Have you heard? Indie sleaze is back: overly edited Terry Richardson photos, smudged eyeliner and denim jackets are cool again. With that, there’s been a second wave of post-punk revival, a post-post-punk revival, if you will. PPR is a term that’s thrown around a lot, and its meaning is often vague and misleading. To understand it, we have to go back a couple waves.
Post-punk revival drew its inspiration from the post-punk movement, which had grown out of the initial punk rock movement of the ’70s. Both post-punk and punk embraced the same DIY work ethic; however, post-punk distinguished itself from its predecessor by experimenting with a broader range of sounds and beats. For some, post-punk is synonymous with goth and New Wave—deliberately gloomy and dismal sounds and lyrics mumbled by sullen, young men. Think: Joy Division, The Cure, Bauhaus, et al. It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when post-punk faded away, but in the late ’90s and early ’00s—during the height of nu-metal and arena pop/rock—New York gave birth to a post-punk revival.
Most identifiable by basic stripped-down, distorted guitar sounds, PPR re-popularized the post-punk/New Wave sound and turned it into scuzzy and melodic pop songs that were far more commercially viable. From the States came PPR pioneers like The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD Soundsystem; meanwhile, the UK offered up super hits from Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys. These bands were effortlessly cool, their music feeding into the romanticization of gritty cultural meccas like New York City and London.
Of course, none of the above-mentioned bands will be found on this list. You’ll have to dig a bit deeper—or just read ahead—to rediscover these 10 post-punk revival albums you may have forgotten. Shame on you.
1. The Back Room by Editors
Composed of four chaps from the UK, Editors released their debut, The Back Room, in 2005. Influenced by the same dark echoes of other indie groups of that time, the record puts its best foot forward with enough reverb to fill a London night club. Singles like “Bullets” and “Munich” garnered the band measurable success, with vocalist/guitarist Tom Smith singing in an aggressive, yet wavering, voice akin to fellow PPR band Interpol’s Paul Banks. Opener “Lights” uses guitars that begin with a jangle and reverb-heavy note before transforming into piercing, echo-filled scraps recalling bands like Joy Division and Bauhaus. The band are still releasing music today, with their latest record, EBM, coming out this past September. However, no record has quite lived up to the catchy vocals and insistent rhythms that meet in the energetic performance of The Back Room.
2. Echoes by The Rapture
The Rapture are post-punk revival pioneers most famous for getting the “rock” kids moving in the early-to-mid-aughts with a sound built on undeniable dance beats. On Echoes, the band embraces a shiny, new version of dance-punk, raw and unhinged within a sleek, symmetrical packaging. This is the record that proved that the band could come off more calm and collected (for them, anyway) and still succeed. Standout tracks include hyped single “House of Jealous Lovers,” which layers the reckless, screaming vocals of Luke Jenner over an infectious bass line. While opener “Olio” includes a drumbeat that pays homage to early techno with its hint of despair, the upbeat “Sister Savior” features warm, layered keyboards and faintly brings to mind the electronic pop of New Order, the softer sibling of Joy Division. Echoes showcases a more sophisticated take on the forceful guitar riffs, electronic beats, and transmissible grooves found all over the record.
3. Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio
Though the jump to a major record label for TV on the Radio’s 2006 sophomore album, Return to Cookie Mountain, might have left some fans concerned, those fears soon crumbled. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, instrumentalist Dave Sitek, and guitarist Kyp Malone more than kept pace with their Shortlist Prize-winning Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, enhancing nearly every aspect of that debut to create a sound that is uniquely theirs in the canon of post-punk revival. Standout track, and now indie staple, “Wolf Like Me” is four and a half minutes utterly seeping with peril. Over monster synth vibes and backing that walks a fine line between guitar riffs and tessellations, Adebimpe appropriately sings, “When the moon is round and full/ Gonna teach you tricks that will blow your mind.” It’s a culmination of elements that are still blowing our minds nearly two decades later.
4. The Futureheads by The Futureheads
Backward-leaning British rockers The Futureheads embraced ’70s post-punk by, among other habits, showing little regard for traditional verse-chorus structures. However, the band still somehow managed to create enticing, hook-heavy songs that demand you get up and dance. Their 2004 self-titled debut begins with a rad trio of songs (“Le Garage,” “Robot,” and “A to B”) that recall and measure up favorably to some of the best work of ’70s pop/punk icons like The Jam. Swiftly moving through complex four-part harmonies and inserting bizarre and surprising segments between verses, The Futureheads prove themselves as tight as the finest post-punk revival bands of the time, with the riffs and hooks necessary to flesh out their raw aesthetic.
5. Apologies to the Queen Mary by Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade’s debut Apologies to the Queen Mary is filled with now-classic staples that can be found on any indie-kid’s nostalgia playlist. Its opening drumbeats pave the way for an off-kilter embrace of jarring, sometimes violent, rhythm that jolts your body into some seriously killer grooves. Filled with keyboards and guitars that hit hard and drums that pound ferociously, we’re then introduced to a howling Spencer Krug, who sounds like he’s on the verge of a meltdown, each lyric filled to the brim with tension, frayed nerves and wild metaphors. And that’s just one track in. Wolf Parade’s weirder, more experimental fare would never quite capture the imagination like Queen Mary did and still does. It’s the more approachable album, spinning universal sentiments of family trauma, struggling relationships and crises of faith through the PPR filter and coming out the other side with an album that should always be remembered.
6. Silent Alarm by Bloc Party
Bloc Party’s debut Silent Alarm still ranks among the very best records to have emerged from the post-punk revival era. Released in 2005 during the height of Myspace’s popularity, Silent Alarm was filled with single after single of infectious layered melodies and sharp vocal hooks, making its cuts perfect profile songs: palatable for the casual music listener and just complex enough for the music snobs in your life. If you play this record for now-thirtysomethings, you’ll be sure to catch some, if not all, murmuring along to riffs of indie classics like “Banquet” and “Helicopter.” However, it’s the first few seconds of trills on “This Modern Love” that transport us back to being 15—being in love for the first time, being heartbroken for the first time, and feeling things we didn’t yet have words for but this song could express. It’s the track that still brings a lump to our throat, no matter how old we become.
7. Primary Colours by The Horrors
Formed in 2005, Essex rockers The Horrors showcased a wide range of sounds by their sophomore album, 2009’s Primary Colours. A leap from their more underwhelming debut, 2007’s Strange House, this record is filled with shockingly good melodies and dark-but-danceable beats. Mixing shoegaze with the stripped-down guitar sound of post-punk revival, the record feels as if My Bloody Valentine and Echo and the Bunnymen had a child together. Songs like “Sea Within a Sea” and “New Ice Age” are ethereal and airy, but dark and ominous, riding that fine line of dark surf-rock and post-punk revival, with just enough scuzzy reverb to fit in with the latter.
8. To Lose My Life… by White Lies
It’s fair to say that every album on this list borrows something or other from seminal post-punks Joy Division, but few bands embraced this influence as boldly as London outfit White Lies did back in 2009. To Lose My Life… borrows from the same mopey-rock sounds popularized at the time by Interpol and the Editors and combines that doom and gloom with the pomp sound of ’80s synth pop to create a strand of post-punk revival all its own. The record’s ability to handle themes of death and despair with solid bass lines and danceable melodies on songs like “Death” and “Farewell to the Fairground” snags it a place on this list.
9. She Wants Revenge by She Wants Revenge
Combining elements of dark/goth wave with the jagged guitar work of post-punk revival, the eponymous debut by She Wants Revenge is as sexy as it is haunting. Critics have panned the band in the past for being a poor man’s Interpol (who, incidentally, catch flack as an “off-brand Joy Division”), but SWR are far more than just a rehashing of other outfits. This record combines a dominant and danceable rhythm section with precise and poppy song structures, all tied together by a scuzzy feedback approach, making it a staple in all of our post-punk revival canons. She Wants Revenge is the album that all of us secretly listened to on our Zunes and iPods in high school; tracks like “Tear You Apart” and “These Things” remain dark and cool and drip with sensual elements that all of us teenagers maneuvered through as we discovered our own sexualities for the first time.
10. Bows Arrows by The Walkmen
Rising from the ashes of the mid-’90s indie rock movement, The Walkmen emerged at the turn of the century to become one of the pioneers of the NYC post-punk revival scene. What set them apart from the Interpols, Strokes and even the art-rock Yeah Yeah Yeahs of that scene was the band’s reliance on organs, piano strings, and a focus on creating atmosphere rather than a stripped-down and back-to-basics guitar sound (though, that’s still present). But “atmosphere” doesn’t mean that Bows Arrows aimlessly lingers or succumbs to filler. Far from it. Songs like “The Rat” and “Little House of Savages” spin equally forceful and infectious with pounding drums and relentless guitars on one of the most musically masterful albums of the PPR movement.