The Upshot: Classic Pylon material made to breathe anew rather than approached with overly clinical reverence.
BY FRED MILLS
Anyone who was remotely aware of the Amerindie music milieu during the ‘80s—particularly those tuned in to the Athens scene and the rise of the B-52s, R.E.M., etc.—knows the name Pylon. It’s even likely that a lot of people who were not tuned in have heard the name, as the Athens four-piece continues to be cited as an influence on younger musicians and discovered by successive generations of music lovers. Maybe not quite at Velvets-type levels of influence and discovery, but in significant numbers just the same.
For many of us, it was also a passionate love affair we had with vocalist Vanessa Hay, bassist Michael Lachowski, drummer Curtis Crowe, and guitarist Randy Bewley, along with the quartet’s collective sonic and lyrical vision, which has clearly stood the test of time. Anyone who saw Pylon perform live back in the day proudly wears that as an indie badge of honor; yours truly caught ‘em a couple of times during their initial 1979-83 run, and then again on their 1989-92 reunion when they opened shows for R.E.M. Beyond that, I’ve also returned to the Pylon well consistently over the years, both literally (their first two singles, 1979’s “Cool” and 1981’s “Crazy,” are permanent fixtures in my 45 playbox nestled beside my turntable), and journalistically, discussing the 2007 remastered reissues of their albums (an utter joy), eulogizing guitarist Bewley after his sudden death from a heart attack in 2009 (an utter tragedy), and, more recently, reviewing the powerful Pylon Live archival album that Chunklet Industries released last year.
In a companion piece to that review, I briefly mentioned the Pylon Reenactment Society, which had formed in 2014 as a kind of a one-off to perform during the first Art Rocks Athens at the behest of Casper & The Cookies guitarist Jason NeSmith, who asked Hay to have Pylon’s music represented at the event. Soon enough, the PRS was an ongoing concern featuring Hay, NeSmith, bassist Kay Stanton (also from C&TC), drummer Joe Rowe (The Glands), and keyboardist Damon Denton (Big Atomic), and among the group’s subsequent gigs was a December 11, 2016, radio session in Los Angeles for DJ Michael Stock’s KXLU-FM “Part Time Punks” series. Hay, upon hearing the taped results, tipped Chunklet Industries’ Henry Owings, and with all concerned agreeing that, yes, this was indeed a dynamic performance worth preserving and sharing, things kicked into high gear to make Part Time Punks Session EP a six-song 12” vinyl reality.
A remarkable reality, at that. First things first: The Pylon Reenactment Society is not, as Atlanta journalist and longtime Pylon fan Tony Paris wrote last week, “a reformed Pylon, nor is it a tribute to the original band, with musicians carefully recreating each song to its minute detail.” That’s a point the band would certainly make, as Hay herself duly noted in an interview last year with BLURT’s own Tim Hinely.
But there’s no mistaking the Pylon sound. These are, after all, six Pylon covers, and even if they weren’t, Hay’s instantly recognizable voice, which can upshift rapidly from a rowdily reassuring tenor rumble to a sneering, aggressive, upper-register bark/yowlp, would brand that sound. Too, NeSmith instinctively reclaims Bewley’s angular, at times arpeggiated, guitar lines—although, as Paris suggested, he’s less concerned with replicating Bewley note for note, and more about recalling riffs that were key to certain songs, then coloring in around the edges. The PRS “take” on Pylon is subtly more fleshed-out than the original songs’ oftentimes blunt-force minimalism.
“Buzz,” for example, originally on 1983’s Chomp, is borderline lush (by Pylon standards, at least), its martial vibe leavened by how Hay’s vocal croon, Denton’s organ textures, and NeSmith’s almost Edge-like atmospheric fills all combine to make the tune dronier. Denton’s swirly, spiraling keyboard lines also get equal billing with NeSmith’s riffing during “Precaution,” from 1980’s long-playing debut Gyrate; while keys were not necessarily absent from Pylon’s studio recordings, onstage the band was still a guitar-bass-drums-voice setup. Of the six tracks, my personal faves keep changing, but at the moment they might be Chomp’s “K,” for its relentless rhythmic throb and hypnotic, sinewy vibe; and 1981 single “Crazy,” whose sleek melody and snappy series of riffs were deemed sufficiently memorable that no less a group of Pylon fans than R.E.M. would cover it, and which, here, firmly secures itself “timeless” status. (The PRS surely feels the same way—their admiration of and devotion to the song is palpable.)
Ultimately, call the EP a compelling aural document from five musicians who know the material inside out, so much so that they’ve found ways to make it breathe anew rather than approach it with overly clinical reverence.
Consumer Note: The front of the record sleeve is a smart homage to a UK-only Pylon 10” EP from 1980 titled !!, while the rear artwork revisits the photo layout and text fonts of the original “Crazy” and “Beep” 45s, a visual Easter egg that Chunklet’s Owings also offered on the rear sleeve for 2016 single “Gravity” released in conjunction with Pylon Live. (Owings is the graphic design whiz behind numerous recent indie titles and reissues, including the upcoming Savage Young Du Husker Du box set for the Numero Group label.)
And it comes in no less than four different colors of vinyl: an initial black wax pressing of 200 still available for purchase at the Chunklet Bandcamp page for the EP, clear red (50 pressed) to be sold at live shows, clear orange (50 pressed, now sold out) for preorders, and completely clear (50 pressed, also sold out) for promotional, online, and brick-and-mortar retail. Reportedly, there is also a cassette iteration en route, so keep your eye on that Chunklet Bandcamp page for ordering details.
DOWNLOAD: “K,” “Crazy,” “Feast On My Heart”