In a year full of album release delays, it feels a bit weird to share best-of lists at the halfway point of 2020, but it seems like post-punk LPs—as opposed to the big pop, rock or hip-hop releases of the day—were largely unaffected. Whether it’s the danceable rhythms, razor-sharp social commentary or mind-bending guitars, post-punk helped us process today’s extremely tumultuous circumstances. Whether we’re talking about the new wave side of things (Nation of Language, Choir Boy), punk and jangle pop fusion (En Attendant, Primo!) or gothic gloom (Bambara, M!R!M), these records helped us escape and return to our lives with a renewed vigor. Post-punk has been kind to us in 2020, so we’d like to tip our hat to the highlights. Here are our 20 favorite post-punk albums from the year so far, listed in alphabetical order below.
Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.
The new LP from D.C. punks Bacchae is an exhilarating listen with sharp riffs and a vast arsenal of sounds. One minute there’s smoke coming out of their noses on the spring-loaded goth ripper (“Leave Town”), then the next, they’re embracing cheerful twee pop (“Hammer”) or bringing out fried synths from left field (“Turns Me”). From the biting vocals of “Older I Get” to the jaunty, bewitching organs on “Life Online,” Bacchae out themselves as compelling punk shapeshifters. —Lizzie Manno
Athens, Ga.-via-Brooklyn band Bambara employ fictional, character-based storytelling in their lyrics, and the humanity that each of us craves is just as prevalent in their non-autobiographical writing. Bambara arrived in 2013 with their debut LP Dreamviolence, a lo-fi smoke bomb of noise punk where frontman Reid Bateh first wet his feet with this kind of songwriting. The songs were only loosely tied together, especially in comparison to their recent work, but dark descriptions like “stained teeth on the floor” and a man “shaped just like a dog” were already present. By 2018’s Shadow on Everything, Bambara were constructing post-punk songs like chapters of gothic literature, each serving a wider concept. Their newest effort Stray sees them pushing even further. With inspiration from Bateh’s Georgia upbringing and a stack of thrift store photographs, the Bambara singer isolated himself for a month to write their new album. While Shadow on Everything placed Bateh in the story with events unfolding chronologically, Stray is more ambitious with third-person narratives and shuffled timelines snaking in and out of each other. Imagine the types of skeevy characters who congregate in late-night alleyways, hop freight trains just for the rush and possess the hard-nosed stare of someone two decades their senior. These are the people who reside in the harsh, small-town Georgia where Stray takes place. —Lizzie Manno
Gathering Swans is Choir Boy’s sophomore album, following 2016’s Passive with Desire, where we were introduced to singer Adam Klopp’s alarmingly sincere vocals, which are legitimately difficult to describe without the overused adage “voice of an angel.” Klopp impressed on the debut, but on Gathering Swans he is absolutely hypnotizing. Tracks like opener “It’s Over” and single “Nites Like This” prove his worth as one of the best vocalists working. His voice is on full display, keeping the record afloat through even the most experimental tracks. The highlight of Gathering Swans is the buoyant, sparkling single “Complainer.” Klopp sings, “But it’s not that bad, I never really had it worse, I’m just a complainer,” a feeling many of us understand when we stop to realize we’re actually doing just fine. Relatable lyrics paired with bright synths and a post-punk bassline make this song joyous and dance-worthy, bringing to mind other unexpected beacons of positivity—the IDLES effect, if you will. The story goes that, while growing up in Ohio, Klopp was called “choir boy” as a dig, for what could be read as intense jealousy for his inimitable vocals, while also poking fun at his religious upbringing. But Klopp reclaimed the epithet, and rightfully so. If Gathering Swans shows us anything, it’s that Choir Boy deserve praise, not mockery. —Annie Black
Deeper know tragedy better than most. While recording their sophomore album Auto-Pain, guitarist Mike Clawson left the band due to deteriorating relationships with the Chicago group’s other three members. Later, after their record was finished and the post-punk act was touring in Europe, they received the news that Clawson had taken his own life. Throughout this catastrophic period, Deeper decided not to let Clawson’s passing derail their tour and release schedule, instead using them as a way to pay tribute to his contributions to the band and speak out about mental health (as they did with Paste earlier this year). As lead singer and guitarist Nic Gohl mentioned in his interview with our own Lizzie Manno, Auto-Pain was completed prior to Clawson’s death, but the album’s lyrics, written as a stream of consciousness, took on a completely different meaning. And it’s hard to listen to them any other way: Some depict graphic images of self-harm and violence (“Forced to set yourself on fire tonight / You shouldn’t count on the sun” from “Run,” or “I just want you to feel sick / Cause you’re better as you’re lying on the bathroom floor” from “Lake Song”) while others are a bit more abstract (“Is it any wonder / I feel so gray” from “Esoteric”). Auto-Pain is an album built on hues of blacks and grays, depicting a shadowy, sinister world. Clawson’s suicide turns those already gloomy colors into something several shades darker. —Steven Edelstone
It only takes a few seconds of their single “In / Out” to realize that En Attendant Ana have something special. “Shred” isn’t a word you’d normally associate with jangle pop, but it can definitely be used to describe the chiming, pummeling riff that’s sprinkled throughout the Parisian band’s single. Margaux Bouchaudon’s vocals evoke Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier and Alvvays’ Molly Rankin—she was practically genetically engineered to sing perfect, hyper-melodic dream pop. It would be unfair to dub them a dream pop outfit—they tap into avant-pop, post-punk and college rock with similar ease. With their second album Juillet, they subvert listeners’ perception of them on nearly every track. “From My Bruise to an Island” is a soothing, horn-led ambient piece, “Flesh or Blood” is incisive post-punk at its best and “Words” drops a warped synth interlude alongside wailing brass. They approach familiarly blissful indie-pop (“Do You Understand?”) with as much care as they do their more complex, off-kilter moments. It’s rare to find such thoughtfulness in a record so unabashedly tuneful. —Lizzie Manno
The new FACS album sounds like it warped in the sun, which is ironic, because it’s impossible to imagine listening to it outdoors in the daytime. Void Moments is another entry in the recent wave of gothy post-punk exhumations, but one that doesn’t get tripped up on the past—perhaps because it’s made by seasoned vets with clear goals and ambitions. You can tell they’re familiar with PiL, Wire, Liars and all manner of other bands that take a dark, droning, dubby approach to rock-ishness, but don’t try to be anything other than FACS. This is plodding, sputtering, arrhythmic robot rock with both brains and a soul, and yes, that is all meant as a compliment. —Garrett Martin
It’s unusual for a band to fall from grace before they release their first album. Three or four years ago, HMLTD were hailed as London’s next great band. In fact, they were far more subversive and innovative than most of the city’s much-hyped groups. Their infamous headline shows featured dramatic glam costumes, sets designed by the band and props like rubber chickens, mannequins and snakes. Whether you thought their experimental concoction of trap, synth-punk and electro-pop was the greatest thing you’ve heard in ages or overblown nonsense, this wasn’t a band you could ignore. Timing is crucial to a band’s ascent to stardom, and although HMLTD fell victim to the hourglass, their debut album, West of Eden, has finally arrived via indie label Lucky Number. As they experienced their own fall from grace—according to the band, no less—so has modern Western civilization, which serves as the backdrop of West of Eden. Karl Marx once posited that capitalism would “sow the seeds of its own destruction,” and HMLTD apply this theory not just to late capitalism, but to masculinity as well, which cannot be divorced from imperialist hegemony—itself a patriarchal structure. Their intelligent use of storytelling devices and century-spanning reference points prevent this from falling under the umbrella of typical political punk. Its musical thread might be occasionally mangled, tapping into synth-punk, J-pop, Britpop, electro-pop and psychobilly, but Henry Spychalski’s theatrical presence and the band’s forward-thinking oddities are positively hypnotic. —Lizzie Manno
On The Visionary, Jack Milwaukee (aka M!R!M) makes dark synth-pop and post-punk that’s infinitely more interesting and luxuriant than his contemporaries—even if his reference points are similar. Between the lush, oddball glimmer of “Superstitions” or the synthetic, muffled vocals and melancholy saxophone on “Survive,” this is an album that thrives on textures, but not obvious ones. Some recall gorgeously decadent ’80s sounds, but others sound weird enough to come from a PC Music record. One particular moment of dense glory arrives when his unpredictable, winding textures and heavily-delayed vocals meet a heady swell of violin on “Crucifix And Roses”—if we’re not met by similarly joyous sounds at the pearly gates, consider us disappointed. —Lizzie Manno
If you’re not a fan of snotty, overexaggerated vocals, this album probably won’t be for you—but if that doesn’t deter you, keep reading! Mush excel at precise guitars, borderline loony vocals and lyrics about modern day dystopia. Try keeping up with Dan Hyndman’s expressive enunciations, and you might even giggle about your own similar gloom. They’re pretty blunt about their reference points—the nimble guitars on “Coronation Chicken” are straight out of Television’s playbook, “Eat the Etiquette” has Devo-level sass and much of the record has wiry Uranium Club zest—but we can never have too many fun, existential records in 2020. —Lizzie Manno
It’s no secret that 1980s nostalgia has been prevalent in indie rock for years now. From Future Islands and Interpol to The 1975 and TOPS, countless bands from the last two decades have found success filtering their music through distinctly ’80s lenses. Still to this day, you can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting an indie band with one or more of these elements: interstellar synths, bass-driven songs, rich production and melodramatic vocals. To join these ranks is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, there’s a huge demand for music that sounds like it came from the era of big hair and goths, but on the other hand, it’s hard to stand out in such a saturated market—and even harder to make lasting, impactful songs that transcend its revivalist label. New York City band Nation of Language approach this weighty task with more grace and far better songwriting chops than the vast majority of bands who attempt retro pastiches or something close to them. For starters, lead singer and songwriter Ian Devaney (formerly of Static Jacks) has a low-pitched, aching voice that just screams classic new wave, but more crucially, he has an ear for awe-inspiring melodies and synth lines that go above and beyond mere cinematic uplift. Nearly every one of his songs prompts a mental highlight reel of one’s own life, but without the stylish, candy-coated nostalgia that’s fetishized nowadays—it’s the profound kind that allows you to view yourself at your lowest and highest moments and see the beauty in having a finite amount of time to live. —Lizzie Manno
Time can get bent. Somehow No Age have now been putting out records as long as Sonic Youth had when they released Washing Machine in 1995. The young guns are now elder statesmen and instead of trying to process that, I’ll just listen to Goons Be Gone some more. No Age doesn’t have much in common structurally or procedurally with Sonic Youth, but they have similar attitudes about how noise and songwriting can be mutually beneficial, and those notions are on beautiful display on No Age’s fifth full-length. On Goons Be Gone, you’ll find the same punk energy No Age has always had, with pop hooks muscling their way through churning discord and whirling noise. Um, it’s real good. —Garrett Martin
Pottery’s debut EP, No. 1, made our mid-year best post-punk list last year thanks to its bluesy, funky take on post-punk. This coming Friday (June 26), the Montreal five-piece are unleashing their first full-length, and it’s even more eccentric than we were expecting (or hoping). It’s full of psych-punk jams so surreal and danceable that falling down their wormhole and grooving to the beat are not optional. Make sure you polish off your dancing shoes before diving into its off-the-wall percussion and snappy guitars. Their sky-high dance-punk and witty psychedelia can hardly pack more tightly-coiled zip. —Lizzie Manno
You can tell the members of Primitive Teeth have been entrenched in the DIY punk scene for over two decades just by listening to their latest self-titled EP (their 2019 EP is also self-titled). Having played in projects like Violent End, Manipulation, Daylight Robbery and Split Feet, they’ve learned a thing or two about vigor and presence. On “Auscultation,” lead vocalist Christine Wolf sings with majesty and conviction like she’s leading a gothic army—you’ll be simultaneously spooked and inspired to join the gang—and on “Bubble Of Me,” you’ll get the same sensation of being in the front row as a punk frontperson intensely wails in your face. —Lizzie Manno
Australian quartet Primo! do a lot with a little. On their second full-length Sogni, they leave plenty of room for their frank vocals and no-nonsense guitars to stretch. As much as they embrace a bare bones punk framework and unhurried pacing, they also bring a bright jangle pop sensibility. Their layered verse vocals on “Machine” are fairly straightforward with the occasional voice deviating for some satisfying echo at the tailend of each line, but their refrain of “Machine, machine, machine!” is one of the finest indie-pop moments of the year so far. Elsewhere, “Things to Do” is a spooky, nonchalant recitation, and “Reverie” sounds like a lost Stereolab number. —Lizzie Manno
Public Practice, the Brooklyn-based quartet who blends elements of new-wave, punk, funk and ’70s era New York disco in order to create uniquely danceable tracks, have the disadvantage of their reputations preceding them. Ever since the release of their 2018 EP Distance Is a Mirror, they’ve proven their penchant for clever songwriting, instrumental prowess and, especially among New York fans, a live show that entrances so successfully that it’s almost physically impossible not to shake one’s ass. Yet, on Gentle Grip, the band’s debut full-length album, there’s a sense that the formerly embedded scrappiness and punk edge were sacrificed for slicker, more stylish sounds. This isn’t to say there aren’t gripping moments of sonic intensity on Gentle Grip that more than satisfy the more frenetic yearnings of Distance Is a Mirror. —Natalia Keogan
Feral comes from the same literary pop tradition as the Go-Betweens and the Bats, two comparisons that I hate to make but absolutely have to because of how accurate they are. Yes, like those two bands, RVG is from down under, namely Australia. (Just for clarity’s sake, and to prevent kicking up any ancient rivalries, I gotta point out that the Bats were from New Zealand, unlike the other two.) Their songs have intricate, chiming guitars that play off of each other, and straightforward rhythms, and sound like they’re ripped straight from ’80s college radio. More importantly, like those two bands, RVG’s songwriter Romy Vager writes songs that feel like well-observed short stories—brief, tender vignettes that capture the everyday joys and, more often, pains of life. Take the first song, “Alexandra,” and its lines about disapproving family members, the singer’s almost nonchalant anticipation of a violent death, and how others “set fire to people like you / just for looking them in the eye.” It quickly sketches the risks assumed by the song’s character—who, like Vager herself, is trans—while showing how those risks need to be taken so they can live as who they are. Elsewhere, the aching love song “Perfect Day” is about shielding your loved one from the kind of minor, everyday bad news that could ruin a good mood—from grey skies to bad songs on the radio. The chipper music and Vager’s upbeat delivery makes it sound like an uplifting pop song, and in a way it is—there’s not much harm in trying to prevent others from learning about relatively inconsequential bad news. There’s an undercurrent of darkness here, though—the singer is willing to elide the truth to keep their partner happy, and how far would they be willing to take that kind of deception? The “perfect day” of the song is built on dishonesty, which isn’t a good foundation for any relationship. Vager’s songs are deceptively deep like that—they might sound like breezy pop songs, but there’s a lot to chew on within. That’s true of Feral as a whole, and why it’s such a great record. —Garrett Martin
Post-punk trio Shopping have long been heralded as queer icons of the London DIY scene—but things change. For one, Shopping no longer consider London as their home base: Guitarist Rachel Aggs and drummer Andrew Milk have relocated to Glasgow, while bassist Billy Easter is currently living in L.A. The trio is also shaking off their pared-down sound, instead choosing to embrace the possibilities of synths, beats and a polished studio feel. The band is, obviously, still emblematic of queer artistic expression, but just maybe not in the way you were so sure that they were. On All or Nothing, Shopping’s fourth album since their inception in 2012, they deliver some of their most articulate, exciting songs as a group, while also eschewing some of the formulaic components of their music that made them so interesting in the first place. They teased the electronic-leaning sound of the album with singles “Initiative” and “For Your Pleasure,” but while many bands lose their edge when they adopt a smoother, synthier aesthetic, Shopping still remain punk in a restless and frenetic way—even when the guitars are put down. —Natalia Keogan
If you dig the sensitive, longing qualities of classic post-punk, Spectres are right up your alley. This Vancouver five-piece has been putting out albums since 2010 (three of which were reissued last year), and their latest album, Nostalgia, is another touching, towering release. You’ll find skittering goth-pop (“Fate”), melodic, Smiths-esque gloom (“Pictures From Occupied Europe”), forceful punk and coldwave (“Insurgence”) and everything in between. Moments like the vocal melodies of “Dreams” or “The Call,” sung in a soaring baritone, will open the floodgates of those ’80s bands you haven’t cried to in a while. —Lizzie Manno
The debut album from Chicago outfit Stuck offers off-center post-punk with tinges of noise rock and psych to keep you on your toes. When the serrated guitars and unusual vocal melodies unfold on “Ceiling,” the opening track on Change Is Bad, you’ll come to find this isn’t some random, bargain bin post-punk group. Tempos shift, scratchy guitar passages come out of nowhere and their lyrics of abstract imagery and radical social commentary would fly over the heads of your average band. Paranoia becomes too much to bear on “Invisible Wall,” the curtain is drawn on late stage capitalism—which they liken to a death cult—on “Plank II,” and conformity is explored via existential dread on “Dimed.” —Lizzie Manno
Boston indie rockers are four albums deep, but Either Light marks the first time they’ve worked with a producer—and not just any producer. They brought on Patrick Hyland, who produced the last three Mitski albums—all modern indie classics—and the result is their best album to date. Vundabar are still largely an indie band, but Either Light sees them embrace their new wave and post-punk leanings more than ever before. It’s a groovy, heartfelt record with danceable rhythms and theatrical vocal performances, and it blends modern indie-pop influences with all your favorite new wave staple bands. “Petty Crime” is one microcosm of their irresistible, vivacious charm. “Caroline I think we might be cursed / We’ve been rolling round this town in a hearse,” Brandon Hagen sings before diving into a playful, bubbly chorus. —Lizzie Manno
Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.