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.
Last year, a new breed of post-punk groups provided a word-heavy and pointed guitar soundtrack to our lockdown and eventual emergence from it. They hit the right notes for many with their bleak outlook on modernity and introspective reflections on how we, as individuals, can feel about it. Many of the bands that we wrote about last year have taken the world by storm.
Dry Cleaning’s acclaimed New Long Leg was followed by their even more acclaimed Stumpworks (despite the jarring album cover) in October of 2022. Black Country, New Road evolved again despite the loss of their lead singer and, as someone who was privy to a live performance the all new songs they’ve written, are still going strong with their honed sense of musicality. Fontaines D.C. have bolstered their first two albums with a third of incredibly moving and gloomy bangers, making them a must-see live show if you get the opportunity.
However, the wheels of music keep turning and us lucky lovers of post-punk are always receiving new gifts. The most exciting thing about this year is the amount of genre-twisting there’s been in the scene. All the bands in this article are wildly different from each other, but all have that strong foundation of solid post-punk songwriting underneath them. On that foundation, each has built music to their own design.
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
8. caroline – The Slow & Smooth
Ever found that your normal playlists are too dense and heavy to have on in the background while you study or focus on a project? caroline are the solution. Born of the same scene that brought us Black Country, New Road and Squid, caroline take a different tact to the Slint-inspired post-punk formula. The eight-piece instead decided to go for a smoother approach, more akin to Talk Talk’s final two albums. Good morning (red) drifts along like a riverboat in August, and provides a relaxing introduction and mission statement by the band.
The best example of their approach is Dark blue. Utilising a simple stroked guitar rhythm as the backbone throughout the whole piece, the rest of the instrumentation builds and plays around it freely. Lyrically, they again aim for minimalistic and resigned. Vocals aren’t the main feature, instead they’re another melody played alongside the rest of the band. Often, the layers amount up but the songs rarely feel too much. Instead they’re more like a gentle lapping of waves than a storm. Are you a fan of Black Country, New Road’s Track X? Songs on here like IWR and Good morning (red) will fit snugly beside it in any playlist.
caroline Standout Tracks
- Dark blue
- Good morning (red)
9. Melt Yourself Down – The Bold & Boogying
Saxaphone-forward and instantly danceable, Melt Yourself Down’s Pray For Me, I Don’t Fit In may be their fourth studio album but it provides their clearest and most cohesive body of work. Using post-punk as an augmentation to their jazz and funk playing, they created the thumping sleeper hit Balance. The saxophone playing by Pete Wareham is the main feature throughout the track, providing the wonderfully restrained rhythm through the verses only to allow the suspense to be released in the wonderful post-chorus guitar line and the jazz-heavy crescendo concluding the song.
It’s the restraint that’s so admirable in Melt Yourself Down’s work. There’s none of the overindulgence that would cheapen the work on their 2022 album, only infectious rhythm and the earned release from careful buildup. The title track is the true highlight of the album. From the opening bars, the rhythm section demands action from your dancing shoes. Then we get the expectedly restrained sax which leads into an unexpectedly fitting synth line that transforms the track into something truly special. It makes the drums feel bolder and the bassline feel stronger. As soon as the chorus comes, your head is bobbing and you’re awaiting the rhythm to transport you again.
Melt Yourself Down Standout Tracks
- Pray For Me
- I Don’t Fit In
10. Walt Disco – The Glam & Glasweigian
Scotland has proven itself to be a powerhouse of music in recent years, giving the world The Twilight Sad, CHVRCHES and now Walt Disco. Post-punk as looked through a glam lens, the type of music they make is best categorised by listening to the vocals of James Potter. Their singing style is something akin to The Associates’ Party Fears Two, only far, far better (disclaimer: this writer loathes that song). A prime example of the excellent vocals is Cut Your Hair, their frantic and unrestrained nature elevating the song to something that is likely a highlight live.
Their songs are varied but all are exciting and bathed in an 80’s neon glow. The opener Weightless swims through a sea of synthesisers with a club beat in the background, a statement of intent for the rest of their debut album Unlearning. The lyrics are very contemporary, with Weightless focusing on identity and appearance with the hopeful line of “Was I never my type?” describing the difference between how you view yourself and how others view you succinctly. An exciting, modern and a vital new force in music.
Walt Disco Standout Tracks
- Cut Your Hair
- Drowning In Your Velvet Bed
11. Yard Act – The Witty & Wordy
Leeds born and raised, Yard Act’s Dark Days EP released in 2021 gave the world a great exhibition of what this band can do. Hits like the EP’s title track and Fixer Upper wordily and wonderfully describe life in Northern England and people like Greame (a two-homeowner with a Rover). In February they released their debut album The Overload, filled with some of the most sarcastically funny lyrics on any album released this year. For example, Land Of The Blind stops the song halfway through for a half-hearted magic trick where vocalist James Smith and a willingly donated 50p piece disappear. You can imagine how.
Although more can be done musically on The Overload (if they spend as much attention on the music as the lyrics for their next album, it’ll be a world stormer), the places where it all comes together create some of the best moments in post-punk this year. 100% Endurance is the perfect amalgamation of clever lyrics and fitting music. A cross section of the human condition, instead of lamentation or anger they decide to come from a different angle; acceptance. This is how it is, we might as well enjoy it. Wisdom in the form of dry wit. It’s hippie bullshit but it’s true.
Yard Act Standout Tracks
- 100% Endurance
- Dark Days
- Land Of The Blind
12. Sinead O’Brien – The Poetic & Powerful
Sinead O’Brien’s take on the genre aims to give the listener a more poetic experience. She wonderfully weaves words throughout her debut album Time Bend And Break The Bower. The title is a lyric from Multitudes, the second to last track on the album which is one of the tracks on the album that closely approaches a more true form of poetry. The natural cadence of the words spoken in her natural Irish accent provides a framework for the drums, violins and other accompanying instruments rather than the other way around. It all provides an ethereal experience.
One standout track is GIRLKIND, an epic of six and a half minutes. The driving rhythm delivers more impact to O’Brien’s words and allows the guitar to do its own thing and provide the melody to complete the song. There Are Good Times Coming is the most musical track on the whole album, and it’s all the better for it. The drums are the true hit in this track, never letting up with their machine-gun rhythm throughout the verses, only pausing for the short chorus where they allow O’Brien to really emphasise her words. An intense and a truly unique listen.
Sinead O’Brien Standout Tracks
- There Are Good Times Coming
13. Courting – The Weird & Wonderful
For Liverpool-based Courting, throwing everything they have at a track is their ticket to success. A stand-alone single released prior to their debut album David Byrne’s Badside provided a preview of the driving beat that appears on Guitar Music. The title is knowingly misleading and gives an insight into the cheekiness of their lyrics. For example, the breakaway single from the album Tennis has lyrics such as “You’re a night in the Holiday Inn/I’m a breakfast bar with an unusual toasting conveyor belt”.
The power behind Sean Murphy-O’Neill’s vocals is immediately apparent on Loaded, a relentless track midway through their debut. In fact, the whole song starts at 200mph and only increases the pace throughout. The end of the song is chaotic, unstoppable and magnificent, and a prime example of Courting’s vision. This gives the impression that if they were to try their hand at refining any part of their blunderbuss method to songwriting, they would excel in it. And for a new band, what an exciting position to be in. Let’s hope they make the most of it.
Courting Standout Tracks
14. Warmduscher – The Sleek & Sleazy
In The Hotspot is Warmduscher’s third album, and they’ve started to get a bit of much-deserved traction. It’s taken them to Glastonbury’s Other Stage slot and an appearance on BBC music stalwart Later… With Jools Holland. Using these platforms, they showcased their own brand of sleezy, grimy and addictive brand of post-punk. As an example, Twitchin’ In The Kitchen is a groovy song about a drug overdose. The cheerleader backing vocals are a hit here, providing just the right contrast to the uncomfortable situation (the backing vocalists also appeared with Warmduscher at Glastonbury and looked delightfully bored of the whole occasion).
Lyrically, Fatso is as sleazy as you can get with lines such as “Fatso’s got Viagra and Peruvian gold”. Even if you find this unsavoury, the synth sounds and full-fat rhythms are just too infectious to resist. They litter the album like sugar-filled sweets to the point where you can’t help but get invested and strut your stuff. For many years since they started they’ve been championed by various people, mainly those who work for BBC Radio 6 Music, and for good reason. They’re truly a force of nature.
Warmduscher Standout Tracks
- Twitchin’ In The Kitchen
- Disco Peanuts
These are some of the main standouts for this year, however there is even further listening if you so desire. Wet Leg’s hit Chaise Lounge took post-punk and expanded it to a huge audience with its catchy melodies and fun lyrics. Hull band LIFE released their third album honing in on their Humber roots with the raucous Big Moon Lake and unstoppable Friend’s Without Names on their album, North East Coastal Town. Toronto based Deliluh also released the experimental and haunting, yet danceable Credence (ash in the Winds of Reason) from their Fault Lines album. It’s been an impressive showing and with evolution this fast, next year could be even more exciting.
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.