o one thinks of Jon Landau’s famous Bruce Springsteen quote when mentioning Peter Buck’s assertion that the already-split Pylon was the best band in America and why should they? Who are Pylon? A band from Athens who bum-rushed college radio at the start of the ‘80s and barely blipped long enough for the Gang of Four fans to catch on.
A more pertinent analogy is the Velvet Underground cliché: everyone who heard them started a band. It’s hard to tell the direct impact of a band whose essential work is just now gracing a format facing obsolescence, but there-ya-go: gushing in the liners from (yep) Michael Stipe and Hugo Burnham. And it doesn’t take a !!! connoisseur to tell you this shit is five years late. What’s next, a Rites of Spring reissue?
Better late than never, I guess. The compilers were damn right about one thing: important band. Gang of Four’s lyrics were completely unconcerned with the music most of the time; they were political and danceable separately. Usually if they came together at all, it was via guitar hooks and bass sneaks that signified rampant dissatisfaction. Vanessa Briscoe was not so easy to figure out: like the other most important funky post-punks LiLiPut, she gets big fun out of confusion, just transmitting notions rather than words into absolute morse code. The guitars beep, she squeaks. The bass sizzles, she pops. Besides Oh-OK and LiliPut, more of these rhythmic-language ‘80s bands would’ve been great.
Gyrate is the band’s first and messiest work; there’s more shrieking and galloping than locked-in grooves. So the decision to kick it off with both sides of their near-anthemic debut single “Cool” b/w “Dub” is a triumph of rock revisionism. The bass marches ominously on “Cool” with pauses for her to bleat like a lost Kirkwood brother and make “everything is….everything is….everything is…coooool,” sound like a grand statement, drooled out title and everything. “Dub” is more Go4-like, full of whipped interjections and guitar harmonics that fall out like sparks from an overloaded surge protector.
The album’s less rough after those twin guided missiles, with clunkier drums boosted like that clever DJ Murphy demands, and spookily chorused guitars glinting every which way, near crystalline compared to my old vinyl-to-mp3 rip. What surprised me most about hearing it again, though is how wide open it sounds. Briscoe sounds miles away from the band’s industrial stomp in “Danger”; when she blows a referee’s whistle in the middle it sounds like her bandmates are actually across the field. You can hear each guitar pick magnetize off the pickup in the second verse of “Gravity.” The sole duplicity can’t be fixed digitally, however: none of the songs work up to an actual chorus, unless the repetitious punk-out “Feast on my Heart” counts.
The rarities earn that Plus in the title, with “Functionality” burying Brisco under a tense, Joy Divisionesque beat equal parts mood and danger, while a spacey dub version of “Danger!!” bests the original and adds color. If you’re hooked, though, search for the more fully-formed and less celebrated Chomp, which counters its songwriting problem with weirder grooves (the dying-robot clang on “Yo-Yo” is almost sexy) and a slightly larger cache of hooks (the R.E.M.-covered “Crazy,” doesn’t do the original justice by half). I hope James Murphy already has that one in the works. Better late than never, I guess.
Reviewed by: Dan Weiss
Reviewed on: 2007-10-22