Rock music was having a crisis in the late ‘90s. Grunge had faded out like the jeans and flannel it was known for, Nu Metal was having a disproportionately huge moment, and attempts to resurrect indie rock were siloed off into cities and local scenes inaccessible to the alt-music starved masses.
But then, as if punk rock and new wave bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s à la Joy Division and the Ramones had strategically skipped rocks in a river decades in advance, the ripples finally made their way to the shore, and by the early 2000s, the post-punk revival pushed unknown bands to mainstream success. The sounds were retro, punctuated by melodic basslines, and the talent was touting guitars and playing synthesizers. Much like their punk rock forefathers, they had an eye for aesthetics, donning skinny ties and shag haircuts that exemplified a generation of stylish youth.
Here, in all its glory, is a “painstakingly hard to limit to just 10” list of the post-punk revival albums you should own on vinyl.
Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare
It was harder, louder, faster and in 2006, Arctic Monkeys’ sophomore offering proved sometimes the sequel can be even better than the original. Tasked with the daunting endeavor of following up a debut that happened to be the quickest selling album in British history, the quartet from Sheffield, England hit the studio hard and in just a little more than a year after their first release Favourite Worst Nightmare was born. The album launches off with impossibly fast drumming and bombastic bass guitar play thanks to “Brainstorm” and Alex Turner was back with more mature albeit jaded observations, sharper wit, and incomparable wordplay in songs like “Fluorescent Adolescence” about a female lead living in a world where slag boys are sans electricity. It ties up nicely with the forlorn cinematic-inspired lyrics and sounds of “505,” but more importantly it was a warning shot of things to come and cemented the band as more than just one hit album indie wonders.
Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
In 2005, London’s Bloc Party released a 13 track manic dance party that didn’t let down the whole way through. Frequently regaled as the “new” Franz Ferdinand during the release of their early EPs, Silent Alarm set them apart from their indie counterparts. There’s a restlessness in the album, right from the start with “Like Eating Glass,” followed by consistent indie pop hits with uncommon depth thanks to lyricist Kele Okereke’s dark and relatable take on love, apathy, and global politics. The drums and guitar play are quick and concise, like in standout track “Helicopter.” With a wide range of influences that at times make the album appear genre-less, Silent Alarm could’ve rested on its ability to induce dance floor stupors, but instead dug deeper, nailing what Okereke described as “a nagging youthful urgency.”
The Killers: Hot Fuss
In life there are things you will never forget; your first kiss, your first love, and the first time you heard the opening track of Hot Fuss; radio static and helicopter blades accented with devious bass strumming in “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine.” Mostly known for the sexy synth-rock sing-a-long, Mr. Brightside, Hot Fuss hit the indie rock scene in 2004 and proved that new wave and post-punk influences could flourish anywhere, even in the dry desert of Las Vegas. There was the androgynous first single “Somebody Told Me,” the synth-heavy “Smile Like You Mean It,” and the solo piano keys that played you into the triumphant choir backed bridge of “All These Things That I’ve Done.” In 2009, Flowers told Spin, “Hot Fuss was all based on fantasy. The English influences, the makeup—they were what I imagined rock was.” The record has stood the test of time, pubs, karaoke machines, and wedding dance floors the world over, so it sounds like The Killer’s rock fantasy, imagined or otherwise, was right.
Interpol: Turn On The Bright Lights
With a sound as smooth as their sleek stylish hair and tailored black suits, Interpol unleashed a New York City soundtrack by the name of Turn On The Bright Lights in 2002. The debut opens slowly with “Untitled” then jumps into “Obstacle 1,” with its contagious hook and escalating tempo coupled with Paul Banks’ vexed yet sincere declaration that “she puts the weights into my little heart” before he warns “you go stabbing yourself in the neck.” It captured what it was like to live and love at the turn of the century, but more importantly it aptly portrayed a post 9/11 melancholy, and not just through the track “NYC” with its chorus that begged “But New York cares (got to be some more change in my life)” and its call to action bridge, “It’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights.” Much like Interpol, the album was dark, meandering, and brooding but is still known as the blueprint which inspired many of the indie pop-centric post-punk revivalist bands and albums that followed it.
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
According to Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time list, Kanye West once described Franz Ferdinand’s indie-disco dance floor friendly rock as “white crunk music,” he wasn’t wrong. The same article quotes the Scottish band saying they make “music for girls to dance to,” they weren’t wrong either. Despite the calm acoustic and somewhat deceiving start of the record with “Jacqueline,” it is a ride full of frantic guitar play, ironic lyrics, and infectious hooks from start to finish. Some standouts include, but are not limited to“Darts of Pleasure” where Alex Kapranos’ seductively swoons “You can feel my lips undress your eyes,” a ditty called “Michael” about two hot guys hitting the dance floor, and the hit that catapulted them into the limelight “Take Me Out.” The single starts quickly with “So if you’re lonely / you know I’m here waiting for you” then the drumming gets slow and steady a quarter way through, Kapranos’ stern voice demanding, not asking, to be picked up. When the self-titled album was released, critics dubbed them indie rock darlings, and with one listen through it’s easy to see why.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
If the post-punk revival was a fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are amongst the igniters. Their debut, Fever to Tell was released in 2003, and thanks to Karen O’s voice, raspy from screeching out lyrics and downing beer during must-see live shows, the trio’s music made its way outside the boroughs of NYC. It was artsy, it was punk, and it conveyed the thoughts and feelings of every angsty late night club dweller in its second track, “Date with the Night”. But among the raucous tracks there are a few slower moments in the latter half of the record like the visceral longing and steady beats of “Maps” with O’ sweetly crooning the careful lyrics “They don’t love you like I love you,” in what sounds like a conversation on the verge of tears. The record was ambitious and promising early on when there weren’t a stock of post-punk rock revival cheat sheets to pass off of, and it became one of the albums the curve was graded on.
Kaiser Chiefs: Employment
It was 2005 when a quintet from Leeds by the name of Kaiser Chiefs released Employment, a debut that was spirited and self-asserting. It never gets out of your face and has the type of hooks that taunt you and tease you until you sing along. Songs like the politically motivated and formidable “I Predict a Riot” which starts with a forewarning guitar riff that sinks into Ricky Wilson’s casual description of a quarrel about to start before blasting off into one of the catchiest choruses of indie history, a boisterous repetition of the song’s title. There’s also the opening track, “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” a story about pretending to no longer be in love that has a nice synth start and is equipped with cheeky unconvincing lyrics like “I can’t believe once you and me did sex / It makes me sick to think of you undressed.” If you’ve ever been in search of a 45-minute hum along worthy exhilarating and enjoyable album, look no further, you’ve found it.
The Libertines: Up the Bracket
“Up The Bracket” is a slang term that means a punch in the throat and at times, like when hoarse yowling kicks of the track by the same name, it feels that way. Backed by the British punk credibility of being produced by Mick Jones of The Clash, the album immediately strikes up visions of a reckless and thrilling night out in London. It’s all slurred words and guitar riffs but still, stumbles over that line into tuneful and tight. We can’t bring up the album without diving into the chaotic, witty, and romantic, “Time For Heroes” the proud owner of the lyrics “There are few more distressing sights than that/ Of an Englishman in a baseball cap” and an opening line that exemplifies the era and genre it was born into with, “Did you see the stylish kids in the riot.” This 2002 debut is beyond list-worthy because it is the record the British foursome can blame for bringing the post-punk revival to the UK, and with its fun to be had lyrics and melodies that speed up, slow down, and stop sporadically it’s a celebration of the genre it helped shape.
TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
In 2006, it was last call for post-punk revival bands that had cut their teeth in New York’s underground club scene. Thankfully Brooklyn-based TV on the Radio stayed a little past closing time and we were graced with Return to Cookie Mountain. The band’s second studio album starts with stuttered beats and Tunde Adebimpe’s trembling soulful vocals in “I Was a Lover.” Then there’s “Province,” a song David Bowie wanted to add backing vocals to after hearing an early cut of the song. If that doesn’t do it for you - the track that fits most snug in the post-punk revival box is “Wolf Like Me,” with its exasperated howling, brisk guitar riffs, and dirty basslines. The lyrics aren’t coy surrounding the intentions of the protagonist in this story, but they avoid being shallow with Adebimpe’s shouting, “Baby doll, I recognize/ You’re a hideous thing inside.” There’s a sonic depth to the album and it’s artsy without feeling pretentious. It’s a one of a kind mix of indie rock and haunting sounds - perfect for the vinyl listening experience; you can relax into it and let it surround you. No need to get up and change the track.
*You can get the Vinyl Me, Please edition of this album right here.
Tokyo Police Club: A Lesson in Crime
A Lesson in Crime is lean and mean at seven songs in sixteen minutes and no unnecessary space between or within the tracks. The record made its way from Toronto to the rest of the world in 2006, giving us lyrics on robots and samurais with ample opportunity to shout back the chorus and hand clap along. The first track “Cheer It On” captures the then barely out of high school band’s emphatic energy, it starts with the lyrics “Operator! Get me the President of the world! This is an emergency!” and the album continues with quick guitar picking urgency until the end. The best part of the record is its care-free and distracting quality. Lyrics about a hopefully still far off dystopian future where we’re all governed by robots like in the record’s third track, “Citizen of Tomorrow,” are not only fun to listen to but are also a nice respite from the world we actually live in.