You've heard of rock music and punk music, but does the term "post-punk" leaving you scratching your head? You're not alone. Post-punk music can be tough to describe and some argue that it's more of a sensibility than unified musical style. The term originated in the late 1970's, after the height of the punk movement, to describe bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and Wire. Current post-punk bands include Interpol, Editors, and Savages.
Post-punk bands often are inspired by the energy and dynamism of punk bands but add elements outside of the punk ethos, such as other styles of music (e.g. funk, electronica, avant-garde, etc.), or aspects of literature, cinema, or philosophy. Like post-modernism, post-punk music often seeks to destroy the boundary between high and low culture. Punk music focused on white, male, working class struggles, and post-punk pushes past that boundary to address a wider range of issues.
One of my favorite current post-punk bands is Preoccupations (formerly known as Viet Cong). Their latest album dropped on September 16, 2016 and will be a hit with fans of post-punk bands like Bauhaus, Psychedelic Furs, and Echo and the Bunnymen. This album combines the brooding of 80's post-punk bands with fierce math rock percussion. The song titles, such as "Anxiety," "Monotony," or "Degraded" show that the band is more cerebral than your average punks.
The song "Memory" is practically a parade of post-punk qualities. Clocking in at over 11 minutes, it's not aiming for Top 40 radio play. About four minutes into the song, it changes melody and singer, and ends with several minutes of droning fade out. It also features lyrics like, "State-sponsored character assassination/ I promise that I’ll burn your things when you’re dead and gone/ It’s an orchestrated controversy/ No strategies for dissolving in the atmosphere," which lead singer Matt Flegel makes effortlessly melodic. If post-punk is your thing (as it is mine), it's a masterpiece.
Sometimes I love the straightforwardness of punk music, but I'm enamored with the complexity of post-punk. It's a delightful puzzle to analyze, the layers of sound as well as lyrics. It's excellent music to listen to while driving or working, but even better when you can really listen to all the different components: the lyrics, when the tempo changes, who is singing which verses. I could write a whole article trying to understand the lyrics on this Preoccupations album, such as "Cautiously optimistic/ Skillfully sadistic/ Falsetto echolalia/ Falling into mania," from "Monotony." (Fun fact: echolalia is defined as "repetition of another person's spoken words as a symptom of psychiatric disorder.") Maybe it says something about me as a person, but I love song lyrics that teach me new words!
If you're enjoying the post-punk bands I've mentioned so far, other current bands to check out are: Algiers (post-punk with blues and electronica influences), Arctic Monkeys (on the more radio-friendly side of post-punk), We Were Promised Jetpacks (one of my favorite band names ever!), Frightened Rabbit (their 2016 album "Painting of a Panic Attack" is excellent, as is 2013's "Pedestrian Verse"), and Sleigh Bells (brilliantly noisy tunes with crunchy guitars, they've been releasing singles ahead of their new album due in November 2016).