26 May 2009

Post-Punk: Part 2 of 3 - No Second Generation

No matter what you may have heard, the reality is that there was no real second wave of post-punk. It sort of disappeared as quickly as it came about. The main reason for this is because many of these bands would continue to push the envelope, and as a result create new genres or redefine existing ones. Much of what would become gothic rock, industrial, and new wave is the consequence of this process. Though there would be a few bands that would continue the stereotypical “post-punk” aesthetic/sound, with that driving bass, simple arrangements, and basic guitar rifts over complicated, intricate arrangements, these bands would more than likely get lumped into the gothic scene or that new emerging term in the late 80s, early 90s: alternative.

It is a troubling term, as I have mentioned before, because it assumes that there is a common thread of some sort through bands, which typically speaking, do not even share the same sonic underpinnings or fan base. The reality is that as music became more and more about business, and investors had to be satisfied, the music industry took a new turn in how it would promote music. The term alternative became the code word for bands that would be pushed off on teen and twenty-something listeners, leaving rock for an older audience. The UK had many smaller genres compared to the US, including shoegazing, dream pop, and ethereal wave to name a few; it is not until recent years that North and South American musicians are shaking off the mantle of “alternative” for other labels that better categorize their sound or scene that they are part of.

In fact, I think it is the responsibility of musicians to continue to shake off the mantle of labels. If four albums into your career, you are producing the same sound, you have lost me. I think that I speak for many people with that statement. And it is precisely because of this idea of shaking off mantles that the post-punk movement seemingly disappeared; it is why every artistic movement should eventually disappear. These bands started to redefine themselves, and those that have survived continue to do so. Nevertheless, there were many bands that would keep the concept of post-punk’s ideology alive, even some of the aesthetics. I do not believe that there is a definitive list of these bands, as they (or critics) typically do not identify themselves as “post-punk,” but the obvious influence is there. So as I scratched my head thinking about which bands to post about, I decided on a master plan. I would include two bands that are known as bands who fans of Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure relish. I decided to include two bands that are obscure, one of which I am hoping to save from a forgotten history. And the last, well, a band that some people may find hard to stomach as “post-punk,” but hey I like arguing my points.

Cocteau Twins: “Garlands” (1982)

A pioneer of post-punk, Cocteau Twins would later go to help define the very concept of dream pop, ethereal wave, and ambient rock. From the start, the band was always able to create this feel of dark undertow in their music that just swept you away. Elizabeth Fraser (vocalist) had a distinct singing style, which would influence bands like Curve, Lush, and the Cranes. Often given into puit a beul (a vocal style that favors rhythm and the sound of the voice over the lyrical content, nonsensical sounds/syllables are inserted for musical, rhythmic effects), Fraser defied how standard music was to be sung. But the band had a long career of defying what was expected of musicians and even of them. The band was not able to reunite in 2005 as they had expected to, but in 2008 they accepted the Q Inspiration Award, and there continues to be hope that they will reunite again for a tour, maybe a new album.

Why is it a must? “Garlands,” the debut LP, was an out-of-left-field instant success with both critics and audiences. Embracing a fluidic gothic sound, the album breathes a dark intensity but never inundates the listeners into despair. Actually, it is one of those albums that you can continue listening to for hours. Opening with “Blood Bitch” (a sexy dark number), the bands demonstrates some savvy arrangements that would be reproduce by a plethora bands afterwards. My favorite, “Blind Dumb Deaf,” is a reeling mess of confusion. And just as the music must have been confusing, but yet inspiring, to an audience in 1982, imagine what to make of the lyrics: “Blind dumb deaf offends, I was never part of it, yes.”

Track Listing:
1. Blood Bitch
2. Wax and Wane
3. But I’m Not
4. Blind Dumb Deaf
5. Shallow Then Halo
6. The Hollow Men
7. Garlands
8. Grail Overfloweth

Keep up with the Cocteau Twins at their homepage.

Jesus and Mary Chain: “Honey’s Dead” (1992)

A former friend (“Catherine”) of mine came up with the best description of the Jesus and Mary Chain: drum machines and guitars. The band is essentially Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid (vocals/guitar and guitar/vocals respectively). Hitting the scene with short, powerful songs, they captured the power of punk rock, while never giving into the cliché of genre like post-punks. The elements of driving bass, repetition, and simplicity of post-punk over complexity were kept alive in this band. Though the band did not dent the American charts, they broke the top twenty album and single charts in the UK.

Why is it a must? Though typically known for “Head On” off of their “Automatic” (1989) album, “Honey’s Dead” (23 March 1992) is really their creative apex. This album has a true diversity of styles, from rock (“Far Gone and Out”) to tradition post-punk (“Teenage Lust”), from bubbly pop (“Far Gone and Out”) to that track on the beer commercial in the 90s that no one knew what it was but loved (“Sugar Ray”), the Reid brothers did one of the most daring thing of their career on this album: “Reverence.” Jim sings, “I want to die like Jesus Christ, I want to die on a bed of spikes, I want to die go see paradise…. I want to die like JFK, I want to die in the USA…” The song was banned from Radio 1 and Top of the Pops. Speak about being uncompromising and going where no other band had dared to go before, twice over in one song.

Track Listing:
1. Reverence
2. Teenage Lust
3. Far Gone and Out.
4. Almost Gold
5. Sugar Ray
6. Tumbledown
7. Catchfire
8. Good for My Soul
9. Rollercoaster
10. I Can’t Get Enough
11. Sundown
12. Frequency

Keep up with the Jesus and Mary Chain at their homepage (currently under construction) and MySpace.

Pixies: “Doolittle” (1989)

Hailing from Massachusetts, the Pixies were heavily influenced by punk rock, post-punk rock, and the West Coast surf rock. In many ways, they are the proto-grunge band to listen to, as even Kurt Cobain acknowledged that he was heavily influenced by the Pixies. With their short, bass/guitar driven music, with an influx of humor that only highlights the dark themes, from dying to torture, the reason I say the Pixies follow the post-punk tradition is because of a certain uncompromising attitude against the concept of genre. (Not to mention that some of that bass playing is very reminiscent of Simon Gallup.) Like many of the veterans of the post-punk movement, the Pixies recorded an album that included many, divergent styles of music. Just as the original post-punk rockers could not and would not conform to the notion of what it meant to be punk, the Pixies could not conform to the notion of what punk, post-punk, or surfer rock was suppose to be. Instead, they put it all on its head and spun it around till you got a profound band singing of Biblical violence with a sense of humor.

Why is it a must? “Doolittle” kicks ass! (I should stop right there.) Not only is this a great album, each individual song is strong and complete on its own. Kicking off with “Debaser” (one of my favorite moments in life was body surfing to this song), the in-your-face attitude of the Pixies smacks you hard. The poppier, more acoustic sounding “Here Comes Your Man” is one of the most infectious, addicting tunes of all times. The lead guitar playing is some of my favorite by Joe Santiago. “Hey,” lyrically my favorite song on the album, demonstrates a sense of humor that is cutting and one of the best, if not the best, in music: “'Uh' said the man to the lady. ‘Uh’ said the lady to the man she adored. And the whores like a choir go ‘uh’ all night and Mary ain’t you tired of this.” The album ends with “Gouge Away,” to date still my favorite song by the Pixies. It incorporates everything from violence to Oedipal and Biblical themes.

Track Listing:
1. Debaser
2. Tame
3. Wave of Mutilation
4. I Bleed
5. Here Comes Your Man
6. Dead
7. Monkey Gone to Heaven
8. Mr. Grieves
9. Crackity Jones
10. La La Love You
11. No. 13 Baby
12. There Goes My Gun
13. Hey
14. Silver
15. Gouge Away

Keep up with the Pixies at MySpace and 4AD.

Swallow: “Blow” (1992)

First off, what a provocative name for a band, especially considering the name of the album!

The band was a duo (Mike Mason and Louise Trehy) that only released one studio album, an EP, and a compilation of sorts on the 4AD label. Some critics tagged them as Cocteau Twins wannabes, but anyone who has really heard both bands would disagree vehemently. Though some influence is obvious, there are other influences at play in the music of Swallow. Ultimately, their dissolution was the product of having funding for recording suspended and the all the stress of trying to become established tearing the relationship between the duo asunder. It was the 90s, when figures started to become more important than talent and nurturing, and that is a fucking shame.

Why is it a must? There is not a song on this album that I do not love; from the instrumental “Lovesleep” to the sad “Peekaboo” to the rock-poppy “Sugar Your Mind,” the album is captivating with all of its compressed sounds (think of shoegazing guitar sounds) and the emotive keyboards. “Cherry Stars Collide” is a track that borders on gothic, while “Ocean and Blue Skies,” which lacks drums and percussion of any sort, gives you the feel that they knew their dream pop as well. What makes this album brilliant is that it is not definable by any real term. It is one of the few albums that I do use the term “Alternative” on iTunes for, because there is nothing really to define it. It is an alternate to everything out there. It is not rock, not dance, not shoegazing, not anything, other than an amazing listening experience.

Whatever you do, do not allow this band to be forgotten!

Track listing:
1. Loveless
2. Tastes Like Honey
3. Sugar Your Mind
4. Mensurral
5. Peekaboo
6. Lacuna
7. Oceans and Blue Skies
8. Follow Me Down
9. Halo
10. Cherry Stars Collide
11. Head in a Cave

Here is the video for “Oceans and Blue Skies” from broadcaster Marty Dibergi’s YouTube Channel: martydibergi.

Whipping Boy: “Heartworm” (1995)

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, this four-man piece hit the scene with explosive live performances. I’ve heard that singer Fearghal McKee cut himself with glass on stage for effect. Though the band garnished the acclaim of critics and an underground following, Columbia Records would drop their contract, because of numbers – again that rising surge in the industry that driving force meant cutting any band, even if talented, if they did not meet their sales quota. Though the band reformed in 2005 and performed some dates, no new music is on the horizon at the moment. Regardless, this is one of those obscure bands that you should consider looking up and listening to.

Why is it a must? Here is the perfect description of the album: emotionally violent. There is not one song on this album that allows you to rest on your laurels. Musically, it takes a lot of queues from the harder gothic rock of the 80s, while occasionally using some of the grunge power chords. The occasional cello adds melancholy, and the sparsely used keys are present to evoke emotional responses from the listener. With lyrics like “Hole right through her head, I think I might be nothing to her” (“Twinkle”) and “I have used so many people for no reason or gain, sometimes it’s just for fun or a way to keep me sane” (“Users”), Whipping Boy plunges into the darker emotions and situations of life, without giving into the death and gloom of gothic rock. But the one haunting line, an admonition, comes from “Honeymoon Is Over”: “So you remember now what it takes to make a mother cry, you stupid boy.”

Track listing:
1. Twinkle
2. When We Were Young
3. Tripped
4. Honeymoon Is Over
5. We Don’t Need Nobody Else
6. Blinded
7. Personality
8. Users
9. Fiction
10. Morning Rise
11. Natural

Keep up with Whipping Boy at their homepage.

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