Stereo Embers Top Post-Punk Ten for 2014

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As our alert readers no doubt noticed, Stereo Embers’ recent “Top 40 Albums of 2014” piece displayed a conspicuous absence of post-punk, darkwave, etc. There were outliers Chrome and Corners, there was the Temporary compilation from the Dunedin, NZ label Fishrider that sports some deliciously angular, shadowed tracks, there were Ashley Reaks and Viet Cong that both have some taste of ’79 to them, but no titles for which the genre name itself would have been prominently utilized in any respecting publication’s initial review of said album. The reason for this otherwise galling absence wasn’t a sudden dismissal of the form by the staff here at SEM, but rather the opposite. 2014, post-punk-wise, was simply so strong that it was decided to provide those albums with their own list. Sounds easy, but as with any such lists, it wasn’t. Which is why this list comes with a staggering roster of honorable mentions. What a year.

The following are listed in alphabetical order and only reflect what records your faithful correspondent was able to hear, so please, A) consider that before sending us missives of spluttering – and no doubt well-deserved – rage over who we’ve overlooked, and B) by all means tell who we’ve overlooked. One of the bands that made the top 10 here resulted from reader input, so don’t ever think we’re not listening. We are, to you and the bands you recommend. Listening, as you might imagine, is something we do a lot of. Meanwhile, enjoy the quick look-back, and prepare yourself for an even more exciting 2015. There’s already a release on the immediate horizon that rather guarantees it (hint: what you call your mid-day meal). We’ve heard it and it’s amazing. But first, 2014:

af cover

ARCTIC FLOWERS – “Weaver”

As we said in our review, ” (that) here is a band steadily vaulting to the next level, is gloriously incontrovertible,” Portland band Arctic Flowers returned this year with their second full length that put paid to any concerns regarding their growth. Still full with as much contained, intelligent rage as their debut (which is why we titled the review that), the concision somehow became even more concise while the band simultaneously broadened their sound’s profile. Full and unstinting, a triumph. Key track: “Magdalene

eagulls cover

EAGULLS – “Eagulls”

Though, yes, curiously-named because of its phonetic similarity to a Californication band that shall remain unmentioned (though the fact it’s ‘Seagulls’ without the ‘S’ intrigued from the off), on their debut album this Leeds band defies expectation as well by sounding nothing like the cohort of bands that put England’s third largest city on the post-punk map in the first place. So, no funky shards of fractured disco neo-Marxism – Frankfurt division, then, but plenty of relentless shards of thrum and fury. Key track: “Nerve Endings

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THE ESTRANGED – “The Estranged”

Not a debut as might be suggested by the self-titled, umm, title, this was actually the third full-length from the virtual godfathers of the current (bursting) Portland post-punk scene. And like that other Portland band already listed, The Estranged were another band that took their already formidable internal strengths and built on them, in the process delivering a long-awaited follow-up to the magnificent The Subliminal Man that managed to escape that album’s rather imposing shadow and do so just as magnificently. Key track: “Another Stab

iceage

ICEAGE – “Plowing Into the Field of Love”

Quite possibly this list’s most provocative, divisive choice, that fact right there just about guaranteed its placement here. More than just about anyone on this list, this Copenhagen outfit, once known for its dense and intense sound, incorporated perhaps the most central characteristic of the original post-punk era into their surprising (to say the least) third album, restless experimentation. No less intense, their spins through Nick Cave-goes-rockabilly (album-previewing single “The Lord’s Favorite”) and spacious and emotional regret-punk (the title track) took us all unawares, some more receptively than others (as your writer raises his hand). Key track: “The Lord’s Favorite

moth

MOTH – “First Second”

Staying in Copenhagen, we come to this, a debut record every bit as startling as that one up there from their Leeds confreres. The words ‘gorgeous’ and ‘haunting’ are used by their label Mass Media to more-than-adequately describe them though we’d also add “meditatively bold” and “supremely confident,” though yeah, we like to go all journalistically poetic on ya. Then again, when a band sounds like this, it’s a rather unavoidable result. Key track: “Obelian Disco

principe

PRINCIPE VALIENTE – “Choirs of Blessed Youth”

Whatever it is about Scandinavia right now we hope they don’t change a thing, as the flow of inspired combos emerging from the great Nordic expanses has us dizzy with joy (a dark joy, of course). Following up on their equally mesmerizing debut, this Swedish outfit led by mastermind Fernando Honorato have again put us in their thrall. Key track: “Take Me With You

proto

PROTOMARTYR – “Under Color of Offical Right”

With blue-collar poet Joe Casey up front, Detroit’s Protomartyr are another band we’ve just caught up to this year, though we’re not alone, as it took releasing a record on esteemed indie Hardly Art to get the word out. And what a word. An incomparable, nearly flawless record. Key track: “Come & See

shouse

SHADOWHOUSE – “Hand in Hand”

Just released, this third Portland band to make this list (yeah, we know, we know. What can we say but move here like everyone else) has made spectacular good on an out-of-nowhere debut single (“Haunted”/”Lonely Psalm”) that itself seemed unbeatable. Well, if not exactly beating it, they’ve at least matched it over the course of a full-length. Key track: “Start Again

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VANIISH – “Memory Work”

Dropping down south from Portland about 650 miles to San Francisco, we come to Vaniish. Of all the bands utilizing the sudden ‘double vowel syndrome,’ none have come within any amount of miles of being as exciting as this young trio led by Keven Tecon, ex of Wax Idols and The Soft Moon and yeah, they live up to that lineage. Key track: “Memory Work

wcsl

WEST COAST SICK LINE – “The Road to Billinge Hill”

Without much doubt the most obscure band to make this list, they’re also the most adventurous, as well the only hailing from the post-punk Mecca of Manchester, Salford to be exact. And as with that town-within-the-city’s most notorious son, Mark E Smith, WCSL aren’t afraid to both color outside the lines of what might be expected of them and to rattle some sensibilities along the way. On German Shepherd Records, themselves a candidate for ‘label of the year,’ as there’s nothing we’ve heard yet from them that doesn’t intrigue. Key track: “The Way I Want It All To Fail

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in absolutely no order at all): 

OCTOBER PEOPLE – “Love Is Colder Than Death”

SILENCE KIT – “Watershed”

NOIR FOR RACHEL – “Fog Museum”

TOTAL CONTROL – “Typical System”

2:54 – “The Other I”

POPULATION – “Beyond The Pale”

BÖRN – s/t

LE RUG – “Press Start: The Collection”

MAKTHAVERSKAN – “Makthaverskan II”

TENSE MEN – “Where Dull Care Is Forgotten”

THE AMOUNT OF LIGHT WE GIVE OFF – “List”

FACTICE FACTORY – “The White Days”

NIGHTINGALES – “For Fuck’s Sake”

REISSUE OF THE YEAR – THE POP GROUP – “We Are Time”

  • Carlos Danger

    Where is Corners? Maxed out on Distractions one of the best ‘bums of the year for sure!

    • disqus_x080xPAsDU

      Mentioned in the lead-in text as having made our year-end top 40 list, but otherwise, sadly, I’ve not had a chance to hear it yet. Pretty sure I’ll be revising this list all the way up until next year’s list. There’s always so much to catch up on….Dave Cantrell

  • Bob Osborne

    West Coast Sick Line are actually from North Wales (was Rhos on Sea at the time of the recording of the album, now Deganwy) – it is the record label that is based in Salford