10 Bewilderingly Underrated Post-Punk Bands You Need to Hear

Today’s a day for Flavorpill central to get excited about music, and not just because it’s the day the new of Montreal album comes out. February 7th also sees the re-release of A Trip to Marineville and Jane from Occupied Europe, the two studio albums that represent the career of hugely underrated UK post-punk band Swell Maps. For whatever reason, the post-punk era seems to have bred a great number of bands whose music was miles ahead of its time and whose output remains largely overlooked, even in 2012. So in honor of Swell Maps’ prescient output, here’s our selection of some other great post-punk bands who really deserve the attention of music lovers. Did we miss anyone?

Swell Maps

The work of brothers Kevin and Paul Godfrey (better known as Epic Soundtracks and Nikki Sudden) is particularly interesting as some of it actually pre-dated punk, let alone post-punk — their band first started playing in 1972, which really only serves to reinforce just how ahead of their time they were. But their recorded output only really begins in the late ’70s, and its forward-thinking sound definitely ties in with the breadth of vision that characterized the best of the post-punk era. We’re very glad their two remarkable albums are getting the deluxe reissue treatment — it’s only a shame that neither brother is alive to see their music get the respect it so richly deserves.

Orange Juice

Before Edwyn Collins was the guy that sang ’90s hit “A Girl Like You,” he was the frontman of quietly excellent Glasgow group Orange Juice. In a way, Orange Juice were the quintessential post-punk band: musically forward-thinking, largely ignored by the mainstream, and, um, Scottish. Along with Josef K (of whom more shortly), they spearheaded the roster of short-lived but iconic Scots post-punk label Postcard Records. Also: their one and only UK Top 40 hit, “Rip It Up”,,was notable for its early use of Roland’s TB-303 bass synth, later to be re-discovered and tweaked into immortality by a generation of acid house producers.

Young Marble Giants

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of post-punk was the sheer breadth of sound it encompassed. In this respect, you could argue that it was a return to the early days of punk (before the safety pins ‘n’ studded jackets orthodoxy kicked in), but it’s hard to imagine that even in the headily eclectic early days of CBGB, a band as understated as Young Marble Giants would have been met with anything but bewilderment. The Welsh quartet’s quietly cerebral sound stood in stark contrast to the noisy excesses of punk, and decades later, their one and only album Colossal Youth is a startlingly wonderful piece of work. If you want proof of their lasting influence, look no further than The xx, whose pristine soundscapes owe a great deal to Colossal Youth.

Josef K

We wrote about Kafka-lovin’ Edinburgh four-piece Josef K a while back in the context of great bands that only made one album. As we noted at the time, the band themselves didn’t exactly help their career in a commercial sense, but even with their relative lack of commercial success, their sound has proven a lasting influence on the likes of Franz Ferdinand and basically all of DFA’s roster.

The Associates

It’s not just Josef K, either — the history of post-punk seems to be littered with bands who really should have been bigger than they were, but for whatever reason never attained the success they deserved. The Associates are another such band — their career was undermined by the departure of founding guitarist Ian Rankine in 1982, just as a commercial breakthrough seemed imminent. It’s a terrible shame, because their records up until that point — particularly 1982’s Sulk, perhaps the best expression of their sound — were great. Sadly, vocalist Billy Mackenzie committed suicide in 1997.

Television Personalities

Television Personalities are one of the rare post-punk bands who have remained a going proposition since the earliest days of the genre (although since the band is basically singer Dan Treacy and whoever happens to be playing with him at any given moment, this isn’t perhaps quite the achievement it might appear). Not unlike Mark E. Smith of The Fall, the gloriously eccentric Treacy has been plowing his own anarchic furrow since 1978 (except for a period in the early 2000s when he was imprisoned for shoplifting), recording songs with titles like “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives” and once making an album called Television Personalities — They Could Have Been Bigger than the Beatles. In one of his Guardian columns, Alan McGee cited Treacy as the inspiration behind the genesis of Creation Records, and the column makes for fascinating reading (about both McGee and Treacy).

Lords of the New Church

Johnny Rotten wasn’t the only first-wave punk who found a more interesting and varied musical outlet with his new band. When the Dead Boys went their separate ways, frontman Stiv Bators formed a trans-Atlantic supergroup of sorts with The Damned’s Bran James and Sham 69’s Dave Tregunna — the resultant band lasted for most of the 1980s, a year before Bators’ premature death in 1990. Despite their largely excellent albums, their output never reached anywhere near the audience it deserved (except, curiously, for their cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”).

The Pop Group

The recent and welcome trend of ATP-helmed post-punk reunions continued at this year’s New Jersey event with the renaissance of archly monikered Bristol band The Pop Group. And no, we didn’t see them play, because we are foolish, foolish people. ARGH.

The Chameleons

Another band who never quite achieved the stardom that looked like it was headed their way, Manchester melancholics The Chameleons were championed by legendary BBC DJ John Peel but never really embraced by the record-buying public. They released three excellent albums between 1983 and 1986, before their career was brought to a close in 1987 with the death of their manager. We’re hoping someone gives their albums (and particularly 1983 debut Script of the Bridge) the deluxe reissue treatment at some point.

Psychic TV

Throbbing Gristle’s influence on the evolution of industrial music has been well-documented, but Geneis P-Orridge’s post-Gristle project Psychic TV doesn’t get nearly as much press. (Nor, for that matter, does Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti’s work together, but that’s another article entirely.) Anyway, Psychic TV’s dizzyingly diverse output throughout the 1980s and ’90s encompasses everything from ear-bleeding Gristle-esque noise to surprisingly hummable pop songs to acid house and techno. In other words, it was eclectic and visionary and remarkably ahead of its time — which means that it basically embodied everything there was and is to like about the post-punk era. Excellent.