The Silence Kit | Post-Punk
The Post punk movement started in the wake of the punk rock explosion of the mid 1970s. The genre retains the intensity of the punk movement but encorporated a more introverted point-of-view, and a more complex and experimental musical approach. Post-punk laid the groundwork for alternative rock by broadening the idea of what punk and underground music could do, incorporating elements of Krautrock (specifically the use of synthesizers), Jamaican dub music (specifically in bass guitar), American funk, studio experimentation, and even punk's traditional polar opposite, disco, into the genre.
Post Punk in Late-70s England
Joy Division was formed in 1977, during the punk explosion in England, inspired by the Sex Pistols' first show in Manchester. The band's sound and early recordings are far more punk than the sound they would eventually evolve into. Their first album "Unknown Pleasures" couldn’t have been more appropriately titled. It was the sound of a punk band with a completely different angle, musically, vocally, and lyrically. It wasn’t the next logical step for punk rock or for any style of rock, really. It wasn’t logical at all. It was completely drum and bass driven, it was full of icy, cold textures and noisy guitar – feedback, dissonance and squall but still plenty of hooks. But more importantly, it was passionate and compelling in a way that little music ever was. It was clearly the sound of something very permanent and very important, even at first listen. The band’s second album "Closer" was even stranger territory; fractured song structures with less overt hooks, more dislocated and tribal rhythms, with a pervasive funeral feel. This was the album where they started to fully incorporate synths, and producer Martin Hannett’s influence was felt even more here. The funeral feel of the album isn’t shaken easily, especially after you find out Ian Curtis died before its release, in 1980, and the circumstances around his death. But it would be a discredit to the album to let the story surrounding this release cloud the impact of the music itself. The most important thing is the set of songs, the way the sound, and the way it makes the listener feel. And in those respects, this is an album unparalleled.
The Sound was from more or less the same era in England and although they had a similar sound to fairly well known bands like Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen, the band has remained criminally overlooked, to this day. Someone on myspace ordered "In Regulated Measure" and I sent along a copy of the demos from "A Strange Labor." He wrote me later and asked if I listened to The Sound, because he said he could hear a similarity in what we were doing and The Sound – particularly their album "From The Lion’s Mouth." I’d never heard The Sound, so I put them on my list of bands to check out. Within a year I found a copy of the album in a discount bin, as luck would have it and after a few listens, I fell for it hard. For lack of a better description, it sounds a bit like a less-bleak Joy Division: Minimal, and sparse, but driving and very melodic rock. The band lost their 2nd guitarist before the recording of the album, so the lineup included one guitarist, a keyboard player, bassist, drummer and singer; and each instrument is distinctly present in the mix. The lyrics are touched by a grim realism, but still provide hope. The first track “Winning” is a prime example. The last track “New Dark Age” is probably my favorite. A few years ago I found the below live version of this song which blew me away - it's so passionate and so charged that it must have felt like the end of the world to witness it first hand.
Gang of Four took the Velvet Underground's noise and experimentalism to a new level. Listening to the band’s first album, "Entertainment," for the first time is an exhilarating experience. Here was a band that seemingly had decided to make only anthems, to make each a political statement of sorts and to make them equally abrasive and melodic. And the real trick is, that it works. And boy, does it work. "At Home He’s a Tourist" is a prime example. It sounds like the guitar is broken and being beaten with a hammer, there’s a disco beat throughout and the singer is chanting about anxiety, disco floors and capitalism. And its catchy! Gang of Four's second album "Solid Gold" is also recommended listening, but, like most second albums, it is not as immediate. Incidentally, the first Gang of Four song I heard was a cover, done by the tragically underappreciated California-based post-hardcore band Stanford Prison Experiment.
The Cure was also formed in the mid-to-late 70s, and bridged the gap between punk and post-punk, and, like Joy Division, the band inadvertantly helped create new sub-genres of post-punk music, like Goth Rock, Darkwave and more. I love most of what The Cure ever did. And they’ve done a lot, and are still going. The band’s first album "Three Imaginary Boys" is a bit uneven and in my opinion, is inferior to the US-package "Boys Don’t Cry," which the band had much more of a hand in, and which makes for a much more enjoyable version of their first album and better introduction to the band. And it might surprise you. I know when I first bought this, I was not expecting what I heard. Bright, bouncy and melodic, the album saw the band at their most like The Jam, playing with a fiery, punk-like attitude and at a quick, but always melodic pace. It was on their second album, "17 Seconds," that the band started to really find their feet, and started developing The Cure sound. "A Forest" was their single from the album and it sums up the band’s promise in those early days the best. Minimal, melodic, moody and mysterious, the song is all those M words and more. Not the most instantly-likable of their albums, but ultimately one of the band’s most important releases. On their third album, "Faith," the band upped the ante (and the reverb!), slowing everything down to a crawl, and making every song a religious experience. Something about these two albums makes me feel that Radiohead’s "Kid A" album was heavily influenced by this era of the Cure. Of course, I have no actual way of verifying this, because there’s no page like this on the Radiohead site, but to me these albums share a common thread… Following “Faith” was the "Pornography" album, which was easily the Cure’s most extreme to date. It’s the album that sounds the most like Joy Division, at their most pit-of-despair moments and it is definitely a high water mark for post punk, alternative rock, goth rock and indie rock. Swirling textures, and nightmarish sounds, tribal drums, throbbing bass and piercing guitar, this album was a huge influence on me during the "In Regulated Measure" recording sessions. The Cure went on to put out albums like "Head on The Door", "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me", "Disintegration" and "Wish," each of which are considered classics by most Cure fans, and each of which spawned hit singles and legions of fans worldwide. If you find that you like any Cure song, you can use that song to find your way into their discography and once you’re there, you’ll more than likely find at least a couple albums that strike you as something very special. Click here to watch The Silence Kit interviewing Robert Smith of The Cure.
Gary Numan is unfortunately considered a "one hit wonder," at least in the States. A few years ago, I only asked for 3 CDs for Christmas, and all three albums were by Gary Numan. I got two, and they’re both fantastic. His band the Tubeway Army had put out their second album called "Replicas" back in 1979 and it was the album where Numan had "discovered" the synthesizer in the studio, and began working it into his songs, which had up to that point, been very much guitar based, post-punk songs. "Replicas" is a fantastic album, featuring some of Numan's best songs - "Me! I Disconnect From You," "Are Friends Electric" and "Down in the Park" are all undeniably among his best songs. Having heard live versions of these songs later, I can hear that the songs were really taking shape, and his sound was coming clearer and clearer into focus the more he toured. Of course, in a few short years, he would became internationally known for his synth sounds, with his solo album "The Pleasure Principle," which was an all synthesized/electronic LP, which happened to include a perfect, infectious pop song called "Cars," about alienation, the decline of civilization and people hiding in their cars to feel safe. Every song on it is great though. Although, at first things might sound a bit too 'samey,' further listens bring out the melodies and the uniqueness of each song. "Films" is another standout track on this one. The rhythm section Numan had was among the best in the new wave world. Taking the songs to new panoramic, paranoid heights. Both of these albums are highly recommended. I finally got ahold of that third album I'd asked for at Christmas, "Telekon," and it has Numan picking up right where he left off, but this time bringing back the organic instruments, to blend things even furhter - upright piano, guitars, synth, and that driving rhtyhtm section. Standouts on this one include "I Die You Die" and "We Are Glass." Another good one to pick up is "Down in the Park: An Alternative Collection" which is a collection of his lesser known work on Disc One and some really fantastic live songs on Disc Two, featuring just about all of his best songs.
Post Punk in Early-80s England
The Comsat Angels put out their first album "Waiting for a Miracle" in 1980, and it is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard. Their sound was fully formed from the beginning. The guitar tones are perfect, the rhythm section tight and driving, with the keyboards filling in the blanks and providing counter melodies. The songs themselves are all melodic and memorable, from first song to last, and there is so much personality in each song. Their second album, "Sleep no More," is icier, more detached and just as amazing, albeit in a different, less immediate way. It also features one of the hugest drum sounds ever put to tape - recorded in an elevator shaft, literally. Their third album saw the band pushing the guitars more into the background and bringing the keys a bit more to the forefront. After the band’s first three albums they began pursuing the unfortunate goal of The Elusive Hit Single, and since this was the 1980s, this led them straight into the over-processed, overproduced, underwritten music 80s-radio held dear, and in the process the band lost their identity, sound and fire pretty quickly. They returned in the 90s with a couple albums that were well received critically, although I haven't heard them, so I can't speak about them first hand. Their first two albums are must listens.
The Chameleons were formed in 1981, in Manchester, England and established themselves pretty quickly through a series of high-profile BBC sessions. The band put out three albums of dark, melodic rock before splitting up in 1986. "Strange Times," their third album, is my personal favorite. It's packed with great songs, from beginning to end, it’s got a guitar sound that sounds straight out of mid-80s Cure albums (which makes sense since this was recorded around the same time, by the same producers), soaring vocal melodies and intricate production. "Souls in Isolation" and "Tears" are both worth the price of admission alone, and the opener, "Mad Jack," to me, sounds like a better U2. In 2009, The Silence Kit was lucky enough to open for Mark Burgess in Philadelphia, when he came through for a solo tour. We played The Blockley Pourhouse and he had members of Boston's The Curtain Society backing him throughout an incredible, passionate set of everyone's favorite Chameleons' songs. Go here to read more.
Echo and the Bunnymen have a pretty large discography, and I admittedly lost track of it a long time ago, but my favorite Bunnymen albums are "Crocodiles," "Heaven Up Here," "Porcupine" and "Ocean Rain." The band's third album, "Porcupine," is not as catchy and coherent as their debut "Crocodiles," its not as experimental and bizarre as their second album "Heaven Up Here," or as articulate and fully orchestrated as their fourth, "Ocean Rain." It’s just enough of each of these things to make one heck of a stunning amalgam. It all holds together amazingly well, with all the textures, layers and cut-and-paste techniques really taking the songs into wholly new places. This is probably the Bunnymen album I listen to most, but each of the albums mentioned here are fantastic, and are all definitely worth seeking out.
The Smiths only recorded good albums. It’s that simple. The Morrssey/Marr writing duo is held in high regard for a reason. They were consistently brilliant together. And no matter what Moz says, their rhythm section was one of the best around and were a very big part of their sound. "The Queen Is Dead" is a great start, and probably their most universally loved album. Everything from the vividly dejected "I Know Its Over," to the outwardly silly "Vicar in a Tutu" is given a full-on Smiths-at-their-peak treatment on this one. Another of my favorites is "Meat is Murder" which includes the perennial hit "How Soon Is Now," which was actually never intended for inclusion on the album, along with a lot of other perfect songs that sound very little like that single. But, for bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with the "Louder Than Bombs" collection, since there’s 24 songs on it, and all but one are absolutely brilliant. (Seriously, what’s with that Golden Lights cover anyway? Is it a joke?)
A Certain Ratio took their name from the lyrics of Brian Eno's song and, although the started as a punk band, they quickly began encorporating funk, disco and dance elements into their sound, which put them in a class all their own. Because they were signed to Factory Records, they were compared to Joy Division fairly frequently, which is a pretty inadequate comparison, since the only musical thing the bands had in common was more a concept than anything else - a disregard for standard song structure and an emphasis on the rhythm section. A collection called "Early" was released in 2002 which compiles a good deal of their best songs/early releases together and is definitely worth seeking out.
The Cocteau Twins’ second album "Head Over Heels" was a huge influence on me, and I listened to it a lot during the "In Regulated Measure" recording sessions. The huge, ethereal, reverb heavy sound and Liz Fraser’s unique delivery combine to create something hauntingly new. The band went on to grow much more organic sounding, and the drums and reverb became less oppressing, but this is still a classic album, in a similar vein as The Cure, circa-1983-84.
The Teardrop Explodes had been on my list of bands to check out for a while when I found a copy of “Kilimanjaro” in a used bin, when I was in Manchester in 2003. Pretty much all I knew about them up to that point was that Julian Cope had been in the Crucial Three with Ian McCulloch, the singer of Echo and the Bunnymen, and that their debut was supposed to be a classic. I went in with high expectations and was not let down. Its mostly uptempo, frenetic post-punk with hooks galore. Sounds like Echo and the Bunnymen at their melodic best… with horns! Very cool indeed.
Public Image Limited was formed from the ashes of the Sex Pistols. When I was in high school I got very into punk rock, mostly the original bands and so, of course, I’ve always been a big Pistols fan. Being a Pistols fan is definitely no guarantee that you'd be a Public Image Limited fan, because PiL is more like Can than "Nevermind the Bullocks." The band's first album "Public Image," or "First Issue" peaked at number 22 on the British album charts, due in large part to the title track, which was the perfect post-punk single, with a signature guitar part by Keith Levene and John Lydon's distinctive vocals. PiL's second album though, was more droney and even less accessible. “Second Edition” is completely built around the rhythm section’s dub-like grooves, and on top of those grooves are shards of guitar and the elongated vocal acrobats of Lydon. These songs are hypnotic, abrasive and very memorable. The follow up, “Flowers of Romance,” is similar, but without the bass of Jah Wobble there’s even less melody. I’d recommend checking these two albums out for starters. They aren’t for everyone, but they are definitely an experience that should be felt, particularly if you enjoy other areas of post-punk, because for a lot of people Johnny Rotten becoming John Lydon and starting his band after the Sex Pistols WAS the singular event of post-punk's creation, quite literally.
The Psychedelic Furs are another band that came to rise in the early 80s, and bridged the gap between punk, post-punk and pop music. A lot of people swear that the first Psychedelic Furs album is their best, and it is an undeniably great album, but I have to say their second and third albums, "Talk Talk Talk" and "Forever Now," are my favorites. Richard Butler has one of the greatest voices in rock ever; a cross between Bowie’s rasp and Johnny Rotten’s sneer, and the band went through a really tasteful evolution, from punk-influenced rock band, to really articulate pop band, all the way through "Mirror Moves," their fourth album, which has some of their greatest songs, and is also a really good album, despite the loss of drummer Vince Ely and the pretty dated production. After "Mirror Moves" came the disappointing "Midnight to Midnight" album and then in 1989 the band came back with "Book of Days" which featured a 'return to roots' of sorts - putting the focus back on John Ashton's guitars, which were now ringing out clearer than ever, courtesy of Dave Allen (producer of both The Cure and The Chameleons). The album is solid and the title track is definitely my favorite here - really sad stuff... "World Outside" followed, which proved to be the last album the band would release before a shortlived break-up, during which time Butler started Love Spit Love and then the Furs returned in the 90s, touring in recent years in support of a Greatest Hits album and Butler himself has released a solo album. In my opinion, "Talk Talk Talk" and "Forever Now" are both great starting points, and then their self-titled debut and "Mirror Moves" are also worthy listens.