Collapse Into Now


Album: Collapse into Now

Artist: R.E.M.

Released: March 7th, 2011

Highlights: Überlin, Oh My Heart, Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter, Blue

Through the first twenty-four years of their amazing run, R.E.M. built a career arch that nearly all bands could be envious of. For starters, they managed to ascend from underground heroes to mainstream darlings without pissing too many people off; in fact, even the idealistic Kurt Cobain would go on to describe the group as saints thanks to how they handled their migration to a major label. Secondly, during all those years, the boys from Athens amassed a large discography of thirteen records while not delivering a single dud. Sure, their albums were far from being unanimous: the band itself was, originally, not too thrilled by “Fables of the Reconstruction”; “Green” was perceived by some to be lackluster, especially compared to what had come before it; “Monster” certainly had its share of detractors; and the trio of “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”, “Up”, and “Reveal” were punctually accused of being too long. Yet, the point was that an agreement in singling out a bad R.E.M. record could never be reached because none of their works stood out negatively.

Then, of course, 2004 came, “Around the Sun” hit store shelves, and humanity finally established a consensus in the debate of whether or not R.E.M. had ever stumbled: the answer was yes, and the evidence was a bland overproduced fifty-five-minute marathon where life and energy were sucked out of the compositions until they mostly became adult-oriented rock. The band felt the blow: guitarist Peter Buck bemoaned the fact they had overworked these songs in the studio and vowed the band would make up for their mistake by going back to their roots. And indeed they would try to do so four years later in “Accelerate”, which was such a massive course-correction that besides ranking, by far, as the band’s heaviest album, it would also be their shortest: clocking in at thirty-five minutes. Nevertheless, as good and fun as it is, “Accelerate” was not a bona fide reunion with the group’s history; it was something possibly more interesting: the breaking into new sonic ground. It would actually take another three years for R.E.M. to truly reconnect with their past, which is what happened in “Collapse into Now”.

There is a very good debate to be had about the value of a band making an album where they actively try to emulate their previous successes. For groups that have always moved forward, like R.E.M. themselves, there is the chance some will accuse them of artistic stagnation or lack of creativity; to those ears, another sonic leap like the one from “Accelerate” would have been more welcome. Contrarily, when one’s past is filled with engaging twists and turns as well as very successful releases, both from an artistic and commercial standpoint, there is certainly an appeal in driving back through previously traveled roads. To boot, in the particular case of “Collapse into Now”, R.E.M. had a very good thematic excuse to regress rather than progress: they were aware this was meant to be their last album; with Michael Stipe even going as far as saying, later, that he found it amusing how nobody seemed to notice he was waving goodbye on the record’s cover. Because of that status, “Collapse into Now” more than earns its right to sound like a victory lap through the past.

It has to be said that “Collapse into Now” frequently takes its underlining theme to such an extreme that parts of it come off as self-plagiarism. “Discoverer” has an anthemic arena-rock vibe seen in the loudest tracks of “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”. “Oh My Heart” thematically and musically nods to the acoustic darkness of “Houston”, from “Accelerate”. “Every Day Is Yours to Win” imitates “Everybody Hurts” in its pep-talk nature and in its gently picked guitar. “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” has the glam of “Monster”, even if the song does not carry the tremolo effects that dominated that album. “That Someone Is You” is a bouncy nearly jangling rocker that brings to mind the fastest tunes of the “Reckoning” era. “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” is a mandolin-led dirge that could have been in either “Out of Time” or “Automatic for the People”. And “Blue” drinks so heavily from the masterful “E-Bow the Letter” that, like that song, it features Patti Smith as a guest vocalist.

All in all, that is more than half of album’s twelve songs showcasing clear connections to previous records or tunes by the band, and some devoted fans are bound to be able to draw enough extra parallels to cover the entirety of the work’s tracklist. Due to that, “Collapse into Now” has unsurprisingly gotten a degree of flak from part of its audience. The bottom line, though, is that aside from giving the group’s final work a heavy emotional component as well as a marvelous thematic perspective, these links to the past lead to the creation of some downright fantastic tunes. As such, make no mistake, “Collapse into Now” is not just good as a farewell or as a record from three men who were past their artistic prime; it is a great piece even when held up against mighty flagpoles of the R.E.M. discography.

Because, yes, “Oh My Heart” is essentially a sequel to “Houston”, but it is nigh impossible not to be enraptured by the apocalyptic winds that emerge from the atmospheric wall it creates with an acoustic guitar and an accordion. “Every Day Is Yours to Win” certainly smells of “Everybody Hurts”; however, not only is it excellent in melody and mood, but it also might sound like a fresher pep talk to ears that are tired of hearing the “Automatic for the People” classic. “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” has some “Monster” glam, but that good familiar ingredient is enhanced by one of Peter Buck’s greatest rocking riffs, an electric performance by the band, and the appropriately flamboyant participation of Peaches. “That Someone Is You” has heavy echoes of “Reckoning”, but that is by no means negative: that is the era when R.E.M. made its best bouncy tunes and the track lives up to those heights. “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” goes back to the mandolin to squeeze a touching reflection on flawed heroes from the instrument. And “Blue” might reuse the formula of “E-Bow the Letter”, but it does so to produce an instant masterpiece that is a brooding blend of spoken-word poetry, pain-laden Patti Smith vocals, ominous keyboards, and slow acoustic strumming.

This eclectic bunch of songs fits together quite well to form a delightfully varied record. Therefore, where “Around the Sun” and “Accelerate” were mostly painted with just one tone, albeit from rather distinct extremes, “Collapse into Now” feels looser, full of life, and more spontaneous. It makes sense; after all, given the members of R.E.M. were good friends who knew this was their last rodeo, it is to be expected that the album would have a celebratory vibe. And it seems these positive spirits translated themselves into wonderful tracks of varying moods, like “It Happened Today”, a simple acoustic tune that culminates in a pleasantly lengthy joyous wordless vocal singalong featuring Eddie Vedder; the rocking and rather catchy “Mine Smell Like Honey”, which like many tunes of the album has the greatness of its melody augmented by stellar backing vocals from Mike Mills; the beautiful and basic “Walk It Back”, a folk ballad built on nothing but an acoustic guitar and a piano; and, of course, “Überlin”, the best song of the record and an alternative rock track that has the R.E.M. signature all over it, stylishly treading the line between hopeful energy and mid-tempo balladry without fully committing to any format.

“Collapse into Now” is not without its problems. The opener “Discoverer” is loud, epic, and sweeping, but its main shouted hook is not as great as it seems to think it is. Moreover, “All the Best” is a run-of-the-mill rocker that pales in comparison to everything else in the album. Finally, a more prominent issue stems from Stipe’s lyrics, which started to decay in “Around the Sun” and that here, with some frequency, try to aim for his once fantastic cryptic and evocative images only to land as awkward, hence slightly deflating the power of some great instrumental and melodic moments that could have been better. Still, this is by all means a brilliant conclusion to a nearly flawless career. And it works both as a celebration of a rich artistic past and as a fantastic rock album by veterans who proved their songwriting and artistic chops time and time again through a little more than three decades.


Endless Arcade


Album: Endless Arcade

Artist: Teenage Fanclub

Released: April 30th, 2021

Highlights: Home, Everything Is Falling Apart, The Sun Won’t Shine On Me, Back In The Day

Out of the numerous often subjective sub-genres that rock music has spawned over the years, absolutely none are as hard to grasp as alternative rock. Originally used as a very general net to encompass all artists that worked away from the mainstream market, that label has been employed to qualify all sorts of bands: hard rocking grunge acts like Nirvana, post punk children like R.E.M., avant-garde noisemakers like Sonic Youth, and even softer groups like Coldplay, which are one among many that earned the tag long after alternative rock had stopped being a synonym for underground music. Beginning their career in 1989, therefore prior to the moment when the lines between what is alternative and what is mainstream were blurred, Teenage Fanclub are yet another act that proves how colorful – and undefined – that category is.

Labeled as alternative due to their underground and borderline lo-fi origins, the Scottish group has – for more than three decades and ten studio albums – been extremely loyal to the power pop style. Built on smooth chord progressions, steady guitar strumming, and mid-tempo rhythms that materialize in relentless walls of sound, their songs carry sweet melodies that recall the pop song-craft of Brian Wilson and that are boasted by innocent starry-eyed harmonies that nod to the earliest phase of The Beatles or to The Beach Boys themselves. In the midst of that impeccable regularity, the parameter that has defined the different eras of Teenage Fanclub has been noise; more specifically, how much buzz they infuse into their guitar walls.

Early on, in their first two releases, that parameter was set quite high. Their great 1990 debut, “A Catholic Education”, could stand up to the loud shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine; and its follow-up, “The King”, threw such a grand load of noise into the formula the radical thrashing nature of the material was too much to bear. Ever since reaching that extreme point, which deservingly earned the band a critical scolding, Teenage Fanclub started a lengthy process of dialing down on the racket. At first, when an ideal balance of noise and melody was accompanied by a maturation in songwriting, the results included power pop gems of the stature of “Bandwagonesque” and “Grand Prix”. Soon afterwards, though, starting from 2000’s “Howdy!”, their aggression began to be too diluted for the group’s sake.

Initially, there was a bit of charm in the general calmness of the music; after all, here was a band that, following ten years of hiding their heavenly melodies in varying degrees of distortion, opted to do something different by letting them stand on their own. However, as time and records passed, Teenage Fanclub seemed stuck in an inescapable sequence of increasingly mellow works that made fans yearn for the electric sparks that had once lent the act so much personality. As of 2021, therefore a whopping two decades after the beginning of that slide down the rabbit hole of peaceful pastoral production, Teenage Fanclub has yet to find their energy back because, sadly, “Endless Arcade” continues to follow the same path.

Perhaps it is a bit too harsh to treat the quartet from Northern Britain as if they have been creatively dry during the past twenty-one years; that is simply not true, since throughout that stretch, which includes six albums, there is not a dud to be found. It is a fact, however, Teenage Fanclub has been creatively stuck, because aside from their collaboration with Jad Fair (a vocalist with a singing style that recalls Lou Reed), it is quite hard to give distinct definitions to the records from that era. “Endless Arcade” is not different, and consequently, what fans will find in it is a continuation of what Teenage Fanclub has been doing for a while.

Clocking in at seven minutes and featuring two instrumental breaks with lengthy guitar solos, opener “Home” teases that the album may go in a unique direction, given it flirts with the wild guitar workouts of the band’s early years. Nonetheless, quickly, “Endless Arcade” reveals it is mostly business as usual: its tunes are compact and melodic; its harmonies are tight and beautiful; and its guitar tones are gentle and clean. Truth be told, there are moments when the band threatens to break away from that mold: “Warm Embrace” bounces with a joyous energy that is maybe exaggerated; “The Sun Won’t Shine On Me” has a combination of folk rock jangle and harmonic work that summons memories of The Byrds; and “In Our Dreams” sports a noisier guitar hook that bumps on colorful psychedelia. But whether individually within the scope of the tunes in which they appear or inside the album as a whole, these elements are not enough to make “Endless Arcade” distinct.

From a critical standpoint, though, “Endless Arcade” presents a bit of a conundrum. Sure, as it is the case with nearly all Teenage Fanclub releases after “Howdy!”, it can be rightfully accused of being artistically stale. Yet, when it comes to songwriting, there is hardly a bad tune to be found here. “Home” stands out due to its nature as a somewhat loose, but well-behaved, jam; “Everything Is Falling Apart” shines on the meaty chug of its guitars as well as the relative furious explosion of its chorus; and both “The Sun Won’t Shine On Me” and “Back In The Day” enchant deeply thanks to their melodic beauty. But there is not a song here that goes by without delivering a notable melody, a tasteful chord progression, or an irresistible guitar strum. It is true that the stylistic sameness of these less memorable tracks causes them to merge into one another and also into many of the cuts of the mellow albums that preceded “Endless Arcade”, but – as the ultimate Teenage Fanclub seal of quality – this is a record that, after two or three spins, will have listeners randomly humming a few of its melodies.

As the first work following the departure of longtime bassist, singer, and songwriter Gerard Love, “Endless Arcade” could have been a big opportunity for Teenage Fanclub to break the trend in which it has been stuck since 2000. However, the mental synergy between the group’s trio of leaders has always been so extreme that the absence of one of them ends up not making much of a difference. Without their friend, Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley are forced to carry a heavier load, having to write six songs apiece instead of the usual four each composer tended to get. But, for the good and for the bad, the results remain the same, and with twelve tracks of melodic beauty but slightly excessive mellowness, “Endless Arcade” is yet another good work by Teenage Fanclub that could have been more interesting if briefly soaked in the electric spark of the band’s alternative origins.


This Is Not a Safe Place


Album: This Is Not a Safe Place

Artist: Ride

Released: August 16th, 2019

Highlights: Future Love, Jump Jet, Shadows Behind the Sun, In this Room

The cover of Ride’s sixth album, “This Is Not a Safe Place”, features an outstretched arm that seemingly tries to reach for the ocean. Those familiar with the band ought to recognize that large mass of water as a callback to the uncrested wave that dominated the art of the group’s debut, “Nowhere”, a record that alongside My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” and Slowdive’s “Souvlaki” was pivotal in defining the shoegaze genre in the early 90s. Therefore, listeners approaching the record with some knowledge about the group and its history may look at its visual presentation as some sort of nostalgic longing, as if Ride were trying to recapture that long-gone magic.

By listening to “This Is Not a Safe Place”, however, what one is bound to discover is that its art is either a kind of ironic joke or that Ride does miss the past, but that such feeling is more related to youth or perhaps relevance than it is to stylistic matters, because “This Is Not a Safe Place” sounds nothing like “Nowhere”. It is not exactly a revelatory statement; after all, as their career evolved, Ride never really stood still musically, for even the successor of “Nowhere”, the joyful and colorful “Going Blank Again”, had little to do with its precursor, even if it did have a lot to gain back then if it had tried to mimic its successful prequel closely. “This Is Not a Safe Place”, though, does not feel entirely fresh as far as Ride is concerned, because it has very obvious precedence in the band’s discography.

That echo, in particular, is found in 2017’s “Weather Diaries”. The first album released by the band in twenty years, it works as a blueprint for “This Is Not a Safe Place”, the sophomore effort of this new era of Ride. Much like its predecessor, the record filters some of the inherent characteristics of the group while expanding others towards the space that was left open by the elements that were removed. The excluded feature, for the most part, is noise; one of the defining traits of shoegaze and one of the most prominent assets of “Nowhere”, the cacophony is almost nowhere to be seen. As a replacement to it, “This Is Not a Safe Place” leans heavily towards wide soundscapes filled with melodic lethargy.

It is not, obviously, that noise is out of the equation. Ride knows the genre it emerged from quite well, and it is aware of the expectations that surround it. It is just that rather than accompanying the entirety of the album’s runtime, the buzz is only punctual. As such, tunes like “R.I.D.E.”, “Repetition”, and “Kill Switch” are actually built around walls of feedback, while “Fifteen Minutes” has a chorus that bursts into a mass of static. However, not only are moments like those far outnumbered by tracks where blissful calmness takes over, but they are also lackluster when compared to the rest of the record, as they either feel forced (“R.I.D.E.”) or are downright awkward in their attempt to give a modern dancing edge to the band’s signature sound (“Repetition” and “Fifteen Minutes”).

The moments when “This Is Not a Safe Place” truly clicks are those when Ride comes into contact with their poppier side, the one that was vastly explored in the beloved “Going Blank Again” and in the polarizing “Carnival of Light”. In those instances, the band unearths a guitar sound that has the jangling grace of The Byrds and aural harmonies that also recall the folk rock quintet; nevertheless, even if in at least one cut that mixture is used to propel a straightforward pop rock gem, the irresistible “Future Love”, which could have easily been recorded in 1967 save for some of its more contemporary details, most of the times they are inserted in large heavenly environments that turn the jangling into chiming and the earthly voices into angelic presences.

In those tracks, Ride nearly turns into a psychedelic outfit. The guitars and vocals reverberate as if suspended high above the air, hitting listeners like soothing mist; and both the clean production and strong melodies accentuate that beauty. “Clouds of Saint Marie” sounds so vivid and peaceful that it feels like the musical manifestation of floating amidst the clouds; “Eternal Recurrence” is a trip through underwater darkness thanks to how it matches a steady slow rhythm with an underlying layer of hums and noises; “Jump Jet” grabs listeners by the arm and throws them into a vortex of moving colors, ranking as the album’s most blatant shot at psychedelia; and closer “In This Room” is a gorgeous epic that stretches close to the nine-minute mark without ever feeling indulgent, as its melody and highly atmospheric guitar work safely carry it to the title of best cut in the record.

Featuring the same sensory value and level of quality as those tracks, but exploring a slightly different palette of sounds, are “Dial Up”, “End Game”, and “Shadows Behind the Sun”. The first and the last adorn the album’s significant wide soundscape with a much simpler instrumental backing, as they gravitate around acoustic strumming supported by arrangements of electric and electronic nature; and in that match, “This Is Not a Safe Place” encounters music that is simultaneously intimate and distant; fragile and self-enclosed. “End Game”, meanwhile, is the antithesis of “Repetition” and “Fifteen Minutes”; a cut where Ride toys with building a song on beats and repetitive hooks of contemporary spirit and pulls it off remarkably well.

Although gathered one after the other towards the tail-end of the record, these three tracks serve not just to give “This Is Not a Safe Place” a pleasant sprinkle of variety, but also to display positive signs that the group, despite mostly treading the very same territory explored by “Weather Diaries”, is not longing for the past its cover alludes to. In fact, much to the contrary, “This Is Not a Safe Place” shows Ride is still trying to push forward and being able to find some success along the way. And regardless of the missteps it contains, the album is – in the peace, tranquility, and lethargy evoked by its guitars, vocals, and production – the output of a group that is very much alive, emerging as the rare example of a band that, following a long hiatus, has returned to build on its legacy rather than to tarnish it.

Meat Is Murder


Album: Meat Is Murder

Artist: The Smiths

Released: February 11th, 1985

Highlights: The Headmaster Ritual, Rusholme Ruffians, I Want the One I Can’t Have, Well I Wonder

Although it was not The Smith’s first record, and despite the fact it had been preceded by a strong album (the band’s self-titled debut), “Meat Is Murder” was quite revelatory to the general public. Like many musical works of the 80s, “The Smiths” had its good songwriting undermined by misguided production techniques: the group’s post-punk aggression – which was veiled by Morrissey’s drama and melody, and Marr’s otherworldly instrumental gift – came off as muffled; the band’s greatness shyly shinning through an overly reverberant soundscape that was not suiting for many of their edgier tunes. Conversely, “Meat Is Murder” marks the first time The Smith’s fantastic sound was successfully captured and translated onto a full-length piece of vinyl, and “The Headmaster Ritual”, which opens the album, is quick to announce that victory: traveling through quiet segments that, guided by Marr’s signature jangle, alternate between lamenting the tyranny of authoritarian teachers and rising to confront it, it culminates in an aggressive riff which serves as a chorus that propels the song forward and back to its verse.

And right there, inside that quiet-and-loud dichotomy whose two extreme spectra are perfectly captured, “Meat Is Murder” declares it contains both sides of The Smiths’ in an immaculate state; and both Morrissey and Marr find a way to rise to the occasion and amplify that quality by considerably polishing their songwriting. When they aim for the looser shade of their nature, The Smiths sound, at least in instrumental terms, as frantic as any punk group: what sets them apart, however, is the orchestral aura Marr’s guitars lend to the songs and Morrissey’s alternation between being tongue-in-cheek and tragic. In “What She Said”, as the group threatens to implode over a vicious circular guitar-and-drum pattern, Morrissey sings of a girl who is eager to meet an early death to escape her misery; meanwhile, in “I Want the One I Can’t Have” and “Nowhere Fast”, whose bouncy fast riffs beg for listeners to move, he – respectively – says that the poor can only find happiness in love and proclaims that, given the utter boredom of his life, he pines to shake it up by dropping his trousers in front of the Queen and exposing his slender means.

On the other hand, when they go for sheer misery, The Smiths sound ominous and disheartening. “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” echoes inside a wide space worthy of Joy Division while a haunting slide guitar looms over Morrissey’s sadness like a gliding vulture; and “Well I Wonder”, in which the singer ponders if the one who broke his heart can hear him cry at night and has any knowledge of his existence, is lifted into the air by the gorgeous acoustic strum of what sounds like an orchestra of guitars. Besides evolving, the group also moves forward by dabbling, with productive results, into unusual grounds: “Rusholme Ruffians” borrows from Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and uses rockabilly to describe a tragicomic British carnival; and “Barbarism Begins at Home” highlights the power of The Smiths’ rhythm section of Joyce and Rourke by taking a fantastic funk rock groove past the six-minute mark.

The final experimental piece of music that “Meat Is Murder” holds is the closing title track, which in spite of more than one minute of animal grunts and Morrissey’s overly self-righteous lyrics about vegetarianism, is positively sinister in its combination of a dark cyclical guitar and piano pairing, and bizarre sound effects on the track’s background. “Meat Is Murder” is, therefore, a record that is astoundingly consistent in its greatness, displaying considerable growth in terms of songwriting, sound, and variety, and catching one of the finest rock groups of all time close to its peak, which would come right afterwards.

The Stone Roses


Album: The Stone Roses

Artist: The Stone Roses

Released: May 2nd, 1989

Highlights: I Wanna Be Adored, She Bangs the Drums, Made Of Stone, I Am the Resurrection

As the end of the 80s was approaching, British rock was surely in need of some palette cleansing. Through the biggest part of that decade, British youth had been served a brand of music that, while of unquestionable high quality, was also uniformly sulky. The Cure, The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Jesus and Mary Chain produced numerous classic albums that allowed teenagers and young adults to sink into their misery, with only the latter band providing some sort of way out of that dark deep well – in that case, indifference and anger – but they had locked their listeners into self-pitying patterns. It is hard to know if being tired of wallowing in despair was what caused those youngsters to quickly flock towards the Madchester movement – which merged rock, acid house, psychedelia, and 60s pop. But when the late 80s came around, musical trends indicated the British had abandoned poorly lit rooms and awkward social demeanor and opted to send their demons away via pop songs and dancing.

The Stone Roses’ debut is the biggest landmark of that movement and not just because nearly all of its thirteen songs (in the album’s American version) have deservingly grown into classics. “The Stone Roses” succeeds because it manages to encompass and display Madchester’s various influences and facets in the tracks it brings together. “Fools Gold”, for instance, with its funky bass line, scratchy guitar, and focus on rhythm, is pure irresistible dance rock; meanwhile, “Don’t Stop”, built over a rewinding tape of the track that precedes it (the beautiful ballad “Waterfall”), has so much of acid house in the trippiness that stems from its construction that it would not feel out-of-place in a rave. Mostly, however, “The Stone Roses” is an album of jangle pop.

John Squire’s guitar rings in the same fashion as those from the great players of the genre: Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), and Tom Petty. However, differently from those, The Stone Roses play inside a soundscape that is as wide as that of British post-punk bands and as bright as that of the American bands of the Summer of Love. It sounds as if the group is unleashing poppy sweet anthemic choruses and impossibly catchy melodies from inside a coral cave located deep underwater, with the soundwaves gaining new colors every time they bump onto the rocky walls. It is a sensory delight, and Squire – like Marr – works like a guitar orchestrator, filling up all that vast expanse with entwining riffs that form a rainbow-like rock symphony. In that beauty, Ian Brown spins brutally acid lyrics, as if he is trying to conceal overflowing bitterness in sugary pop, and it works.

There is the wish to see a former lover die in horrific fashion (“Made Of Stone”); the joyful contemplation of the ending of a relationship (“Shoot You Down”); the ironic mocking of someone who is never satisfied with what they get from their partner (“Sugar Spun Sister”); the desire to hurt oppressing policemen (“Bye Bye Badman”); an open threat to the queen (“Elizabeth My Dear”); the act of painting himself as a messianic figure for being able not to violently hate someone who broke his heart (“I Am The Resurrection”); and the haunting clairvoyance of “I Wanna Be Adored”, which boldly anticipates the importance their debut, which would serve as a major cornerstone of the Britpop movement, would have for British rock. It is all so powerful and delivered with such confidence that, even many years later, it is hard not to believe Ian when – in “She Bangs The Drums” – he claims “The past was yours but the future’s mine”. There are not many albums that can make such a statement without seeming clueless and arrogant, and “The Stone Roses” is certainly one of them.



Album: Chomp

Artist: Pylon

Released: February 14th, 1983

Highlights: K, Crazy, No Clocks, Gyrate

Born in the same pulsating and creative college rock environment of Athens, Georgia, that gave the world both R.E.M. and The B-52’s, Pylon certainly never made it as big as those two acts, failing to rise above its local cult status like many of its peers had succeeded in doing. In a way, it is easy to see why: although the New Wave sound and the American underground scene of the early 80s had been directly influenced by the British punks and their pioneering American counterparts, especially The Stooges and MC5, the links to that movement were blurred in the music itself. R.E.M. took a turn for the folk and Gothic; The B-52’s explored dancy beats; The Replacements and Husker Du turned to a garage sound; and the Talking Heads embraced world music. Pylon, meanwhile, retained a rough and noncommercial soul that was inherently punk in its spirit.

It is not that the band lived in an isolated bubble into which no outside influences managed to enter: “Chomp”, their second album and the last one released before their breakup, is filled with mannerisms extracted from the alternative scene inside which the group existed. “Crazy” and “No Clocks”, for example, are perfect representations of the murky jangle pop that drove R.E.M.’s first albums, with the former featuring an impressive melody that walks the line between beauty and threat. Meanwhile, tunes like the weird “Yo-Yo” and the energetic “Beep” are filled with a kind of weirdness and aggressive awkwardness that could only be found in a Talking Heads record, as the former could easily fit among the synthesizer-led wackiness of “More Songs About Buildings and Food” and the latter being blatantly inspired by the utter classic “The Great Curve”.

Despite the fact that connecting Pylon to its muses is an easy task, the group nevertheless emerges with a thoroughly unique sound in its hands, and much of that is derived from the ferocity of its leader: Vanessa Briscoe Hay. Vanessa, as if feeding off the restless bouncy beats with sharp teeth created by her bandmates, sounds like a caged animal that alternates moments of tense calm in which, like a suddenly quiet maniac, she is able to control her instincts, and instances in which she is shouting wildly while throwing her body against the iron bars that keep her locked in. The foggy mystery created by R.E.M. in its early days, then, gains dark and menacing contours – as it can be seen in “Buzz”, “Spider”, and “Reptiles”, as if The Cure, instead of choosing to explore melancholic slow dirges, had opted to express the sadness of Robert Smith through bleak revisions of the catchy post-punk music they forged in “Three Imaginary Boys”.

Although it works as the ultimate document on Pylon, “Chomp” was clearly not designed for massive exposure, which is far from a bad decision, given the band that created it is incredibly idiosyncratic. It is a raw, edgy, punky, and true album, one that captures a group of musicians that is led by untamed instinct and that chooses to play whatever it is that comes to mind instead of polishing its musical ideas to an alluring state. It might not be universally moving, but it sure is a lot of fun.