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Essential Post-Punk and Revival Albums

Post-Punk is a broad genre of rock music that emerged in the late 1970s as artists departed from the raw simplicity and traditionalism of punk rock, instead adopting a variety of avant-garde sensibilities and non-rock influences.Post-punk, quite literally meaning “after punk,” marks where the first chapter of punk ended and a more artful approach began – and that’s not to say that punk isn’t art. It so clearly is. The early post-punk vanguard was represented by groups including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, Public Image Ltd, the Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire, Magazine, Pere Ubu, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Devo, Gang of Four, the Slits, the Cure, and the Fall. By the mid-1980s, post-punk had dissipated, but it provided a foundation for alternative rock and indie rock genres. Emerging in the late-1970s and thriving into the mid-’80s, post-punk took musical cues from R&B, jazz, dub and reggae, disco, and pop; the genre gave birth to goth, synth-pop, new wave, art rock, grunge, dance-punk. It enjoyed a resurgence in the early-2000s, becoming the sound of another disaffected generation dreaming of more. Its influence continues to colour the noise of today, and we’d be unsurprised if it came back strong in the next decade.If that does happen, you’ll want to know your ABCs. Here are some of the most foundational records of the post-punk movement, from its earliest days to the post-punk revival.


Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

Beloved as a crowning achievement in post-punk and often credited as the root of goth, Joy Division’s debut album is so much more than an omnipresent T-shirt design. The Manchester band formed in direct response to a Sex Pistols concert that members Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook had attended (if you haven’t read about the June 1976 show at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, you really should). Their style was just as raw but moved like molasses on mud.

Marked by excessive use of delays and modulators, echoing drums, front-and-center bass, and far-away lead guitars, Joy Division’s sound was all at once morose and demanding. “Disorder,” “She’s Lost Control,” and “Shadowplay,” are driving and even funky, while “Candidate” and “I Remember Nothing” hang loose like the sallow skin of a junky in a dirty hall. Ian Curtis’ depressed baritone floats throughout. Singing of disaffected alienation, he grabs at bursts of angst as he meanders through the dark, industrial moods. If you’re a fan of The Velvet Underground, you’ll like Joy Division.

The band was keen on experimenting, weaving in the sounds of smashing bottles and backward guitar, someone eating chips, and even a toilet. Just as striking as the noise one does hear is the noise one does not. The album, produced by Martin Hannett, is undeniably heavy, yet there is space and atmosphere. It often feels as if the brooding bass and lurching drums are the only physical element for miles. It’s tense and uncomfortable in a way that punk’s high-energy brashness could never attain. It’s tough, biting, and smart, the kind of album that grips you by the shoulders and turns you toward a new sonic universe.

Unfortunately, the despair of the record was not without its real-life hinge, and Curtis took his own life a year after the album’s release. He’d long suffered from epilepsy and depression, and Joy Division released the band’s sophomore LP, Closer, without him. 


Joy Division – Closer (1980)

Closer is the second and final studio album by English rock band Joy Division, released on 18 July 1980 by Factory Records. Produced by Martin Hannett, it was released two months after the suicide of the band's lead singer and lyricist Ian CurtisCloser was named NME Album of the Year. 

Today, Closer is widely recognised as a seminal release of the post-punk era. Following the release of the non-album single "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in June 1980, the remaining members re-formed as New Order.

"...Closer was a quantum leap from Unknown Pleasures, and sounded unlike anything else.

Guitar tracks such as Colony and A Means to an End sounded angular, brutal and unforgiving, almost chilling in their terrifying beauty. But then the deceptively perky Isolation was mutated disco, which pointed the way towards electro-pop and the surviving members' regroup as New Order. 24 Hours, where Peter Hook's mournful bass intro leads into a guitar-raging whirlpool, is still the definitive Joy Division anthem.

Then there's the spectral serenity of the synthesiser tracks, truly emotional music made with machines. The whiplash drumbeat and haunting, sub-bass shadows of Heart and Soul; the almost classical serenity of the piano-led, funereal The Eternal; the awesome Decades, Curtis gazing sorrowfully at human suffering and warfare's "doors of hell's darker chambers", burdened by insights and events far beyond his years and his voice almost ghostly, a one-time punk with a new, Frank Sinatra-like croon".

(Dave Simpson - The Guardian 2011) 

You may also be interested in:
New Order - Republic
New Order - Technique
New Order - Power, Corruption & Lies
New Order - Ceremony

Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979)

Gang Of Four ‎– Entertainment!

Jumping back into the jauntier side of things, Gang of Four came straight out of Leeds with one of the most powerful post-punk punches in the genre’s annals. Entertainment! packs 12 tunes into 40 minutes, grappling with everything from capitalism to terrorism, sex, poverty, resource wars, and feminism. Equal parts funky bassline and screaming electric guitar, it’s a full-throttle, left-of-centre, dance-rock bomb that spurts melodies with distant cool.

The accompanying album art wore the band’s politics on its sleeve, depicting a Native American shaking hands with a cowboy and winding text that reads: “The Indian smiles, he thinks that the cowboy is his friend. The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled. Now he can exploit him.” On the back is a nuclear family. The father says “I spend most of our money on myself so that I can stay fat,” while the mother and children are shown saying, “We’re grateful for his leftovers.”

Angst-ridden as it is, Entertainment! is another record that reeks of fun and energy. With “I Found That Essence Rare,” “Natural’s Not In It,” “Damaged Goods” and the rest, dancing is a revolutionary act. The hooks often devolve into riotous noise, capturing the slow and ever-present descent into insanity that is the modern condition, and just when you think you can’t take anymore, it erupts in a volcanic release. It’s an absolute listen from start to finish and a great primer for post-punk and funk-rock alike.

There had been considerable tumult in the Banshees' camp between the release of 1982's 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' and 1984's 'Hyaena'. Guitarist John McGeogh had been sacked; Robert Smith had replaced him on a long-term loan, and after a year of group solo projects (The Creatures and The Glove), Smith wanted to mark his time in the studio with Siouxsie. The resulting single Dear Prudence, became their biggest UK hit in late 1983.

Hyaena, the sole studio album this line-up recorded together, was released in 1984, just after Smith had left to return to the Cure full time.It is swirling, complex and frequently enchanting.

Traditionally an album that has split the audience, it bridges the gap between the raga-like material on JuJu and their later, high-gothic period. The lyrics are suitably bleak – 'a dead sea of fluid mercury' (Dazzle); 'from the fury pit, a reek of misery' (Pointing Bone); 'eat me, feed me, with your belching, foul breath' (We Hunger) - and ably demonstrate the underbelly of pop at the time of Wham! and Nik Kershaw.

With Budgie and Steve Severin playing like their life depended on it, and Siouxsie enchanting with the appropriate air of need and detached drama. It is the Banshees psychedelia running riot. There are sufficient theatrics and spills that make it akin to a thriller hanging on its final twist.

This new remaster, bonus material and suitably ornate notes from Paul Morley make this another exemplary addition to Banshees' reissue series, demonstrating the regard in which they still hold their audience.

(Daryl Easlea - BBC Music - 2009)

You may also be interested in:
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Tinderbox
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Peepshow
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Through The Looking Glass

Seventeen Seconds is a perfect example of the kind of record that's been subdivided out of existence-- a lying-in-bed-dreaming record, a guitar record that makes no distinction between pop pulse, rock catharsis, and the atmospheric space we now mostly get from computers. With this album, it's all three at once-- all the austere, spooky grace of Robert Smith's Asian-art fixations gathering up to inhabit a clean, minimalist new-wave package. Album-accounting types might get antsy over how many of these tracks are about building mood, slinking along as the exact opposite of today's amaze-me-now aesthetics. But even the shiftiest of iPod types, buried beneath the covers some morning, will remember that an album like this doesn't work any other way. The sound is like a bare room with four guys in black occupying just enough space to let you wander on your own, and when they stop slinking around and let the pop move-- see "Play for Today"-- they do it with incredible elegance, winking and posing from behind the smoke machine.

(Nitsuh Abebe - Pitchfork 2005)

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The Psychedelic Furs - The Psychedelic Furs (1980)

Emerging from the incipient post-punk London scene with a healthy fascination for late-'70s Bowie (and in turn, for his own attraction to Krautrock), the then-sextet kicked up a slightly monochromatic but still attractive storm on their debut. Richard Butler's Thin-White-Duke-after-smoking vocal rasp has a surprising appeal, serving up a wry, slightly detached series of lyrics on life. The members of the core band, meanwhile, had clearly honed their chops well on-stage; Ashton's lead guitar work avoids simplicity and favours a balanced, artistic power. Production mainly comes from Steve Lillywhite. "India" has a brooding, quiet beginning with strange telegraphic signals and turns into a brawling rocker. The record comes off as serious without being self-consciously deep, occasional toe-dipping into humorous aside ("We Love You" has Butler idly listing off things he loves, sometimes with appropriate if sarcastically delivered song quotes: "I'm in love with Frank Sinatra...fly me to the moon..."). "Imitation of Christ" is the most frazzled, with lyrics detailing someone else metaphorically nailing himself up over a light but still strange guitar line. "Wedding Song" is amusingly prescient as one of the first "white rockers go hip-hop" numbers of its kind, though its inspiration could equally be dub. Ely lays down a pounding funk beat while Butler breaks into a mid-song rap no better or worse than most such efforts of the time.

(Ned Raggett - Allmusic.com)


The Psychedelic Furs - Talk Talk Talk (1981)

This time working solely with Steve Lillywhite, the Furs introduce a brighter, poppier side to their underground rock edge, with smashing results throughout. The group produces some powerful songs, even more rough-edged than before. Especially striking is "Dumb Waiters," with its queasy, slow-paced arrangement that allows both Kilburn's sax and Ashton's guitar to go wild. However, the six still create some undeniable pop classics. Most well-known is the lead track, "Pretty in Pink," inspiration for the iconic John Hughes film years later and re-recorded as a result. The original is still where to go, though, with Butler's catchy description of a romantically unsure woman matched by a killer band performance. Similarly lighter numbers on the record call to mind a rockier version of Roxy Music's output in later years: elegant, romantic angst given a slightly rougher edge in both music and vocals. "She Is Mine" is especially fine as a gently swinging number with some of Butler's best, quietly ruminative lyrics. Straight-up anthems abound as well, the best being the amazing "Into You Like a Train," which mixes the blunt desire of the title with a sparkling Ashton guitar line and a fast rhythm punch. Talk Talk Talk ends on another high with "All of This and Nothing." A soft, acoustic guitar-sax-rhythm combination introduces the song, then fades away for the main section to begin; Butler details bits and pieces from a lost relationship over a sharp full-band performance, and a final drum smash leads into a reprise of the start -- a fine way to end a fine record.

(Ned Raggett - Allmusic.com)


The Wedding Present - Bizarro (1989)


The Wedding Present's second proper studio album, Bizarro cut down a bit on the frenetic jangle the band was known for in its early days and replaced it with healthy doses of darkness and power. Adding some fuzzy, crunchy distortion to give the guitars some hefty impact, slowing the tempos down to speeds that allow vocalist David Gedge to squeeze more heartbroken despair and bleak sarcasm out of every line, and generally upping their game in every way, the album is the fullest realization of the Wedding Present's sound yet. Leading off with the unstoppably hooky "Brassneck," which features a brilliant Gedge reading of lines that rhyme "grow up" and "throw up," the album plays like a collection of thematically related singles. The most single-y among them is "Kennedy," which has some brilliant singalong lyrics and an intensely dramatic guitar strum buildup that crescendos into a maelstrom of sound. The rest of the record isn't far behind; whether it's the sparse "What Have I Said Now?" or the slowly grinding "Bewitched," one could extract any song and it would feel like a highlight -- even the epic-length "Take Me!," which closes the album in a fury of strums, drum fills, and chugging bass that builds and builds until it seems like the song is going to levitate and take the listener right along with it. The Wedding Present didn't necessarily need to improve their already winning template, but they did and it pays off big time on Bizarro.

(Tim Sendra - Allmusic.com)

You may also be interested in:
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The Clash - Sandinista! (1980)


By 1980 drummer Topper Headon was a heroin and cocaine addict and Paul Simonon had always had a lacklustre rep as a bassist. But the proof on Sandinista! suggests the opposite. Simonon's love for reggae was in full bloom, and freed from the restrictive nature of punk Headon had become one of the finest drummers of the era. This is why the best songs on the album are lead by the pair, and either reggae or disco orientated. When people say that Sandinista! would have been killer as a single album, what they never go on to say (but should) is that it would have been a killer single reggae album. With the help of advisors Mikey Dread and Don Letts, they had nailed down tight what they'd failed to capture on previous attempts such as Bankrobber and Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves; lumpen songs at best carried along by charisma and hook-like melodies. Here, Junco Partner and The Equaliser are much more assured rock-steady skanks. 

 (John Doran - BBC Music)

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Talking Heads - Speaking In Tongues (1983)


On their fifth album, Speaking in Tongues, Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison indulge their unusual, gamboling whims within solid walls. The record brought along the spry, Afrobeat-inspired polyrhythms and funk saunter of 1980’s Remain in Light while adding in new wave’s synths and the sharp, physical precision of Byrne’s 1981 score for Twyla Tharp’s dance piece The Catherine Wheel; there are also glimmers of the neon pop cheer of Weymouth and Frantz’s side project Tom Tom Club. Together, this inky passport of sounds yields an album that, besides smoothly mixing art-rock with funk with pop, feels meticulously mapped for the collective yet informed by the movements of the individuals.

Even for an album titled after communication—nodding to both glossolalia and Byrne’s famously garbled scatting in recording sessions—Speaking in Tongues is singularly immediate and direct. In each song, one concept—one saucy bass-and-piano walking line, one ricocheting keyboard line, one heavily shouted pyromaniac refrain—repeats into an insistent foundation, so emphatic it begins to burrow into a trancelike state befitting the album name. Choruses are evolutions of verses, of ideas that have repeated enough to feel lived-in. Weymouth’s funk bass, the unsung star of the album, is never far from the foreground.

This rigid framework throughout allows the rest of the instrumentation to cavort above it: A jubilant momentum rises throughout “Girlfriend Is Better,” but its base—a sauntering line from Weymouth, sci-fi synth radiation from guest Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic—is set quickly. This bedrock allows for Byrne’s hoarse, scattered shouting to reach velocity above while still feeling controlled. “Pull Up the Roots” flirts with disco as it rides a tight rhythm section that feels a shade too hectic for dancing; the bass bounce starts at a gallop and the guitar backflips around it. “Burning Down the House,” Speaking in Tongue’s biggest hit—and the only Top 10 single in Talking Heads’ entire catalog—starts with a literal scream from Byrne, and has no clear markers between verse and chorus: It is a full stampede to the howled refrain, an explosion buoyed by such a perky trajectory, it sneakily exculpates some the most insurgently unglued lyrics to ever crack the Billboard charts. (“People on their way to work and baby what did you expect?/Gonna burst into flame!” is some dark, dark weather.)

Byrne’s lyrics have been deemed inscrutable art-school fare by many, minimized as Mad Libs sold as gospel; in fact, as Speaking in Tongues proves definitively, they are is the opposite. Byrne sings like a kindergarten teacher, or a Rosetta Stone language bot: in plainspoken, short observations that make sense individually, yet sequence into a mystifying dialogue. On “Moon Rocks,” when Byrne seems to scoff at alien intelligence—“Flying saucers, levitation/Yo I could do that!”—and follows it up a hair’s-breadth later with a liberal arts pep talk—"So take your hands out of your pockets/And get your face adjusted”—these are perfectly intelligible thoughts, individually. On “Slippery People,” Byrne and sensational guest vocalist Nona Hendryx offer a strange sort of gospel proselytizing—"Turn like a wheel, he’s alright/See for yourself, the Lord won’t mind,” a millisecond before sharing stark memories of cold bathtub water­—over a merry funk pulse and scratchy, uber-’80s synths.

(Stacey Anderson - Pichfork)

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Veruca Salt - IV (2006)

Surprisingly tough and vicious, Veruca Salt's fourth album -- appropriately and simply titled IV -- is the record Louise Post attempted to make with 2000's Resolver, the album where she took control of the group after Nina Gordon's departure. At that point in time, Post's adherence to alt-rock conventions made Resolver seem a little stale and turgid, but it also didn't help that she recorded it in the aftermath of considerable emotional turmoil; the record reflected that upheaval, but not necessarily in compelling ways, since it often seemed messy and unfocused. Conversely, IV doesn't arrive with a dramatic backstory, but it packs considerably more drama on a sheer musical level. Post doesn't stray from Veruca Salt's strengths -- this is still the sound of mid-'90s alt-rock, equal parts heavy grunge and wistful, witchy pop -- but her band is tightly wound and hits hard, giving her songs a muscle they lacked last time around. Also, her writing is confident and catchy, whether she's writing rockers (which she does often) or ballads or songs that fall somewhere in between ("Blissful Queen" and "Salt Flat Epic," which truly does sprawl like an epic). IV may lack the humour and sexiness that made American Thighs so memorable, but a decade after Veruca Salt's heyday, Louise Post has gotten tougher and stronger, as this assured comeback proves, and in its own way, that's equally appealing. 

(Stephen Thomas Erlewine - Allmusic.com)


Sugar - Besides (1995)

Few bands released as many smokin' B-sides as Sugar, and here are 12 of those songs, plus some of the live versions and solo versions that also appeared on the EPs. If you've never heard such ashen cuts as "Mind Is an Island," "And You Tell Me," the live cover of the Who's "Armenia City in the Sky," and Barbe's "Anyone," you have them all served up on a single platter for you. It's fair to consider this a fourth Sugar LP, as without a doubt it is commensurate with the quality and greatness of the other three. The opening "Gift" alone is enough to stop the heart stone-still dead; Bob Mould's opening guitar squeals are so revved up you feel like someone put his amp against your ear. "Changes" is almost unrecognizable and takes on an entirely new dimension as a speed-burner. "Gee Angel" sounds as if the entire stage will explode at its rocket launch. "Going Home" seems twice the speed of the original, and twice as cruel too -- it feels like being thrown from a car! Barbe's McCartney-ish booming bass is the perfect, supple support. Drummer Malcolm Travis' thunder-slam of a snare drum and anvil-dropping 16th-note rolls are as devastating as a 400-pound weight dropped on your head, whipping so furiously. After 100 to 150 plays, this recording still captivates like the Kennedy-assassination Zapruder film, only the gore here is the broken down and painful human relationships that come spilling out of Mould's mouth and the viciousness of the band's tight playing and air raid attack.

(Jack Rabid - Allmusic.com)

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Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls (1980)

Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls is the debut album by post/punk icon Pauline Murray, co-produced by revered sonic architect Martin 'Zero' Hannett in 1980.

Recorded at the famous Strawberry Studios, the album offered 11 slices of modern electronic pop written by Pauline and partner Robert Blamire and marked a radical departure from their shared past in pioneering punk band Penetration. As well producer/arrangers Martin Hannett and Steve Hopkins (aka the Invisible Girls), the album features a stellar cast of guest musicians including John Maher (Buzzcocks) and Vini Reilly (Durutti Column). Indeed Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls presents almost as a Factory record, exquisitely sleeved by Peter Saville and Trevor Key.

Stand-out tracks include popular singles Dream Sequence and Mr X,  The vinyl version augments the album with singles, the Peel session, and an exclusive bonus CD of instrumental versions - a must for Hannett scholars!

"It's a bit of a missing link album," says Pauline today. "Written and recorded after punk, but before Martin Rushent and the Human League made airy pop respectable again. We chose the other Martin in 1980 because we wanted the incredible sounds he achieved for Joy Division and Magazine. Thundertunes, basically."


Fugazi - Instrument Soundtrack (1999)

Long the lodestar of credibility in punk, Fugazi has steadily chiseled a dogma and oeuvre over the last 12 years that arguably makes them the most important band of the '90s. But what they really want the public to know more than anything is that they have a sense of humour. In their massive documentary, Instrument, Fugazi shows up on an eighth- grade video- project talk show wearing leather jackets and knit caps, answering the questions of a thoroughly nervous teen with notecards and a suburban church dress. Later, drummer Brendan Canty shares with his bandmates how his sister's boyfriend believes the urban legand of Fugazi living in a house without heat and subsisting on a steady diet of nothing but rice. They all have a chuckle. It's understandable how this folklore has been spread, since Fugazi's records and performances are caustic, stern, and cathartic.

Yet Instrument Soundtrack, chock- a- block with demos and studio outtakes, sounds remarkably playful. Heavily instrumental, Instrument Soundtrack draws from the Red Medicine and End Hits sessions, their most eclectic and emotionally complex records. These versions decelerate. A haunted studio echo is infused throughout. For a hissing trip into dub, a watery reverb is thrown over the drum-track from "Arpeggiator." The skeletal Fugazi relies mainly on groovy rhythm from Joe Lally and Brendan Canty. Their masterful intercourse is the backbone of Fugazi. At moments, the songs de-evolve into rumbling live drum-n-bass tracks. Call it analogica. On second thought, don't.

A wonderfully surprising moment of the soundtrack is Ian McKaye's piano pop ditty, "I'm So Tired." Heart- breakingly beautiful (yes, beautiful), it shows that Fugazi have more talent than their genre can tolerate. Hopefully, the band will turn punk on punk itself and record more sweet pop songs.

Like the Washington Monument that graces the cover of In On the Kill Taker, Fugazi's music towers, massive and elegant, over all of their peers. And just as the Washington Monument currently stands in repair, covered in scaffolding and tarps while still maintaining impressive form and artistic statement, so too does Fugazi's music continue to inspire awe in its constructive state. For all those who worry that the Fugazi story may be coming to an end, both "Instrument" and its soundtrack show a band still growing and, in some ways, just getting started.

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Cabbage - Nihilistic Glamour Shots (2018)

The Mossley five-piece have nurtured their dark, industrial post-punk with a typically Northern grit and humour, and the result is exhilarating.

Dominated by anthemic choruses railing against a range of establishments and supposed norms, whether it be social responsibility (‘’Arms of Pleonexia’’), health (‘’Celebration of a Disease’’) or symbolic public events (‘’Reptiles State Funeral’’), Cabbage find their voices (shared between co-vocalists Lee Broadbent and Joe Martin) in questioning convention. This perspective isn’t only visible in their attacks; ‘’Perdurabo’’ delves into the life of Aleister Crowley and the occult, whereas ‘’Obligatory Castration’’ presents a time in the future where everyone from the Pope and doctors are subject to the chop.

This fascination with the damned is enforced with a fevered breadth of styles, from classic punk, such as on the opener ‘’Preach to the Converted’’, to dashes of post-punk, indie-punk and Parquet Courts/Fat White Family-esque garage (‘’Exhibit A’’). The result is a fascinating concoction of menace and intrigue. The odd mishap, such as the extended ending to ‘’Exhibit A’’, leaves a little to be desired, though by and large Cabbage produces a sound that marries the hostility on show beautifully.

Not as mourning as the drunken howls of Iceage and more biting than Shame’s riling observations, Nihilistic Glamour Shots is a disturbing and wholly invigorating release. It's a testament to a fascination with the corrupt and the abnormal.

(Ben Finch - TheLineOfBestFit.Com)

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