Tag Archives: Post-Punk

Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus on the Value of Mystery and Sacredness

Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus

Photo by Maria Aua.

It feels cliché at this point to describe the music of the U.K. group Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus as a “shared secret,” but in the early ’90s, that’s exactly what it was. Their albums seemed to materialize out of nowhere. You heard about them from a friend who heard about them from another friend, who happened to have a burned CD that they’d loan you for a week so you could make your own. (To wit: I was a fan of the band for decades before I knew what the cover of their haunting 1987 masterpiece The Gift of Tears even looked like). Not only were there no interviews, the band wasn’t even written about, not even by the fledgling alt-music press. If you travelled in Christian circles, as I did, they had an almost occult aura; their music drew on Christian and religious themes, but their name came from director Luis Buñuel’s film That Obscure Object of Desire, and they could just as easily have been witches as saints. The lack of any kind of public presence only caused their eerie mystique to grow.

Listening to the group’s two albums—the only works to their name—only added to the mystery. Mirror, from 1991, recently reissued by Occultation Records, felt like the soundtrack to some unsettling ritual, taking place in a deep wood late at night. Their songs were built around ominous, chant-like vocals, full of chilling acoustic guitars, baleful, minor-key synths, and melodies that drew heavily on Medieval modalities. Nowadays, we might call their music “folk horror;” in the ’90s, it felt almost forbidden.

And then, just as quietly as they appeared, they vanished. Even after the arrival of the Internet, information about them was scant—just a few bare-bones fan-created websites (which usually employed white text on a black background), which generally contained brief summaries of their history with no concrete details. But all of that changed in 2015, when the band reappeared after a 20-year absence with Beauty Will Save the World, a record that is just as gorgeous and harrowing as any they made during their initial run. The news of their reactivation travelled much in the same way their music did the first time: via emails from friends, or posts in small-ish Internet interest groups. And while it’s certainly easier to learn about the band now—they even have a Facebook page—their music has retained all of its spectral beauty and glorious ambiguity. We sat down with Jon Egan who, along with Paul Boyce and Leslie Hampson, form the group’s core membership, to discuss their history, and how creating mystery isn’t just a PR stunt—it’s the very core of their art.

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Terminal Consumption: The Best Punk on Bandcamp, April 2017

Terminal Consumption
In this installment of Terminal Consumption, our monthly reviews column focused on the margins of punk and hardcore, Sam Lefebvre examines the latest inventive full-length by Los Angeles trio Behavior, plus new releases by Housewives and Exit Order.

Behavior, Bitter Bitter LP [Iron Lung]

Bitter Bitter is the work of three sensitive, clever players with an irreverent take on punk convention. The second album by Los Angeles trio Behavior, Bitter Bitter follows last year’s 375 Images of Angels. A spirit of possibility animates both records, but where Behavior’s debut reconfigures punk and hardcore tropes so that they sound alien, this one jettisons them almost entirely; if it’s post-punk, it’s post-punk not as a twist on punk, but as a challenge to its musical conservatism.

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French Vanilla on the Los Angeles DIY Scene

French Vanilla

Photo by Adam Sandor Nagy.

French Vanilla are here to change your mind about Los Angeles punk. The forward-thinking, radical quartet are invite you to shake a tail to songs that make strong statements about the dominant structures of power that dominate both the mainstream and underground spheres.

Made up of vocalist Sally Spitz, guitarist Ali Day, saxophonist and bassist Daniel Trautfield, and drummer Max Albeck, and formed while Day and Spitz were students at UCLA, French Vanilla have steadily built up a fanbase with their uncompromising and thoroughly infectious music, which is just as much informed by performance art as it is by the post-punk music they set out to emulate (Day learned to play guitar specifically for the band and still doesn’t know basic chords.)

Though they didn’t plan it this way, French Vanilla are part of a new crop of LA artists making a distinct turn away from the garage and psych music that has dominated the city in recent years for music that is as much about the message as the medium. The band’s chosen subjects, ranging from global warming and feminism to the embarrassment of adolescence and patriarchal ideologies, may be challenging but their music is not, hallmarked by groove-laden, danceable rhythms, Day’s quirky guitar lines, Trautfield’s crisp saxophone blasts, and Spitz’s wailing, powerful vocals and whirling dervish live presence. Their new music video for “Evolution of a Friendship,” which we premiere here, was filmed in various  locations around Los Angeles, including famed DIY venue The Smell, perfectly encapsulates the band’s humor, visual sensibility, and connection to the LA underground music scene.

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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