Has anyone ever asked you what your favorite music genre is? And did you respond with post-punk? And then did that same person, in turn, ask you what post-punk is? This has happened to yours truly. Many times. Each time I’m asked what post-punk is, I’m left fumbling with the right words to explain the somewhat inexplicable genre, but always give a relatively similar answer every time. I could take the cop-out route and say “post-punk can be anything.” But the thing is……..post-punk really can be anything.
The name itself suggests that it’s somewhat of a baby born out of the punk genre, but it’s more than just a punk baby; post-punk is much more complex than punk. Punk music generally consists of the same few cords, simple, yet abrasive drums, and some guy shouting about how the establishment sucks, which is obviously great, don’t get me wrong, I love the CBGB scene with all my heart, but post-punk ditched the traditional aspect of punk and in turn adopted a more experimental approach to punk music. Borrowing elements from other genres like the moody bass lines from industrial music, some synth from house music, and sometimes even a crazy solo found commonly in jazz, post-punk became something really fresh in the late 70s taking off in Manchester with acts like Joy Division, Gang of Four, and The Fall, and in New York with Talking Heads, Suicide, and Blondie.
In terms of lyrical content, post-punk is sulky beyond belief. Imagine an entire generation of Morrissey’s sobbing silently into a journal, but imagine all those copies of Morrissey maintained the anti-establishment attitude of the original punk scene. And then imagine that this image of all the copies of Morrissey was transcribed by a poet. That’s the lyrical content of almost every post-punk album.
Many post-punk artists, having been truly inspired by the DIY aspect of the punk music scene ultimately felt as if the scene was beginning to cave in on itself with bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols taking a more commercial route with their music. With punk turning into a mockery, post-punk was becoming endlessly more punk than punk itself. During its peak, post-punk rejected traditionalism in rock music, both in sound and demeanor; post-punk’s aim was to “rip up history and start again,” according to musicologist Pete Dale. The genre became inherently political by establishing anti-corporate sentiments by creating their own independent labels and incorporating art into the music. Zines were crucial to punk culture, and in turn became crucial to post-punk culture; it’s how everyone shared their ideas and discovered new bands.
Now that I’m sure I’ve got you really wondering what post-punk sounds like exactly, I think it would only be fair if I were to share a few of my favorite post-punk albums. So buckle up, I guess.
5. Feelies, Crazy Rhythms
I love this album so much. It encapsulates everything so melancholic about post-punk, especially in the opening track “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.” On this track, Glenn Mercer creates this portrait of “the boy next door,” but in his portrait, he paints a boy who is too nervous to do mundane tasks. I’ve always been so enamored with the grittiness of the guitar throughout this album, and the experimentation of sound and volume. I recommend the second track, “Fa ce-la.”
4. Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
I remember once getting into a long-winded argument with my friends about if Parquet Courts are post-punk or not, but I think this album here allows for a reader to understand that they are post-punk, because what’s more post-punk than aggressive talk-singing layered overtop intrusive instrumentation? Nothing, if you really think about it. I recommend the sixth track, “Careers in Combat.”
3. Talking Heads, ‘77
What’s bigger, my adoration of the Talking Heads or David Byrne’s suit? I really don’t know, but what I do know is that this album really took the world by storm when it was first released in, you guessed it, 1977, because the Heads did something so new on this album by incorporating elements of funk and jazz, while still being ultimately punk. It might be safe to say that this album created post-punk. I recommend the fifth track, “Who Is It?”
2. The Fall, Live at the Witch Trials
I find Mark E. Smith to be quite enticing. He was such a dick, but he was so smart. He would literally fight with his bandmates when they tried to write more complex music because he knew that as consumers, we tend to run away from what’s viewed as more out there. Smith really channeled the post-punk identity in his lyrics, however, because all he ever wrote about is how sick he is of everything. I recommend the fourteenth track, “Repetition.”
1. Joy Division, Closer
I really can only explain this album in one word: genius. Wait, perfect. No actually, beyond compare. I give up, but you get it. I recommend the whole album.