in 2009, the music world lost one of its most beloved and talented players in
Randall Bewley, influential guitarist for the seminal Athens, GA, combo Pylon,
who died tragically after suffering a heart attack while driving and
overturning his van. Once hailed by former R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry as “the
best rock ‘n’ roll band in America” in 1987 as a retaliation to Rolling Stone’s hailing of his own band
as such, Pylon remain one of the hidden treasures of the new wave era,
propelled by the jagged jangle of Bewley’s incredible guitar work, shades of
which can be heard in everyone from Peter Buck to Deerhunter/Atlas Sound
svengali Bradford Cox.
was the Atlanta-based Cox who was recruited to fill in for Bewley, who passed
on, unfortunately, before he could finish Waves (7 stars out of 10), the debut album from the Athens-based supergroup
Supercluster. Formed by Pylon frontwoman Vanessa Briscoe-Hay as a means to get
back into songwriting after raising her two daughters, its roster consists of a
veritable who’s-who of the last 30 years of Athens rock, including Bewley, Briscoe-Hay’s
husband Bob Hay, Hannah Jones of the New Sound of Numbers, Kay Stanton of
Casper and the Cookies, mandolinist Bill David of the North Georgia Bluegrass
Band, Will Cullen Hart and John Fernandes of Olivia Tremor Control/Circulatory
System, and fellow Elephant Sixer cellist Heather McIntosh, among others.
Waves is a beautiful mess of melodies
rooted in a Southern gothic strain of Pylon-esque propulsion utilized as a
jumping-off point for other styles with which Briscoe-Hay was fixing on
experimenting. Album opener “Peace Disco Song” smacks of Dream Of Life-era Patti Smith; “Mermaid’s Tale” deflects shadows of
clarinet-imbued gypsy music; and “Sunflower Clock” offers a touch of Domino
Records-flavored psychedelia – all highlighted by Bewley’s inventive, expansive
guitar work. As for the songs created following Randy’s death with Cox filling
in on lead, the plaintive country waltz “River” and the swirling, ominous
“Copper Palo” rank among the best of the bunch, showcasing the young Deerhunter
ax man’s talents on the six-string in ways he has yet to make public via his
own projects. But ultimately, Waves serves as a testament to the artistry of Randy Bewley, whose unique, complex
and impassioned musicianship will sorely be missed.
a deeper investigation into Bewley’s legacy, check out the DFA label’s expanded
edition of Pylon’s 1983 sophomore classic Chomp (9 stars out of ten), rechristened Chomp
More. Though most point to the band’s 1980 debut Gyrate as their best, Chomp is by far the most enjoyable, as the jerky, nervous new wave riddims of their
early years give way to a more streamlined pop feel, evident on songs like
“Yo-Yo” and “Crazy”, a tune R.E.M. would faithfully cover for a B-side (it’s on
their 1987 odds ‘n’ sods collection Dead
Letter Office). The new version of Chomp expands the 12-track set by four songs, including the 7-inch version of “Crazy”
and the pastoral found-sound jam “Four Minutes”.
after the album’s release Pylon split up, although the group did subsequently
reunite, eke out a third album, 1990’s underwhelming Chain, and open for R.E.M. on their Green Tour. Listening to this reissue, however, offers clues
indicating that Waves could very well
be more of the proper follow-up to Chomp.
And while it’s sad that we will never hear Briscoe-Hay’s voice and Bewley’s
guitar come together again, we can be quite grateful that these key releases
offer up a reminder of just how much of a maverick Bewley was on that axe, and
how much he will be missed by the underground rock community.
Standout Tracks: Waves – “Peace Disco Song”, “River”, “The Night I Died”; Chomp More – “Yo-Yo”, “Crazy”, “Four
Minutes” RON HART
Below: cover of Waves – graphics by Candy,
drawing by Randy Bewley.