managed to bounce back with 1985’s excellent Heads And Hearts and a blistering live set, In The Hothouse. Unfortunately, the band never received the recognition they deserved. After one more album the band broke up in 1988. Disappointed at the lack of success, Borland eventually got started on a solo album, when he was struck by a train in April 1999. It’s about time these lost treasures are finally appreciated.