Various Artists - Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987 Music Album Reviews

Various Artists - Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987 Music Album Reviews
The inaugural release in a new Capture Tracks compilation series surveys a generation of college-rock bands that drew sustenance from the chiming guitars of R.E.M. and the Byrds.

If you spent your formative years reading zines such as The Big Takeover and Puncture, you may experience a Proustian tingle while perusing the tracklist for Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987. It’s the inaugural release in Captured Tracks’ Excavations series, a set of compilations highlighting music from the 1970s through the 1990s that influenced the label’s roster. To give you an idea of the underdog status represented, cerebral Homestead Records stalwarts Salem 66 are probably the comp’s best-known act.
At a time when Sonic Youth were imploring people to “Kill Yr Idols,” Strum & Thrum’s musicians were emulating them: They drew sustenance from the Byrds’ radiant Rickerbacker tones; the spare, poignant intro to the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”; and early R.E.M.’s rambling approximations of Roger McGuinn’s guitar sound. Post-punk and no wave are nowhere to be heard in their orderly compositions. These groups almost uniformly privilege the guitar, and rarely do they disrupt a steady beat—although Start deviate from the prevalent 4/4 and Sex Clark Five dabble with quasi-prog-rock chord progressions and tempo switches. The stylistic niche plowed by most of the 28 acts here is narrow and, culturally and aesthetically, white. Not a scintilla of blues, funk, soul, jazz, or dub exists in these prototypical indie-rock songs. (The main points of Sasha Frere-Jones’s 2007 essay “A Paler Shade of White”—namely, that ’00s indie rock was defined in no small part by its aversion to the rhythmic expressions of mid-20th century, African-American popular music—could apply to Strum & Thrum.)

Music historian (and former Matador general manager) Johan Kugelberg regards the era documented here as American indie rock’s “Dark Ages.” Nevertheless, vibrant scenes were sprouting in college towns and small cities. Captured Tracks has dug deep to find gems from those microcosms. Luckily for these artists scorned by major labels and commercial radio, the college-radio infrastructure was burgeoning, connecting their smart, concisely constructed rock with students and zine-readers nationwide. The uninitiated, and those not alive during Reagan’s bleak reign, can learn much from Strum & Thrum about this stratum of sensitive-person rock.
 
The deities to which the majority of the comp’s artists genuflect are the Byrds and R.E.M., with occasional nods to the Smiths and Scottish label Postcard’s roster (Aztec Camera, the Go-Betweens). A substantial chunk of the album sounds like outtakes from Chronic Town and Murmur: For instance, the staccato rock of Holiday’s “Change” is essentially R.E.M.’s “1,000,000,” but with vocals influenced by the vivacious delivery of Kate Pierson, of the B-52’s. Strum & Thrum wholeheartedly champions verse-chorus-verse song structures, with no extravagant solos and few deviations from standard rock instrumentation.

With sonic innovation and political commentary off the table, these bands focused on writing catchy melodies, wittily rendering romantic entanglements and youthful musings, and generating those all-important guitar tones—the “jangle” and its close kin, the “chime.” The radiant timbres here generally signify innocent wonder and indomitable joy, despite the chronic threat of nuclear war fostered by American and Soviet leaders. Columbus, Ohio’s Great Plains slaughter doom with “When Do You Say Hello?,” a song so jittery it makes the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” seem like it’s in first gear. The Ferrets mine party-starting gold with “She Was Unkind,” which audaciously fuses riffs from the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the Kinks’ “She’s Got Everything.” The Springfields’ Sunflower” attains a peak of Rickenbacker bliss via a fey paean to nature that could make Brian Wilson sigh.

Some of the more interesting songs here skew darker, including “Seven Steps Down,” by Salem 66, a Boston group, founded by three women, that crafted some of the most alluring hooks of the ’80s underground yet never transcended cult status. You can hear seeds of Helium and Liz Phair in their surprising dynamics and bewitching earworms. The modestly triumphant 28th Day rocker “Pages Turn (Alternate Version)” offers an early example of Barbara Manning’s ingenious songwriting and poignant vocals. On Riff Doctors’ “Say Goodbye,” singer Donna Esposito expresses the bittersweet feeling of liberation after a soured relationship, but the music radiates a restrained elation, a trick also perfected by the Smiths. The most rhythmically robust song here, Absolutely Grey’s “Remorse” is an emotional roller coaster in which Beth Brown sings, “I feel a bit remorseful now that you’re dead/But no more darkness in your head” like a female Gordon Lightfoot, her mossy tone catching with overwhelming emotion.

Taking cues from reissue specialist labels such as Numero Group and Soul Jazz, Captured Tracks has unearthed deep cuts from a stratum of rock that’s been swathed in apathy for over three decades and puts them into context. While it might be a stretch to say that Strum & Thrum’s artists influenced many of today’s indie rockers, it nevertheless represents a vault full of potential holy grails for fans of, say, Car Seat Headrest or Cloud Nothings. Captured Tracks owner Mike Sniper wants Strum & Thrum to prove that America’s ’80s underground rock bands merit the same respect as those from their more heralded British and New Zealand counterparts on labels such as Creation and Flying Nun. That’s a tall order, but even if he hasn’t quite succeeded, Strum & Thrum does an admirable job casting some much-needed light on those “Dark Ages” of American indie.
Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Various Artists - Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987 Music Album Reviews Various Artists - Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, December 10, 2020 Rating: 5

0 comments:

Post a Comment