Like a Banyan Tree, the post-punk genre extends into so many varied branches of itself, so many tangled tangents that stretch upward, outward, and even downward, it can be bewildering. Some critics and listeners have maligned modern iterations of post-punk as mere mimicry of punk, and we are unlikely to recapture the initial frenetic energy of original post-punk. That’s because, of course, we’d have to rewind time to that period just after the first wave of punk exploded into prominence – and then promptly imploded. For that was when punk moodily mutated into a more vibrant version of itself – post-punk: an artsy, innovative style of music that keeps giving of itself.
Twin Tribes and Black Swan Lane‘s post-punk music captivates the murky recesses of the psyche. These two bands are distinctive in that they hail from the sunny climes of the southwestern and southeastern US, respectively, and yet sonically mirror the late 1970s/early ’80s post-punk from the rain-sodden UK. The two bands offer their trademark twists on the gothic rock sub-genre of post-punk and, in doing so, offer further evidence that post-punk is an ever-evolving organic entity.
We will start with border town Texans, Twin Tribes, because they are easier to pinpoint. Instrumentally, Twin Tribes takes conspicuous influence from early the Cure, when the Cure was cultivating spectral soundscapes that would inspire the goth genre, even as the band would repudiate that tag and, in reactionary defiance, generate one of the most eclectic repertoires in pop music. Indeed, the Cure are not just known for their melodies shrouded in shadows – see especially the minimalist masterpieces Seventeen Seconds (1980) and Faith (1981), and the pounding nihilism of Pornography (1982) – the band also boasts tunes that are darkly whimsical and outright exuberant, with shades and hues from all over the sound spectrum.
Twin Tribes, especially on their 2019 album Ceremony, sound much more like early the Cure than they do, say, Bauhaus, a band often referred to as the “Gothfathers”. Vocally, Twin Tribes may resemble your archetypal goth band, with cavernous crooning that recalls Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch, but musically, the gloomy guitar chimes, icily pristine synth lines, galloping bass, and mournful drumming create a funereal atmosphere associated with the initial the Cure albums.
Indeed, Twin Tribes, whose town, Brownsville, shares a boundary with Mexico, seem intent on alluding to that country’s obsession with bands like the Cure, crafting an aesthetic of sparse, haunting instrumentation and doom-drenched vocals. Tracks “Fantasmas” and “The River” are stellar standouts; the former for its gothic anthem vibe infusing a Spanish-language croon-chant (“Solo miro fantasmas; estan dentro de ti”) and the latter for its immersive ambiance. Ceremony masterfully distills the gothic rock idiom to its core identity, its caliber rivaling the likes of dark wave favorites Drab Majesty, even as it cribs a few tricks from that L.A. band, especially on songs like “Shrine.”
The main counterpoint to the graveyard ambiance of Ceremony is its clean, crystalline production. This may be what sets Twin Tribes apart from its ’80s antecedents: Higher quality production tools that tease out a dynamic depth, rendering the sound both familiar and fresh and also accessible, polishing the tunes into goth-pop perfection.
Twin Tribes will likely need to diversify their template to secure that ever-elusive longevity. Alas, not everyone can genre-jump like the Cure, but even Bauhaus dipped their toes in psychedelia, for example, while retaining a credible gothic persona. Right now, Twin Tribes suffers from what I like to call Homogeny Syndrome. The songs fluidly flow into each other, creating a pleasing cohesion, but they tend to lull themselves into sameness. Lyrically, too, there are not many divergences from occult themes and the like, which, while evocative in their way, can harden into monotony after a while.
The band members of Twin Tribes are young yet; perhaps their musical proclivities will evolve with time. More allusions to Mexican culture and language could take the band in galvanizing directions.
Hide in View (2021), the pandemic album from Atlanta’s Black Swan Lane, is a wholly disparate affair from Ceremony and yet foreboding in its way. Less glaringly gothic, it culls from more varied influences than Twin Tribes and is more challenging to pigeonhole. Ultimately, this is a good thing and can translate into a persistent existence.
Not that Black Swan Lane are (ahem) spring chickens. The band, born just before the 2010s, has a staggering ten albums already and have boasted members of the UK’s legendary Chameleons in past efforts. Jack Sobel is the main man in the band and indeed recorded the entire Hide in View album himself.
The title song, also the album opener, balances a gentle ferocity with a buoyant beat and sets the tone for a moderately eclectic collection. Songs that are layered and lush “(Wish”, “It’s Not True”) rub against tunes with shoegaze textures (“Smiling with You”, “Little Bird”). There are also offerings of Doors-like proto-goth (“The Fear”), simple, sparkling ballads (“Finally Here”), and throughout, slices of ’60s psychedelia as though filtered through bands such as Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen.
The Chameleons’ influence is evident but not bludgeoning. However, given that the Chameleons are the unsung post-punk titans, it’s nice that Black Swan Lane’s songs recall that band. The raw immediacy of Jack Sobel’s vocals is perhaps the greatest strength of the songs, especially as his voice escalates toward maximum tension in songs like the title track. Lyrical introspection gives Hide in View metaphysical heft not found on, say, Twin Tribes’ Ceremony.
Black Swan Lane is likely to elaborate its sound over time organically. Indeed, hearing snatches of the just-released album Blind, the band is showing hallmarks of growth and a further synthesizing of diverse influences.
Much like how the Banyan tree survives by yielding countless limbs that stretch upward, outward, and even down toward the roots, post-punk sustains itself through endless reinvention that always refers back to the genre’s genesis.