The term “post-punk” is at best lazy and at worst dismissive. Within such a loaded term exists a cornucopia of sounds and emotions as intertwined as anyone could care to dissect. From Anarcho to New Romanticism and a resurgence of dance music that are all still unfinished with their attachments and experimentations; it’s an approach and ideal for any stripe of person willing to give it time. A better understanding could link punk music as a whole with this framework, even if the modern-day equivalent is primarily swallowing its tail chasing trends and buzz. The cream truly does rise to the top. Where do Spectres fit within this? Aside from three LP’s and a handful of singles spent working within the confines of classic post punk sounds as we’ve come to understand them, a recent expansion in sound and direction is welcoming and actually seems to have breathed new life into the group. The first offerings on Whisper in Darkness and Deranged were front-runners alongside with Arctic Flowers, Mode Moderne, Bellicose Minds and The Estranged as the post-punk/gothic scene in the Pacific Northwest showcased a knack for working within formulas set by others but with a firm attention to heart and passion. Vancouver itself has always been a hub for this kind of blight - it birthed Images in Vogue, Skinny Puppy, Nettwerk Records. Hell, even Black Metal has roots in the surrounding areas - dark music festers on her cold skin. That mould that sits in the cracks of this pavement here is thick. Not every experiment has been flawless and that’s part of the charm I still find the track on the Arctic Flowers split 7” a real head-scratcher if even a little embarrassing. It seems that the closer Spectres stayed to classic anarcho the less impactful they were. The LP’s were all good until 2016’s Utopia which remains head and shoulders above all of their contemporaries. A true modern classic. With recent remasters released Artoffact Records of all three full lengths it is even more telling. Utopia’s use of space and atmosphere shine far stronger than their earlier works with the most blatant improvement being the vocals. So with nearly four years of silence aside from sporadic tours and a lineup shift, we are gifted a new single on Sabotage this month. In this time there has been a shift in both style and image. The movement from Utopia to this new sound isn’t entirely separate but if you were to stack this against Cold War, you might be surprised to know it’s the same group. Even within the visuals as if the intention is to draw a line in the sand between old and new. The artwork with its bright colors and what appears to be David Duchovny in drag on the cover looks nothing like what you would expect from a band that has traditionally shied away from colour. If you didn’t know better you’d expect a bright and dance focused synth-pop record or perhaps a Cleopatra Records tribute LP to Cindy Lauper. You can always face it backwards in your record collection if you find it as dreadful as I do. What doesn’t fall flat is an absolutely brilliant A-Side in ‘Provincial Wake’, a jewel of a track that is already repeating regularly in my headphones. The political stance is held back and the lyrical sentiment lines up better with collared shirts than shiny leather. The lyrics referencing relationships, memories and acceptance.
Like the refrain admits - “I don’t want to know, what went on in your head before the fall..the memories wash away the pain” - it sounds and feels like what you’d expect from Robert Smith and company when the Cure had a hard time not writing hits in the mid-80s and is perfect for anyone that has ever owned a New Order t-shirt. The B-side, Northern Town gets closer to Morrissey melodies with a faint Skeletal Family influence in the guitar lead. The urgency is more pronounced and it’s certainly more driving but it doesn’t strike as hard as the brilliant A-side. It’s strength lies in a suitable merging of melodic punk with early indie-rock. Some bands pick up precisely where they left off after a break in material but Spectres spent the first few years of their existence forging their own way to the steps of North America’s post-punk pantheon. Rightly so, they knew it was time to evolve and move on to new paths. With a whole LP in post-production right now I can’t wait to hear what is in store. For now - I’ll be dropping the needle on this A-side to see how fast I can wear this thing out. Get this from Sabotage Records ASAP and you’ll be able to donate to the Rojava benefit they’re taking part in. One of the best songs of the year.
Supposedly the cover model for Provincial Wake is taken from a Eastern European video from some cold wave concert so apologies to both her and David Duchovny.