We Are Time
(Freaks R Us Records)
The Pop Group were the rare unit whose revolutionary lyrical content meshed perfectly with their agitational aural attack. Listening to Pop Group classics like 1979's Y and 1980's For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, one felt compelled to redistribute wealth and cave in oppressive government leaders' heads. The five left-leaning members of this British band browbeat funk and rock into radical new shapes. Of all the innovative talent in Britain's postpunk era, the Pop Group may have been the most galvanic of all. Ask Minutemen and Fugazi.
We Are Time consists of live and studio recordings from '78 and '79. For hardcore fans, it's an interesting peek into the Pop Group's embryonic phase, before vocalist/lyricist Mark Stewart found his authoritative, end-of-tether snarl. Right from the jump on "Trap," the Pop Group established themselves as the UK's Contortions—all frayed-nerve, rusty-wired guitar, tightly coiled, off-white funk rhythms, and desperate declamations. The live version of "Thief of Fire"—one of the greatest, scariest songs ever—doesn't quite capture the volcanic dub power of producer Dennis Bovell's Y take, but its sublime ruggedness is undeniable. On "Genius or Lunatic," one can hear the Pop Group sorta trying to live up to their sarcastic name, but it's still a knotty tune, veined with scathing guitars and bolstered by a bulbous, cyclical bass line. Stewart tries to sing like a proper vocalist, but he sounds uncomfortable. He's much more convincing and riveting when he's barking and gnashing his teeth. The live rendition of another Pop Group classic, "We Are Time," reveals the sort of careening, flaming jazz-rock that would coalesce into something even more catalytic on Y. To reiterate: We Are Time isn't the Pop Group's peak, but it is a fascinating glimpse into the origins of one of history's most vital bands. DAVE SEGAL
Illustrious Washington, DC, rocker Mary Timony is known for a lifetime of being in cool bands—Helium, Autoclave, and most recently cofronting Wild Flag with Carrie Brownstein. But her newest group, Ex Hex, with Laura Harris and Betsy Wright, proves to be the most delightfully power poppy, making what may very well be the best record of her already-impressive career. Appropriately titled Rips, the 35-minute collection of short, party-worthy songs never loses momentum, with Cheap Trick-esque hooks all over the place and lyrics that zazz up homages to the classics of punk-rock love (like the Velvet Underground appropriation/nod "I just wanna be your mirror" followed immediately by Ramones-worthy "yeah yeah, yeah"s). In the band's newest music video, for "Hot and Cold," Timony sits at the world's most boring first-date scenario and daydreams of her bandmates storming in and wreaking havoc, bringing their own ranch dressing to dump on all the fancy food, and being super-obnoxiously fun before jumping on the table and shredding on their guitars. Perhaps it's a metaphor for her take on contemporary rock music—a beautiful moment of distraction and good-natured chaos before being jolted back to a mediocre world of pandering, posturing, and milquetoast musicking. Rips is a welcome vacation from this mundane routine, and Ex Hex are doing their part to keep the daydream alive. BREE MCKENNA
The cover of Black Hat's Dream Interlock is a xeroxed diagram of hands with "Fig. 2" next to them, as if this is a blueprint of something or an explanation; the text that accompanies the cassette begins, "I can see the horizon through the glitches that interrupt my vision." These cues seem to suggest a romanticization or sentimentalization of automatons, which brings to mind a prescient question concerning this music and our current culture: What is the difference between an imitation of a thing and the thing itself, namely living things? The question is highly applicable to electronic music, where the ability to drag a loop out to infinity is ever tempting, and it distorts the imitation of a live performance—sometimes for good, but oftentimes inducing literally endless boredom and tedium.
Black Hat (aka Nelson Bean) has mastered a sense of drama in his music—something people thought a lot less about in an age of creation that didn't involve computers. Drama was an interaction, a feature notably missing from digital solo work where one can create music without even listening to it. Dream Interlock is incredibly melancholy; it favors its synthetic melodic instruments strongly over its rhythms. Even when rhythms come in, they're soft, slow, and gentle, often more in subtraction than addition, pulsing in compression. Though there is nothing harsh about this music, it never slips into anything nearing ambient. It's not trying to lull you. It's constantly changing, evolving every measure, constantly becoming new things, worming around its circuit boards and reams of hardware and lovely manipulations. ERIC WILLIGER