Tag Archives: Post-Punk

Goth’s Undead: Six Current Releases From Groups Old and New

Goth

Goth’s Undead. Illustrations by George Wylesol.

Few strains of rock music get less respect than goth. Though the genre’s lush soundscapes and searing-then-willowy guitar attack are all over bigger acts like Savages, Preoccupations, and Merchandise, they tend to attract the “post-punk” tag instead. Goth just isn’t cool; it’s too emotional, too baroque, too weird. Witness the absorption of Joy Division into the nebulous history of post-punk, despite 1980’s Closer being about as quintessentially goth as Edward Gorey.

Goth may not be cool, but it is definitely not dead, either, not as a subculture or as a public trope; witness its thriving life on Tumblr and in the fashion world, the garage rock world’s Beach Goth festival (at which, we are sad to report, there has never been a goth band), and so forth. Even those ever-incisive chroniclers of subcultures and outsiders, The Mountain Goats, have turned their eyes to the night for their upcoming LP; called, simply, Goths. In a terrifying, shifting world there will always be value in finding beauty in luxe sensation, in decay, in darkness. The alternative is total despair… and not in a poetic way.

So let’s celebrate these artists, who are mining the decadence, coy humor, and sheer sonic power of goth for all it’s worth; from throbbing tracks for the dancefloor, to skeletal elegies, to gleaming melodic pop, and so on, through all the colors of the dark.

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Album of the Day: Rays, “Rays”

The way Rays’ debut kicks off, with the warbling, mutated jangle of “Attic,” is a perfect scene-setter. It recalls some of the key themes of early post-punk; if punk stripped away all the fuss and pomp of ‘70s rock to its bare essentials and set it at warp speed, post-punk bands drilled further down into the dark core of psychedelia, to all the bad drugs and isolating cults beneath the swirling colors. “Attic” is rickety in that same way, with a woozy synth line and Eva Hannan’s spiraling vocals taking us up there. It brings back the childhood dread of seeing that unstable little ladder pop down from the ceiling at a relative’s house: why is the way to the attic hidden? What dusty, shadowy secrets could be up there?

This is the territory that Rays explore—though you shouldn’t expect any of those secrets to be made explicit over the course of these 11 songs. Where punk can be didactic, post-punk works best with lyrical bones, letting the listeners, like forensic specialists, follow the story back themselves through clues that might not seem obvious at first. Rays, of course, know punk and post-punk so intimately these tropes are second nature to them: Hannan, Stanley Martinez, Alexa Pantalone and Troy Hewitt have been/are in more excellent bands than one can count (Pang, The World, Violent Change, Life Stinks, and so forth), and they genuinely sound like they’re having a good time with one another here. That’s especially evident when they’re working with the existential dread of everyday life, as on “Attic”; other tracks in that vein, like “Drop Dead” and “Pain and Sorrow,” sound positively ebullient in much the manner of the best Fall songs, curdled with wicked delight. Master engineer Mikey Young (of Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, etc.) brings this quality out perfectly; the album sounds, essentially, like a well-recorded live performance, rather than an airless studio artifact.

Rays’ debut is, thus, a very good document of a very good band, and its restraint is part of what makes it special. This isn’t a band that could come out of the gate hard; these songs work so well because they hang together so laconically, belying the tension beneath. If they went full bore, they’d fall apart. These songs’ subtle construction and delicate equilibrium are necessary.

—Jes Skolnik

Album of the Day: Century Palm, “Meet You”

Toronto’s Century Palm could have only been born in a blistering Canadian winter. Dark, taut, icy and slick, their debut album Meet You is a crash course in post-punk—there’s some Krautrock influence, like the Neue Deutsche Welle bands, plus hints of goth. They adopt the angular guitars of Wire and The Fall, the deep emotionality of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, and even the pop sensibility of Devo and The B-52’s, while maintaining a distinct identity of their own. Simply put, Century Palm have crafted an irony-free study of ’80s independent rock that is simultaneously fresh and immediately nostalgic.

After a few opening tracks set the shadowy stage, Meet You starts to take shape with “Then You’re Gone,” a breakneck tune that frenetically builds upon itself thanks to a rhythm section as tight as piano wire, spiraling upwards and falling back down again with expert precision. A manic keyboard line is scribbled over the top, giving the track an even more frantic and rattled dimension. In addition to the sound and structure of the songs themselves, frontman Andrew Payne runs the gamut of brooding punk vocal styles, perhaps unintentionally, yet charismatically, nailing many key reference points: at times he echoes Ian Curtis’ booming bass, or Howard Devoto’s blasé snarl.

“Walk Forever Blind,” another highlight, kicks off with heavy synths droning into space, until the drum beat lumbers into the mix and Payne delivers the line: “I’ll walk forever blind/ Over the hills of time/ It is the only way,” like a man who has finally discovered the meaning of life, but is too depressed to let us in on the secret. It’s not that Meet You is a direct homage to or pastiche of any of these bands; its connect-the-dots approach in such an expressive and expansive genre is part of what makes it a joy to listen to. Century Palm have clearly found their niche, and Meet You is the perfect first step towards refining their sound.

—Cameron Cook

The “Tough Pop” of Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Photos by Rubin Utama.

If you were one of the (too few) lucky people to be turned onto Australian guitar pop quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s debut EP Talk Tight last year, there’s a good chance it’s still lingering in your consciousness. Taking cues from everyone from The Feelies to Real Estate to fellow Aussies the Go-Betweens, Talk Tight was one of 2016’s cult classics, a crazy-hooky, impossibly-charming “mini-album” with infinite replay value. Thanks to their punk approach to writing and performing (every member but the drummer swaps instrumental and vocal duties), RBCF’s self-described “tough pop” relies heavily on melodically-charged guitar work so addictive, it got them noticed by indie behemoth Sub Pop. With the arrival of their new EP French Press, fans can finally shelve Talk Tight (at least for a little while) and, thanks to the leg-up from their new partnership with the legendary Seattle label, the band can take off in search of much-deserved wider audiences. RBCF ringleader Fran Keaney took some time to Skype with us to talk failed videos, his native Melbourne’s bustling rock scene, and the Clash.

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Album of the Day: So Stressed, “Please Let Me Know”

One of the larger tensions that exists between artists and critics is the latter’s insistence on taking the work of the former to be strict autobiography, but the pain that courses through the third album from Sacramento’s So Stressed feels too immediate and too visceral to be a work of fiction. Its 10 songs seem to document a grueling breakup, but what makes the record so rattling is that all of the resulting agony is focused inward. Where 2015’s The Unlawful Trade of Greco-Roman Art was stacked with bruising hardcore, Please Let Me Know is both paradoxically more measured and more tortured. Opener “Fur Sale” sails out on a sleek sheet of melodic guitars, and frontman Morgan Fox isn’t screaming but singing. But about two minutes in, the turbulence hits: “Nothing compares to you,” Fox sings, “But I still compare everything to you.” From there it’s a quick dive into dissonance; the guitars turn pitch black and Morgan doubles over howling.

The rest of the record volleys between those two poles, post-hardcore melodicism trading off with proper-hardcore panic attacks. “Majestic Face” manages both at once, eerie vocal harmonies gliding across heart-attack double-bass drumming. In “Old Hiss,” Fox runs into his old flame in public, which sends him into a spiral of despair: “We’ll grow old together,” he wails as the band pitches and rolls behind him, “Right up until I wake up.” Even when the band stretches out musically, the results are shot through with unease. The sparse “Peach,” is built on a skeletal strum and lit up with squiggles of synthesizer that sound like an MRI machine melting down. And while the band’s ventures into melodicism demonstrate impressive breadth, it’s the full-throated ragers that land the hardest. The panicked “Subsequent Rips” opens with Fox declaring “I write myself a heartfelt love letter/ and read it into the mirror,” against chaotic corkscrews of guitar; both elements are operating in their own time signature: Fox plows forward regardless of meter; the band hammers away chaotically, like they’re falling down a flight of stairs. Please Let Me Know trepans down into the center of heartbreak and records all of the mayhem it finds there. It may not be autobiography, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real.

J. Edward Keyes