Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out and hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine.
“The soil of a man’s heart is stonier. A man grows what he can and tends to it.” Jud Crandall, Pet Semetary.
Why are we, the enthusiasts of the subdivisions of Post Punk (Darkwave, Goth, Industrial, Shoegaze, Neo Folk, Power Electronics) given to the maudlin? To quote High Fidelity, “Do I listen to pop music because I’m miserable, or am I miserable because I listen pop music?” I believe that we aren’t inherently miserable, but we recognize our shadow selves and are comfortable with that being. It’s been the fascination of minds like Jung, Sartre, Rimbaud. It’s in every roller coaster line, Horror film showing, skydiving excursion, and Shakespearean play. We are most alive when dipping our toes into the murky waters of mortality. There is joy in mourning.
There are those artists that play with the sounds of the dark pop spectrum, yet lyrically inhabit a vastly dissimilar port of call. Dutch Experts have pried open the gates to a sensual, bleak, feminine statement in “Bound By This”. Binding her love of Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, and Tori Amos with an ear for arena sized synth perfection, Hanna has compiled four deeply effective, separate and singular musical statements. The obsidian and syncopated rhythms of “Your Heart” and “Morrigu” serve as walls of despair that are haunted by a cautiously hopeful chanteuse. In a certain light, these songs would not seem out of place on the dance floor of London’s The Batcave, yet their sheer expanses of pop prowess would also find them at home on a Baroque top 40 radio station. Opposing forces create diamonds, and “Bound By This” is that precious stone.
Indie Post Punk darlings Soft Kill (Cercle Social Records) have barely taken a moment to breathe. Tobias Grave, hot on the heels of Halloween 2022’s answer to “What if Brian Eno hired the Chameleons to be Tom Petty’s backing band?” Canary Yellow, has teased another album. The “Molly” maxi-single is comprised of two new songs (“Molly” / “Mint”) and the demo version of Canary Yellow’s standout “Domino“. The style of these new tracks has little in common with the previous affair, leaning into stripped down, dreamy, and bleak slices of pre“Savior”. Sparse, wistful synths wash over Toby’s well wrought riffs and smoky, confessional vocals. “Mint”, the third and final track, hints at a bleak and reflective full length on the horizon.
The band that has accumulated more accolades than any I’ve yet to encounter, Home Front, have unleashed a veritable juggernaut with the bouncy, Punky, and wholly individualistic “Games of Power” (La Vida Es Un Mus Discos). Call it PostPowerPunk, call it Pogo-Goth, I call it the finest example of a band utilizing every part of the Punk elephant. It is a fist in the air, tear on the cheek uplift as the credits roll after the hero survives. You will hear this recording, and you will tremble.
The Gothic Folk sans Neo Facist/cum Dream Pop Chamber Wave congregation Constant Smiles have defied all previously formed expectations with the second of their records to be named for a film maker, “Kenneth Anger” (Sacred Bones). Named for the naturally subversive and outwardly Satanic Director and author of cult publication “Hollywood Babylon”, the album achieves something very much akin to what the Flaming Lips had with “The Soft Bulletin”. By shattering every glass ceiling that they’d been beneath on previous outings, they have fully reimagined their oeuvre, to incredible results.
In keeping with the through line of mortality play and the use of disparate sub-genres as a color palette, I would be remiss not to include the wide reaching journey of Brandon Phillips. Starting a Ska Punk band with his two younger brothers in 1995, the Phillips three found a place among their much older (they were between the ages of 13 and 18) peers, opening for the Skatalites and then the biggest Punk band in the land, Rancid. This led to Tim Armstrong signing their band, The Gadjits, to a deal on Epitaph imprint Hellcat. This journey saw them later signing to an ill fated RCA deal, touring extensively and everywhere, and retooling their sound with every album. The last record wasn’t to be, as Clive Davis sacked near everyone on the label.
After this pratfall, they changed their sound and name. They were now the Architects, an indie rock iteration of the Gadjits. More albums, more changes, more names. The Sex Police, Brandon Phillips and the Condition… Ska to Rock to Pop/Soul… finally, Brandon struck out on his own, using his early influences in the New Wave and Post Punk realm. With a healthy list for electronic based Darkwave and a newly minted project, Mensa Deathsquad, he was solo in a manner no one had seen coming.
Releasing an album per year since it’s inception, Mensa has distilled the sonic miasma and glitchy beats to a stoic perfection with fourth record “Personal Book of Spells”. Opener “Suffer” is the ultimate mission statement, harnessing synthwave bells, undulating bass lines, pulsating rhythms, and a flawlessly mournful croon. It is Darkwave for the classicists as well as a funerary jolt for the 80’s Pop enthusiasts.
In closing, I’m sure that you have noticed a major shift in the tone of this month’s offering. It is of great personal importance that what I deliver serves the artists that I am covering. I hope that it makes for a worthwhile reading experience. As worthwhile as revisiting the Cold Cave classic “Confetti” (Heartworm Press) from “Cherish The Light Years”, newly issued on 7”. Or as much as the import only “No Sense No Feeling” by High Vis (Six Feet Under). Both physical products are absolutely gorgeous, and sound vastly superior played on a good turntable with over ear headphones.
Until Next Time, Try To Enjoy The Daylight.