The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums

Music Lists
The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums

As far as genre descriptors go, post-punk is pretty vague—let’s just get that out of the way immediately. In the late ’70s, punk bands like the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks began tiring of the standard rock tropes, and members went on to experiment in different directions, inspiring others—particularly in the UK and New York, but also in places like Cleveland and Athens, Ga.—to incorporate unusual sounds, from electronica to free jazz to world music, into their punk-rock roots. The results were as musically and lyrically diverse as they were artistically vital. Post-punk lyrics could be scathingly political or absurdly nonsensical. There was an anger to much of the music, but it was often masked by a playfulness. These were musicians interested in seeing where music could go.

The 50 post-punk albums here were selected by a team of Paste writers and editors, looking at the original post-punk movement from 1977-1987, not post-punk revivalists like The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys. There’s significant overlap here with the New Wave movement, but you won’t find bands like Duran Duran or even Elvis Costello. There are early albums from U2, R.E.M. and The Cure on here, even though we wouldn’t consider the bulk of their output post-punk. But we want to celebrate the pioneering, essential albums of the post-punk era, many of which have been overlooked by history. It should be noted that, while still underrepresented, women played a much bigger role in the evolution of post-punk than of the punk rock of the 1970s; that original decade was also overwhelmingly white, though post-punk has since had several resurgences throughout the world, especially in Latin America.

Here are the 50 Best Post-Punk Albums (1977-1987).

orange-juice-rip-it-up.jpg50. Orange Juice – Rip It Up (1982)
For most people, Scottish band Orange Juice was a one-hit wonder known for the UK Top 10 song “Orange Juice,” which was one of their most keyboard-driven New Wave-y tunes. But for those who bothered to listen beyond the opening title track, Rip It Up was an overlooked post-punk gem with funk rhythms, angular guitars and catchy melodies. It was New Romanticism with all the softness and glamour removed.—Josh Jackson

marine-girls-lazy-ways.jpg49. Marine Girls – Lazy Ways (1983)
Taking cues from their forebears in Young Marble Giants, Marine Girls stripped their instrumentation down to the barest of essentials: a strangely tuned guitar, stately bass playing, stray bits of percussion, and the distinctive vocals of co-leaders Jane Fox and Tracey Thorn. There was little else like this in the U.K. indie scene of the time, and no one has managed to replicate the daring beauty and unkempt charm that this quartet accomplished during their short stint together. Their second album especially has a quiet weirdness that feels like a language made up by the closest of close friends. If the Lisbon sisters of The Virgin Suicides grew up in late ’70s England, this is the music they would make.—Robert Ham

51+vlhbPxqL.jpg48. Killing Joke – What’s THIS For…! (1981)
There has always been something angular and mechanical about Killing Joke, as if their dark, frantic tunes were meant to be the workplace soundtrack for our future robot overlords. As much post-metal as post-rock, the English quartet (now quintet) laid the groundwork for an industrial music revolution. The real genius here is the human emotion that comes through such spare efficiency.—Josh Jackson

the-fall-grotesque.jpg47. The Fall – Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980)
Mark E. Smith confirmed his status as the funniest man in rock ‘n’ roll with the Fall’s third record, where he directs his acid wit towards early Thatcherite England, the cartoonish promise of America, the fatuousness of the music industry, and the gormlessness of modern society and culture. Even at his most scathing and condescending, Smith remembers to toss out one-liners and observations more brutal and hilarious than any comedian on songs like “English Scheme” and “C ‘n’ C-S Mithering.” It culminates in the genuine epic “The NWRA,” a ten-minute fantasy of England’s industrial north rising up against their cultural enemies in the south and making a hash of it.—Garrett Martin

xray-spex-germ-free.jpg46. X-Ray Spex – Germfree Adolescents (1978)
As with some of the best post-punk bands of the era, this punk quintet didn’t survive past the bright blast of their debut album (LP #2 didn’t arrive until 17 years later). Burning out never sounded quite as great as this, though. Honed to a dangerous point by months of live shows, the London-born group tears through a dozen songs with a casual swing but enough jet fuel in their tanks to propel lead singer Poly Styrene and Rudi Thompson’s sax playing to dizzying heights. Poppy enough to feel like candy; weighty enough to leave a deliciously painful knot in your gut after “The Day The World Turned Day-Glo” grinds to a halt.—Robert Ham

72.Soft-Boys.jpg45. Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980)
Today it’s hard to understand how the lightly psychedelic pop-rock of the Soft Boys was ever considered anything close to punk. Frontman Robyn Hitchcock is basically just Elvis Costello without the need to appear at every all-star jam. Underwater Moonlight sounds like the best bar band in the world playing hits from a world that’s better than our own. “I Wanna Destroy You” and “Queen of Eyes,” especially, should be radio staples.—Garrett Martin

mission-of-burma-vs.jpg44. Mission of Burma – Vs. (1982)
“Post-punk” is about as vague and ill-fitting as most genre names. It could mean music that was more complex or more stripped down than punk, catchier or noisier. Or, when you talk about Mission of Burma, almost all of those things at once. Vs., the only album they released during the 1980s, before reuniting in the 21st century, is punk rock as wall of noise, with Roger Miller’s guitar and Martin Swope’s tape effects washing over Clint Conley’s melodic basslines and Peter Prescott’s complex drum patterns. It’s a furious sound that’s both passionate and cerebral, and a pivotal influence on some of the best underground guitar rock of the last 30 years.—Garrett Martin

game-theory-big-shot.jpg43. Game Theory – The Big Shot Chronicles (1986)
The third LP by cult favorite power pop band Game Theory was a massive leap forward for the project. At this point in the group’s trajectory, band leader Scott Miller had relocated to San Francisco, forced to assemble an entirely new lineup to fulfill promotional duties for the previous record and to continue the momentum he had gained to this point. The stars then fell into alignment for Game Theory as the sound of Big Shot is big, brash, and purposeful. The chords of the hip-grinding “I’ve Tried Subtlety” cutting through the stereo field like a rapier; the charming hooks of “Erica’s Word,” “Never Mind,” and “Crash Into June” impossible to ignore. And through it all Miller’s silver-tongued wordplay and giddy wit dances through it all, revealing that there is still life left in the love song and the angst-ridden ballad.—Robert Ham

homepage_large.016597f9.jpg42. Swell Maps – Jane From Occupied Europe (1980)
Krautrock was a big influence on some of the earliest post-punk bands, and it might be more evident with Swell Maps than anybody else. They made catchy rock songs out of droning noise and repetitive rhythms, with group vocals that are often almost chanted, occasional saxophone blurts and burbling organ beneath Nikki Sudden’s monolithic walls of guitar. Between the shambling noise-rock of second album Jane from Occupied England lie ambient experiments, sound collages and poignant piano detours from Sudden’s brother Epic Soundtracks. Perfectly acceptable pop songs like “Cake Shop” share space with proto Sonic Youth jams like “The Helicopter Spies” and the clattering assembly line noise of “Big Maze in the Desert”—and all in a straight sequence on the first side. The 1980 album is a sampler of various possible paths for rock music to take in the decade ahead, filtered through the unique sensibilities of one of the era’s most distinctive bands.—Garrett Martin

the-raincoats.jpg41. The Raincoats – The Raincoats (1979)
If the prototype for post-punk is a bunch of British art students in the late ‘70s forming a garage band that incorporates dub beats and an odd collection of world music instruments, then Raincoats are the most post-punk band of all time. By the time they released their self-titled debut, they were a quartet of women, playing dissonant, non-commercial songs with odd harmonies and mesmerizing critics.—Josh Jackson

cocteau-twins-treasure.jpg40. Cocteau Twins – Treasure (1984)
The first full realization of the ethereal pop sound that this Scottish group was cultivating for the previous few years finally came to flower on their third album Treasure. With the help of newest member Simon Raymonde, they struck the perfect balance of accessibility and inaccessibility. You could fall in love with the deliriously dreamy guitar tones that Robin Guthrie coaxed to life and their well-programmed drum machine, but if you wanted to sing along, you were out of luck as vocalist Elizabeth Fraser kept you at an arm’s length with her fractured experiments in language. Yet the sheer allure of that voice and the variations in timbre that she was able to bring out of it kept you trying in vain to get closer and closer to the source.—Robert Ham

sonic-youth-sister.jpg39. Sonic Youth – Sister (1987)
Sonic Youth’s Sister saw the no-wave band take the most tentative steps towards traditional song structure, and the result was a perfect ending to the original post-punk era. While many of the genre’s leading bands came out of a punk background, adding experimental art-rock elements, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo adapted their avante-garde project into an ass-kicking rock band. While the following year’s Daydream Nation may be their indie-rock masterpiece, the weirder, more muscular Sister exemplifies everything great about post-punk music.—Josh Jackson

young-marble-giants-colossal-youth.jpg38. Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth (1980)
This minimalist trio have yet to record a follow-up to their magical debut album, even after playing a bunch of reunion shows together in recent years. And I rather hope that they never try. I think even they know that they will never recapture the same strange combination of rickety drum machine technology, shambling guitar and bass work, and Alison Statton’s just barely in tune vocals. You couldn’t have plotted it out on a map at the time to any degree of success, yet these Welsh wonders did it without a second thought. They used the tools available to them at the time and a keen ear for songwriting (courtesy of guitarist Stuart Moxham) and came up with a sparkling jewel of an album never to be bettered or replicated.—Robert Ham

birthday-party-prayers.jpg37. The Birthday Party – Prayers on Fire (1981)
The world first encountered Nick Cave’s junkie vampire schtick through the Birthday Party, the nihilistic post-punk band he formed in Melbourne with Mick Harvey, Phil Calvert, Tracy Pew and Rowland S. Howard. Their first full-length Prayers on Fire is almost oppressively dark, with the only relief from Cave’s perverse lyrics coming from his own guttural whelps and moans. Meanwhile the thudding rhythms of Calvert and Pew add a firm spine for Howard and Harvey to mold their guitar scrapes and organ buzz around. Prayers on Fire takes the challenging sound of the Pop Group and PiL’s Metal Box and turns it into something even darker and more disturbing.—Garrett Martin

pere-ubu-dub-housing.jpg36. Pere Ubu – Dub Housing (1978)
I honestly didn’t know what to make of Pere Ubu when I heard them as a teenager. This sounded like music coming from a tribal village on Pluto, not Cleveland, Ohio. Frontman David Thomas jokingly called it “avant-garage,” but that actually sums it up pretty well: If Marcel Duchamp and Alejandro Jodorowsky plugged in a second-hand guitar with a wah-wah pedal and an EML synthesizer full of sci-fi whizzes and whirs in their suburban basement, you might have gotten something like this. Their second LP Dub Housing deconstructed song after song into noise collages that would occasionally resolve into bubbly pop-punk. It’s as rewarding as they is challenging.—Josh Jackson

japan-tin-drum.jpg35. Japan – Tin Drum (1981)
On Tin Drum, Japan’s fifth and final LP, the British band adds a layer of worldliness to their lush art-pop, immersing themselves in Asian instrumentation (Chinese reed instrument suona) and imagery (“Visions of China”). Following the departure of guitarist Rob Dean, Japan secured more sonic space to indulge their experimental whims – from the digital landscapes of UK hit “Ghost” to the Far East textures of “Canton.” Throughout, David Sylvian’s warbled, post-Bryan Ferry croon slithers around Mick Karn’s purring fretless bass and Richard Barbieri’s textured keys—a combination both soothing and unsettling. —Ryan Reed

pylon-gyrate.jpg34. Pylon – Gyrate (1980)
When Pylon released their debut album, not many outside of Athens, Ga., took notice. But for the art majors and quirky townies in the Classic City, Pylon was the local embodiment of the post-punk scene, proving you didn’t have to be in London or New York to create something special. Droning bass, buzzing guitar and absolutely punishing drums provided the framework for Vanessa Briscoe to scream her way to the edge of insanity. Live, the singer was a spinning firecracker on stage, personifying the album’s title, Gyrate, exploding through songs like “Feast on My Heart” and “Stop It.” R.E.M. ensured the album wouldn’t be lost to history, when drummer Bill Berry proclaimed Pylon the best band in America.—Josh Jackson

go-betweens-tallulah.jpg33. The Go-Betweens – Tallulah (1987)
Led by their two distinctive—and distinctly different—singer/songwriters, the incurably ironic Robert Forster and the incurably romantic Grant McLennan, Australia’s Go-Betweens were a classic case of a band that was criminally under-appreciated in its time beyond a fiercely loyal cult following. For the uninitiated, Tallulah is a great introduction, featuring several signature works by the group’s chief writers, most notably McLennan’s infectiously chorused shoulda-been-hits “Right Here” and “Bye Bye Pride,” as well as such characteristically edgy Forster compositions as the undertowing “House That Jack Kerouac Built” and “The Clarke Sisters,” a haunting character study of spinsters that perfectly captures its author’s eye for detail. For aficionados, it’s a wonderful opportunity to relive the promise and optimism of the New Wave movement.—Billy Altman

minutemen-double.jpg32. Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
The Minutemen’s magnum opus is a stream-of-consciousness jumble of punk, jazz, funk, country and folk, with a handful of abbreviated classic rock covers thrown in for context’s sake. It’s an overwhelming piece of work, as overtly political as anything in the band’s catalogue, with its kaleidoscope of fractured, bite-sized songs treating personal and global politics as equally important. D. Boon and Mike Watt complimented each other perfectly, both as two halves of the band’s skronky, funky guitar/bass heart, and as politically conscious citizens who together could address issues both macro and micro.—Garrett Martin

feelies.jpg31. The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms (1980)
If I had a musical time machine, one of my first stops would be to visit the post-punk scene of New York right around 1980. I’d go see The Feelies at CBGB right after their debut album Crazy Rhythms and watch the crowd of other young musicians react to the melding of driving bass and drums with experimental guitar, a sound that would help inspire some of the best New Wave, gothic rock and jangly college rock.—Josh Jackson

the-pop-group-y.jpg30. The Pop Group – Y (1979)
A band that cooked up completely unhinged music informed by African beats, free jazz, dub reggae production, and various extremes of Dadaist poetry and self-expression yet calling themselves The Pop Group is one of the greatest bits of irony to come out of the post-punk era. The debut album by this band from Bristol is all right angles, jagged shards of melody, and the coiled rage that would fuel fellow bands like The Birthday Party, The Fall, and Minutemen. Nothing comes as expected and nothing is as advertised, and you would do well to brace yourself against Mark Stewart’s barrage of words, groans, squeaks, and shrieks.—Robert Ham

Talk Talk Spirit of Eden.jpg29. Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (1988)
Call it post-punk, post-rock, psych-jazz or experimental mumbo-jumbo. Whatever your preferred tag, one thing is clear: In the 20-plus years since its 1988 release, there’s never been another album quite like Talk Talk’s infamous masterpiece, Spirit of Eden. Mark Hollis sings enough just to barely sing, quivering out artful melodic squiggles with his radiant chest-cold tone, slinging spiritual poetry drenched in fog. Beneath is a utopian cavern of sonic heaven—double-bass moans, flickers of muted trumpet, sizzling cymbals, violent clashes of electric guitar.—Ryan Reed

The Fall Hex.jpg28. The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
In my alternate universe, The Fall would have the top 12 or so slots on this list. If I could only pick one, though, and if that one can’t be an EP (sorry, Slates!), then Hex Enduction Hour would get the nomination after an unusually rancorous brokered convention. Basically it’s classic second-wave Fall at the peak of the twin-drummer/pre-Brix era, a lumbering rock ’n’ roll juggernaut built on plodding repetition and Mark E. Smith’s caustically hilarious lyrics. In classic Fall fashion, both band and record are entirely indifferent to whatever an audience could theoretically want.—Garrett Martin

dbs.jpg27. The dB’s – Stands For Decibels (1981)
Two years before R.E.M. released Murmur and three years after Big Star’s Third/Sister Lover, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey continued the tradition of Southern jangly guitar rock with their Winston/Salem, N.C. outfit The dB’s. Stamey had played bass with Alex Chilton, but the combination of Stamey and Holsapple produced something equally Byrds-influenced with lovely harmonies, tight rhythm and power-pop melodies.—Josh Jackson

b-52s-st.jpg26. The B52’s – The B52’s
In a 1980 Rolling Stone interview, conducted mere months before his tragic assassination, John Lennon credited The B-52’s cooky surf-rock classic “Rock Lobster” with sparking his final musical comeback. High praise, but not unwarranted: With their 1979 debut, the Athens, Georgia quintet seemingly arrived on Earth as rock stars from Planet Camp—combining chugging punk guitars, Farfisa organs, Swinging Sixties sci-fi lyrics and the enthralling vocal silliness of singers Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. The B-52’s remains a lost classic of post-punk/New-Wave, delivering more fun-per-minute than almost any other LP of the past four decades.—Ryan Reed

33_xtc.jpg25. XTC – Skylarking (1986)
With Skylarking, XTC succeeded in creating an album that sounds squarely out of time. Lush and pastoral, it’s a fully realized psych-pop masterpiece, an oddity among an era of all things synths and synthetics. Thematically the band tackles major life issues like love, marriage and even religion with melodic and lyrical acuity. And between all the sounds of summer splendor and rainy day ballets, they even managed to spawn a surprise hit with atheist anthem “Dear God” in the process. —Jessica Gentile

magazine-real-life.jpg24. Magazine – Real Life (1978)
Magazine may be the most post-punk band on this list in the most literal sense of the phrase. Kevin Devoto formed the more avant-garde band after leaving Manchester punk legends The Buzzcocks in 1977. Together with guitarist John McGeoch (who went on to play in Visage, Siouxsie and the Banshees and PiL), he wrote a collection of adventurous songs that incorporated keyboards and saxophone without losing his punk fury.—Josh Jackson

The Smiths self titled.png23. The Smiths – The Smiths (1984)
While some debuts from decade-defining acts are previews for later greatness, The Smiths already mastered their form on their 1984 self-titled album. The signature interplay between Johnny Marr’s sharp Telecaster and Morrissey’s even sharper wit propelled classics like “Hand In Glove” and “This Charming Man,” two of the many tracks that benefited from the naïve energy that would be missed in the band’s later catalog. Twenty-eight years on, The Smiths doesn’t exactly sound fresh, but the dated recording quality gives a nostalgic romance to Morrissey’s old-soul crooning. If The Smiths weren’t the best band of the 1980s, they certainly peaked the earliest.—Ryan Wasoba

devoWeAre.jpg22. Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
I think I was 16 when I realized Devo wasn’t a jokey one-hit wonder but one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Not that “Whip It” isn’t an amazing song, but it was a little too goofy and ubiquitous for me to take seriously at that very serious age. If I had heard the spastic art rock of Are We Not Men? first I never would’ve doubted them. It’s not their best album, but it’s the best at convincing serious young rock nerds that Devo were more than a silly footnote.—Garrett Martin

Jesus and Mary Chain.jpg21. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)
What rock ’n’ roll means now is much more complicated, but there was indeed a time where it signified both “electronic noise” (to cite one epithet that amused John Lennon) and catchy songs. Predating Sleigh Bells or Times New Viking or the catchall-turned-festival-name “noise pop” was this journey to the logical extreme. Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut sounded like the 1910 Fruitgum Company and Joy Division arm-wrestling in a sheet metal factory, with slabs of white noise guarding candy-toy melodies the Reid Brothers didn’t want you to get sick of too quickly, a trick that Psychocandy mastered. It’s as difficult to memorize as it is to resisting singing along with when it’s on, as if every listen is your first.—Dan Weiss

35_echobunny.jpg20. Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984)
The introduction of a 35-piece orchestra fortified a new sound for the post-punk Brits on their fourth studio album. Ocean Rain’s expansive string arrangements allowed vocalist Ian McCulloch to sooth his metaphysical melodies into a portrait of lush eroticism. The nine tracks convey a conceptual scale—the initial dark, battering rain morphs into an effervescent sky with sympathetic ease. The result of the ’84 release is a voyage in sonic proportions. Cleverly chaotic, the album capitalizes on the rolling blankets of warmth that soon follow an ocean rain.—Kristen Blanton

u2-boy.jpg19. U2 – Boy (1980)
With Boy, their blindsiding debut LP, U2 married post-punk’s stark rhythmic force with grandiose arena-rock majesty. Bono is the beacon of spiritual vigor, propelling anthems like “I Will Follow” and “The Electric Co.” The Edge’s echoing guitar is amplified lightning. But the band’s unsung post-punk nucleus is the rhythm section: Bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. keep the songs anchored on Earth, as their bandmates gaze into the beyond.—Ryan Reed

34_huskerdu.jpg18. Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising (1985)
Hüsker Dü are like the Beatles: they have three or four best albums. It doesn’t have the reputation of Zen Arcade, and Bob Mould shits all over the production in his autobiography, but New Day Rising is Hüsker Dü’s best collection of songs, and the most consistent example of the band’s trademark combination of hardcore virility and classic pop hooks.—Garrett Martin

22_thepolice.jpeg17. The Police – Synchronicity (1983)
Most of us who love rhythm and propulsion and striking musical ideas moved on from Sting after his communion with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland imploded, which makes it easy to forget that Synchronicity was a hell of a way to go. Their disparate sonics coalesced like few other ensembles in 1983, short of non-Western masters like King Sunny Adé’s African Beats, who wasn’t lost on them—“Walking in Your Footsteps” reins in Nigerian polyrhythms just after the opener reestablishes their New Wave bona fides. And just when you can’t take another experiment like Summers’ Freudian horror-laughfest “Mother” or the jazz-a-nova “Miss Gradenko,” they intuitively snap back into 1983’s best pop that wasn’t made by a Jackson: “Synchronicity II,” “Every Breath You Take” and the astronomically delicate “King of Pain.” All one after another.—Dan Weiss

siouxsie-juju.jpg16. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju (1981)
Siouxsie Sioux started playing music in punk anarchy of the Sex Pistols’ 1970s, but when she invited Magazine guitarist John McGeoch into her band, Goth pioneers Siouxsie and the Banshees helped create a whole new sound. It came together on 1980’s Juju, a dark concept record that ditched electronic sounds for McGeoch’s foreboding guitars. Together with Budgie’s punishing drums and Steven Severin’s frenetic bass, they created the perfect bed for Siouxsie’s lovely, haunting vocals. Who knew black magic could be so beautiful?—Josh Jackson

nick-cave-fhte.jpg15. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – From Her to Eternity (1984)
It takes some chutzpah to launch your new project with a cover, but that’s exactly how Nick Cave introduced us to The Bad Seeds after The Birthday Party’s demise; From Her to Eternity, his first album with the group, kicks off with “Avalanche,” a Leonard Cohen cover, and you know what? It’s stunning. So is the rest of the album—the title track’s driving bass and disconcerting piano; “Saint Huck”’s blended tales of Huckleberry Finn, Ulysses and Elvis Presley; the bleak, epic lament of death on “A Box for Black Paul.” With From Her to Eternity, Cave not only assured fans that he wasn’t going anywhere after The Birthday Party’s breakup, he delivered a classic.—Bonnie Stiernberg

pil-metal-box.jpg14. Public Image Ltd. – Metal Box (1979)
If you think the music on this album is unwieldy, try dealing with the original packaging: a round tin that just barely allowed you to remove the three 45 RPM 12”s inside. It often took some force and occasionally caused some superficial damage to the vinyl as it did. But once the syrup thick basslines of Jah Wobble and Keith Levene’s gilded guitar splinters came flying out of the speakers, the effort would have felt worth it. The defining statement by John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols group took no prisoners while still managing to find purchase on the pop charts. Closing the album with the drowsy synth instrumental “Radio 4” after a few dozen minutes of death disco was perhaps their most perverse move.—Robert Ham

31_joydivision.jpg13. Joy Division – Closer (1980)
The second—and sadly, final—effort by these post-punk legends is shrouded in gloom; part of its inherent melancholy stems from the fact that lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide only two months before its release, ending his life just as Joy Division was climbing towards what may have been the group’s creative peak. However, remove Curtis’ death from the equation and you’re still left with a record full of bass-heavy pathos that’s positively haunting and oddly comforting at the same time.—Bonnie Stiernberg

30_rem.jpg12. R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)
You know about the mumbling, the muttering, the indie success story, the simultaneous conquest of college radio and Rolling Stone—and subsequently, the world. But maybe you don’t know how punk never quite married Rickenbacker arpeggios until “Radio Free Europe” and “Sitting Still” made it safe for bands like the dB’s. Maybe in retrospect it’s amazing how “Talk About the Passion” and “Perfect Circle” were such power ballads. And maybe you don’t have to understand a word of “Moral Kiosk,” “Catapult” or “We Walk” to hear how every odd harmony, surf lick and overdubbed billiard ball made perfect sense.— Dan Weiss

the-slits-cut.jpg11. The Slits – Cut (1979)
The Slits’ 1979 debut album isn’t just a great album—it’s one of those rare cases where music critics can actually use the word “seminal” correctly. The Slits laid the groundwork for Riot Grrl, boldly tearing down traditional gender roles on “Typical Girls,” posing on the cover of Cut in nothing but mud and loincloths like some ancient warrior goddesses, blending punk with dub beats—all during a time when female-fronted rock bands were still a rarity. But there’s an underlying playfulness here too that frontwoman Ari Up brings to tracks like “Love Und Romance” (where she moans “see you later alligator, in a while crocodile” over chants of “she wants you, she wants you”) or “So Tough” (where she taunts “you can’t take anymore, you’re getting weak”).—Bonnie Stiernberg

220px-TalkingHeadsMoreSongsAboutBuildingsandFood.jpg10. Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
More Songs About Buildings and Food launched what would become a career-spanning relationship between Talking Heads’ leading man David Byrne and Brian Eno, whose tight production has been credited with helping the band expand their audience beyond their original stomping grounds at CBGB. The album features some of Byrne’s most delightfully quirky song topics, including songs written from the point of view of art school students (“Artists Only”) and a track about a couple who gets so sick of lousy TV that they simply go out and make their own shows (“Found a Job”). The Talking Heads and, later, David Byrne went on to make a long series of great records, and More Songs About Buildings and Food was their introduction to the wider world.—Rachel Bailey

the-cure-pornography.jpg9. The Cure – Pornography (1982)
It took teetering on the brink of insanity for Robert Smith to find his signature voice. The Cure’s third album, Pornography, was recorded during a blistering three-week sprint of drug use and studio excess, with Smith battling extreme depression. But that madness coalesced into the band’s first signature album, built on spidery rhythms (“One Hundred Years”), murky guitars (“The Hanging Garden”) and Smith’s magnetic warbling. The band made stratospheric songwriting leaps later in the decade, but they never again conjured atmospheres this unsettling.—Ryan Reed

21_neworder.jpg8. New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
When Joy Division fell apart with the death of Ian Curtis, the remaining members formed the band New Order and with their second album Power, Corruption and Lies, created a synth-pop album that evolved beyond Joy Division while still being heavily influenced by that band’s trademark sound. Immediately Peter Hook’s bass on album opener “Age of Consent” sounds like JD’s “Transmission,” yet it hides its melancholy deeper down, under the sound of keyboards and bouncy guitars. Power, Corruption and Lies is filled with themes of loneliness, anger and loves lost; it’s easy to see how New Order has influenced everyone from The Smiths to M83. Curtis would have been proud.— Ross Bonaime

17_80sAlbums_ViolentFemmes.jpeg7. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1983)
Quite simply ,the Violent Femmes’ self-titled album was the quintessential hymnal for the disaffected youth of America in the ’80s. With its jangly folk-punk frustration and venom-spitting lyrics, the debut featured “Blister in The Sun,” “Kiss Off” and “Add it Up,” arguably the three best Anthems of the proudly maladjusted ever penned. Nothing sounded like it before and nothing has since captured the sublime and perverse joy of teenage angst and adolescent anarchy like the Violent Femmes. In fact, just listening to “Add it Up” has been known to cause acne, awkward haircuts and ripped jeans.—Jay Sweet

gang-of-four-entertainment.jpg5. Gang Of Four – Entertainment! (1979)
At the time of its release, there weren’t many other groups who could pay lip service to Fela Kuti and Siouxsie & The Banshees in the same breath, let alone find a way to stitch those two disparate aesthetics together in any meaningful way. And while this Leeds-based quartet never quite lived up to the foundation-cracking urgency of Entertainment!, their debut album has long since provided a crash course in the post-punk aesthetic where dub and funk find equal footing with minimalism and fury-driven rock topped with lyrics that denounced consumer culture, the salacious press, and the nature of pop music. Best to ignore the fact that two of its members went into careers in advertising years later while you’re listening to it though.—Robert Ham

220px-Unknownpleasures.jpg5. Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures (1979)
There might not have been a better band to usher in the ‘80s than Joy Division, a forward-thinking group of English rockers whose sum was more than its individual parts. Vocalist Ian Curtis had an unmistakable, dry vocal delivery that blended perfectly with Bernard Sumner’s atmospheric, yet always distorted and punchy guitar parts. Peter Hook still inspires slews of pick-wielding, gnarled bass parts, and Stephen Morris brought a dancier take on gloom-rock rhythm. It’s hard to think of another debut in the decade that took as many chances and was as self-assured as Unknown Pleasures.—Tyler Kane

8_80sAlbums_RemaininLight.jpeg4. Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980)
For their fourth and finest record, the Talking Heads (along with producer/collaborator/all-around musical badass Brian Eno) trotted out their African influences in full force. Polyrhythmic, lyrically cryptic and featuring one of the most awesomely weird guitar solos of all time (Adrien Belew’s blippy genius on “Born Under Punches”), Remain in Light stands as David Byrne and company’s masterpiece. It’s rooted in tradition, yet it sounds delightfully futuristic—even three decades after its initial release.—Bonnie Stiernberg

wire-chairs-missing.jpg3. Wire – Chairs Missing (1978)
Wire put out three albums during their initial phase, and all three are classics that sound very different from each other. Chairs Missing, their second LP, is the best of the bunch, though, and one of the most important albums of all time. It’s hard to imagine “post-punk” even existing as a genre tag without this record; although a couple of songs recall the minimal, straight-forward punk of Pink Flag, the rest of the album adds synthesizers, guitar effects, a disco beat on “Another the Letter,” and various other flourishes and experiments that clearly marked this as something new and different at the time. It foreshadowed so much of the punk-derived music that followed that you can draw a straight line from Chairs Missing to a handful of different indie-rock subgenres.—Garrett Martin

2_80sAlbums_QueenisDead.jpeg2. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
If “How Soon Is Now” off The Smiths’ previous album was the starting-pistol shot announcing their intentions to delve into darker territories, then the title track off The Queen Is Dead was rhythmic strafing to the same effect. But the devastating melancholia quickly morphs into the sardonic lyrical meglomania that made vocalist Morrissey the legendary apathetic mope in “Frankly Mr. Shankly,” a terse and not-so-veiled reference to The Smiths’ growing distaste for the music industry in general. But what truly makes this definitive album a benchmark is it marks the fall of the insufferable decade of synth music that preceded it and the second coming of the British Invasion with guitarist Johnny Marr’s penchant for high-timbre guitar riffs and sonic urgency such as in “Big Mouth Strikes Again” and “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.” The two tracks that elevate The Queen Is Dead into the pantheon of truly classic albums are the literary homage “Cemetary Gates” and the ironic swoon of “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Both tracks harness the glorious friction between Morrissey’s incredibly brilliant-but-biting wit and Marr’s desire to simply rock ’n’ roll; a match made in flop-haired heaven.—Jay Sweet

220px-Marquee_moon_album_cover.jpg1. Television, Marquee Moon (1977)
Television, NYC’s post-punk godfathers, only made two albums during their late ‘70s heyday (including 1978’s oft-overlooked Adventure), but in many ways, they really only needed to release one. 1977’s masterful Marquee Moon was a commercial flop upon its initial release, but its legacy was cemented immediately; capturing the fluid, technical, dynamic unison of the band’s acclaimed live show, Marquee Moon stuck out like a sore thumb from the blooming punk scene: Compared to The Sex Pistols, whose blistering, chaotic debut was released that same year, Television were an anachronism: Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s clean, interlocking guitar patterns bordered on the psychedelic, with Verlaine’s snotty, head-cold whine burning blisters over the muscular rhythms of bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca. Every moment is devastating, and the winding title track could be the greatest song to ever eclipse 10 minutes.—Ryan Reed

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