Written by: Dave Cantrell
Dammit! This ‘Top 10’ business is hard. Especially when it comes to post-punk/darkwave releases for the year that’s about to fall gloriously behind us in the rearview mirror. 2015 started off all bang! and wow! and just kept going, bringing us a bursting surfeit of terrific releases from all over the globe, including no small amount of breathtaking debuts, a fair representation of new albums from old bands, and just all manner of head-turning mayhem of the highest, most inspired order. Fact is, not only could I in no human way winnow this list down to ten, just limiting it to twenty was a herculean, somewhat heartbreaking task. To those bands that don’t see their name in this list, just know that you’re in monumental company (I’ve left off the Fall, the Soft Moon, Protomartyr and Viet Cong just to name a few) and that I’ve truly suffered the slings and arrows of editorial choice here. Overall I’ve hewed toward newer younger bands and in at least one case have included a band whose 2015 debut boasted just five tracks but their place of origin is so startling I felt that their inclusion was important (plus the music’s superb, of course, so…). All I can say to all of the musicians on this list and those that were but an angstrom away from being on it as well, please please keep making my job difficult. I can’t tell you how much that moves me. Okay then, even as we both acknowledge that any of these twenty positions could be interchanged with just about any other, count down with me, won’t you?
20. BAT NOUVEAU – “Metamorphoses”
Down Under wonders from Brisbane, Australia and more than capable of carrying forward the torch handed off by the likes of the Saints et al, if via a decidedly darker avenue, Bat Nouveau burst out back in January with their first full length after a stirring run of EP’s and singles (the trailer below says November 2014, which turned out to be premature). Ultra damn cool.
19. FLIES ON YOU – “etcetera”
Joining their Leeds cohorts Eagulls in sounding exactly nothing like the Leeds bands of old – not a shred of Delta 5 to be found in either of them – FOY instead opt for, shall we say, a more direct route, as in crunching chase-you-down and blast-it-in-your-face direct, though never without a succinct touch of the nuanced. We loved ’em here, end of story.
18. small depo – “Brodyaga”
Purportedly meaning “Supertramp” in English (though Google translate would suggest they’re having us on there), Brodyaga is this Ukrainian band’s debut long-player after a small slew of promising 7″ers. They have assuredly capitalized on that promise. They call the noise they make “nice homeless post-punk for the lost-n-found ones,” we call it confident and uncommonly fluid for a first album, and find as well that the lower-case in the band name (which small depo themselves insist on despite its capitalization in the video below) might be a bit too modest, but we’ll go along with it.
17. SWAMPLAND – “The Stranded West”
A bit of a rarity in these resurgent days as here we have a young band (from Long Beach outside LA) that isn’t the least afraid to embrace the historic culture from whence they come, in the process reminding of the Gun Club covering the Band, which you’ll have to admit is an intriguing proposition. Which isn’t to say they don’t get down and shadowy when the occasion calls for it (they most certainly do), it’s just that it’s a little refreshing for a breakout band like this to say ‘Screw it’ to any ideas of a broader stylistic conformity. Needless to say, we are eager to see where all this leads.
16. KILLING JOKE – “Pylon”
What can we say? The London troupers (who your correspondent saw in a North London pub in late 1979) are not only still with us but a few months ago put out easily one of the best records of their career. Arch, driven, focused and rocking with some truly righteous indignation, Pylon was everything we want from a KJ album, especially as it was delivered with an age-defying panache that those of us of a certain ‘vintage’ take great inspiration from. They’re touring the US this winter, they’re playing Portland, and I am so there. To be absolutely honest, I wouldn’t have guessed a Killing Joke album would make a top twenty list of mine in 2015. How delighted I am to have been wrong.
15. SOFT KILL – “Heresy”
Yes, well, it’s true. We keep being blessed here in the Pacific Northwest and Portland particularly. Witness Soft Kill. Indeed Tobias is, for the time being, located in Chicago, but they are regardless a Portland band through and through. And we are more than happy to claim them, not least on the strength of (mini-) albums like this. There really does seem to be no cessation to the wonders that attend this band (and you should see them live. Holy shite!), and how lucky can one town be? I realize there’s no answer there (see further down this list), but as rhetorical questions go, it’s among the most rewarding.
14. THE POP GROUP – “Citizen Zombie”
As the saying goes, ‘Who’d a-thunk it?’ The towering Bristolian legends back for a second go after more than 30 years, what? In the studio with (mostly) pop producer Paul Epworth, this project benefited not only from that association (again the unexpected pairing of approaches prompted startlingly good results, as often happens) but from the fact that all four crucial members were back on board. Even all of that considered, though, we had no right to anticipate the album that we got, which was full of ageless verve, expert playing, weird chord changes and a confrontational edge even as it was prismed through a matured point of view. In short, dazzling, and irrepressibly respectful of the band’s immense reputation.
13. FACTICE FACTORY – !Nada!
Just released December 15th, this second album from the Nord-de-Calais-based band expands with a calm, forthright confidence on 2014’s The White Days, swirling with enough power and seductive elusiveness to leap straight into this end-of-year-list as if it was designed to do just that. Daubed with synths and drawing inspiration from all manner of forbears (not the least the more redolent turns of Wire, as you’ll hear below), it was, as late additions go, a game-changer.
12. BLOOD SOUND – “Nightclub”
A Philadelphia band (not the last time I’ll say that here; quite the ‘scene’ there these days), Blood Sound emerged rather fully formed last January with this full-length debut. Mystery and mystique notwithstanding, it was a very welcome arrival out of a somewhat misty left field. A stripped-back duo that makes a noise that sounds anything but ‘stripped back,’ the band have recently announced that they’ll be releasing two singles on the renowned Manimal Vinyl Records label in 2016 (home now and again to Bats For Lashes, Warpaint, even Yoko Ono), so I’d guess that said mystique will begin to clear away in the new year, and hooray for that.
11. KNURD HAMSUN – “Slauerhoff”
If you recall in the intro, I mentioned something about a band’s origins being of a certain significance. That reference was to this duo (names Eka and Mirza). Despite their band name very strongly inferring a Norwegian author (and Nobel laureate) and their EP sounding unerringly German, Knurd Hamsun is from Bandung on the island of West Java in Indonesia. How on bloody earth they came to this music with those monikers is well beyond this writer – likely the internet had a bit to do with it, as well as innate curiosity and intelligence – but all I know is I’m exceedingly grateful they did. Full of fetching synthy goodness buoyed by a deep understanding of the form, we’re all agog over this fresh arrival that calls a place home that’s some five hundred miles from just about anywhere we’d have any right to expect this kind of sound to come from. Glorious.
10. LUST ERA – “The Lost Art of Murder”
Speaking of a band claiming as their base a relatively exotic outpost (by post-punk standards), the quartet known as Lust Era hail from San Juan, Puerto Rico, which may very well be the first, last, and only time I ever type those words in the same sentence. But once that novelty effect wears off, we’re back to the music, and it’s because of that they land on this list. Not only providing one of 2015’s best album names, the record brims with energy and a certain fearlessness (handing over some of their best tunes to be remixed and included on the LP certainly points, at the very least, to an adventurous spirit). Surprises never cease in this world, thankfully.
9. SEVENTEEN AT THIS TIME – “Flaming Creatures”
Only the second French band on this list (though plenty were in the running; probably I should have made this a ‘Top 50’ but even then…), this Parisian band with the poignant origin story (read here) have actually been around for a half-decade or so but only crossed my radar a few months ago (I keep meaing to get the thing fixed). But regret is not part of the equation here even as a sense of yearning sonically informs much of what we hear on Flaming Creatures. No, it’s nothing but joy around here for finding them in our midst, in our ears, in our heads.
8. FOREVER GREY – “Boundaries”
Based somewhere out of Michigan (bit cagey on that score), Forever Grey just released what is essentially a compilation of 2015’s many many singles, cassettes, and EPs (eleven at last count), making them surely the hardest-working band in the post-punk business. Though sourced from a wide variety of recording sessions, the record holds brilliantly together, speaking to the rock-solid promise of this somewhat enigmatic pair. Have no idea what their plans are for 2016 (aside from playing a little festival here in Portland), but whatever it is, we are so on board.
7. BLEIB MODERN – “All is Fair in Love and War”
An EP in 2014, a single in early 2015, and then BAM! this debut album entire lands on May 9th with extraordinarily supreme confidence, as if it’s been germinating since 1981. Moody, innately melancholic, and visited by the type of shadowy magic that makes us very (counter-intuitively) happy indeed, this is exactly the kind of release that makes us not only gratified beyond measure but very hopeful indeed for the future of the genre. In hands like this, how could it go astray? Answer: it couldn’t.
6. SEXTILE – “A Thousand Hands”
Sporting a rougher, darker, and decidedly more obsessive edge, LA band Sextile’s debut left us breathless with its brand of intense, brooding majesty. There’s a gritty mysticism to it, surely, but there’s also a grip of poignancy, as there seems to be an innate understanding in their sound that mortality stalks our every waking moment. Bracing, yes, but also exhilarating.
5. THE STAMMER – “Days in Between”
Frankly a late sneaker of an entry (especially this high on the list), but the way this debut – again! – by this Philadelphia band encompasses Feelies/dB’s-like sincerity in concert with pure heart-fluttering bass-powered post-punk and unselfconscious flights of melodic, minor-key pop classicism just speaks with such flowing authority to a broad sense of musicianship-beyond-their-years that, once the record’s scope was clear, their placement here was a foregone conclusion. An almost quiet stunner of a surprise, surely our favorite kind.
4. JAPAN SUICIDE – “We Die In Such A Place”
Our first (but not last, as it will turn out) entry to this list based out of Italy – in this case from Terni in the province of Umbria, which we were quick to point out in our review is sometimes known as the ‘Italian Manchester’ – Japan Suicide’s We Die In Such A Place (their second record after 2010’s Mothra) has all the hallmarks of enduring, hauntological, darkwaved post-punk, the looming overhead synths, the yearning of voice, the seriousness of purpose, and in fact we didn’t doubt a note of it.
3. NEW POLITICIANS – “Remission”
Another band – this one from New Jersey – bowling us the hell over with (say it with us now) their debut album, New Politicians bring that certain East Coast edge to their take on the form, the one engraved in us by the likes of everyone from Television to first-album Interpol. Lean but somehow simultaneously full to the brim, it’s a sound that leaves you deliriously on edge, a wholly compelling place to be we think you’ll agree.
2. LUNCH – “Let Us Have Madness Openly”
Channeling the renegade, fearless spirit of Gun Club and filtering it through, as said in our review, “Lowlife’s excited melancholy” while carving out a distinctly personal style overall (the element that most drew us in and kept us there) marked by a musicianship based in a sort of grand restraint and a lyrical intelligence – sparse but ringingly full – not often found in a band this young, this Portland outfit does that ‘winning hearts and minds’ thing everywhere they go, every time they play. We look with an almost reckless eagerness to their next LP.
1. BRANCHES – “Old Forgotten Places”
From Messina, Italy, Branches, though on their second record, came out of nowhere and simply floored us. Moody, atmospheric, loaded with the kind of delicious portent that makes you ready to face this shaky, sometimes bleak existence with a renewed courage (or perhaps just escape it for slightly over a half hour, your choice), this record proved to be an unrelenting joy, however dark, from the moment it appeared at the end of March. The music emerging from Italy during this new resurgence has been of startling quality and drive, and nowhere has this been more evident than from this quartet plying their trade at the furthest northeast corner of Sicily. Wonders truly never cease, a fact for which we are forever grateful.