The Best Underrated Post-Punk Albums of the Decade

So as I consider myself a defender of Post-Punk (just as over at Honors Zombie I'm a defender of zombie movies to a largely unconvinced and haughty public, a professor of putrefaction, you might say. Or anyway that's how I think of it; the public has yet to really enter into the equation) I think it apt that I go back and put some of the decade's most assured and underrated post-punk albums into their much deserved spotlight. Ah, but what's post-punk even mean, you ask? Well, first off it's the term that applies to most of the music my friend Ken and I used to listen to at unreasonable volumes in our car and then would try to play in my basement when we both bought instruments. But that won't help you so let's say music influenced by the music made between David Bowie's Low and The Smiths' The Queen is Dead. First generation Post-Punk sounded typically like people trying to be David Bowie on his Berlin trilogy, largely because a lot of them were. Joy Division even asked their producer to replicate the drum sound on Low for their first EP (without access or knowledge of Brian Eno's Eventide Harmonizer they could only imitate it, but I digress). Bands like Gang of Four, Wire, New Order, Pere Ubu, The Fall, Talking Heads, Devo, The Residents, Josef K, R.E.M., Public Image Ltd. and my personal favorite Echo & The Bunnymen made a brand of minimalist, politically motivated, often danceable rock music. The typical set up was simple: bass, guitar, keyboard, drums and that was all you could hear. They eschewed the excesses of the previous decades progressive rock and the polished vocals of those who would come to be known as classic rock. They were indignant, had something constructive to say about art and social issues (though that message was often "Let's deconstruct this shit!"). The height of post-punk is, aside from today, my favorite period in modern musical history. There's nothing I love more than finding the influence of Human League or Violent Femmes in records released today. Occasionally, as in that laughable second album by The Shout Out Louds which sounds exactly like The Cure, bands go too far and sound like carbon copies of some of the best LPs of the time; Q And Not U for example sound too much like a Gang of Four cover band without the politics for me to listen to their records straight-through (apologies to Ken, Ben and guys liked those records, right?). The best of them synthesize their influences and make something unique. In fact some of them are so good that they're not on this list, but my best records of the decade list, like The Arcade Fire. Listen to those guys rock material from Funeral live today and you'll hear David Byrne in "Neighborhood #3", Robert Smith in "Rebellion" and David Bowie in "Crown of Love." To me, knowing where my favorite music comes from only enhances my enjoyment of it. Thus albums like Silent Alarm by Bloc Party are not just undeniably catchy, irascible and soulful but also literate and steeped in a crucial history they then carry on. They know what came before them and are paying tribute to them by reinventing the sound their heroes pioneered.

How To Plan Successful Parties
by The Dipers
Erin Sullivan is one of my favorite songwriters that no one's ever heard of. Here fronting the Dipers, a band composed of Lars Finberg on Bass, Dean Whitmore on drums and himself howling like a goddamn lunatic while destroying a guitar I can only imagine looks grungy as shit, they delivered rock that I'm tempted to say is the closest thing to The Velvet Underground we've gotten since John Cale departed in '69. How To Plan Succesful Parties, their only album to date and, at 7 songs and barely twenty minutes, seems like the work of people too obdurate to follow it up, was already a few years old by the time my friend Ken, who specialized in finding esoteric rock records, found it and put it in his car stereo while he and I drove around our town hollering approximations of the lyrics at squares and people who had the misfortune to have chosen to eat outside that night. It was something of a ritual for us but no trip was quite as spastic and raucous as the night he brought How To Plan Successful Parties for the first time. Like old school Rock'n'Roll played by some bunch of barely competent yet somehow expert teenagers while their lead singer turns into a werewolf, The Dipers were peerless for the few months they existed. Who else could boast a song whose lyrics were as crazy as "I am Voltron, I am Voltron, I Am Voltron, Watch Me Grow!"

Red Bedroom/In The City of Sleep
by The Fever

Come back with me to 2004 for a second. Back then all anyone could talk about were The Killers because of their professed 80s-ness yet no love was shown to The Fever who did the 80s thing without the glittery hangover the next morning or the lounge singer in your bed you had to explain to your mom. I liked the Killers until I bought their first album...then not so much. The Fever were unfortunately forgotten as one of the many sub-Interpol bands to come out of New York around the time that you couldn't swing a dead goddamn cat without hitting a band from New York. I was torn about which record I liked better, their jumpy debut Red Bedroom or their almost ridiculously Tom Waitsy follow-up In The City Of Sleep. Red Bedroom is like a party in your head and In The City of Sleep is like a macabre children's book reimagined by an excitable kid with a full orchestra behind him. The Fever broke up soon after City of Sleep so these are artifacts now, doomed to be underrated from now until doomsday but if you want a raucous good time remembering in a time when rotoscoping your music video was considered edgy but avoid all of the backlash that comes with it, for the love of god get your hands on these two records. The production is a flawless mocking of the stuff they (and I) love and the between the guitar/bass heroics of Keith Pony Stapleton and Chris Sanchez, the sweetly unnerving organ playing of J. Ruggerio and the selling point, Geremy Jasper's truly insane vocals (Isaac Brock + Peter Hayes, maybe. Luke Jenner x Howlin' Wolf?) they were able to turn many a car ride from trip to Trip. Listen to "The Secret," "Grey Ghost" or "Redhead" for a Devo-by-way-of-The Contortions good time. Seriously, these records are so much fun!

Siberia/The Fountain
by Echo & The Bunnymen

I love Echo & The Bunnymen. Let me try that again I LOVE ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN!!!! If my house were on fire....I'd save Echo & The Bunnymen. Anyway, I love their music and have always loved it. Porcupine has been in my top five albums since I first heard it, and Ocean Rain is a close second in their catalog. I saw them at the Black Cat in Washington D.C. in 2005 following the release of Siberia, their great if slightly vacant comeback record. Though for a few years I wondered if it really was a comeback record. I hoped it was because that show at the Black Cat remains one of the best I've ever seen. They tore through some of their best songs ("Over The Wall," "The Cutter," "Lips Like Suger") and some great new ones ("Scissors In the Sand," "Stormy Weather") with a weathered but still awe-inspiring ferocity. Then in 2008 who should show up in New York to play all of Ocean Rain with a ten-piece orchestra? That's right! I didn't mind paying the 70 bucks to get in because it topped their show at the Black Cat (it helped that their opener, Glasvegas, was incredible, too). I could live a hundred years after today and still not see anything quite so humbling as Echo & The Bunnymen playing "Ocean Rain" or "Thorn of Crowns" or "Nocturnal Me" with strings at Radio City. But more importantly with the performance came news of a new album. A year later The Fountain showed up and is easily the best thing they've released since their self-titled farewell album in 1986. It captures that same production sound and shows guitarist Will Sergeant at his most athletic and the band at their loudest and most assured since 1983. Sure it's not Porcupine but it kicks ass and when so few of their sonic godchildren live up to their potential, I'm happy to have Mac and Sergeant laying it down again. And without them, a lot of my favorite records probably wouldn't have been made.

Oh, Inverted World
by The Shins
These guys pretty quickly became the band that people made fun as your go-to for Indie music. Seth Rogen even makes fun of them in Pineapple Express (troublingly roping them in with Godspeed You! Black Emperor; the two are sort of mutually exclusive among die-hards of either camp). Anyway, I remember my friend Larissa telling me that she'd seen them before they got big (read: before Chutes Too Narrow and Garden State) and she said they reminded either her or her husband a touch of The Police, I can't remember. Add a dash of the Kinks, a pinch of R.E.M. and there you have it. Sweet, minimalist songs from someone no one had ever heard of who started quiet and then got loud and produced. I put money on them following the R.E.M. model and lasting two hundred years and a billion albums. Anyway I still say that Oh, Inverted World is their best record yet because it's the most consistent and isn't trying to break your heart or fill your ears with quirk. Like Murmur it sounds like four guys just doing their best and being themselves. The idea of Oh, Inverted World bringing these guys to fame probably seemed faintly ridiculous at the time but look at them now. But seriously I'm tempted to call the thing uneventful and I love it. It's just this unassuming pop record half-whispered by a nervous front man with a band who apparently turned their amps down. Take that boybands and nu metal! Where the fuck are you now Nick Carter? James Mercer's king of the goddamned Portland-based underworld mountain! The man made more magazine covers in 2007 alone than Staind will in its entire career! They were pretty much entirely responsible for Sub Pop's resurgence in the first half of the decade! I'm not a bitter man, I just get bothered when truly pathetic movements come along and whitewash years of great music with least common denominator lyrics and generic-as-shit music videos when all you need to make great music are some unassuming guys with some earnest songs.

You're A Woman, I'm A Machine
by Death From Above 1979
For a kid like me in 2005 Death From Above 1979 was how I imagined it was in the 80s to find that girl with the mohawk for the first time. She didn't want your affection but you followed her all over D.C. anyway trying to impress her. But she's all into being a free spirit and believes marriage is just another form of bourgeoise complacency, man. But she makes out with you after the Scream concert anyway, but then won't answer your letters and you can't call her cause she doesn't have a permanent address, this was before cellphones mind you....wait. Ok, so anyway here was this super sexy and loud and bass and drum record with these two Canadians screaming at you who you never got a good look at because they were constantly hidden behind scarves and looking at the floor. I like what Sebastian Grainger and Jesse Keeler are doing now, but DFA was and remains the shit (the kids still say that? No matter). Who else could be on Headbanger's Ball and still make kids dance at little clubs in New York? NO ONE, that's who! They also had easily the best record title of the year, too before pointedly ironic sentence long titles became the fashion and totally fucked everything up. 

by Grandaddy
I would have killed to see this band live after Sumday got released. This album is a truly wonderful trip to some depressing highway town, the kind of place you stop for gas on your way to pick up your kid from college, as Jason Lytle takes you through falling in love and finding friends over the course of a year. Because as much as he sings about the things he loves, you get the feeling that he's dreaming of bigger and better things. It reminds me of a Becket passage "Drowning in dreams and burning to be gone..."

by The Rapture
Ok, so if you heard this record...scratch that if you heard the song "House of Jealous Lovers" you knew whether The Rapture was for you. I saw them live at the Curiosa Festival with my friend Ken and loved every second of it. It helped that Muse, Mogwai, Interpol and the fucking Cure were also playing, but still, great time. Loud, brash, bouncing dance-rock from New York. Add to that Luke Jenner's voice (like nails on a hip chalkboard that hurt so good) which is almost as jagged as his guitar, the bands propensity for old keyboards and simple but effective bass and metronome-like drums...I mean, you either love it or hate it, no? Well I love it. I danced like a goddamned idiot in a mostly empty amphitheater to it and I'd gladly do it again.

Wet From Birth
by The Faint
Before Saddle Creek Records became a bedroomhold name, they were a fledgling label run out of Nebraska. One of the first bands that got signed early days was The Faint, a dance-rock band with no ties to New York city. Just before they got 'big' one of their members quit to go write songs on his acoustic guitar about how miserable and cold he was and how the Bush administration was really dropping the ball. Anyway, their first real release was called Blank-Wave Arcade which is six kinds of  awesome and sounds exactly like you'd imagine it does, like kids playing a show in an arcade and using the Asteroids and Centipede machines in their songs. Jump ahead a few years to 2004 when they put out their much clearer, much hipper Wet From Birth about the basest of sexual urges set to Giorgio Moroder-esque backbeats and music that sounds like it could either be samples from some forgotten Lomax collection or the band actually rocking out like Bauhaus or Scritti Politti in modes from several different nations. But beyond that it's super catchy and rocks every minute. I defy anyone who's heard the bass riff that kicks off "I Disappear" to forget it anytime soon. Also, it has a song called "Drop Kick The Punks" on it.

The Futureheads
by The Futureheads
This was the ultimate car in the middle of town album. I'd like to take a moment and apologize to anyone who went outside in Doylestown, PA between 2004 and late 2005 as I'm sure I made your life a little less pleasant at some point or other. Gang of Four for the 21st century, granted a little easier to swallow thanks to the much less sharp edged issues tackled, but still a great raucous record for late nights. Got the whole man-becoming-machine thing from the late 70s thing down pat and then evolved and released one of the best records of all time in 2006 which apparently everyone but me hated and so then they released a totally boring album last year. You Goddamn non-sophomore-album liking sons of bitches! Not you, reader, this isn't your fault.

Stealing Of A Nation
by Radio 4
Possibly named for a Public Image Ltd. song, these guys had the dance-your-ass-off-for-socialism thing on lockdown (the kids still say that?). They wrote political songs that sounded halfway between Talking Heads and The Clash but for whatever reason haven't become quite as well regarded as either, not even in post-punk circles. I'm perplexed. I love this record.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
That goddamn bass! Jesus, just listen to it. Ushering in a new era of ultra-hip slacker rock, these guys were the kings of not giving a goddamn what you think of them or anyway that's how I felt listening to Alex Ounsworth's rootless drawl. I saw them live once and they were awesome. Minimalist rock that somehow transcends time and place. It's weird and off-putting on paper but somehow in your ears it becomes endearing. (inside joke: I take my pills to get my thrills...)

The Back Room/An End Has A Start/In This Light And On This Evening
by Editors

The Editors are like a critical punching bag for all the reasons I love them. Their super emotional, they sound like the best records from 77-84 England, Tom Smith sounds like Ian Curtis, each records has a uniformity that they rarely diverge from. That is until In This Light And On This Evening. People were bummed when this came out, I love it. I love the synths and the Gary Numan direction they went in. Granted it got zero fanfare when it came out and you were lucky to know that they'd even done another album. Anyway, their records have evolved sonically like this: The Back Room = Joy Division + Echo & The Bunnymen. An End Has A Start = Interpol + Jesus & Mary Chain. In This Light And On This Evening = Underworld + New Order + Depeche Mode. But all the time they remain easy to listen to, cold, dramatic, emotional, virtuosic, yet always consistent. What's not to like?

It's Never Been Like That
by Phoenix
Wheras everyone else assumed that nothing worthwhile had ever come from Phoenix before Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, their admittedly good fourth record, I kind of like the one before it better. It's a bit sweeter, a bit catchier, a bit more like Orange Juice and R.E.M., a bit more autumnal (I'm all about that, in case that hasn't been made clear up to this point). I like all of these tracks, especially "Sometimes In The Fall," "Rally," and "Consolation Prizes" but I think the standout for me is always going to be "North," an inward looking trip via soft guitar and drums and no words. It's the most introspective the band has ever gotten which is all the more impressive considering no one says a word for five minutes. I truly love that song and the album that houses it is pretty special, too.

We Have Sound
by Tom Vek
I really wish Tom Vek would put out a second record and fulfil the potential he displayed on We Have Sound. He sounded like a one-man PiL. Guy was awesome! Dude was like John Lydon + Elvis + Elvis Costello - whining. Anyone remember the video for "I Ain't Sayin' My Goodbyes?" It was awesome. Go look it up.

Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not
by Arctic Monkeys
These guys qualify as Post-Punk only in that there are four of them, they sneer a fair amount, are super english and make a lot of noise. This was a great record, wasn't it? And Alex Turner's put out a record every year since. Gotta admire that. He's like Atom Ant! Anyway, they were a touch like the British Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in that they didn't seem to care about what you thought. I was sold when they appeared prematurely (in that they hadn't quite tamed U.S. audiences yet) on SNL and in the soft part of "A Certain Romance" Turner looked up into the audience, saw some bored punter and screamed "That Man Just Yawned!" before bursting into the solo-laden ending freak-out. Every strange element comes together beautifully. Andy Nicholson's fluid and memorable dub-like basslines, their fast-pace and Alex Turner's insolent Sheffield accent announced that they were to be taken seriously. Also, some people got up in arms because of the cover of this record and I just wanna share what their manager said in response to the criticism that it reinforces the idea that smoking is ok, cause it's pretty fucking brilliant: "You can see from the image smoking is not doing him the world of good."

Give Me A Wall
by Forward Russia
I hear Pere Ubu, Mars and DNA and love the frantic energy and of course the guitar tone. Put that guitar tone on anything and you've got at least one fan.

Strawberry Jam
by Animal Collective
I got into a huge argument with a friend of mine because I said that all the music he really liked was made possible by Brian Eno. I didn't mean to negate the contributions of those artists, I liked a good many of them too (he can keep Dan Deacon, though. Goes right over my head, it does), my point was that it helps to know where those bands were coming from. I would argue that Yeasayer and Department of Eagles would be the first to tell you the bands they revere (unless they're total dicks) and just because they don't sound like anything else today or yesterday for that matter, doesn't mean their anomalies, it just means they're quite good. I like hearing influences in music because I'm not one of those assholes who negates someone's achievement if it bares a passing resemblance to something else; I tend to love that, in fact, unless you're plagiarizing. Anyway, my friend asked me who I thought Animal Collective owed their sound too and other than Vashti Bunyan I have to admit I was stumped. But I mean there's David Byrne and Thomas Dolby if you listen for it. My point is that being the product of your influences aren't a bad thing, in fact without them, where would you be? Even Daniel Johnston had heroes; so don't get all up in arms because I know where your bands came from. But what I really wanted to say was that while everyone else is so taken with Merriweather Post Pavilion, I'd like to say here and now that Strawberry Jam is their best album and considering it's their last as the full band, I'd say it has more right to classic status. I like Merriweather but it's not as unique and listenable as Strawberry Jam is to me. I love this record. "Fireworks," "#1," and "Cuckoo Cuckoo" are fucking mind-blowing and I don't think Merriweather matches Strawberry Jam for intensity or inventiveness.

Plague Park
by Handsome Furs
Face Control is better, but I think this got mentally filed under "Wolf Parade but less" by everyone when it came out in 2007. Shame on you, imaginary group of lazy rockophiles! This record's great and was a useful insight into what specifically Dan Boeckner brought to the Wolf Parade table. Also, he made it with his fiance; that's like my dream job. I think Face Control is better because they got married and were able to craft a wholly new feel for the record, but Plague Park is still a lot of industrial goodness.

Live It Out
by Metric
These guys owe as much to post-punk as they do actual punk and new-wave but Emily Haines is a force free from the constraints of any influence. Sneering seductively about ejaculation and giving in to desire with a candidness and blasé attitude that not even Debbie Harry managed, plus Haines also has a really amazing singing voice when she isn't doing the female Colin Newman thing. And the band kicks ass. Did I mention that? Well, they do. James Shaw's one of my favorite guitar players yet his virtuosity is all in the rhythm and Justin Winstead and Joules Scott-Key provide some of the most memorable backing around. Also, they're all gorgeous. It doesn't really seem fair, does it?

Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
by Of Montreal
Giorgio Moroder, Georges Bataille, Bowie, Prince, New Order...I could go on speculating, but this is Kevin Barnes and co's best record to date. A lotta shaking follows. The 12 minute centerpiece almost always gets my blood boiling. It's a throwback but also totally alone and timeless and I love the hell out of it.

by The Dears
A little Bowie, a little Smiths, a little choir, a little atmosphere, a lotta rock geared toward getting people to hold hands while the world falls to pieces, which might just stop it from doing so.

Walk It Off
by Tapes 'n Tapes
Ok, so I admit that I don't quite know if this should be considered post-punk but I'd say these guys probably listen to their share of Wire and Mission of Burma, but what do I know? This record was rudely under-appreciated and perplexingly the band's limping debut record was held aloft as their high-water mark. This is wrong. No offense to Tapes 'n Tapes but The Loon has nothing on Walk It Off's ball-out energy and kick-ass rock grooves.

Some Are Lakes
by Land of Talk
Though there are probably those who disagree with me, I'd say that Land of Talk are indeed a post-punk band, albeit one who's sound is a touch hard to pin down. When I place it here it's because of Elizabeth Powell and her devil-may-care guitar playing. Her SG is always a step or two to the left, which on top of putting her in the Sonic Youth godchild category, makes her otherwise ambling rock songs into something more in the early 80s mold. There's a bit of early Scritti Politti in the rhythm and the jagged playing, a bit of Wire in the attitude, a bit of R.E.M. in the vocal delivery/harmony, a bit of Gang of Four in the minimalist dynamic, a bit of The Feelies in the sun-going-down laid back feel, and a bit of The Pretenders in Powell's bad ass rawking. Really though I just enjoy the hell out of the songs; "Yuppy Flu," "Corner Phone," and especially "Young Bridge" are fucking excellent. Have you seen them live? They're awesome.

Never Cry Another Tear
by Bad Lieutenant
What better way to celebrate the influence of Bernard Sumner and his ilk than with a record by Bernard Sumner and his ilk. The former New Order/Joy Division guitar pioneer releases a palatable selection of songs that sound like castaways from the last 20 years and are just as nice as any post-Technique Sumner-related project you're likely to find. He's not reinventing the wheel, but first of all he already did that, and does anyone want him to? That's what I thought.


Dizzy said...

Sebastian and I both like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah very, very much. Also, Of Montreal (just Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?). Also, you.

Scøut said...

I like you guys too.

Dizzy said...