There’s a new movement of artists emerging. A new wave of experimental, young bands that are pushing boundaries of noise, vocal delivery and guitar sounds to create something that sounds original, new and exciting.
2021 has seen the rise of a new wave of post-punk, mostly in the UK and Ireland but also stretching further afield to America. Almost at arms with the burgeoning neo-psychedelic scene in Australia, heralded by the meteoric rise to fame of Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala and pushed further by the next-in-line to the throne Pond, the wildly prolific King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and the blazing guitars of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, bands have responded with their own new mantra of creative ideas.
Taking influence from Slint, progressive rock and reflecting on their own place in the new post-Brexit, post-Trump and living-with-Covid stratosphere we find ourselves in, these bands are creating experimental post-punk which will hopefully provide us catharsis, companionship and excitement in the gradually weirder world we find ourselves in.
1. black midi – The Heralds
Erupting from seemingly outer space at the time, black midi arrived on their debut album Schlagenheim in 2019. From the opening bombshell of 953, black midi set the scene for the emergence of experimentalism in post-punk music. Morgan Simpson provides the unfettered potency of the band with thunderous, relentless and utterly brilliant drumming which allows the rest of the band to go wild with off-kilter guitar sounds, almost locked-in riffs and Geordie Greep’s bizarre but compelling talk-singing.
With the release of their second album Cavalcade on May 28th 2021, sadly without the wonderful guitar-work of Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin (here’s to hoping he’s finding the time away from the spotlight is helping him find some peace), they’ve embraced progressive rock even more than before. From the singles released, the addition of the saxophone and violin to the controlled cacophony they create only adds to their style. Their arrival heralded the coming of these new and exciting bands.
black midi Standout tracks
- Near DT
- John L
2. Black Country, New Road – The Scientists
Black Country, New Road are good friends with black midi, having played a show entitled Black Midi, New Road before the release of their debut album For the first time. It’s only natural then, that the development of both bands has been symbiotic in nature, with black midi’s Cavalcade looking to involve saxophone and violin, both of which are mainstays in Black Country, New Road’s arsenal. However, they differ in approach. Black Country, New Road use their seven person lineup to bring a variety of soft and loud sounds to their display, while utilizing jazz elements to provide an experimental edge to the interesting base sounds they have.
On For the first time, they provide two differing but key sounds. First is the untamed paranoia that circles around Science Fair and most of Sunglasses. This side of them brings noisy guitars and talk-sung vocals that appear in most of these bands. It’s a joy to hear them play, unencumbered by any preconceived notion of what a British post-punk band should sound like. On the flipside, there is their softer, more ethereal sound. This opens up Sunglasses and is in its prime during Track X. Vocals are pushed back in the mix to allow subtle instrumentation to take center stage. Gently repeating melodies circle the air around the track. However, although gentle, these sounds shouldn’t be confused with easy listening. In fact, most of their work is challenging and rewarding.
Black Country, New Road Standout tracks
- Science Fair
3. Fontaines D.C. – The Purists
Hailing from Dublin, Republic of Ireland, Fontaines D.C. deliver angular, guitar-driven post-punk on their two albums released to date. The first of which was the Mercury Prize nominated Dogrel in 2019. Creating deceptively complex post-punk based on traditional rock sounds channeled through two guitarists, the main feature of Fontaines D.C. are the vocals. Whereas in days gone past, singers were encouraged to lose any accent or worse Americanise their singing, singer Grian Chatten wears his Irish roots loud and proud. Another band using talk-singing to deliver complex lyrics, Chatten delivers them steadfast and at high speed.
This continued on the sophomore album A Hero’s Death, delivered only just over a year later. Less jagged, equally as fearless and just as powerful as its predecessor, the first we heard of this album was through the title track as it’s first single. Built on the blueprint of Boys In the Better Land from Dogrel, with A Hero’s Death repeating positive phrases like a mantra. However, dig beneath the surface and you’ll find that these lyrics are based on the repetitive nature of advertisements. Fontaines D.C. hold depths upon depths in their songwriting, and we’re all the better for it.
Fontaines D.C. Standout tracks
- Boys In the Better Land
- A Hero’s Death
- Televised Mind
4. Dry Cleaning – The Narrators
The first thing you notice about Dry Cleaning’s signature style is the nonchalant vocal delivery. Most of these bands deliver clever, introspective lyrics along the route of spoken word poetry. Whether it’s closer resembling Slint’s signature storytelling best observed in their Spiderland classic Washer or whether it’s more akin to true spoken word poetry brought closest to prominence by John Cooper Clarke’s kitchen sink drama’s lighting up suburban life, either method has been shunned for traditional singing in recent times. However, Dry Cleaning’s Florence Shaw delivers her eloquent words with dispassioned relatability.
Scratchcard Lanyard from their debut New Long Leg has become their calling card. The lyrics calmly and surreally talk about “a Oslo bouncy ball” and mention mundane things with a hint of emotion (“I’ve come to join your knitting circle”) on the backdrop of the dub bassline provided generously by Lewis Maynard, which provides a welcome outlet to avoid Metal Box by Public Image Ltd. and the lothesome comments and actions of one John Lydon. The highlight of their debut is Strong Feelings, where the dub bassline shines through and Shaw’s lyrics give empathy and understanding for most millennials (“Just an emo, dead stuff collector”). The song creates a narrative that everyone can get some milage with. A very clever band that, considering this is their debut, gives us all hope that we can all be heard, understood and given space to just be.
Dry Cleaning Standout tracks
- Strong Feelings
- Scratchcard Lanyard
- Every Day Carry
5. Squid – The Thrillers
As of writing this article, countless articles describing Squid to be as the most exciting band of 2021 have been published, and consider their debut has been out for only a single month. Let nobody disregard the thrill of a new band with killer songs and a huge potential. Hailing from Brighton, England which is home to fledgling businesses and some of the most progressive people in the UK (Brighton Pride is the biggest in the UK), it’s not surprising that Bright Green Field, one of the cleverest and untamed debut’s since Wolf Alice’s My Love Is Cool, comes from a band hailing from such a city. Not only that however, the saxophone on some parts of this album has been provided by Black Country, New Road’s Lewis Evans, further showing the collaborative nature of this new scene.
Bright Green Field was announced with the single Narrator featuring Martha Skye Murphy. Drummer Ollie Judge provides the incredibly visceral lead vocals for Squid. He has a vocal range that provides nonchalant narration, raw emotion and frantic paranoia. Promises held from debut EP Boy Racer have more than materialised on their debut. However, this promise is best realised on the stunning third single Pamphlets. If there is any track to listen to in order to best describe the exciting new scene, this is the song. From “There are flagpoles firmy in my sides”, Pamphlets hits an incredibly danceable stride. The drumming is so feverish you can’t help but tap along, the vocals are so captivating you can’t help but be hooked by them, the clever guitar play is so catchy you can’t help but admire the technicality. A euphoric listen.
Squid Standout tracks
6. shame – The Evolvers
On their debut album in 2017 Songs of Praise, shame gave us traditional post-punk in the guise of classic British guitar based music. Although a good benchmark, it wasn’t the strongest statement of intent. Songs like Concrete solidified that the band knew how to make a good song, although it was lacking in personality. However, in their 2021 release Drunk Tank Pink, they have truly found their voice. On Alphabet, singer Charlie Steen barks out lyrics that now start to sound like how the band doesn’t want to be perceived over altogether more interesting instrumentation. It’s technical and heavy hitting.
They hit even harder on Snow Day, which is the closest related to the darker aspects of Black Country, New Road and Squid. Talk-singing is back again, and the rawness of the delivery is even better in this format. Steen spits out the words like they tasted as foul on his tongue, as the imagery they string together to the listener. With the backing, it sounds like a recount of a distressing tale at home in any drama. It’s a wonderfully intense listen. They have evolved from a band that can wonderfully utilise sounds that have come before them to one that can take it a step further and use it as a basis for much more visceral songwriting. Drunk Tank Pink has the opposite effect of the paint colour it’s based off. It riles you up.
Shame Standout tracks
- Snow Day
7. Goat Girl – The Dreamers
Goat Girl are at their best when they make smooth, danceable post-punk. Dreamy harmonies, smooth synthesisers and clever, technical drumming are the hallmarks of this group. On 29th January 2021, they released an album that maximises their strengths. Less angular than their first, eponymous album released in 2018, On All Fours delivers fully realised songs with an infectious groove to them. Moving away from the traditional band setup, highlight Sad Cowboy starts with a smooth synthesiser playing a very morish melody. What follows is the key guitar line bounced along by a smooth rhythm section.
L.E.D.’s vocals (real name Ellie Rose Davies) have a drifting, dream-like quality to them. It’s proof, as if it was needed, that jagged vocals are not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to post-punk. The Crack flows like a mountain spring. Badibaba is intensely danceable, especially when the catchy chorus kicks in. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s edgeless. Far from it, Goat Girl rides the fine balance of smooth and enough bite to hook you in. One of the catchiest releases of the year and a promising signal of intent by a band on their sophomore album.
Goat Girl Standout tracks
- Sad Cowboy
- The Crack
A special shoutout for the emergence and glory of this new scene has to go towards producer Dan Carey. He has produced Shlagenheim by black midi, For the first time by Black Country, New Road, Dogrel by Fontaines D.C., Bright Green Field by Squid and Goat Girl’s On All Fours. Suffice to say, the sound of experimental post-punk may be provided by the bands in question, but they are honed and brought to their best by Carey. The role of a producer is to bring out the best in an artist, and Carey has done it so well. He deserves just as much recognition as the bands in this article. His vision has curated and created excitement for so many music fans.
With these bands pushing the envelope, and more not mentioned in this article such as Viagra Boys, Working Men’s Club and even Arab Strap who’s first album in over 15 years fits snugly alongside these contemporary bands, of post-rock and post-punk, it has opened up the palette for new bands to follow in their broad footsteps. A true shot in the arm for guitar-based music.