10 Essential 21st Century post-punk albums

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21st century post-punk albums

The post-punk revival should have come and gone already. More accurately, it came and went, then re-emerged and decided to stick around for a while. Once a fashionable resurrection of the new millennium, post-punk has become the foundation for countless great albums by a long list of bands that emerged since Y2K fizzled. A whole new generation of artists raised on Joy Division and Talking Heads filtered those influences through twisted psychedelia (The Horrors), gothic country (Iceage), gospel (Algiers) and any number of other genres. And as evident by Savages’ new album Adore Life, we’re not done hearing what more can be done. In tackling this top 10, we inevitably would be leaving out a lot of great bands, so honorable mentions go to Protomartyr, Makthaverskan, Viet Cong, The Soft Moon, These New Puritans and various others. But our list of essential 21st century post-punk albums is nonetheless tight, taut, brooding and badass.

(Don’t just take our word for it; listen along with our 10 Essential 21st Century post-punk tracks playlist:)

bands that peaked with their debut album InterpolInterpolTurn on the Bright Lights
(2002; Matador)

It can be argued that Interpol took their sound toward more of a mainstream, alternative rock direction over time, but their 2002 debut stayed rooted in an atmospheric, melancholy take on early post-punk, with Paul Banks’ vocals and Carlos D’s driving bass serving as a not-so-subtle nod to acts such as Joy Division and The Chameleons. But Interpol’s sound had its own unique merits, namely in its compositional beauty; the way a song like “NYC” swells or the radiating pulse of “Hands Away.” A defining quality of post-punk revival that Interpol helped set was its inclination towards more hook-driven songwriting than their predecessors, and Turn on the Bright Lights definitely delivered in that respect. Its aesthetic is as catchy as it is delightfully spooky. – ATB

21st century post-punk The FallThe FallThe Real New Fall LP: Formerly Country on the Click
(2003; Action)

Twenty-seven years into a career that could be lovingly described as tumultuous and wildly uneven, The Fall managed to pull off something no longtime fan could have expected: they released a fully coherent album, with not the slightest hint of filler or Mark E. Smith’s overzealous studio fuckery to be found. After the band’s stellar (and, in this writer’s opinion, unmatched) streak in the 1980s bled into the interesting, but woefully patchy ’90s, it would have been easy to assume that the band didn’t have another fantastic album in them. Fortunately, they did, and they delivered it just in time. There was no match for the throaty rumble of “Mountain Energy” (or “Montain Energei,” depending on which version of the album you have) among the new crop of post-punk bands that started to pop up around the time this album came out. Eclectic tracks like “Contraflow,” “The Past” and “Janet, Johnny & James” manage to display the many sides of The Fall without sacrificing Smith’s esoteric vocal onslaught. The Real New Fall LP properly showed the young upstarts how to handle the post-punk genre without diving into laurel-resting sonic recidivism. – KN

21st century post-punk albums Bloc PartyBloc PartySilent Alarm
(2005; Wichita)

Bloc Party’s debut is one that I’ll probably go to my grave considering a disappointment. But that’s not because Silent Alarm isn’t a great record; it actually happens to be one of my favorites out of the post-punk revival era. No, the problem here is that the record blossoms with almost too much potential when compared to the somewhat lukewarm trajectory the band’s discography would take them in. Split between funkier, Gang of Four-referencing grooves and more experimental moments more akin to This Heat, the album also had an impressive amount of shoegaze influence, with an innovative, pedal-heavy guitar approach tying the diverse song set together. It remains a modern masterpiece of the genre and, unfortunately, the perpetual bar for the band’s decent, but not-so-groundbreaking follow ups to date. – ATB

21st Century post-punk albums The HorrorsThe HorrorsPrimary Colours
(2009; XL)

The Horrors started out as campy shock rock, so it’s not necessarily unreasonable if anyone was entirely taken aback by their sophomore album Primary Colours. Working with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, the UK outfit traded their Munsters garb for an acid-tipped take on post-punk informed equally by Can and The Chameleons, The Sound and Silver Apples. Stylistically, it’s hard not to see that as anything but a major step in the right direction, though more impressive still were the actual songs, showcasing a wide range of sounds set to shockingly good melodies. They pull off a hard-pulsing My Bloody Valentine nightmare on “Three Decades,” a slow-burning surf-gloom kosmische on “Sea Within a Sea,” and Echo and the Bunnymen wall of sound via “Who Can Say.” What they didn’t lose in transitioning from their initial incarnation, at least not away, was the “horror” part—even for a style of music known for being dark, Primary Colours‘ palette is unusually unsettling. – JT

Savages - Silence YourselfSavagesSilence Yourself
(2013; Matador)

Savages’ debut demands attention in every possible way, from the bracing intensity of its 11 songs to the blunt exhortation in the liner notes that THIS RECORD IS TO BE PLAYED LOUD IN THE FOREGROUND. So, yeah, not something to put on at parties—unless you relish the idea of explaining who Belladonna is and what “Hit Me” is about to your more straight-laced friends. But the seriousness and explicit social statements on Silence Yourself don’t equate to a lack of enjoyment. Every musical element goes for the kill, but addictively so, from Jehnny Beth’s wailing manifestos to the furious riffs of Gemma Thompson and Ayse Hassan’s slinky, predatory basslines. Despite its dark sound, Silence Yourself is an immensely hopeful album, from the rise-out-of-darkness anthems “I Am Here” and “No Face” to the sex positivity of “She Will” and “Husbands.” And in case we haven’t made it clear enough on this site, you absolutely must see Savages live. – LG

best post-punk albums of the 00s VauraVauraThe Missing
(2013; Profound Lore)

The members of Brooklyn’s Vaura have backgrounds in a diverse array of genres, be it bassist Toby Driver’s work with avant-prog outfit Kayo Dot or guitarist Kevin Hufnagel’s mathematical cred from playing with Dysrhythmia. By that measure, they’d seem likely to be a colossally heavy and weird band, and though that’s partly true, they apply a booming approach to a highly melodic and lushly performed style of post-punk that bridges metalgaze density with sinewy Joy Division-style grooves. The opening riff of “Incomplete Burning,” from the band’s second album The Missing, sounds like it’s about to erupt into a surge of venomous black metal. Instead, it becomes a gorgeously arranged, Cure-like brooder. Similarly, the band infuses “Mare of the Snake” with a sexy, bass-driven darkness and pursues swirling neo-psych plumes on “Putting Flesh to Bone” and “The Things That We All Hide.” Every now and then, Vaura will put the hammer down and remind listeners of their heavy backgrounds, but this is an album that emphasizes style and elegance over raw power. – JT

Iceage Plowing Into the Field of LoveIceagePlowing into the Field of Love
(2014; Matador)

Denmark’s Iceage are an ever-evolving force, having started as more of a hardcore punk outfit (albeit one distinctly influenced by post-punk) on 2011’s New Brigade and have progressed through a series of more complicated sounds since. On Plowing into the Field of Love, the band are at their purest post-punk state yet, boasting a bizarrely countrified sound that recalls Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to a certain extent, while also holding ties to darker post-punk moments like Swans’ White Light from the Mouth of Infinity. No matter how you dissect it, it’s a delightfully weird record, full of gothic imagery, daring sounds and a healthy dose of skepticism. – ATB

Ought More Than Any Other DayOughtMore Than Any Other Day
(2014; Constellation)

There are a lot of debut records on this list, and perhaps there’s a good reason for that. After all, post-punk in the 21st century is a revivalist’s game and a debut record is when a band is usually at their most raw. It’s possible that that mingling of old influences and fresh, naive perspective is the perfect recipe for a definitive release. Trends aside, that was certainly the case for Ought, whose mind-blowing debut straddled a line between the history of post-rock and post-punk to form a tense, lively record deeply rooted in the American traditions of both sub-genres. More Talking Heads than Joy Division, More Than Any Other Day thrives within abstract realms and repetitive (but not always predictable) songwriting formats, with the band injecting more character into their debut than most artists are able to in a lifetime. – ATB

Total Control Typical SystemTotal ControlTypical System
(2014; Iron Lung)

Australia’s Total Control aren’t bound by any one aesthetic, which makes their take on post-punk one that’s not always entirely logical. Sometimes they engage in analog-synth buzz and thud (“Glass”). Sometimes they bathe in garage rock fuzz (“Expensive Dog”). And sometimes they opt for soaring, yet taut anthems (“Flesh War”). They’re scattershot in approach, and yet it all kind of makes sense in their own peculiar way. Each new bizarre track on second album Typical System unlocks one more aspect of their constantly changing, yet highly melodic and abrasive approach, the sum total of which adds up to a grand mosaic. Those individual parts, however, are pretty spectacular, be they steeped in the jazz-wave of Tuxedomoon or the minimalist punk of Wire. It’s the best one-band post-punk mixtape of the millennium thus far. – JT

Algiers reviewAlgiersAlgiers
(2015; Matador)

Algiers is one of the infrequent instances in which a truly unexpected combination of ingredients—black spirituals, industrial clank, blues rhythms and razorblade punk riffs—actually creates a coherent and fascinating whole. The multiracial Atlanta band’s debut is one of the finer opening musical salvos in recent memory. Like many post-punk records, Algiers is an act of blatant political commentary, but one concerned with issues most if not all of its musical progenitors didn’t touch: racism’s past and present, police violence, the class dynamics of Algiers’ native city and a simultaneous fascination and repulsion toward religion. In so doing, it bangs, from the slow march of “Blood” to the insistent rush of “Old Girl” and “Black Eunuch.” And Franklin James Fisher’s lead vocals are some of the most arresting 2015 had to offer in any genre, whether crooning on his own or being assisted by bandmates via lush harmonies. – LG

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