One of life’s great mysteries, ranking above the existence of Bigfoot but below Wallace Stevens’ morbid economy of beauty, remains the fact that two of the best bands in the world were, in fact, largely the same band. 

On May 18, 1980, after viewing Werner Herzog’s “Stoszek,” Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis hung himself while listening to Iggy Pop. His death marked the demise of the band, whose despairing lyrics and rhythmic guitar work defined where music was headed in the post-punk era of the late 1970s. From Joy Division’s ashes rose New Order, a pioneer of electronic dance music whose sound married guitars and synthesizers to create instant club hits. 

Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner, and Peter Hook of the proto-goth Joy Division, who sang such dour lines as “love will tear us apart,” metamorphosed into the euphoric pill poppers whose “Bizarre Love Triangle” soundtracked Manchester, England raves. In short, a mere handful of humans is responsible for populating much of music’s evolutionary tree.

Despite committing suicide a quarter of a century ago, Curtis has survived like few other musicians who are not Nick Drake and did not die at 27. Journalists evoke his name every time they use the phrase “angular guitars,” and singers of the last decade have channeled his spirit with ubiquitous monotone, baritone deliveries. 

Allow me an example. A friend once described a music writer who brandished a Ouija board at Paul Banks, frontman of New York City post-punk revivalists Interpol, as if Banks had some connection to Curtis’ spirit. 

The perfection of Interpol’s 2001 debut, “Turn On the Bright Lights,” indeed suggests some supernatural soul-swapping. My theory is that when Kanye West rhymed “séance” with “parents” in 2010, he was referencing our modern gothic necromancy. Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, The National—Ian Curtis has had no shortage of resurrections.

In last month’s debut from Viet Cong, we have a rightful heir to the ancestor as well as the descendants. Their razor-sharp arrangements, claustrophobic grooves, and yes, angular guitars, are indebted to Interpol as much as Joy Division. So is it 2001? Or 1979? Have we reached the era of post-modern post-punk? 

Fortunately, Viet Cong is no mere copy of a copy of a copy. While the band revels in DeLillian despair, its angst is more xenial than Xeroxed. If anything, its guiding light is Ezra Pound’s maxim, “make it new.” “This incessant march of progress,” singer Matt Flegel observes, “can guarantee our success,” so he relinquishes the ball-and-chain of originality for the liberation of kaleidoscopic irony. 

If My Bloody Valentine—the last innovator of guitar rock—is Gertrude Stein, then Viet Cong is T.S. Eliot, curator of culture-as-collage.
And what a wasteland this self-titled debut is! In punishing monochrome, Viet Cong bend their influences into labyrinthine melodies with reverence, not reference. Joy Division, Radiohead, Interpol, and Wolf Parade are all subsumed into the record’s oblique guitar licks and charging momentum. 

Above the other influences, however, hangs Women, one of the great underrated rock bands to come out of Calgary, Canada. Viet Cong formed out of the dregs of that band’s onstage implosion in 2010 and the subsequent death of frontman Christopher Reimer. Rather than undergoing a radical surgery to graft dance beats onto guitars à la New Order, however,Viet Cong has convalesced with a renewed sense of purpose.

Purpose, of course, is relative. If this record has a theme, it might be nihilism. With song titles like “Pointless Experience” and “Death,” Viet Cong does not seem interested in either earthly or transcendent redemption. On the former, Flegel drones, “if we’re lucky, we’ll get old and die,” at once a poignant remembrance of a lost bandmate and an ironic gesture towards that Stevensian economy of beauty. 

The white noise intro to “March of Progress,” a grinding tumble reminiscent of “Kid A,” culminates in the question, “what is the difference between love and hate?” Flegel intones it bored, not caring about the answer. But the question matters, and it always has, whether you’re a modernist or a musician.