UK Post Punk Show Notes

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Well I’ve been threatening to start publishing our notes on here for awhile now, but have thus far chickened out due to terrible quality. Years of writing workshops have made me wary of releasing work that was made with no intention of being read, but 1. nobody actually checks out the website and 2. I figure y’all are cool enough not to judge me too harshly. So if you’re interested in what kind of work goes into an episode, it’s stuff like this—you’ll notice a lot of it was restated verbatim in the show. Well, y’know, you take so many notes, they find their way into your head, and then from your head to a microphone, after which no amount of diligent Audacity cutting will cleanse them.

Enjoy, if you want to!

UK Post-Punk 79-84 Notes

 

Intro—Who we aren’t covering

  • Any band with enough good albums to qualify for an episode (i.e. The Raincoats, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, The Cure, The Fall, etc.)
  • Bands that, for whatever reason, seem like they would fit better in a different genre survey (so no X-Ray Spex)
  • Non-UK Bands—like The Birthday Party, Kleenex, Mission of Burma, etc—those will be covered in a different survey.

 

This is not a show about music history, and as such this episode is not meant to define, represent, or explain an era. These are not necessarily the most defining works of the genre and period we’re covering—but they’re albums that are important to us, and deserve discussion on their own merits

 

What “Post-Punk” Means to Us

 

  • Personally, a cold, echoing minimalism, sharp angles, unexpected space, and mood, mood, mood.
  • That said, this is one of the most stylistically varied niche genres you’re likely to find, from the dubby yelps of the slits to the avant-garde noise of This Heat to the aching ballads of OMD to the primal, tribal Birthday Party, and everything in between.
  • In modern times, it’s generally used to describe bands that sound like Gang of Four, Joy Division (or at least a popular idea of what Joy Division sounds like), and Bauhaus.
  • Controversial Statement: There is no truly great, or even consistent, post-punk album.
  • Nevertheless, it is my favorite genre.

 

The Slits—Cut (September 7, 1979)

Gang of Four—Entertainment (September 25, 1979)

PiL—Metal Box (November 23, 1979)

Joy Division—Closer (July 18, 1980)

The Sound—Jeopardy (November 1, 1980)

Comsat Angels—Sleep No More (August 21, 1981)

This Heat—Deceit (September 1981)

OMD—Dazzle Ships (March 4, 1983)

The Chameleons—Script of the Bridge (August 1, 1983)

Stockholm Monsters—Alma Mater (August 1984)

 

 

The Slits—Cut (September 7, 1979)

 

  • Easily the most fun album we’re going to cover
  • Obviously reggae and dub were touchstones for a lot of early post-punk—see Jah Wobble, The Raincoats, Gang of Four, etc—but there’s something to be said for the sheer exuberance with which The Slits tackle it. Where other bands fell for the texture and darkness, The Slits doubled down on its fracture.
  • There’s a lot of simpatico with the Raincoats—a love of dub bass lines, a ramshackle aesthetic, off-kilter song structure. The Raincoats are definitely an artier affair though, whereas the Slits are more about delivering energy.

 

Gang of Four—Entertainment (September 25, 1979)

 

  • Ether remains one of the best statements of purpose to ever open an album. That intro bass lick is iconic, the drum beat both tightly wound and utterly slippery, the guitar as stabbing as ever.
  • I will say now and maintain forever that the melodica is the worst thing post-punk ever stole from dub. It doesn’t work in this context y’all. You ain’t Augustus Pablo.
  • I take it back; this might be the most fun album in the list. The guitar texture is undeniable, and it’s funky as heck, in a nervous white-dude sort of way.
  • Damaged Goods, as essentially a breakup song with a bunch of commie Gang of Four language thrown in, is both hilarious and weirdly affecting. The metaphor doesn’t hold, but some of the turns of phrase are great.
  • When the post-punk revival happened in the early oughts, this is really what they were all following. The Rapture, Liars, Bloc Party—all deeply indebted to this album. So for a lot of people this is post-punk.
  • That’s also, almost surely, why they got back together in the early oughts to play this album (worth mentioning return the gift).
  • It feels half empty to me—surely the dry production has a lot to do with this. There’s also the fact that, melodically, it’s not really my thing, and that the lyrics are really, really on the nose.
  • BUT: Ether, 5.45, Damaged Goods, Natural’s Not in It, and I Found that Essence Rare are fantastic, raw, really electric tracks.
  • A digression—what the hell happened to this band to make them create Mall?

 

Public Image Ltd.—Metal Box (November 23, 1979)

 

  • A formative album. Bought in Burlington along with First Edition as a double pack, I was expecting songs like “Public Image.”
  • What I got was Albatross, ten minutes of monotony, moaning, a steady groove, and guitar arpeggios that sound like a robotic REM slowly falling apart. I hated it. To a degree I still do, but you have to respect it. If Sleep is a fake out, Albatross is a test—if you can make it through this song, you can make it through the album.
  • It immediately gets better, of course. Memories is propulsive, and features some wild, practically ring modded guitar along with what will become John Lydon’s signature vocal mode for the album.
  • Of course the album is an endurance test, with every song lasting an hour or two longer than it probably should—but that’s half the point, and if nothing else, it makes it a great dance record.
  • But that also makes it miserable to listen to on assignment. It’s not suited to close listening, really, the way Flowers of Romance
  • It’s cute that Swan Lake actually has a brief lick from the ballet.
  • Poptones is the classic on here, for me, the song I loved even then, the song that created weird myspace doodles with an early girlfriend, the song who’s length doesn’t bother me at all (and thank goodness, as it’s the second longest track). John Lydon’s narcotic mumbles at the beginning are so unnerving, in this specific context.
  • It’s as repetitive as everything else, but significantly more complex—namely, there are two chords, rather than one, and thus two patterns for Keith Levene and Jah Wobble to play.
  • Keith Levene, by the way, is the unsung hero of this album. His guitar sound is maybe my favorite in all of music, as sharp and atmospheric as it is ragged and catchy. Along with John McGeoch and Bernard Sumner, easily my favorite guitarist in post-punk.
  • Careering is another highlight, although it’s hard to explain why any one song works better than any other—the differences are slight. Maybe the bassline just works better for me? Or maybe it’s just remembering that they played this and Poptones on fucking American Bandstand.
  • Doing due diligence here. Socialist is the most dubby song, since every album from this era needs to have one. It’s fun and cute and terribly slight.

 

Joy Division—Closer (July 18, 1980)

 

  • OK let’s do this
  • A very different album from Unknown Pleasures, although Martin Hannett once again produced it and the band once again hated the way it came out.
  • Atrocity Exhibition is a good example of why I love Bernard Sumner so much—the guitar here actually sounds like it’s moaning and wailing, more of a texture and sound effect and a chord. It makes the song work for me, although it’s never going to be one I enjoy listening to all the way through. (ADDENDUM apparently Peter Hook did the guitar here, and Sumner did the bass. Wild!)
  • Isolation is very peppy and electronic, like Digital or something. Melodically it doesn’t really work for me—but for those it does work for, I could see it being very effective.
  • Passover continually threatens to turn into something better than it is. The bass is fantastic and strange with its strummed harmonics, and the guitar is suitably ominous. But after the first minute, you’ve heard everything this song has to offer. Really cool but ultimately insubstantial
  • Colony the most traditionally punk thing on here, which is one of the major things that separates this album from Unknown Pleasures. Its off kilter and raw in a super appealing way.
  • Means to an End: Where the album really kicks off, in my opinion. The bass is infectious, the groove powerful enough to make it all work for its four minute runtime. Joy Division rarely inspire head nods, but this track brings the goods.
  • Heart and Soul is a very strange song, feeling like an embryonic version of the long 12” singles that would eventually be New Order’s stock in trade—essentially a gothier version of Blue Monday.
  • 24 Hours is a very weird song, maybe the only one here with a verse and chorus, and two very different ones at that. The core bass line is really dramatic, in a way that could easily soundtrack a particularly exciting Blade Runner scene, and the contrast between the two sections is very effective. Probably the best song on the album, for sure.
  • The Eternal NOBODY LIKES A DIRGE. Not even a Joy Division dirge. And anyway, this has nothing on I Remember Nothing (pun not intended).
  • Decades I have a soft spot in my heart for this track. There’s something almost childlike in its very simple organ sound, and in general it feels a bit like something from Marble Index. It’s a surprisingly less weighty track to end with.

 

The Sound – Jeopardy (November 1, 1980)

 

  • The Sound are an odd band, widely considered unsung greats in the genre along with The Chameleons.
  • They released two highly regarded albums (this and From the Lion’s Den) followed by an album hated by most and beloved by me (All Fall Down). These in turn were followed by a handful of increasingly melodic albums before the band’s breakup in 1988.
  • In 1999, Adrian Borland committed suicide
  • Of all the bands we’re covering today, this is perhaps the only one that will likely get their own episode one day.
  • This album is definitely the nerviest and sharpest album they made, as well as the one most beholden to this era’s concept of “post-punk.”
  • “I Can’t Escape Myself” announces this sound with aplomb, with a quiet-loud dynamic, buried synth line, and stuttering guitar stabs.
  • “Heartland” is another iconic song, with heavy synths and a lovely trebly guitar.
  • “Hour of Need” completes a stunning opening salvo with its seething, bass heavy build.
  • This album, though, shows one of the Sound’s major strengths over their peer: their incomparable melodic sense. Where other bands (PiL, This Heat, Comsat Angels) were becoming ever more dissonant, The Sound merged an edgy atonal texture with ridiculously catchy hooks and soaring (for the genre) choruses, on par almost with the Buzzcocks at times, with U2 at others, and often better than either.
  • They would embrace the atonality further on All Fall Down, before going purely down the melody hole from Shock of Daylight on. All of them are good, frankly, but this first album is perhaps so beloved because of how well it combines both.
  • After a slow period (from Heyday to Night versus Day), “Resistance really brings the tempo up for a super strong finish.

 

 

Comsat Angels—Sleep No More (August 21, 1981)

 

  • It’s funny—I have a memory of this album being a bit of a slog, but Eye Dance jumps right out of the gate, as propulsive as Waiting for a Miracle but with a lot more depth, and with an honest to god chorus to boot.
  • Sleep No More with that beautiful chorus drenched ambient guitar and incredible drums is an excellent followup—again, for some reason I remember it as being deeper in the album, but I don’t know why. The video for this, of them in the wind bag tunnel thing, sticks out, and god knows that one bass note change at the end hits so hard. If the album keeps going like this, it’s going to nab the top spot for me.
  • Be Brave has an honest to god hook! Like, a Waiting for a Miracle style hook. Holy shit!
  • Gone is the first slow down, but it’s massive and short and has a catchy bridge. I remember Dark Parade being more of a dirge, which would make this song feel worse, but if it isn’t, this song is a good change of pace.
  • Ok if this album proves anything it’s that I had no patience as a kid. Yes, Dark Parade is a dirge for like, the first four minutes, but the way it contrasts with the last minute makes the whole thing work.
  • So with Gone, Dark Parade, and Diagram all together, that feels like it should be a slow mid-album slump. It doesn’t feel like one though—I mean, none of these are that slow, and they’re so percussive besides.
  • The melodrama here though, a trait shared by The Sound and The Chameleons, but very few other post-punk bands, does a lot for me.
  • Ok, Restless is the slow song. Very little percussion. It feels like what I remember this album being. The first song I’ve gotten impatient with. The guitar is still gorgeous though.
  • And Goat of the West brings us right back on track. “Did you see what happened/It’s so funny/I’m not laughing”
  • On that note, it’s worth mentioning that Stephen Fellows is a really good lyricist in this genre that, despite the love for JD, doesn’t have a great lyrical reputation. Somewhat topical without being gauche about it, with some clever turns and good pacing.
  • Light Years is a sonic tour de force, on an album where that sort of compliment becomes common place pretty quick. And the guitar towards the end is so much of what I love in post-punk.
  • And then Our Secret. It feels like the right closer for something like this. Stylistically similar to, say, Metal Box, but more seething than shouty.

 

This Heat—Deceit (September 1981)

 

  • Calling this post-punk feels weird to me, but I couldn’t for the life of me explain why.
  • Sleep is maybe my favorite fake-out in all of music. Outside of some harsh trebly qualities, it’s thoroughly pleasant, and super catchy.
  • But then Paper Hats lets you know exactly where you are. Some wild panning, atonal guitar arpeggios, clanging.
  • It’s worth noting, here and elsewhere, how incredibly rhythmically solid this band is. The stop and start on a dime, which feel rare for how no-wavey they are.
  • The end groove of Paper Hats feels a lot like Horizontal Hold.
  • I will maintain that there’s no love for a dirge, and that’s why I hate Triumph
  • P.Q.R. is a classic and continuing influence on my guitar playing, that wild treble barre chord flinging off sparks in the background. And no bass!
  • Cenotaph is very dubby, maybe the most direct reference to PiL. (It’s the “History Repeats Itself” song by the way).
  • Shrink Wrap: That sound from Sleep, but with tribal drums and more moaning.
  • Same with Radio Prague, although what are the odds that we’d have two tracks of this name to talk about?
  • Makeshift Swahili: The most yelling on a This Heat track, and an album highlight for sure. The “chorus” has such beautiful hanging guitar.
  • Independence is very funny, a straight up recitation of the declaration, but it isn’t super interesting to listen to, and it’s way longer than a joke needs to be.
  • A New Kind of Water will forever be my favorite This Heat song, a pummeling dissonance with a guitar that just kills me. It’s almost dramatic.

 

Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark—Dazzle Ships (March 4, 1983)

 

  • Why they don’t have their own episode: They have a similar problem as the Chameleons, in that, even though they have more than enough albums to qualify, only a handful of them are worth talking about, and only half of those are excellent, so there isn’t much to debate. That said, unlike the Chameleons, they do have a couple of indisputably great albums, including this one, so they don’t need a mix.
  • Thesis: Does Andy McCluskey have the best dance moves this side of Ian Curtis? He certainly has the best sense of humor.
  • Fuck the vibe that this is like Kid A—this is OK Computer through and through.
  • e. taking the detritus of technology and fusing it with existential dread and very catchy tunes.
  • It’s less consistent, of course. Radio Prague is basically an uncomfortably real “Fitter Happier”
  • That said, the stretch of Genetic EngineeringABC Auto-IndustryTelegraph is fantastic, and, as the real start to the album, gets us all off on the right foot
  • From there, what happens? International, a typical pleasant-but-plodding OMD album track that starts with some horrific news, and Dazzle Ships (Pts. II, III and VII), which is one of the most effective moments of musique concrete on the album.
  • And then, Romance of the Telescope a song in the mold of Joan of Arc with a texture quite unlike anything they’ve ever done.
  • Silent Running is a classic OMD ballad, Souvenir
  • RADIO WAVES. RADIO WAVES. RADIO WAVES. WHAT A BASS LINE.
  • Of All the Things We’ve Made: I could do a whole podcast on OMD closing tracks, but this is easily their best. The one chord guitar, the deep, all-encompassing bass, the one drum. It’s gorgeous and heartbreaking, as they always are, but angular and otherworldly. Maybe one of the rare truly post-punk ballads.

 

The Chameleons—Script of the Bridge (August 1, 1983)

 

  • Of course, really we’ll be talking about the playlist, which is as follows
    • Don’t Fall
    • Time/The End of Time
    • Monkeyland
    • The Fan and the Bellows
    • Mad Jack
    • One Flesh
    • Second Skin
    • Perfume Garden
    • Ever After
    • Up the Down Escalator
    • Is it Any Wonder?
    • Return of the Roughnecks
    • Soul in Isolation
    • S. Goodbye
    • Denims and Curls
    • In Answer
    • Thursday’s Child
    • Nostalgia
    • View from a Hill
  • Not that I need help, but some talking points here are: why do I love this band so much? What are they in the realm of post-punk? Why are they so good, in spite of so many bad songs, a leaden drummer, and the worst album art of all time?
  • Did you feel significant difference between songs? Could you tell they came from different albums?
  • Which sorts of songs were your favorites and why?
  • My own thoughts listening back—One Flesh could go, I often forget just how effective Soul in Isolation and how much this band’s melodrama just works on me, and their sound really is just unbeatable.

 

Stockholm Monsters—Alma Mater (August 1984)

 

  • The pop side of Factory, defined. Like a whole album made of the catchiest parts of Power, Corruption, & Lies, complete with awkward, straining vocals, prominent basslines, and synth synth synth of cheesiest variety.
  • The singles, like Winter, Your Uniform, and National Pastime stick out the most, maybe, but all of these songs are good.
  • If there’s a problem with this song, it’s that none of the songs are great per se. It’s the ultimate exception that proves the rule of my thesis—a consistent post-punk album that hits none of the highs that I love the genre for.
  • But that sounds more damning than I mean it to be—this is still a wonderful album, an odd piece of pop that hasn’t been replicated before or sense. There isn’t a band this consistently awkward and catchy.
  • Like a cross between the Wake and the Field Mice

 

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