12 May 2009

Post-Punk: Part 1 of 3 - Origins

Deep down inside I still hold on to much of what I embraced in my formative years; as a young kid I was exposed to punk rock early on in the early 80s, shortly after the first wave of punk rock. I was fascinated by how it did not sound anything like my parent’s music. The screaming, the lack of finesse, and rawness of passion was something that addicted me right away. It sounded authentic, not an attempt to lull you away with sleepy, contrived lyrics and hooks. I would split my allowance between buying vinyl (ha, the good ole days) and comics. It was an addiction. But even as a young kid, I realized more and more that many of these bands sounded very similar in style and concept. But what I quickly discovered was that there was a growing number of punk rockers and new artists that took that punk rock rawness and ideology into a new direction, and I was just as quickly addicted to post-punk.

The failing of punk rock was that it became an aesthetic idea, as opposed of continuing a line of raw passion and opposing any notion of a status quo; eventually, till today, a definitive sound associated with punk rock was developed and it has been stuck on that sound now since the 70s. Though post-punk would rise up, it is smart to remember that both punk and post-punk existed simultaneously. The “post” does not refer to what comes after punk rock, as punk rock is still around, but rather what is the next step, the after, to the initial incorporation of a non-conformist idea to music.

Aesthetically post-punk rockers would use the foundation of punk rock (simple, direct, passionate music), while incorporating the use of keyboards (usually for ambience), non-rock bass playing (funk and dub), and a variety of different experimental techniques in the studio. The idea was not that they wanted to sound similar to one another, but rather that they wanted to sound as distinct as possible. Some bands continued to have a hard edge, while other became more experimental and/or ethereal. What eventually would happen is that many of these bands would develop into newer genres of music, laying the groundwork for genres such as gothic rock, industrial, and new wave. But here are five pioneers that you should look into; however, before you do that, I want to make one more comment. I did not include Siouxsie and the Banshees, as I reviewed their entire catalogue of studio albums earlier (link). The Banshees can easily be considered one of the leaders of post-punk. With albums like “The Scream,” “Join Hands,” and “Kaleidoscope,” they laid down effectively how a punk idea can be taken in a new, non-conformist direction. From singing the “Lords Prayer” to a horrifying punk background to the new wave-ish “Paradise Lost,” the Banshees continued to challenge the idea how music was supposed to be written and produced.

The Associates: “Affectionate Punch” (1980)

The Associates were a Scottish band formed by singer Billy Mackenzie (1957-1997) and guitarist Alan Rankine. Influenced by David Bowie (in fact, their first single was a Bowie cover), punk rock, and theatre, the band has inspired the likes of U2 and garnished the respect of music critics in the UK. The demise of the band started after Rankine left before touring to their third album, “The Sulk” (1982). The fourth album was considered lackluster; the record company would not be release their next recording (“Glamour Chase” 1988), and then their final proper album “Wild and Lonely” was released in 1990. But what is consistent in all of their music was this uncompromising craftsmanship – the Associates never mirrored the mainstream. Instead, they delivered music that was quirky, theatric, and definitely indefinable, turning everything they loved (from Bowie to punk rock) on its head and spinning it around a few times.

Why is a must? The title track, “Affectionate Punch,” is enough reason enough to invest in this album. Full of paradox (“The affectionate punch draws blood…”), the song is a cacophony of sound, from pianos to synths, whiny guitar, and female backing vocals. The final track, “A,” is sonically a song that U2 could point to as an influence. A funny play on the alphabet with lyrics such as “I’ve know Zed’s who only taken B's to bed, they said that G’s couldn’t scorch they’re sweaters,” the song, like many of theirs, is tongue-in-cheek that belies the reality that they speak of universal truths (abuse, sexual promiscuity, gender identity, etc…) that many artists have never had the balls to take on.

Track Listing:
1. The Affectionate Punch
2. Amused As Always
3. Logan Time
4. Paper House
5. Transport to Central
6. A Matter of Gender
7. Even Dogs in the Wild
8. Would I… Bounce Back
9. Deeply Concerned
10. A
11. You Were Young – 2005 Reissue
12. Janice – 2005 Reissue
13. Boys Keep Swinging (Mono) – 2005 Reissue
14. Mona Property Girl – 2005 Reissue

An extra note: Billy Mackenzie committed suicide in 1997. According to Fat Bob, who also made a guest appearance on the debut album, he wrote the song “Cut Here” in memory of Mackenzie. Here is the link for the video from the UniversalMusicGroup YouTube Channel.

Bauhaus: “In the Flat Field” (1980)

The band chose the name, Bauhaus, as an allusion to the style of the German school of design – functionality and simplicity. This sums up their music; like the original movement of punk rock, there was this simplicity and rawness of emotion that drove their music. Unlike the original movement of punk, Bauhaus would favor darker, textured music. Hitting the scene with their release of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the follow up album has the distinct honor of being the first long play released by 4AD. They leave two marks on music, the first of which is experimental post-punk. This would influence the likes of the Cranes and Radiohead. The second, along with other post-punks, they would lay down the foundation of gothic rock.

Why is it a must? Okay, even I was disappointed that “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was not included in the reissues, but there is plenty here for an orgasmic musical experience. “Stigmata Martyr” is an eerie proto-gothic number, which really demonstrates how to create urgency in music without a thick wall of sound. The titular track, “In the Flat Field,” would establish the classical post-punk guitar sound that gothic rock would incorporate. And of course, the ultimate fuck you song, “Crowds,” included on the reissue: “You worthless bitch, you fickle shit, you would spit on me, you would make me spit, and when the Judas hour arrives, and like the Jesus Jews you epitomize, I’ll still be here as strong as you, and I’ll walk away in spite of you.”

Original Track Listing:
1. Double Dare
2. In the Flat Field
3. God in an Alcove
4. Dive
5. Spy in the Cab
6. Small Talk Stinks
7. St. Vitus Dance
8. Stigmata Martyr
9. Nerves
1988/1998 CD Reissue Track Listing
1. Dark Entries
2. Double Dare
3. In the Flat Field
4. God in an Alcove
5. Dive
6. Spy in the Cab
7. Small Talk Stinks
8. St. Vitus Dance
9. Stigmata Martyr
10. Nerves
11. Telegram Sam
12. Rosegarden Funeral Sores
13. Terror Couple Kill Colonel
14. Scopes
15. Untitled
16. God in an Alcove
17. Crowds
18. Terror Couple Kill Colonel – remix

Keep up with Bauhaus at their homepage.

The Cure: “Three Imaginary Boys” (1979)

The boys from Crawley, and perhaps the most successful outfit out of the punk/post-punk era, the Cure has had the sustainability of career that most artists envy. And exactly how did the band manage to survive? Two reasons, the first being very strong song writing. What the Cure lacks in technical genius (not to take anything away from later members Porl Thompson and Roger O’Donnell), they quickly make up for with ingenuity, amazing lyrics, and atmospherics. The second reason would be lead man’s Robert Smith's uncompromising approach to music: my way or no way – ah, that punk ideology.

Why is it a must? First off, the original line up, of which only Robert Smith survives in the band. Secondly, this is the most stripped down Cure album of all time, with no attempt of injecting production gimmicks (as if they would even have been able to afford those) or even an obvious single. Short, punk/rock-pop songs, these tracks show that the Cure’s origin was not gothic rock, but rather punk rock. Tracks to check out include the Hendrix cover of “Foxy Lady” (sung by Dempsey, not Smith) and “It’s Not You.” The reissue/deluxe of the album would include “Killing an Arab,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” – a prophetic song about the punk scene, as Smith sings, “You have to adapt, or you’ll be out of style.” (One last thing, the “Boys Don’t Cry” album was a poppy remix of this album released in 1980 for an American audience. It was not the first album.)

I included the back cover for this one for an important reason. Originally, the songs were not listed on the album; instead each song had an image to represent the song. “Meat hook” and “Subway Song” may be obvious, but enjoy trying to figure out the rest of them.

Track Listing:
Disc 1 (1979)
1. 10:15 Saturday Night
2. Accuracy
3. Grinding Halt
4. Another Day
5. Object
6. Subway Song
7. Foxy Lady
8. Meathook
9. So What
10. Fire in Cairo
11. It’s Not You
12. Three Imaginary Boys
13. (Originally untitled) The Weedy Burton (as of the deluxe edition)
Disc 2 (2004 Deluxe Edition)
1. I Want to Be Old – demo
2. I’m Cold – demo
3. Heroin Face – live
4. I Just Need Myself – demo
5. 10:15 Saturday Night – home demo
6. The Cocktail Party – demo
7. Grinding Halt – demo
8. Boys Don’t Cry – demo
9. It’s Not You – demo
10. 10:15 Saturday Night Live – demo
11. Fire in Cairo – demo
12. Winter
13. Faded Smiles, aka I Don’t Know
14. Play with Me
15. World War
16. Boys Don’t Cry
17. Jumping Someone Else’s Train
18. Subway Song – live
19. Accuracy – live
20. 10:15 Saturday Night – live

Keep up with the Cure at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Joy Division: “Unknown Pleasures” (1979)

As one of the bands to set the ground-works of post-punk in the late 70s, Joy Division hit the airwaves with a sound that was not like punk rock, or anything else out there, and they immediately caught the attention of Factory Records in Manchester. Immediately garnishing the critical acclaim of critics (though not the mainstream), Joy Division established themselves a mainstay in the musical cult world, even twenty-nine years after the band disbanded. Ian Curtis (lead vocalist) would commit suicide in 1980; though the band would release a second album posthumously and their biggest single (“Love Will Tear Us Apart”), the band would reform into New Order.

Why is this a must? Well when all the major music news outlets, from “Rolling Stone” to “NME,” agree that this is a piece of art, then there must be something to it. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then listen to Ian Curtis’ voice and singing style, then go listen to this generation’s post-punk revivalists – hear where they got their style? The 2007 reissue would include a bonus disc of all live music, including “Dead Souls,” perhaps one of the most archetypal post-punk, proto-gothic rock songs of its time. This bonus disc demonstrates that Joy Division was not just a studio band, composing artsy music, but also a strong live band that could deliver their experimentations live, which many bands cannot do.

Track Listing
1. Disorder
2. Days of the Lords
3. Candidate
4. Insight
5. New Dawn Fades
6. She’s Lost Control
7. Shadowplay
8. Wilderness
9. Interzone
10. I Remember Nothing
Track Listing 2007 Reissue Bonus Disc
1. Dead Souls
2. The Only Mistake
3. Insight
4. Candidate
5. Wilderness
6. She’s Lost Control
7. Shadowplay
8. Disorder
9. Interzone
10. Atrocity Exhibition
11. Novelty
12. Transmission

Killing Joke: “Killing Joke” (1980)

Hailing from Notting Hill, Killing Joke continues to produce music till today. They have left their mark on gothic and industrial rocks, as well as new wave, and even have some DJs and dance oriented musicians citing them as influences. Though they may not have had the success on the pop charts as the Cure, a not so modest list of acts point to them as an influence, including Foo Fighters, Jane’s Addiction, Korn, Metallica, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, and Tool. Bringing electronic sounds early on to a punk rock foundation, Killing Joke delivers music that is aggressive, often angry, and yet digestible by a wider range of listeners than standard punk.

Why is this a must? Simple: this is a fun album. Don’t get me wrong, it is full of angst, anger, and the darker things in life, but musically the sound is never obtuse, opaque, or oppressive. Opening with the single “Requiem,” the groovey music, the ambient keys, the driving base all manage to suck you into the most disturbing world of them all: “Not watching pretty girls, the clock keeps ticking; he doesn’t know why he’s just cattle for the slaughter… Death – requiem!” Then there is the instrumental “Bloodsport,” sporting straight out rock and roll, with the inclusion of ostianto (the repetitive synth sound in the background). Of course, one of my favorite songs is on this album as well, “The Wait.” A precursor to the stream of consciousness that gothic rockers would incorporate, but with more punk rock elements than most of the post-punk rockers, Jaz Coleman sings, “After awakening, the silence grows, the screams subside, distortion show mutant thoughts of bad mouthed news, it’s just another birth of distorted views.” Ask me, those words are as relevant today as when they were first written.

Track Listing:
1. Requiem
2. Wardance
3. Tomorrow’s World
4. Bloodsport
5. The Wait
6. Complications
7. S.O.36
8. Primitive
9. Change – 2005 CD reissue
10. Requiem, single version – 2005 CD reissue
11. Change, dub – 2005 CD reissue
12. Primitive, rough mix – 2005 CD reissue
13. Bloodsport, rough mix – 2005 CD reissue
* “Change” was included in the American release between “Complications” and “S.O.36”

Keep up with Killing Joke on their homepage and MySpace.