Does it just mean you can't play? that doesn't bode well for the label post-punk. Nevertheless, a host of recent releases cry out for the moniker, harking back to an early '80s when Television was an inspirational band, not a piece of mind-numbing furniture. Coincidentally, a number of these folks are hitting Texas this week, even if the closest they're getting is Austin.
Wire are no neophytes, having formed at the outset of British punk, but their music was always more abstract and removed than that of the Pistols et al, and its influence was felt strongly in the angular guitar fuzz of later bands such as My Bloody Valentine. In 2000, the group reunited for some special shows, which led to its new Read & Burn 01 (Pinkflag), first in a series of six EPs. The plan is to unleash the music in small bursts while the ideas are fresh, and this installment does just that, with 17 minutes of icy aggression fast, loud, and without a single moment of slack to indicate that the four Brits haven't cut a disc in over a decade, or that the bandmates could be your fathers (At Austin's La Zona Rosa, 9/22).
The debut album from Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights (Matador), could pretty much have been recorded right after Wire's first creative phase ended, around 1980. Moviegoers who catch 24 Hour Party People will recognize that as the brief era of Joy Division a band very similar in sound and mood to Interpol, what with the gloomy vocals that sound like they were recorded inside a mausoleum. Interpol isn't just pastiche: They're actually writing songs within the idiom, not just aping it. Listen to "Obstacle 1," which starts with tightly organized bits of building material, then lets each block expand with repetition but listen to it before you see a photo of the band, so you don't dismiss them as clothes-horse poseurs. (Mercury, 9/22)
As every good New Waver knows, Joy Division begat New Order, whose synth-ier siblings were Depeche Mode, OMD, et cetera. Exactly halfway through the opening track of the new, self-titled Broken Spindles (Tiger Style) is a fuzzy little keyboard riff that sounds straight off of DM's Music For the Masses; considering that Spindles is a solo offshoot of the Faint one of the most successful of the synth-pop revival bands that's not surprising. The all-instrumental disc owes less to those synth bands than the Faint does, with little stretches of industrial gloom here and soundtracky chimes and tinkling there, and it's not as engaging as the Faint but the skinny-tie crowd won't feel out of place (Mercury, 9/21).
The other branch of the Wire/post-punk family tree avoids synths in favor of guitars as cutting as chainsaws. A few years ago, Elastica was the coolest example around; no sooner did they collapse, though, than the all-female, all-Swedish Sahara Hotnights rose to take their place. Their U.S. debut on Jetset Records, called Jennie Bomb (the lyrics aren't as silly as the names, trust me), is as driving as that new Wire disc, with swaggering teen-girl vocals tempering the instrumental aggression. At their best, as on the Blondie-esque "Fire Alarm," the group's songs are instantly memorable; given the mainstream acceptance of the Strokes, it's actually conceivable this record might turn up on the radio.
Pere Ubu doesn't need to draw on Wire's influence, or anybody else's the David Thomas-led band has been around off and on since the start of the punk era. Their latest, St. Arkansas (spinART) is one of the weirdest, most satisfying records they've made in that nearly 30-year lifetime. More stylistically diverse than the albums above, the record ranges from the creepy-funny, meandering, narration-and-little-else "Hell" to the very Talking Heads-like "Slow Walking Daddy," always making the most of Thomas' conversational, tremblingly Beefheartian vocals. Half of it is rollicking, quirky rock music, but what's in between is uncategorizable, noodling stuff meant to convince you the record wasn't made on the planet most of us call home.
Alas, neither Sahara Hotnights nor Pere Ubu have Texas appearances lined up anytime soon. Evidently the airfare from Sweden and Mars is just too prohibitive.