Crossfader’s Post-Punk Primer
Wouldn’t you love to be able to have a comprehensive, balanced conversation on the pros and cons of whatever obscure genre some pretentious dude brings up at a party? Wouldn’t it be so satisfying to wipe the smug look off his face as you obliterate his surface level appreciation of a complex musical movement? Luckily, you’ve got the Crossfader music staff here to submerge you ankles deep in a glorious musical baptism of genres, subgenres, and sub-subgenres, so you may emerge from our murky waters purified with the radiant joys of musical enlightenment. Make that dude look like an ass-clown and give yourself the gift of some truly rad records with our Musical Primers.
Post-punk is essentially punk rock’s haughty, cerebral cousin who’s triple majoring in Anthropology, Philosophy, and Critical Theory. With a thesis in the works on the perpetuity of social alienation and commodity fetishism, post-punk’s mission is to broadcast every major modernist motif and technique via melodic medium. Punk was waning after the split of the Sex Pistols in ‘78; the scene had become commercialized and prosaic. The Ramones gave currency to leather jackets, slimy hair, and aloof pretension ‒ initiating the abolishment of pre-established 1950s/60s rock styles in favor of digressive meditations on various modernist philosophies and critical theories. Conniving and cynical, post-punk’s introversion allows for great experimentation and journeys into the realms of non-rock musical styles such as electronic, dub, calypso, jazz, and (dare I say) disco. I think I really fell into post-punk after realizing I couldn’t truly make contact with a more aggressive, extroverted hardcore mindset. So for those not truly wired to mosh with pit-kids, here’s a genre that taps into those constructive cranial regions and nurtures your brooding head bobs/David Byrne body twitching.
The Pop Group – Y
Favorite Tracks: “She Is Beyond Good And Evil,” “Savage Sea,” “The Boys From Brazil”
These guys were the pioneers of post-punk, and their debut album Y is a great place to start when digging through the trove of late 70s Brit iconoclasts. This album has all the trimmings of a mutant punk album; hunks of beat poetry layered on top of a carnivorous mashup of free jazz, dub, and avant-garde attempt to mystify listeners with new forms of sounds that gave publicity to musical inventiveness and melodic moxie. Instrumental jams such as “The Boys From Brazil” feature Bauhaus vocal goth-ness, funky bass hooks, erratic violin, and tribalesque meandering. Y is a denigrating assemblage of sounds reminiscent of a concurrent art museum installment, open to endless interpretation . This record has been cited as an influence by acts like the Minutemen, Sonic Youth, and Nick Cave, and one listen is enough to make this very apparent.
Suicide – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “Ghost Rider,” “Frankie Teardrop,” “Rocket USA”
The godfathers of industrial electronic, noise, techno, and ambient music, Suicide’s Martin Vega and Martin Rev set out to rattle the post-punk scene with a motivated pairing of recurring/primitive drum machines and confrontational live performances. Their debut album SUICIDE steered the punk genre way south. While the ambient tycoons stuck to classic punk tendencies such as simple melodic riffs, Vega’s neurotic vocal murmurs were set against a spine-chilling electronic backdrop that pulsed with prolonged zealousness. “Frankie Teardrop” is an 11-minute jam that’s been written off as a haunting proto-punk ballad meant to be listened to once and never listened to again. On account of their nervy-synth predilections during the height of classic Brit Punk, Vega and Rev failed to turn listeners onto their contemptuous and indulgent musical prose, but served as the provocative electro gurus for legendary industrial outfits such as NIN, Massive Attack, and Ultravox.
Devo – Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO!
Favorite Tracks: “Too Much Paranoias,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Sloppy (I Say My Baby Gettin’)”
Before these Ohio boys zapped into the mainstream world sporting their red zigguratic hats and yielding their whips, DEVO enthusiastically debuted their kitschy, de-evolutionist spin on punk-rock with their Brian Eno produced album ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO! The album instantly lassoed a cult following of listeners enthralled by unruly discordant pop songs that bashed hard on American commodity, campy sci-fi, and factory-fare. Devo’s surrealist sense of humor gave way to an intoxicating alternative pop album layered with cryptic lyrics that confronted human regression. It’s one of the most effective displays of musical satire, mainly because sprightly jams such as “Uncontrollable Urge,” beguile listeners into an uncontrollable frenzy. The guitar riffs are frenetic, yet calculated, and the outfit’s bizarro aesthetic is driven by the de-evolutionist Rev. BH Shadduck (PhD!), who published his wild anti-evolution booklet JOCKO-HOMO HEAVENBOund in 1924.
Nina Hagen – NUNSEXMONKROCK
Favorite Tracks: “African Reggae,” “Iki Maska,” “Born in Xixax”
German post-punk/avant-garde goddess Nina Hagen (and the OG Jareth, the Goblin King from Labyrinth) took the German New Wave music scene by storm with her stupefying mix of operatic vocal stylings, synth-reggae beats, and high-faluting disco-punk melodies. Hagen’s unsung solo masterpiece NUNSEXMONKROCK is an unholy trove of demonic, theatrical ballads that are extremely jammable once you get past its initial shock value. It’s an amazingly well-mixed studio album, and the professional foundation allows for Hagen and her band of European weirdos to experiment with capricious vocal folds. “Born In Xixax” is a jazzy rock-filled tune punctured by Hagen’s haunting Germanesque growls and howls. Punctured and spiky, it’s an amazing mixture of German austerity and eastern mystique .
The Fall – THIS NATION’S SAVING GRACE
Favorite Tracks: “I Am Damo Sasuki,” “Spoilt Victorian Child,” “L.A.”
Prolific post-punkers The Fall have been churning out albums since their debut in 1976, amassing a 31 album anthology as of last year. The brainchild of Manchester, England born Mark E. Smith, The Fall are known for their abrasive, guitar-heavy sound packed with cryptic lyrical play and a general misanthropic tone. Smith birthed the darkwave/goth branch of the post-punk movement with his HP Lovecraft inspired lyrics, coupled with a garage rock recording style that brought some more grit into the post-punk movement. THIS NATION’S SAVING GRACE is an excellent example of The Fall’s distinct sound that combines posh Anglo airs with spunky, grizzly riffs reminiscent of proto-punkers The Stooges and The Monks.
The Birthday Party – JUNKYARD
Favorite Tracks: “Release the Bats,” “She’s Hit,” “Junkyard”
The Birthday Party heightened the post-punk movement with their heavily abrasive cabaret ballads fronted by gothic superstar vocalist Nick Cave and his trying stories of perversity, religion, and savagery. Ripping through a pile of non-rock influences such as blues and rockabilly, JUNKYARD smears some barbarism with some powerful bass riffs courtesy of emo-cowboy/bassist Tracey Pew. “Release The Bats” is an unrelenting, discordant post-punk masterpiece, complete with rousing growling, macabre mentions of sex vampires, bluesy bass riffs, and screeching guitar licks. Frenetic and expressionist, there is a contemptuous nature to the structure of album, which while well-rehearsed, erupts in fits of chaotic rage. JUNKYARD is a scuzzy exorcism worth checking out.
Pylon – GYRATE
Favorite Tracks: “Cool,” “Stop It”
Pylon’s abrasive jangle-pop sensibilities earn them a essential slot in the post-punk primer. Falling under the radar of fellow Georgians the B52’s, Pylon were the leaders of the southern alt-rock underground. Helmed by art students who were devout fans of Talking Heads and Television, Pylon’s pugnacious melodies were paired with female vocalist Vanessa Briscoe’s characteristic yelping that punctured the outfit’s underground bouncy assemblage of boingy bass, snappy drum beats, and chirping guitar plucks. Pylon’s musicianship is not as pristine and skilled, adding a more primitive flair that matches post-punk’s discordant sensibilities. “Cool” oozes with cool, thanks to Vanessa’s uncompromising voice that makes every femme post-punker jealous.
Killing Joke – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “Requiem,” “The Wait,” “Complications”
Laying hard on the doom and gloom, Killing Joke’s debut self-titled KILLING JOKE is a quicker paced post-punk launch complete with more nuanced drumming and an emphasis on heavy guitar. Opening track “Requiem” combines noisy electronic alarms with metal guitar riffs and trademark misanthropic vocals. Killing Joke’s crisper recordings allowed them to churn out darker but danceable singles. Bouncing from primitive punk to danceable new wave, then to inflammatory heavy metal, the band’s erratic musical stylings are far from self-serious and borrow attitudes, words, and gestures from absurdism and dada. KILLING JOKE is an album that cast away post-punk’s austerity and gave way to the many derivatives of the genre.
A Place to Bury Strangers – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “I Know I’ll See You,” “Missing You”
A Place to Bury Strangers heralded the sonic assault of the post-punk revivalist movement. Genuinely pairing 21st century indie-rock and 90s shoegaze with atmospheric darkwave, A Place To Bury Strangers debuted their heavier and experimental spin on the sonic rock stylings of The Brian Jonestown Massacre with an album that revolutionized guitar effects and overturned the fuzz pedal on a ground-breaking level. Their self-titled debut is a beautiful homage to the despondent vocals stylings of aforementioned Mark E. Smith of The Fall and the skywave aesthetics of New Order and My Bloody Valentine. “I Know I’ll See You” features tumultuous shifts in pitch and tempos, and its broad range of murky noise explosions and programmed drum loops are post-punk to their very core.
iceage – NEW BRIGADE
Favorite Tracks: “Broken Bone,” “You’re Blessed,” “White Rune”
Danish youngsters iceage took the post-punk world by storm with their heavily aggressive yet romantic Scandinavian spin on the genre. Vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s mixing of atmospheric goth, temperamental hardcore, and post-punk reverberations is as tormenting as it is charming. NEW BRIGADE is the hyper offspring of classic post-punk, the brainchild of tech-saturated millennials who have Jackson-Pollocked jazzy drum snares, Nick Cave vocal snarling, and unfiltered stutters into brief songs that are stellar, Nordic nods to early Joy Division. “Broken Bone” does a rad job in reigniting the essence of the burgeoning period in which punk was originally tampered with.