Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)

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But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

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Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.

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But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.

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For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

Days of the Lords: 1976-1997

Weekend Update: Saturday Afternoon Project

Born in ’81, I was just a few years too young for some of the best music of the 80s. This afternoon I dedicated some time to rectifying that issue.

I collected all of the genre-defining albums of the era from RateYourMusic.com and assembled a 175-hour playlist titled Days of the Lords: 1976-1997 comprising 55 artists from the period’s most prominent genres:

  • Ethereal Wave
  • New Wave
  • Dream Pop
  • Gothic Rock
  • Shoegaze
  • Post-Punk
  • Jangle Pop
  • & Noise Pop

All the major players are here.  Neoclassical darkwave and goth rock mainstays like The Cure, The Church, The Cult, Joy Division, The Smiths, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins.  Plus post-punk artists like The Chameleons, Cabaret Voltaire, Chrome, Einstürzende Neubauten, Jesus & Mary Chain, Swervedriver, and Fad Gadget.

All the shoegaze giants made the list, from My Bloody Valentine to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, Soda Stereo, The Boo Radleys, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Belly, and The Catherine Wheel.  I’ve really done my best to assemble all of the artistst discographies that defined their generation’s sound from 1976-1997.

Here’s a preview of the completed list in action.  I’ve got a lot of listening to do!

Days of the Lords