27 June 2009

Post-Punk: Part 3 of 3 - Post-Punk Revival

So the century turns, and for some reason the media starts to pay more and more attention to the 80s. Throughout the 90s, it was almost a curse to be associated with the 80s if you were a musician. It was about guitars, stripped-down music, and a plain jeans and t-shirt image. Technology? Phooey! Music was generated on guitars, basses, and drums. There was no need for anything else! Even MTV promoted this idea with “MTV Unplugged.” Sure, some bands brought along a pianist and violin players, but think about all the bands that really could not perform on the show – the vast majority of synthpop and electropop bands could not. In essence, MTV helped marginalize and “discredit” them, as the bands that were most revered where macho, guitar playing, screamers, who were gods if they happened to smash half their instruments at the end of the show. (Didn’t Fender stock soar during the 90s?) But it wasn’t just the concept of instrumentalization that was shifted, but also how music was composed and produced. Out went multi-layered and textured music, and in came power chords, minimalist arrangements, and pre-packaged (teenage) angst. The only real exception to this is hip-hop, which continued to be seen marketable to urban and wannabe urban youths from the ‘burbs. But by the turn of the century, when the 80s were starting to be remembered again, many musicians took another hard look at the decade, and by default at post-punk, and in it found the inspiration to revive the sound.

There is a lot of rehash when it comes to post-punk revival, and my general rule is that most rehash is crap. If I wanted to listen to Joy Division, Bauhaus, or the Cure, I would scroll down my iTunes and pick out the songs that so obviously have become models for the rehash. (Hey, it happens with every genre of music. Remember all the wannabe Nirvana bands in the mid and late 90s or Oasis wanting to be the Beatles?) But among these bands are many who are not just rehashing the old sound, but adding to it, expanding the genre, into something new and vibrant. And what is great about this moment in music is that just like shoegazing, the presence of women is being felt in the musicianship. The 90s, with grunge and hip-hop, was a male dominated scene, with just the occasional diva or girl group.

These bands below are incredible on their own terms. But what has been made a running joke among some of my friends is their voice – they have an Ian Curtis (Joy Division) quality to it. First off, I want to say that one cannot be criticized for the voice he or she was born with. Not all of these male vocalists sound like Curtis, and those that happen to have that quality to their voice is by coincidence, genetics really. Second off, as for the artists who are trying to expand the genre (and not just rehash the same ole shit), they do not even sing like Curtis. Of course, comparisons are always going to be made; it is part of human nature – we tend to understand things by comparison. But do not allow generalized, somewhat unfounded comparisons/opinions taint your expectations of these bands. Unlike their forefathers, there is a greater range is style, influence, and themes for their lyrics. Unlike their forefathers, they got to experience listening to original wave artists find new genres and continue to defy the concept of genre and marketability. Like their forefathers, they make no apologies for their music, but unlike their forefathers they are openly competing on pop charts, not content with bringing their music to a smaller scene. Instead, they are going global; they are rising to the status of pop icons, and all the time doing it on their own terms. And that, in a way, is the greatest tipping of the hat to their influences: taking a concept as abstract as post-punk non-conformity and making it mainstream. But of course, that only means it is only a question of time before the revival dies out, and these musicians continue to challenge musical ideology in another way. The great thing that history has taught us about post-punk is that it is always going to morph and then re-emerge.

We have reviewed quite a few post-punk revivalists (or at least somehow associated with the movement) here on SlowdiveMusic already. Here is a list if you are interested in some older reviews: The Horrors, Maccabees, Maximo Park, Metric, The Legends, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, White Lies, White Rabbits, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Bloc Party: “Silent Alarm” (2005)

Bloc Party is not an easy band to label or put your finger on, because they draw so many different influences from so many different quarters in music and time periods it creates a very unique sound. However, as far as post-punk goes, it is obvious that they have heard their Cure and Joy Division – but do I hear some Pixies and Killing Joke in there once in a while? And where did the band form? At the premier rock festival: Reading! Just imagine being at the premier festival, 1999 (on the line up: Blur, the Charlatans, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers), bumping into an old friend, and saying, “Yo, that could be us.” And the rest is pretty much history.

Why is this a must? Because it is different. From the vocal styles to many of the arrangements, Bloc Party from the start offered something distinct, something almost difficult to call rehash. “Silent Alarm” may not be thematically cohesive, but all of the songs are tight. Whether it is the 80’s esque single “Banquet” or dream pop feel of “So Here We Are,” the band moves through this album with fluidic ease. The opening track, “Like Eating Glass,” has that stream of consciousness post-punk rockers loved to utilize: “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep; I can’t sleep, I can’t dream; an aversion to light, got a fear of the ocean, like drinking poison, like eating glass.” And though these songs are structured around the typical repetitive bass and drums of post-punk, the “driving” quality and the multi-textured arrangements are enviable. More so than any post-punk revival album before this one, “Silent Alarm” took this genre to a totally new level.

Track Listing:
1. Like Eating Glass
2. Helicopter
3. Positive Tension
4. Banquet
5. Blue Light
6. She’s Hearing Voices
7. This Modern Love
8. Pioneers
9. Price of Gas
10. So Here We Are
11. Luno
12. Plans
13. Compliments

Keep up with Bloc Party at their homepage and MySpace.

Here are their videos for “Pioneers” and “So Here We Are” from their YouTube Channel: blocpartyofficial.

Chromatics: “Night Drive” (2007)

Out of Portland, Oregon, Ruth Radalet fronts this trio. Rock ‘n roll has predominately been a big boys club, but following in the vein of Siouxsie Sioux, this band brings a feminine touch post-punk revival in much the same way that Metric and Yeah Yeah Yeahs do. It is not frilly or vulnerable or pining, but rather it has an ethereal quality that drives home some of the most powerful lyrics and ingenious arrangements. Some may ask why I would include a lesser-known band on this list; the answer is simple: The Chromatics accomplish something that the others do not. More so than the other bands, they have the ingenuity of sticking faithfully to an older esthetic mindset, yet producing fresh, modern, relevant music.

Why is it a must? Well, the eerie cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” for starters. If anyone wondered what this sound would sound like with a gothic edge, you need to look no further. But the originals are more interesting. The titular track, “Night Drive,” is sensual in the same way Cocteau Twins were in the 80s. The calmness of “Tomorrow Is So Far Away” is mesmerizing. “Healer” has an epic-feel to it, though it falls short of four minutes. Then there is the radio-ready, instrumental “Let’s Make This a Moment to Remember.” Instrumental music is lost on many bands these days; rarely do bands these days experiment with the format. But this is a beautiful song, perhaps the most beautiful on the album.

Track Listing:
1. The Telephone Call
2. Night Drive
3. I Want Your Love
4. Running Up That Hill
5. The Killing Spree
6. Healer
7. Mask
8. Tomorrow Is So Far Away
9. Let’s Make This a Moment to Remember
10. Tick of the Clock

Keep up with Chromatics on MySpace.

Editors: “An End Has a Start” (2007)

Based out of Birmingham, this quartet has taken Britain and Europe by surprise. Drawing influence from both the past (Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure) and the present (the Stokes, the Walkmen), these boys are all about adding a vibrant, fresh air to gloomy, despair filled music. Their greatest ode to the past may have been their cover of “Lullaby,” but their eyes are on the future. With an anticipated album later this year, the band will be taking a new direction in their music. The question remains just how drastic of a new direction it will be? As drastic as “Pornography” to “Japanese Whispers”? I mean, they did say they would be using more synths.

Why is this a must? This is no sophomore slump! Actually, this is one of those rare occurrences when the sophomore effort overshadows the debut. Instead of giving you my take, I am going to quote thevenhunter on Playlouder: “…this album is fucking brilliant – it made me want to cut my hair, paint my ceiling, fuck the postman and burn the disco down. So I did. Then I curled up in a corner, cried, and shat myself.” Enough said? No. Though the album as a whole is an amazing roller coaster ride, the individual songs are gripping and forceful. For instance “Bones” (“In the end all you can hope for, is the love you felt to equal the pain you’ve gone through…”), driven by bass and drum, is an example of great in-your-face music that makes you want to dance, slam, jump, something… though you realize it is to the dreariest of lyrics. The opening track, “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors,” is one of the most beautifully arranged songs of all time. The song lulls you into a false sense of serenity and familiarity, which is belied by haunting words sung: “We’ve all changed from what we were, our broken parts smashed on the floor.”

Track Listing:
1. Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors
2. An End Has a Start
3. The Weight of the World
4. Bones
5. When Anger Shows
6. The Racing Rats
7. Push Your Head Towards the Air
8. Escape the Nest
9. Spiders
10. Well Worn Hand
11. A Thousand Pieces – iTunes / Japanese edition
12. Open Up – Japanese edition

Keep up with the Editors at their homepage and MySpace.

Interpol: “Turn on the Bright Lights” (2002)

Arguably one of the leaders of both the New York City (Brooklyn) and post-punk revival music scenes, Interpol is one of those American bands that have found more success and acceptance in Europe than the USA (their latest album, “Our Love to Admire” (2007) reached #2 in the UK, #1 in Ireland, and top 10 in seven other countries). Combining pastiche, sophistication, and a sort of New York detachment, Interpol brings a dreamy, dark sound and overwhelming emotional undertow with their sonic harmonies. This is a band of musicians, where the emphasis is always on the music and not production. Straightforward recording, no production or technology glitz, and heart-felt vocals, Interpol delivers sleek music that is relevant, thriving, and infectious.

Why is it a must? The first time I heard “Untitled,” the opening song with haunting guitars, the sadness in the bass, and a beat to drown passively to, I was in love. But that is only the beginning of a journey though a sonic nightmare of luscious music. On their debut album, Interpol does not shy away from delivering some of the darkest music. “PDA” (easily my favorite on the album) is a sinister tongue-in-cheek number (“Yours is the only version of my desertion that I could ever subscribe to… you’re so cute when you’re frustrated…”), while the young Interpol takes a success stab at epics with “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” and “The New.”

Track Listing:
1. Untitled
2. Obstacle 1
3. NYC
4. PDA
5. Say Hello the Angels
6. Hands Away
7. Obstacle 2
8. Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down
9. Roland
10. The New
11. Leif Erikson

Keep up with Interpol at their homepage and MySpace.

The Killers: “Hot Fuss” (2004)

Poker and hookers, and the Killers of course… out of Las Vegas, they took the music scene by surprise with their sleeper hit “Somebody Told Me.” The band formed by a twist of fate. Brandon Flowers’ (vocalist, keyboardist) former band dumped him when they moved to Los Angeles and he remained in Vegas. (I wonder how much regret they have in that move now?) After meeting the other three members of the band (Dave Keuning, Mark Stoermer, and Ronnie Vannucci, Jr.), they would eventually sign a record contract with a British record label. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the Killers can always been seen playing European concert and festival dates.

Why is it a must? Let me admit it right off – my favorite track is “Somebody Told Me.” Come on, that line – “Well somebody told me you had a boyfriend, who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year…” – is fucking hilarious. Not to mention that musically the song is solid, bringing a real new wave feel to traditional post-punk. But the one track that really yanks my chord is “Midnight Show.” The driving guitar and bass, the pounding drums, and that eerie synth sound in the background is near orgasmic. And every time Flowers sings, “Drive faster,” and the music kicks in, it has an amazing visceral effect on me. (I have been stopped by cops driving faster to this track.)

Track Listing:
1. Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
2. Mr. Brightside
3. Smile Like You Mean It
4. Somebody Told Me
5. All These Things That I’ve Done
6. Andy, You’re a Star
7. On Top
8. Change Your Mind
9. Believe Me Natalie
10. Midnight Show
11. Everything Will Be Alright

Keep up with the Killers at their homepage and MySpace.

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