Written by: Dave Cantrell
I have few excuses. Whereas my habit has been to present the next NEXT on a quarterly basis, which would have placed this installment at the end of January, it appears that for reasons both solidly with, and arguably without merit – new puppy in the house since mid-December; there’s this little post-punk/darkwave festival I organize every spring that requires a level of energy that borders on mania; umm, Portland’s just emerging from the crappest winter we’ve experienced since I arrived in 1989, which kind of bummed us all out – I’ve gone and let a deadline slip past. And though it could indeed be taken as a sign I’m maybe losing a step, I’ve decided instead to say ‘screw that,’ offer my swift and sincere apologies, and just get on with it. Besides, I have bigger issues to feel guilty about, such as realizing recently, with a horrifying gasp, that some bands that truly deserved to be on the first or second NEXT list have been left off entirely, not out of any conscious editorial decision but instead due that old bastard ‘benign neglect.’ Added to that is the ceaseless wave that keeps crashing over the post-punk desk here at SEM (and spilling over, of course, on to the playlists of the radio show), meaning that the cumulative costs of missing a publication cycle blow up pretty damn quickly, NEXT candidates piling up in such precarious numbers that the entire enterprise is in danger of toppling over like a game of darkwave Jenga. Exaggeration? Yes, but only just. We haven’t yet been less than amazed at the energy coming in from around the world, and don’t expect to be any time soon. All that said, here we are, finally, with NEXT number eleven. [check here for previous NEXTs]
A PROJECTION (Stockholm)
Riding, if not helping propagate, the surge in dark charms that have emerged from the Swedish capital and regions beyond in the last half decade or so – Holograms, Makthaverskan, et al – A Projection are a quintet leaning toward a slightly more dance-oriented, synth-based attack that is no less thrilling nor angular nor driven than any of their compatriots. With their second album Framework released this past January, it would seem they’re poised to tour their strengths just as those mentioned have done, and though we’ve no word that that’s the case or not, we do know that we’d welcome them here in a Nordic heartbeat.
BESTIAL MOUTHS (LA, Berlin, NYC)
Based, apparently, all over the western world, your correspondent is mostly disappointed because the band just played Portland last night as I write this, but your poor sad post-punk guru was still recovering from the above-mentioned festival. From what he hears, it was a fabulous, goth-heart palpitating and well-worth-attending show at local classic dive Lovecraft that he shall forever regret missing. Sigh…
THE BLACK VEILS (Bologna, Italy)
Oh Italy, you’re making us swoon once again. Last NEXT it was not only the Frosinone-based Sorry, Heels that had our little heads spinning but as well European Ghost, the latter of which has particular resonance here since one of its members, Mario D’Anelli, is also part of this other Bologna-based band, along with Filippo Scalzo and a certain Gregor Samsa who’s responsible, unsurprisingly perhaps, for all the lyrics and who we’ve also been assured is not insect-like at all. Already two albums in to their likely lengthy run (Blossom from 2015 and Dealing with Demons that just appeared in January of this year and is the one that grabbed our attention), the Veils, umm, deal in a bass-heavy, viscerally direct version of the form that often invokes dark dreams balanced against a literary dystopian reality that rings all too true at the moment. Though it’s sadly no longer possible, it’s nonetheless inviolably true that The Black Veils would have been a perfect live pairing with In Letter Form, which pretty much tells you all you need to know.
cold i (Athens, Greece)
Only around since March of 2015, lower-cased cold i belie that time frame by sounding like they’ve been around since, well, 1983 at least. Among the most organic-sounding of the resurgent wave, the sound on their 2016 album Wicked Wind has an innate character that can suggest a midway point between Bauhaus and the Sound on the title track or an outtake from For Against’s Echelons on single “It’s Getting Dark.” Your mileage, as they say, may vary, but for our money here (which we still have because cold i are not only magnanimous enough to offer their full-length on a ‘name your price’ basis on their Bandcamp page, they go so far as to suggest putting a ‘0’ in that pay box), this is a 2017-based timewarp well worth getting lost in.
THE DEAD SOULS (Burlington, VT)
A duo – Etienne guitar vox, Kevin bass, both handling the drum programming – that some time between their inception in 2008 and now relocated to Burlington from Puerto Rico (thereby, we reckon, halving the number of post-punk bands in San Juan to one, Lust Era), The Dead Souls original sound brought a deft touch of the heavy to their tracks that had them bordering on the epic but always keeping it nimble enough to keep it real, if you will. Their third, latest LP Desert Lands, finds the band in slightly brighter – if no less nimble – territory, introducing something of a droning, hypnotic chime to their tracks that, in the end, we find even more entrancing than what came before. As much as anything, though, we here at the SEM revel in
watching hearing a band stay vital and alive by evolving, by taking risks. The bonus happiness, of course, is seeing them succeed. Bravo, Dead Souls, now come west.
DESPERATE JOURNALIST (London)
In their fourth year of existence, it first appeared as if Desperate Journalist waited and marinated a bit before launching with a full-length but Grow Up, released a month ago on March 24th, was actually their second – a self-titled debut appeared in 2014 though isn’t part of their Bandcamp offerings – but regardless, the depth and lure of the sonorous sophomore effort is not only impressive and affecting enough to have two venerated labels jumping at the chance to count DJ among their stable of artists (Minty Fresh in the US, no less than Fierce Panda in the UK) but has as well an audio prowess about it that will indeed have journalists desperate to cover it. Added to that, the album reflects without the slightest wink of irony that it is accurately-named, as there’s most certainly a measure of growth apparent, giving what’s still a young band the touch of deep experience. Unafraid of pop hooks to go with the underlying surge and throb, there’s something of the ‘complete package’ about this band.
THE ELECTRIC WEST (Los Angeles)
Essentially a duo (Byron Pagdilao and Lee Lewallen) that fills in as needed with musicians pulled from a vast reservoir of friends in the rapidly expanding LA pool, The Electric West, on the strength of a 2015 EP (highlight: “Portland”), with a new EP out this summer with a full-length mooted for later this year, proved themselves a vital live entity this past April at the above-linked Out From The Shadows festival in, yes, Portland (though, as singer Lee specified from the OFTS stage, the song of that same name is actually about LA). Despite all that entanglement, this is a band to watch, then watch again. Stay tuned.
FOREVER GREY (Grand Rapids, MI)
Of those bands mentioned in the intro that I’m utterly aghast at having failed to include in any of the first 10 NEXT lists – let alone the bloody first, where they belonged – none am I more mortified at having left out than Forever Grey. That it only recently (read: this week) dawned on me that that I’d blundered into this oversight is but pale solace. See, Forever Grey are up there with Noir For Rachel in terms of producing a body of work that rather defies mortal explanation. Keith and Sam, in a locked-in tandem, are as magical a duo as any of these lists have introduced, and truly I can barely contain my regret at having let their mention go until now. But, again, it’s incumbent upon me to say my mea culpas and just get on with it. Both icy and mortally immortal (if that makes sense, which it should), as well as melodic beyond compare, Forever Grey is a darkwave treasure and belongs in a pantheon that’s only now being built but in which they’ll feature as initial inductees. The time for apology is over, now it’s time for rapture. See them when you can, you’ll understand my remorse.
HUTA PLASTIKU (Warsaw)
A trio (Jurek, Artur, Przemek) that has already landed on by-now-legendary label Bat-Cave with their second album Bezlubie released last November – their self-titled debut having arrived in 2015 – Huta Plastiku make good on their stated musical mission of translating the wonder-filled energy of childhood through the eyes (and ears) of a grown-up perspective via a virtuosic array that seamlessly crosses borders from dark moody noir (check the title track of their recent LP) to the more uptempo end of the template that could rival, say, the Lines in a battle of the bands circa 1981 to a more adventurous hybrid of the two, and do it in the space of the first three tracks of said album. Their name, in a rare instance of Polish closely resembling its English equivalent, means Plastic Hut [apparently, not ‘Hut’ but ‘Foundry.’ – ed], meant to represent that place of ageless musical fascination (assuming your fumbling scribe is reading it right) where the motivations are pure and the magic palpable. Whatever the case, we bloody love it.
MORTAL BOY (Los Angeles)
A solo project by a beguiling riddle of a young man that goes by the name of Duckie Dale who, as it turns out, is as sweet and unassuming as they come. Though his/their inclusion on this list was already forthcoming, the band’s appearance at the Out From The Shadows III festival a few weeks ago in Portland (Mortal Boy had become a trio for their tour) would have vaulted him/them into contention even if we’d never heard of him around here. But heard of – and heard – him we had, having by some quirk of fate tripped over his record on Bandcamp (Sound Ventures of a Romantic) and been as instantly smitten as were those in attendance at OFTS. Fortunately for all of us, that live appearance and the tour that was built around it reinvigorated the young Mr Dale and we’re rather thinking that some very good stuff indeed will result. Hope so, because that would automatically make the world a better place, and we could all use that.
The project of one Jack Milwaukee (nee Iacopo Bertelli), the now London-based – or Jupiter-based; depends on who you believe – M!R!M may have chosen a playfully mispronounceable band name but the sound he makes – a propulsive bat-out-of-shoegaze-hell kind of noise that at times can suggest Curve trying to be Chrome doing an impression of Suicide – rather demands our immediate attention. While we may be a little unsure around here of his/their backstory (Italian name, lives in London, 2013 LP Heaven issued on a Greek label) or the provenance of his/their influences, what we are certain of is that none of that matters squat. It’s the ferocity with which M!R!M turns our head that’s important, and in this case we may have to may have to make an emergency appointment with the staff chiropractor.
With a 7″ on Torn Light Records, a cassette released on Let’s Pretend, and a full-length imminent of Moniker (Cold Grasp), the now-quintet Mardou are precisely the type band this NEXT business was intended to highlight in the first place. They are also, to the best of my admittedly in-shreds memory, the very first band to appear on these lists from Cincinnati, and I won’t even bother saying for the umpteenth time how that little factoid further proves the extent to which this music is thriving. Nope, you can’t make me say that again no matter what you offer. But I will say that this is a band on the brink of something pretty great, and now you’ll all be able to say you heard them when. The following is taken from that forthcoming debut and is a slow-starter that very soon takes over all your motor controls.
Speaking, as we were earlier, about tearing it up at the recent OFTS III festival, and speaking of having an album imminent, this Oakland trio (Gina, Akiko, Jonathan) has been burning a path of ecstatic destruction everywhere they go. The as-yet-named (at least so far as this writer knows) debut LP was recorded by Stan Wright of Arctic Flowers at his Buzz or Howl studios while the band were in Portland, which in itself is a promising sign but truth be told, the band have been on such a charged path of their own momentum lately that they could have recorded that thing in a 7-11 next to the beer cooler and we’d still be drooling at the prospect. The fact that Stan’s involved just whets the appetites all the more. Stay tuned to this lot.
From the moment their demo arrived in early 2015, all ears and everyone’s post-punk radar was turned in their direction awaiting the ‘proper’ debut album, a keen collective anticipation that was finally resolved this past February with the arrival of czarno / biala, a dozen tracks passionate, yearning, and ultimately rewarding songcraft that’s not afraid to mix in the occasional ‘new wave’ element as well as other somewhat classicist touches (the opening guitar sound of “Pytania” had me thinking Flamin’ Groovies ffs), at which point we can’t decide if it’s their relentlessness that’s melodic or their melodicism that’s relentless but surely it matters not. Great band, excellent album, a born NEXT inhabitant.
RAVIOLI ME AWAY (London)
Almost certainly the first time a NEXT list has featured three bands from London – no comment necessary on how this reflects how the landscape has changed since the old ‘back-in-the-days’ – the deliciously named Ravioli Me Away have in fact been lurking on the fringes of NEXT for some time now. Which is OK, we reckon, since lurking on the fringes is what this band is not only adept at but as well seem to welcome. Describing themselves with spray-painted panache as “(d)angerously ambitious and delusional all girl jazzy post-pop punk hip funk with a stylistically schizophrenic theme spanning all known past, present and future human cultures and sub cultures,” RMA are not only all that – and thereby perfect stylistic fodder for the actual spirit of that very same ‘back-in-the-day’ post-punk – but as well a scrappy engine of resistance as well, hosting workshops at their local arts centre to help and encourage those feeling helpless in the wake of that slow-motion disaster-fuck Brexit in ways to ‘resist through sound & gender.’ Mindful, outlandish, fearless and crazy good, there’s absolutely nothing here not to like.
Funny how these lists play out sometimes. While we love nothing more around here than extolling the near-worldwide influx of vital creative energy and drive that comprises these NEXT lists, it sometimes happens, explicitly without design, that a certain odd geographic synchronicity sets in to individual lists. Thus this time around the three from London, two (and soon to be 2 ½) from LA, two from Warsaw, and now two from Stockholm, meaning nearly half a score originate from just 4 cities. Thing is, though, as regards Stockholm, it should perhaps be more surprising that that city and its cohorts from outside the capital don’t overpopulate these (more or less) quarterly compilations more often. Scandinavia as a whole, of course, has emerged with a certain fury over the past decade as a force in this post-punk resurgence, and Sjöblom are more-than-capable carriers of the Nordic torch. In some ways, given the landscapes and winters in that part of the world, but just because one’s surrounded by monochromatic angularity and icy shadows for much of the year doesn’t mean one will be able to render it in sound with this level of stylistic panache is far from guaranteed. Hell, don’t be surprised if the next NEXT is ALL from Stockholm and surrounding areas at this rate.
SUPREME SOUL (Lisbon)
Amazingly, around since 1998 in one form or another, it’s their (I believe) debut album from 2013 No One’s All that knocked us over sideways here at the SEM post-punk desk. Bursting with, well, soul, the band’s emergence is one of the highlights of this decade. Some bands seem to come within a few mortal inches of sacrificing their heart to just about every track they produce and Supreme Soul ranks as one of those. Just more proof of the extent to which the Iberian Peninsula is rife with talent and inspired drive. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve told myself I’m going to move there, and in fact just did it again. Someday, though, however it happens, I will cross paths with this band, and to some degree life will be complete.
TEARFUL MOON (Houston, Texas)
Another fairly recent discovery by our crack team around here (consisting of one, of course), Tearful Moon were, as legend has it, born one hot sticky Texan night when Sky Lesco and her partner/lover/fellow artist Manuel Lozano decided to put some of Sky’s poetry to music. From that modest but immensely fruitful impulse came a most enduring duo that in a very real sense appears as a southern doppelgänger to the above-mentioned Forever Grey, which is a handy coincidence since the two bands are in discussion (with This Cold Night) to tour the West Coast next April, just in time for a certain festival in Portland. Oh that beloved synchronicity raising its wonderful head again. All that aside, this moody edgy band was a cinch for a NEXT inclusion the moment I heard them, will be a thrill to host them at my modest little event. Thank you, life.
TRANCE TO THE SUN (Portland / LA)
Flowing in from all sides not only geographically but stylistically as well, Trance to the Sun could conceivably make a psych or shoegaze or especially dream-pop NEXT list if they existed (don’t tempt me) but for our purposes here, we’ll stick to post-punk pulse that so often predominates proceedings when this lot – now stripped down to their core trio of Ashkelon Sain, Ingrid Luna, and Daniel Henderson – come together to stir up the multiple potions that go in to their recording sessions. Though they’ve been around now since the early-to-mid 90’s, and flickering on the edges of our screen well before its release (and are another on this list that likely deserved an earlier appearance), it was most recent outing Via Subterranea that made their inclusion here absolutely damned imperative. A triumph especially given not only the challenges the band inevitably face with their singer Ingrid now resident in LA while Ash and Daniel remain in Portland but as well a devilish stew of further complications – for all the sordid details see this piece written by some hack here at SEM – the latest record, in truth, all said and done, only confirmed what many have known all along. Trance to the Sun, no matter where their destiny lies from this moment on, have made an indelible mark.
THE UNDERGROUND YOUTH (Berlin)
Well OK sometimes it’s just embarrassing. The Forever Grey debacle was bad enough but what the hell?! Now on their seventh LP (it wasn’t easy typing that, believe me), with enough followers on Facebook to nearly fill Yankee Stadium, there’s surely almost nothing I have to say about The Underground Youth that those of you reading this probably don’t already know. I’m not sure where they were in terms of fanbase when I began these lists three or four years ago but by far the better question is where the hell have I been? Since there isn’t – nor could be – any acceptable answer to that, I’ll simply leave it be, post the video track, and get the hell out of their way, all the while, assuming they even see this, hoping they’ll forgive me such gross oversight. Play it loud, and see you in three months.