Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

Cabaret Voltaire publicity photo

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

30. Echo & the Bunnymen - Porcupine (1983)

In 1980, just when post-punk was beginning to be a commercially viable sound, Echo & the Bunnymen released their debut, Crocodiles. The album had all the refined skimpiness of Wire, all the furiousness of the Fall, and, hidden away, something fresher, a stranger and more romantic lilt than their contemporaries. The band evolved quickly away from their roots, focusing more and more on the latter aspect of their style, but Porcupine, their third and last record before their decade-defining smash Ocean Rain, wrestled with both the past and future of their sound.

Before they fully escaped those youthful eccentricities that placed them gently within the post-punk framework, Porcupine showed them at their prime. "Back of Love", "Heads Will Roll", "Gods Will Be Gods", and "Clay" have all the grandiose stadium richness the group would build on in the future, but angular guitars and booming, hyper-rhythmic drum patterns sourced from their earliest influences give the songs all their forward momentum. On Porcupine, the Bunnymen used post-punk's tools, but they did it in a way that called forward to the next era, toward the evolution of the genre that Ocean Rain would come to define so well. The record pointed away from the skeletal sounds of punk and into the embrace of the maximalist romance of the future, brimming with rich arrangements and full orchestrations, theatrical production, and grand melodies. R.E.M., U2, the Cure, and the Smiths would soon after go on to define that new era of rock 'n' roll heroism, but Echo & the Bunnymen too anticipated the change, all while clinging to the shifting post-punk heritage that gave way to their rise.


29. Pylon - Gyrate (1980)

Athens, Georgia became a modest punk haven in the '80s with a scene that spawned two instant superstar outfits in the B-52's and R.E.M., but the scene's all-but-forgotten bulwark of post-punk style, Pylon, carried the punk spirit more faithfully than anymore in that scene or, arguably, anywhere else in the country.

With heavy-hitting dance beats, infectious, looping bass hooks, atmospheric guitar lines that followed the bass rather than vice versa, and Vanessa Briscoe Hay's ragged and dynamic vocal performances, the band's first album Gyrate is raw post-punk energy, an example of the purest form of the genre practiced on American shores during its initial boom. The ferocious and caustic "Feast on My Heart" and "Human Body" display the hardest edges of Pylon's energy, while the instrumental "Weather Radio", in contrast, is almost mockingly upbeat, yet the entire album shares that purist rock sensibility that lends the music its galvanic force.

It took the album being reissued in 2007 by DFA Records, one of the hippest labels at the time (in part thanks to LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy, who was doing post-punk missionary work throughout the decade), for the band to actually earn the status it deserved since Gyrate's first issue. Pylon's robust, untreated punk stood in contrast to the post-punk revival's pristine electro-dance-punk avenues, but their authentic, understated funk sat well with millennial audiences nonetheless. Apart from being one of the most underappreciated bands of the classic post-punk era, Pylon's modest resurgence in the last few years is indicative of the enduring appeal of genre's sensibility and style.


28. Pere Ubu - Dub Housing (1978)

Pere Ubu's formation and the release of their earliest singles occurred before post-punk had a name -- before punk was even a coherent movement -- but by 1975 they were nevertheless already assembling its grimy core, hurdling over punk's initiation ("Blitzkreig Bop" didn't even come out until the following year) and establishing instead a framework of futurist minimal rock; they were one of the few bands already working toward a reinvention of the musical language of popular music. It would be a couple years before their first full-length album, The Modern Dance, would surface, but from that point, the band weren't just pioneers, but also post-punk's force of momentum. From '78 to '79, Pere Ubu delivered three albums that would soon earn varying degrees of classic status (their staggering productivity continues even to this day), but each release showed an eager wit, propulsive attitude, and forward-looking ambition that became essential to the post-Ramones, post-Sex-Pistols era.

Dub Housing was only Pere Ubu's sophomore album, but by then they were effectively veterans. The band's deranged garage rock flavor is most potent and controlled on the record, directed toward more consistent ends than their noisy, manic debut or the less immediately novel New Picnic Time from 1979. The record also seemed to poke and prod the contemporary mainstream rock establishment in ways that would become instinctual for most post-punk artists: on "Caligari's Mirror", the band blended red-blooded arena rock choruses with offbeat, deconstructed verses, and on the title track they demonstrated a far more authentic reggae influence than the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, for example, who awkwardly appropriated the genre's burgeoning fame for mostly commercial rather than artistic purposes. Pere Ubu were certainly among post-punk's earliest champions, and Dub Housing, by virtue of the many subversive tendrils it extended out into the world, spoke to its dismantling power more than most records at such a formative stage.


27. The Chameleons - Script of the Bridge (1983)

Of all the classic post-punk artists from this period, the Chameleons are probably the one band that most closely resembles the genre as it's imitated today by everyone from the Killers to Merchandise to Interpol. It turns out the band's disciplined, reverb-drenched guitar lines and melancholic sense of melody has aged far better than quavering analog synthesizers and era-specific takedowns of the dominant musical philosophies -- though the Chameleons didn't shy away from those either.

Script of the Bridge, the band's first album, remains one of the more approachable listens of its time, even three decades later, because of this. 1983 had no shortage of foreboding, funereal music; after all, that was when the real goth and industrial music movements began to consolidate and build, and though no wave may have been on the downswing, noise-centric music was still trending up. But Script of the Bridge, despite aesthetic and tonal similarities to the music of those more narrow scenes, was bleak and heavy post-punk, flat-out, and even among those musical relatives, it carved its own niche.

The result was an album not tied down by the generic expectations of the era. "Don't Fall", "View from a Hill", and "Up the Down Escalator" could have been recorded yesterday if not for the telltale early '80s production style that flattens the drums and shrouds the vocals behind the discord of the guitars. Darker songs that still maintain some catchy melodicism -- "Less Than Human", "Second Skin", "Here Today" -- are more distinct to the Chameleons then and now, but the characteristic angst nevertheless continues to echo through hundreds of today's more obscure mimics. In terms of sheer name recognition, the Chameleons may no longer be as culturally relevant as Gang of Four, Joy Division, or the Fall, but the prestige is still there.


26. Bauhaus - In the Flat Field (1980)

The greatest disservice ever done to In the Flat Field was being doomed to the characterization of a pioneering goth rock record. It's unfortunate for the simple fact that the record doesn't properly live up to the public's (misguided) perceptions of the style. More than anything, goth rock is frequently ascribed effeminate qualities because its raw emotionality stands in such sharp contrast to the purely illusory hyper-masculinity of the previous generation of rock music, but, questions of the accuracy of such claims aside, Bauhaus's debut couldn't possibly undermine those expectations any more.

The outside public understands goth to be dour and impotent, almost lethargic, marinating in cliches about wounded hearts and the inevitability of death, but Bauhaus, as acutely moody as they could be, were far from the perennial image of the languid goth rock band, and In the Flat Field proves it. Those who buy-in to the notion of the soft-hearted, droning gothic frontman haven't heard Peter Murphy rip his throat raw on the seriously heavy "Double Dare"; those who hear "goth" and think about wiry, sentimental synthesizers and jangle guitars haven't heard "Dive" and "Stigmata Martyr" grow off of downright rock 'n' roll style guitar riffs; those who find the idea of listening to depressing and sleepy goth dirges are unaware of the pure fevered energy of "In the Flat Field", "Dive", and "A God in the Field". In the Flat Field's rank as one of goth rock's forerunning musical visions seems based more around aesthetic than anything, particularly Bauhuas's dark, glam-rock-inspired look. Sonically, though, their debut is inarguably a post-punk inferno, perhaps only rendered a bit more temperamental.

Next Page
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.