Written by: Dave Cantrell
The months fly by, the bands pile up, and if we don’t relieve the pressure over at the post-punk desk, the entirety of Stereo Ember’s premises just might go up in a great cloud of monochromatic smoke. With that in mind, well yeah, it must be time. Much has transpired since the last NEXT article (and you can find all previous editions here, by the way). New bands have emerged from out of the midnight mists, some existent bands have so grown in stature their profiles are possibly destined for some kind of post-punk/darkwave Mt Rushmore, while others have at long last come to mind, bands the heretofore absence of which has finally hit us over the head with the equivalent of a two-by-four engraved with the words “Hey! SEM! How the hell could you have missed these guys?!” Our faces are admittedly a bit red over those last but as we’re (perhaps overly) fond of saying, late is indeed far better than never. Once again arriving from all manner of locales both expected and not, we offer you twenty more current post-punk bands very worthy of your attention, listed in alphabetical order with their places of origin and a few accompanying words for the ever-crucial context. So lower the lights, grab your headphones, and set your controls for the heart of the shadows. [feature photo by Jimmy Lilja]
THE AGNES CIRCLE (London)
In what’s turned out to be a perhaps surprising rarity on these lists, here we have a band, like Savages (who’ve never been included on one of these lists because, well, we all know about them, don’t we?), that hail from what was once ground zero. But whether or not the British capital currently flourishes with bands practicing the dark arts, The Agnes Circle makes such considerations profoundly immaterial by pounding out some truly inspired examples of the form. There’s talk of a US tour and we can only hope hope HOPE that such talk comes to fruition.
ANNEX (McAllen, Texas)
If any US band on any of these lists wished to lay claim to coming from the most remote location imaginable, they’d meet with some stiff resistance from Annex, whose home town very nearly occupies the utmost southernmost tip of the great state of Texas, hugging the Rio Grande and only ceding ground to Brownsville for the above-mentioned distinction. One assumes, quite reasonably, that coming from such a relatively isolated home base might account for the uncompromising fierceness one hears in their music, though who knows, it’s just as likely that they would have ended up sounding this way even if they’d been birthed in the heart of LA, Portland, or NYC. Whatever the case, their sound takes no prisoners and makes no excuses and we love it dearly.
ARS PHOENIX (Gainesville, Florida)
Speaking of unexpected origins, Ars Phoenix, if you’ll excuse the pun, rather rises out of nowhere, or anyway calls a place home that hasn’t exactly besieged the post-punk desk with eager submissions. Trading in a hauntological, brooding-but-beautiful dark/synth wave, the band pretty much single-handedly helps us forget Gainesville’s far more famous musical son whose name we’re forgetting at the moment (something or another Petty, maybe?) by, umm, gainfully hypnotizing us into a state of blissful amnesia, and for that at least, we are thankful.
BLEIB MODERN (Bamberg, Germany)
If we’re not mistaken, the first Bavarian band to enter into the hallowed halls of the NEXT franchise, Bleib Modern (which translates, roughly, to Stay Modern) is a duo consisting of one Philipp and one Vinz and they absolutely mesmerize with their blend of classic darkwave and deep abiding, lead-with-the-bass melodic post-punk, in the process making darkness the most inviting quality we’ve ever encountered, the true sign of a successful band in this form, we think you’ll agree. “Always looking for shows, just drop us a message” it says on their Facebook page, to which we say “Hey Bleib Modern, get in touch!” We’ve got some ideas…
BLOOD SOUND (Philadephia)
At least the third band we’ve featured here hailing from the City of Brotherly Post-Punk, Blood Sound come at us with a nuanced, darkly chiming dynamic that hasn’t failed to arrest us in place any time they’ve been given stereo space ’round here at SEM. The track below is from their debut album just released in late July, and really we’ve barely had time to digest the whole record which portends nothing but good things for us in the near future as we bury our ears inside the slyly-titled Too Much Sun and Not Enough Gloom at the Beach. Hopefully you’re not quite as busy as we are and can hurry on over to Bandcamp right now and give it a listen, and, we heartily recommend, pick the album up at the same time.
COLD CAVE (Los Angeles)
The first of two inclusions on this sixth list that, as alluded to in the intro above, rather screams “Well, DUH! Stereo Embers, it’s about time,” there’s not much to say about this band that you probably don’t already know but in case you need more info or a refresher on Wes Eisold’s enduring, stunningly good project wherein he explores aesthetic territories first introduced to him by the Cure, New Order, and the Smiths, it’s probably best to simply direct you to our recent interview here, after which you can lose yourself in any number of youtube tracks, beginning right here with a track written and recorded on a moving train as part of Doug Aitken’s Station to Station project…
DOUBLE ECHO (Liverpool)
Another indication that, yes, we’re living in a different era, this is also the first band to make a NEXT list from the fabled Merseyside. Eschewing the slightly psych-tinged efforts of that city’s notorious, nay legendary post-punk bands that made up the place’s second great cultural moment, Double Echo chooses instead to go straight for the dark jugular, no messing about. The results, if ever any did, speak for themselves, as made evident by the sonorous, synth-washed beauty presented below.
Juuust in case you didn’t quite believe our Shadowplay review back there a few months ago, here’s further proof of Hemgraven’s deserved place on this list. Toiling not at all in fellow Swedish band Holograms’ shadow, these former Sundvallians (we’re certain that’s an incorrect geographic term for persons coming from Sundvall but we’re sticking by it nonethess, just as certain they won’t mind) traffic in a harder brand, a bit more aggro, a bit spikier, while sacrificing none of the nuance, a neat but essential trick.
LIÉ (Vancouver, BC)
Growing out of what’s become a ragingly fertile scene in everyone’s favorite BC city, lié (the band decidedly prefers the lower case) is without much doubt the starkest, most unrelentingly direct band on this list this time around, utilizing something of a guerilla artist approach to their sound. Whatever, your correspondent saw them here in Portland at premier punk club The Know, had his head spinned, and has been suitably smitten ever since. Now it’s your turn.
LOVE IN PRAGUE (Lyon, France)
An intoxicating blend of their country’s coldwave past and a broader continental palette, the longingly named Love In Prague is nothing short of bewitching and we don’t say that gratuitously. It would seem they have some innate, almost eerie ability to cast spells, and to do so with something approaching a, shall we say, laissez faire consistency. Impossible to not fall in love with, we say, whether in Prague, Pittsburgh, or Poughkeepsie.
LUST ERA (Puerto Rico)
Easily – easily – the first band to arrive on NEXT’s shores from the renowned “unincorporated US territory,” Lust Era presents another instance where it would seem best to, in the name of not repeating ourselves, simply point you towards our recent Shadowplay review of their debut album, not only to provide you with all the skinny of this band from the most unlikely of places, but as well to give you some (persuasive, we believe) reason to dash on over to their Bandcamp page and order up. You’ll not be sorry you did, but you will be sorry if you don’t.
The most unapologetically goth outfit this time around, in sound, look, and intent, this Finnish band take the Siouxsie cue and just…go off. The music, relishing in the flamboyance of singer Suzi Sabotage (a fitting name there, in more ways than one) and a guitar sound that hasn’t sounded this gloriously decadent since the flagrant days of the Batcave and Specimen, takes the concept of homage and shreds it just enough to make it recognizable and recognizably their own.
MASSES (Melbourne, Australia)
Though thus far in possession of just a 4-track EP, the promise and potential of this four-piece from the land of the Saints is too great to ignore. Blessed by a balance of components and seemingly a-writhe with ambition, they’re one of the only bands we’ve been willing to bend the rules for a slight bit. Also, we’re hoping, maybe this will propel them all that more quickly toward a full-length, the arrival of which might well prompt an impromptu holiday at SEM HQ.
NAKED LIGHTS (Oakland, California)
Among a captivating wave of amazing bands that make up a suddenly upsurgent Oakland scene (a product, we suspect, of the once musically vital San Francisco’s inability to maintain sufficient housing options for its artists and freaks, but that’s for a different feature), Naked Lights released their head-turning debut Chime Grove in 2012 (from which the below track) but have promised us far more exciting things with their sophomore release. We’re all in, we’re all ears.
PLEASURE LEFTISTS (Cleveland)
Though once benefitting, and greatly, from its proximity to the hothouse scenes in Akron and Kent, the home of that dubious institution called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t for some time boasted much of a punk or post-punk profile and it would seem that Pleasure Leftists are here to remedy that historic lack all by themselves, a prospect we have to think is not all that far-fetched, especially after their recent swing through Portland. Redolent of a sound that harkens back to a garage punk ethic perfectly suited to the 7″ single, we’re thrilled to finally have them on a NEXT list, and hope they’ll forgive us for (unintentionally) omitting them until now, an oversight that in even the briefest retrospect is simply unimaginable, though making amends has never sounded this good.
A three-man synth-monster band from the darkened shores of Lake Michigan, Garrett Vernon, Justin and Jordan DeLay fully deserve to be considered as an almost orchestral concern given the breadth, depth, and richness of the sound they create. Full of pulsing dystopian beauty and as seductive as any artist that has appeared on any of these lists, Replicant is also one of the most accurately-named bands we’ve encountered, eerily simulating the intrinsic soundtrack our minds imagine when hearing that name. The future, apparently, is now, and it would seem that jetpacks and leisure time aren’t part of the deal. See you in the shadows…
SAPPHIC (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Perhaps you’re tiring of hearing us say it but we’re not tired of saying it, but here’s another instance of a NEXT band hailing from a heretofore far-off corner. Grand Rapids may be the second-largest city in Michigan behind it’s infamous cross-state brother Detroit, but perhaps due to that relative outlying status, Sapphic is our first entry from the erstwhile “Furniture City,” but if any band can make the place proud, this is them. Opting for a dreamily downcast approach, employing an effecting build of guitar on top of a vocal that reminds of Mission of Burma’s more reflective moments (“Einstein’s Day,” say), we’re simply bowled over by them. Say no more…
SEVENTEEN AT THIS TIME (Paris, France)
Less concerned with coldwave or for that matter anything predominantly synthy or overly chromatic, SATT instead busy themselves with craft, leaning with a learned ear toward the pop/experimental side of the post-punk equation. Surprising, to some extent, given their residence in the historic center of all things svelte, electronic, and oh-so-continental, the band, which isn’t in fact shy about taking the digital road, have succeeded in carving out a sound very identifiably their own. Tracks like “Flowers In The Desert” (check that out after the clip below) are what we play when we want to both chill and be somewhat deliciously creeped out. Not, you’ll have to agree, your most common blend.
SHADOW AGE (Richmond, Virginia)
Speaking of energy, Richmond’s Shadow Age have plenty of it, though we can’t say ‘plenty to spare’ because most of it would seem to be feeding into the ‘charging restraint’ brand of effortlessly melodic post-punk the band are apparently incapable of not making. Obviously well-versed in their history, the Shadow Age quartet refract it through the collective influences and come up total trumps. The word ‘superb’ comes to mind, especially as we’ve just heard their July-released EP and were, to be honest, a bit thunderstruck.
THIS COLD NIGHT (Austin, Texas)
Yeah, Austin’s home to a kaleidoscope of varying musical styles (not to mention some kind of yearly festival, I’ve heard) that it’s pretty much impossible to get one’s head around it. Except, that is, post-punk/darkwave etc. That we don’t hear much about, not from there, but like Sapphic and the Pleasure Leftists above, This Cold Night is set to change that and pronto, thank you very much. One can hear a vague twang in TCN’s sound, or anyway as much a one as the genre could ever generate, but no one’s ever going to mistake them for the typical Austin bar (or barbecue) band. If anything they remind us of Overpass, and if there’s a god above this vast lost land of ours, he or she will see to it that we get to see the two of them sharing a bill someday. Until that day, well, we’ll make do for the grandeur wrapped up inside tracks like this.
VILLAIN (Christchurch, New Zealand)
Though quite famously known for the always-bursting pop scene in Dunedin, and in fact one can detect a nascent chime in the track below, the resemblance mostly ends there. Gloriously locked inside a more forbidding vibe (read:dark), Villain seem an island apart from their more celebrated cousins, and for that, as much as we adore Dunedin and all it’s stood for, we’re grateful. Sometimes one needs to lose oneself in the deepest blue-black ether imaginable, just to get perspective, and for that we have (and need) bands like Villain, a quartet after our other pop hearts. We await a West Coast tour with open macs.