Something is happening in Britain. An asinine statement for certain, yet, over the past few months there has been an inescapable sense that something is forming, gestating rather, in the musical underbelly of England. Something familiar yet supremely different. Something organic and underground. Almost in a moment of grand emergence, this new musical development has crashed out from the shadows and…is just as confusing as it was before. I will be surveying several bands who have released music this year, often lumped together under the Post-Punk label yet far more distinct from each other than music media gives them credit for.
Dry Cleaning and Black Country, New Road are two bands that are only comparable by their approach to vocals yet are often talked of alongside each other – I am as guilty as any other in this respect. However, each represents a different style and highlights the folly of trying to group such bands together under a label. Dry Cleaning released their debut record this year, New Long Leg, to great praise. The instrumentation endlessly drawing comparison to the 80s post punk (Wire and Joy Division mostly), the key aspect is frontwoman Florence Shaw’s vocals. Shaw is an incredibly amusing vocalist. She mutters and stumbles through her lyrics, often detailing small, almost incoherent lines of thought, the subject matters of a beat poet without the ego.
Why the appeal though? There is a sense of vulnerability to such a style, one best conveyed by yet another band who debuted this year, Black Country, New Road. BC, NR is an 8 piece who shot to fame hot off the heels of their debut single, ‘Sunglasses’ in 2019, and have carried the momentum to the present. One reason for this is the eclectic instrumentation, with a violinist and a saxophonist featuring alongside a more traditional four-piece setup. Where the band shines through, is vocalist Isaac Wood’s anxiety inducing and vulnerable vocals. His ability to mix the mundane with issues of love and desperation have given BC, NR a strong following, in a similar fashion to Dry Cleaning also. In a year of lockdowns, with modern life ever out of grasp, the sense of emotional connection that is heightened through spoken word has prospered and given these bands a place in the sun. Yet, the disparity of style and richness of the Post Punk new wave should be clear – how could you compare Dry Cleaning and Black Country?
All these bands, grouped together by music media, bear often little similarity in outlook or musical style yet if there is one unifier, it is in their fans
The movement gets ever more complex with the addition of Squid and Black Midi. Both bands refuse to be constrained by genre and take themselves far less seriously than the rest of the world does. With such experimental outlooks, it becomes even harder to group these diverse, exciting new bands together. Doing so expresses the fundamental mistake of labelling movements so early into their development. All these bands, grouped together by music media, bear often little similarity in outlook or musical style yet if there is one unifier, it is in their fans. A scene has risen around all the bands mentioned in this article, attracted not only to the sound, but to the unconventional nature of them all. Fans express hopes of Black Midi/Black Country collaborations, take pilgrimages to the humble Windmill in Brixton (pictured) and spend absurd amounts on signed vinyls. Ideas of a universal genre should be cast out and replaced with a more realistic idea of a collective music scene, driven by fans and a grassroots approach to music. To stifle these bands and their creativity by chaining them to the memory of 80s post punk feels fundamentally regressive, many of these band’s content to do their own thing independent of others.
These bands, to me at least, beyond being united by their fans, are united by their approaches to lyricism. Black Midi and Squid tell tales of characters in mundane and cryptic situations, Dry Cleaning and BC,NR tackle the everyday with unique approaches to spoken word. Black Country approach everyday topics, with an immensely personal undertone at play. All these bands are united by a desire to comment on the nature of the world around them, to comment and disseminate the reality of everyday life, in a supremely entertaining fashion. To steal the terminology from Squid, they act as narrators on the modern world; reading their script from the world around them with a sincerity that manages to set them apart from other guitar rock movements.
Now let’s just hope it lasts.