Written by: Dave Cantrell
Up here in the northern hemisphere, the days draw gothically short, the nights irredeemably cold, dark, and merciless. Add to that the oncoming grip of a holiday season that’s often less cheer than it is fear and a kind of brightly-colored existential desperation, and what better time to unveil the next NEXT list from SEM? It has, after all, been over three months since the last one, which itself trailed after a slow but incremental march of steadily growing outbreaks (see here, here, here, and here for the sequels, here for the original), and, well, it just seems right that we offer our latest twenty as a kind of SEM early-Solstice/Holiday-of-choice present, something to keep you warm and wonderfully gloomy through the stressful season that’s suddenly upon us. So, without any further preamble, and including the by-now-usual commentary, we present, alphabetically, the next score of essential post-punk/darkwave/etc bands that should NOT be missing from your own life’s playlist. You can either ignore them at your own peril, or, embrace them and live forever. Your choice. [feature photo courtesy Totally Wired Records]
ALPHA WAVES (Hamburg, Germany)
A duo – Olaf and Chris – that have just released their third album (Severance) of what we called, in a Shadowplay column some months back, “a great hypnotic monster of a psych-insinuated post-punk noise” (a noise, by the way, that we still can’t quite figure out how they accomplish it), Alpha Waves are at least very well-named. They are also, apparently, unstoppable.
BEYOND SOUL (Sicily, Italy)
Listing feverishly to the gothy darkwave side of the shadowy equation, BeYond Soul (as it should be iterated) have only just released their debut this past March, a luminously dark record that sounds like it’s just arisen phoenix-like from years spent languishing in the underground, bursting with pent-up energy and verve. Powerful, sweeping, and not a little ominous, we’re just going to step back and let the band speak for themselves.
BRANCHES (Messina, Italy)
A purely stunning recent discovery, Branches also happen to come to us from Sicily, albeit the very northern tip. But aside from the coincidence of the first two bands from that Mediterranean island to appear on these lists to end up bundled right next to each other, the story here is the clean, promethean sound this group manage. Their second album, from which the below, only came out last January, a full nine years since their debut, the prophetically-named Distance. While there’s undoubtedly a story there, whatever it is we are, plain and simple, just stoked that they stuck it out.
CADAVER EM TRANSE (São Paulo)
Hailing from Brazil and bringing a heavier force than most on this list, Cadaver Em Transe are nothing if not prolific, issuing a debut flexi (in full below), an LP (called, with terse assurance, LP), a split with the mighty Rakta (see NEXT³) and a 7″ just this past August all in the space of a year and a half. Did we say something up above about unstoppable? Well, no surprise given the dynamics they bring to the mix, and we only have this advice if you’re going to see them live: make sure you’re leaning up against a wall, as you’ll most likely just get blown there anyway.
CRYSTAL SODA CREAM (Vienna)
A deftly balanced trio with a gift for contasting bright accents with a dark undercurrent, Crystal Soda Cream somehow reflect their origins, if only in the touch of cosmopolitan coolness that one could equally attribute to the Austrian capital with its blend of alabaster white marble and gleaming glass and steel. Whether that corollary is spot on and the band, cannot, in fact, “Escape from Vienna” or just speculative nonsense, the results – brilliant and assured – are irrefutable.
DANCING STRANGERS (Tijuana, Mexico)
Though not the first band from Mexico to grace these lists (that would be Candy Colors from NEXT #2), Dancing Strangers are among the first from any of them to so forcefully integrate the shimmering textures of shoegaze into their rougher-edged post-punk foundations. Their proximity to the US/Mexico border has allowed them to infiltrate Southern California for the occasional mini-tour, which can only mean that a deeper incursion up the West Coast is inevitable, something your humble scribe is hellbent on making happen.
DYSTOPIAN SOCIETY (Florence, Italy)
Delving deeper into the punkier, somewhat rawer deathpunk end of the spectrum (and just adding more credence to the notion that Italy, as much as anywhere in Europe, is just teeming with the dark joys), Dystopian Society reminds not a little of Arctic Flowers with a more than passing interest in the aesthetic spark of Killing Joke. All comparisons aside, the band from the banks of the Arno have mastered what you might call the deliberate post-punk shred, and from what we hear, it’s not unusual for their live performances to leave the audience in virtual tatters.
FLIES ON YOU (Leeds, UK)
A late yet overdue entry here, the fetchingly named Flies On You have been on our radar for a while now, and in that while it seems they’ve been gathering steam, just recently sharing a stage with yours truly’s forever beloved Deaf School in York. With a brimming album (etcetera) released earlier in 2015, we’re looking for the lads to simply swarm 2016.
GATTOPARDO (São Paulo)
Does Brazil ever quit? Apparently not. A country well-represented not only on these NEXT lists but as well in the annals of post-punk history generally [check out this compilation for a brief if explosive review], Gattopardo do nothing but add to that ever-burgeoning mystique. Brash but melodic as fuck, driving but artfully restrained where necessary, we dare say they’ve absorbed their heritage well.
H D S P N S (Auckland, New Zealand)
Coming on like some mad hybrid of a garage Talking Heads and Polyrock had they never met Philip Glass, this Kiwi quartet is probably both the mathy-est and most purely inventive lot on this edition of NEXT, something not to be unexpected perhaps from a band that has no doubt soaked in their island nation’s more renowned pop heritage (even as Auckland is about as far from Dunedin as one can get and not be in the Pacific) while likely hoping to avoid it at the same time. Whatever the case, the results are crafty and audacious, tenacious and graceful, and just altogether cool.
THE INSIGHT (Rennes, France)
With a sound that feels somehow both optimistic and desperate, this is the band that finally builds that link from greater Brittany (of which Rennes is the capital) to Great Britain, delivering a UK-flavored yearn with a continental sheen that, while constructed on the vintage post-punk tropes, can’t help but burrow their way into your deepest earworm corners.
JAPAN SUICIDE (Terni, Italy)
As mentioned quite recently in the most recent Shadowplay column, Terni is an Umbrian industrial city sometimes dubbed “the Italian Manchester, and by the strength of what they bring to their records, Japan Suicide is going to keep it that way even as the steel-making industry that brought that comparison in the first place loses traction. Moody, forceful, filled with, umm, steely atmospherics, this five-piece band tweaks every post-punk sensor known to humankind, and help prove anew that Italy’s hotter in the post-punk arts right now than just about anywhere.
JESSICA 93 (Paris)
Known by his mom as Geoff Lapporte, the nom-de-postpunk Jessica 93 is suitably enigmatic and intriguing considering the tenor of the ‘band”s sound. Injecting a sense of the frantic into the fiercely mesmerizing, he/they has/have such command of the dynamics to hypnotize us in a writhing sort of way that we’re reminded of no less than Cold Cave, though J 93’s audio profile tends a bit more toward the visceral end of the spectrum as opposed to the Eisold’s more chromium approach. But hey, let’s jettison comparisons and go with the thing itself. Behold:
A poignantly odd entry into NEXT #7 as it’s the first – and we desperately hope only – time that a band has been included in these lists that needs an immediate and sadly added caveat: KnifeLadder (again note the iteration) is no more, and the posthumous nature of that statement is unfortunately all-too-real. John Murphy, founder member and inspirational guiding light for the band, passed away shortly before their latest album This World On Fire – originally slated to be issued in early 2016 – was rush-released in October. Around since 2002 and somehow escaping our notice (and shame on us), KnifeLadder trafficked in moody, often long-form post-punk of a type that builds and envelops and subtly overwhelms. We can roundly recommend any of their records, but we suggest with great vigor that you hustle over to their Bandcamp page and purchase their final release, as all proceeds are funneled to Murphy’s wife. But don’t just do it for that (exceedingly noble) reason, do it as well because, well, they sounded like this [please note: this is an edited version; entire song is 7:15 and never lets up]:
NATURE TRAILS (Brisbane, Australia)
From the city that birthed the Saints among a host of other groundbreakers such as the Go-Betweens, Screaming Tribesmen, and Powderfinger, Nature Trails successfully sound like none of them, which is as it should be, as the city has always rather specialized in breeding bands that don’t necessarily sound like the band the next block over, or for that matter other bands in Australia. Specializing in a baritone-rich, gauzy simulacrum of the form that never quite gives itself away as being like any particular place or time, the trio’s take ends up being as unique as it is homagistic. Let’s just call it the ‘Brisbane Effect.’
Racing staightaway past the obviousness of saying that this band ‘ought’ to have featured on a NEXT list ages ago, let’s move immediately on to exactly why this is such an oversight. Tightly-wound, in some ways seeming (subtly) possessed by the demons the way all great bands seem to be, there seems to be nowhere these four turn in the studio that doesn’t result in them producing some sort of loitering voodoo post-punk that sounds like the Fall filtered through the best case of creative Tourette’s that Suicide ever had. Or something. Have a listen yourself if you haven’t heard them yet (though the more astute among you already have, no doubt), and join us in welcoming them to the hallowed halls.
POE MEETS LUDWIG (São Paulo)
We’ll say it again: São Paulo knows no bounds, São Paulo has no shame. Always a player in these lists, Brazil’s most populous city is pretty well dominating this time around and Poe Meets Ludwig is simply more proof that most all of us are living in the wrong city. Leaning slightly toward the more achingly ponderous end of things, PML anesthetizes with charm and a sure-handed way with the greyer corners of possibility, along the way never stinting on melody, mystery, or suss.
SEXTILE (Los Angeles)
Speaking of ‘about time, SEM!,’ this charging churn of a quartet from LA, freshly in the wake of their startling debut A Thousand Hands, is one of those bands that demands your attention, so immediate is their presence. Rising on a droning storm of no-wave-y dynamics and a guitar sound that often suggests Television compressed down to its naked essence and spun back at you at 95 MPH, they are, as much as anyone on this list, a force to be reckoned with.
Still playing catch-up, the NEXT list hangs its head in shame that this lot hasn’t been featured yet, but then raises it in furious curious joy as soon as anyone hits ‘play’ on this trio’s latest album Why Choose. Intricate, passionate with an intellect’s bent, they could conceivably be the Slits reincarnated by the spirit of Kleenex and ESG, and yes they’re that good. Endlessly delightful, get this record, hit ‘random’ and watch yourself get all doolally in front of the bedroom mirror as your every nerve ending shimmers with that joy mentioned above. Believe.
SUPER BESSE (Minsk, Belarus)
Another dizzyingly prolific outfit with five EPs and a mini-album released in the space of a year and a half, one gets the feeling that the band is simply bursting with eagerness to get all the great material they apparently have stored up between the three of them out before they explode. When it’s pretty much all as lively and full of adrenalized coldwavey goodness as what you hear below, we’re all for it. So far as us here at the post-punk desk, Super Besse can put out an album, or an EP, a single (we’re not picky) every week, we wouldn’t mind at all. Oh, plus the video is cool as f**k.