Punk and New Wave

Stranglers “Dreamtime” (1986)

The last album with The Stranglers original line-up, Dreamtime is an excellent collection of smooth pop. Referring to an Australian aboriginal term for the drug-induced trance when the elders walk with the spirits, this is no studious examination of primitive cultural beliefs but rather an aural travelogue.

“Big In America”, “Mayan Skies” and “Nice In Nice” are written more for effect than any real interest in the subjects but it is the calibre of both music and overall sound which lifts the whole album above the norm. Each song is imbued with its own sense of place and perception as if written to create the perfect mood. In the main it works perfectly and is an excellent companion piece to their previous album Aural Sculpture. The Stranglers continue with their fondness for horns and Was It You? is particularly effective. Dreamtime was also good from a singles perspective for the band. Besides “Shakin’ Like A Leaf”, The Stranglers found differing shades of chart success with “Nice In Nice”, “Big In America” and “Always The Sun”. But, in truth, it would have been just as easy for the record company to choose the likes of “Ghost Train”, “Was It You?” or “Too Precious” as alternatives. —Ian

Hüsker Dü “New Day Rising” (1985)

Some say Zen Arcade, I say New Day Rising. Although fourteen songs long, it feels shorter due to these guys’ songwriting chops. There’s no fat on this disc. “Folk Lore” could’ve been a seven-minute spiel, but the Hüskers get in a couple impressionistic verses and they’re out. The second-longest track, the four-minute “Celebrated Summer,” is absolutely crucial. If God made a mix CD about nostalgia, etc. Other highlights include the epic opening track, which consists of the boys invoking the titular phrase over and over until you BELIEVE it, and “I Apologize,” perhaps the most moving song ever. One of my top ten all-time. Add to that the perfect love song “Books About UFOs” (its “watch out- wha- whooo!” break segueing into the brief solo still has the power to choke me up). Even the curtsies to hardcore (“Whatcha Drinkin'”, “Powerline”) end up catchier and more grand than most Midwest bands could ever dream about. To this day, slews of bands only get as far as the idea of Hüsker Dü – why would you shortchange the masters? This record is aching for you. — Silent Mike

The Comsat Angels “Sleep No More” (1981)

If Comsat Angel’s debut, Waiting For A Miracle, was a fractured summary of the British dark-punk, then Sleep No More featured a more unified, condensed and powerful sound, one based on tight performances, claustrophobic ambient atmosphere and acerbic grooves. The most successful numbers, the ones that focus in the atmospheric vortex of the keyboards (the short bursts of warping tension amidst a canvas of floating debris in “Sleep No More”, “Light Years”), the martial nightmare (“Dark Parade”, “Restless”), the rock punch of the post-punk band (“Eye Dance”, “Goat Of The West”), are enough to give you goosebumps. Theirs is a music that bridges post-punk, the Gregorian chant, a martial pace, psychedelia and sonic-layering. —ILY

Section 25 “Always Now” (1981)

Section 25’s Always Now is a post-punk, psychedelic masterpiece. Martin Hannet did one of his best jobs producing this album and putting various effects on the bass and Factory’s in-house designer Peter Saville made his most beautiful record cover. The music on it was very much misunderstood at the time of its release and written off as a Joy Division clone. But either that was bad journalism or else the music press must have been deaf. ‘Dirty Disco’ sounds very much like  Metal Box-era PiL and is the poppiest of the tracks on the album. With its tibetan bells intro and monotonous bass and drums, ‘Babies In The Bardo’ is a wonderful, dark trip. ‘Loose Talk’ and ‘Be Brave’ are classic cold wave cuts, as is the closing ‘New Horizons’. The CD-version adds compilation tracks and early singles, which aren’t that good as the original album tracks, but are really hard to find. And label manager James Nice’s extensive liner notes make the CD a perfect introduction to this criminally ignored band. —pygmydanny

The Fall “The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall” (1984)

There isn’t much from the Fall pre-1987 that isn’t essential, but few, if any, of those releases are as immediately likable as this one. “Lay of the Land”’s mutant surf-rock psychobilly with industrial twinges launches the theretofore most accessible Fall LP, which takes a lot of cues from recently initiated guitarist and Mark E.’s not-so-long-suffering wife Brix’s psych-tinged pop sensibilities, emphasizes the brilliant hookiness of Steve Hanley’s bass playing, and offers up nine solid tunes among which are such class-acts as the “I Wanna Be Your Dog”-riff-copping “Elves,” the oddly poignant “Stephen Song,” and the magnificently loopy dream-pop of “Disney’s Dream Debased.”

The curious could hardly do better than begin with the Wonderful and Frightening World of… before diving headlong into the wonderful and frightening world of the Fall. —Will

The Cure “Disintegration” (1989)

Though he may despise and disdain the term, Robert Smith, with his pot kettle black eyeliner, moussed, tousled hair and dour almost-dopey mopiness, will always be the archetypal goth, the poster boy for bedroom gloom and overwrought, affected misery. The Cure was far from a one-trick pony with a limp, but angst and depression are stamped repeatedly on the forehead of Disintegration, the crowning achievement of Smith’s career. His moody contemplation and inner turmoil goes Technicolor Cinemascope on this record; the guitars, flanged and phased beyond recognition, chime and soar, the vocals and drums reverberate through the cavernous bunker of the production, while layers of synthesized strings and weeping keyboards supplement the texture. These songs are sweeping and tenaciously grandiose – stadium-sized music for sun shy shut-ins and poetry scribblers. Opener “Plainsong” announces the record’s sound, with Smith’s voice echoing desperately across the freezing Wuthering Heights moor, while the “shimmering” (definitely among the most overused words in pop criticism) bells on “Pictures of You” underpin the longing of the tea-soaked madeleine cake lyrics. The straightforward, sullenly heartfelt “Lovesong” is the most accessible track, while “Lullaby” is the sexiest, with a near-funky stop-start rhythm, punctured guitar jabs and whispered vocals. The desolate essence of the album can found within the watery twins “Prayer for rain” and “The Same Deep Water as You:” plodding, winding requiems of remorse and reprehension. Though it nearly runs out of momentum by the time the wistful pump-organ of the untitled final track materializes in the haze, Disintegration is an elegy to loneliness, a bombastic display of histrionic pomp and the uncontrollable circumstance of just feeling sad, a true fucking epic blurred by flowing tears. —S. Paul Brown

Roky Erickson and the Aliens “The Evil One” (1981)

After serving some time in a mental institution, Roky Erickson, gifted vocalist of the prolific psych outfit 13th Floor Elevators, pheonixed into a paranoid messiah of rock, shedding any traces of campiness from his 60’s catalog in the proccess. “The Evil One” is a raging slab of psychedelic punk driven by Roky’s wonderful Texas fried and acid fed voice. He shrieks in terror as if to warn world of the demons in his mind. Although the lyrical subject matter is almost comical; vampires, a two headed dog, the devil, etc…, it’s delivered with a sincerity comparable to Syd Barrett’s solo albums or even a homeless person in the street raving on about something out to get them. But aside from any side stories of mental breakdown or heavy drug intake, the record is a cold cut ripper. Full speed 70’s hard rock with out any filler or forced attitude and killer guitar runs throughout. A must have for rock, punk, or psychellic heads. Just make sure your mind is together before dropping the needle, it might not come back. -Alex

Tubeway Army “Tubeway Army” (1978)

This is the Gary Numan we know and love, in his infancy. And although this is essentially a more guitar-oriented blueprint for Replicas, its sloppiness and low-rent ambiance give it a creepy feeling and skuzzy attack that makes this album a keeper not only for fans of the man-machine’s two or three subsequent classics, but of early “new wave” in general, before it had its edges smoothed away. Still, the album would have more impact as an EP, as Numan’s limits show themselves not quite equipped for the long player’s haul. Granted, the latter could arguably be said of his two or three subsequent classics, as well. –Will

Talking Heads ‘77 (1977)

Talking Head’s music seems to attract the use of adjectives: jittery, angular, brittle, odd, quirky, weird, eccentric, intelligent – all these and more can be levelled against a band who were within touching distance of that much over-used and erroneous description: unique. With less attitude and aggression than their punk counterparts, Talking Heads managed to be more disturbing than most yet their music was tinged with a comic aspect. I don’t agree with those who say this album hasn’t aged well. It still seems as strange and awkward to me today. Take “Happy Days”. For me the song just doesn’t work at all. Byrne’s vocal squeaks and squawks around a restless rhythm that doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go. But, while it may not be very good, it still sounds new and different. However, when it does work it sounds great – like “New Feeling”. I’ve always believed that somehow the band managed to take basic reggae rhythms and twist and shape them into something that is immediately recognisable as Talking Heads. Some say they invented a new musical form, but that is plainly stretching the truth way past reality. But they were certainly clever enough to forge their own identity. Besides the stellar “Psycho Killer”, other highlights are “The Book I Read”, “No Compassion”, “Uh-Oh Love Comes To Town”, “Don’t Worry About The Government” and “Pulled Up”. —Ian

The Cure “Three Imaginary Boys” (1979)

The early years of the Cure were a quite different proposition than their better-known commercial years, a colder, more alienated (and alienating) unit with a darkness at the core of everything they do. Not that they were ever  sunshine and lollipops, but there was a perverse bleakness that permeated their first few albums that lifted ever so slightly as they carried on. Way back here on their debut, they have the rolling, tense sound of post-punk/no-wave, with the clicking rhythms and murky bass lines taking influence from reggae and dub, but with the nihilism and antagonistic energy of punk rock played with a touch more spiky, precise musicianship. You would hardly recognize them as the band they would become, except in an occasional familiar quirk of Robert Smith’s voice.

“10:15 Saturday Night” is one of those obsessively neurotic songs that everyone seemed to be doing around the time (perhaps because they so well fit the nervous energy of this musical style), and one of the best, with a great smeared, jagged guitar solo. It sets the tone of alienation and disconnection that most of the album carries on. What love songs appear here are disguised and usually bleak (and there’s “Object” which denies any affection for a partner – ‘don’t try to hold me because I don’t want any ties, you’re just an object in my eyes, but I don’t mind’), although there is a surprisingly effective total reinvention of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” that is more like Devo than the rampant sexuality of Hendrix. Instead, these are songs about dripping faucets, track lighting, subways, the impending extinction of humanity, or about being hung to bleed out on a meathook. Universal stuff. It is not on the whole some of their more distinct work, but it is a very strong example of the post-punk era. —Jared

Mission of Burma “Signals, Calls, and Marches” (1981)

Along with early Pere Ubu, Wire, and the Fall, Mission of Burma are on top of the post-punk heap anticipating Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and a whole lotta other stuff that’s made music worthwhile in the last 30 years. Harnessing arty punk noise abandon to a firmly footed garage rawk, and throwing in enough hooks to snare your pop instincts and sonic left-turns to keep you guessing, there are few groups I can think of who made more bracing music in this very bracing period: the aforementioned luminaries rarely topped ’em, if ever. In fact, I’m not sure anyone can top the opening track on this record: it’s been covered to death, but the original is timeless. Fortunately, their well-received reunion has resurrected their two essential early releases from obscurity. Get them both today. –Will

Young Marble Giants “Colossal Youth” (1980)

It must be twenty years ago since I first heard Colossal Youth by Young Marble Giants. I borrowed the album from a friend, fell in love with it and have spent the time in between trying to search out a copy. Okay, I may not have been trying too hard, but hunting down Colossal Youth was not as easy as you’d think. The problem was, by the time I got around to hearing the album, the band had been defunct for seven years. The trio consisting of brothers Stuart and Phillip Moxham and vocalist Alison Statton formed in Cardiff at the back end of 1978. They arrived out of nowhere, blew the socks off the majority of music journalists, recorded an intensely minimalistic album, were touted as one of the best new bands by the New Musical Express and fell apart amidst a flurry of bad feelings and irreconcilable differences. By early 1981 they had returned to relative obscurity leaving behind a small but perfectly formed body of work. The liner notes accompanying the album claim, because Young Marble Giants didn’t hang around for long, they were unable to sully their work with inferior product. There may be a kernel of truth in that but it does tend to detract from the fact what makes the statement true is the material they did produce had to be damn near perfect to begin with.

Where to begin describing the music of Young Marble Giants? There may be something clichéd and ho-hum about the statement but Colossal Youth is verging on the unique. Stepping outside music, imagine a wireframe designed to be the foundation on which layers of papier-mâché will be pasted to create a landscape. The music of Colossal Youth is the wireframe. It’s as if the band went into the studio, laid down the most basic of backing tracks, had an initial stab at a vocal and then made the astonishing decision that that was enough. The music is beyond minimal; at times just a few clipped notes on the guitar, a muted beat and a wispy vocal. The whole thing could be blown into oblivion by an interloping tinkle of a triangle. It’s incredible how so much substance and depth can be drawn from something so skeletal. There isn’t a wasted note on the whole album because there simply aren’t enough notes to waste. The band eventually folded due to a combination of the breakdown of the personal relationship between Phillip Moxham and Statton and the fact Stuart Moxham – the principal songwriter – had always wanted to sing his own material but had been persuaded by his brother to let Statton join. Eventually the cracks became too divisive to ignore and the Young Marble Giants went their separate ways. It’s a memorable document of a band whose star shone very brightly very quickly before just as swiftly burning itself out. Young Marble Giants were a band who exemplified the saying less is more – in their case a hell of a lot more. –Ian