Combat Rock (1982) gave the Clash the commercial success in America that their rabid fanbase felt they deserved and critics had expected from them since their landmark record London Calling was universally heralded as the last great record of the ‘70s. (Depending on which side of the Atlantic you were on, it could have also been the first great record of the ‘80s.). Combat Rock’s first two singles, the funky new-wave boogie of “Rock the Casbah” and the sloppy power pop of “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, were performing exceptionally well, getting them plenty of airtime on MTV, a booking on Saturday Night Live, and a gig as the opening act on the Who’s 1982 comeback tour in arenas across the United States.
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Having been sentenced to musical purgatory has done wonders for Anna Domino’s mystique. A curio of ‘80s avant-pop, Domino forged ahead with her own special brand of slightly skewed pop, borrowing thoughtfully from various musical strains with jazz, rock, dance and folk being the primary influences she would use to bring form to her nearly amorphous art.
Domino’s songs were chronicles of lives at once contentious and enamoured, hanging in a curious balance of ambition and insecurity. Often, her dreamy passages recalled the amorously conflicted characters of Tama Janowitz novels; her songs were about women of the ‘80s who had found a new stretch of freedom to play around with as well as the growing awareness of not knowing what to do with all that newfound space. Much like the singer herself, who once made a living from making furniture out of found objects, her characters were victims of happenstance, often lost in the quirky, unusual situations afforded to them by city life.
I first discovered Hannah Marcus’ music nearly ten years back. Hearing the opening strains of “Laos”, a track off her last album, Desert Farmers, I was nearly frozen in place. I wasn’t sure how or why, but something in the song called to me on a deeper, more private level than any other song I had heard. It seemed to invade such a personal space within me where I held deeper, undisclosed emotions and, yet, it wholly belonged in that space. After half an hour’s worth of hearing the song on repeat, it found a home in me and it has since never left.
What especially caught my attention was Marcus’ utterly strange and distressing way of turning a phrase, sounding out a word with an inflection so alien, it startled and seduced in equal measure. Her songs were like doors to other worlds that explored the ideas of situational love and lives configured by loss and abandonment. In Marcus’ songs, people struggle not to survive but to simply exist; survival and the pain endured is merely an afterthought. To be able to encapsulate the heady and emotional complexities of human drama in the span of a pop song is an achievement in itself. To pen an indelible melody to accompany her striking visionary world is leaps and bounds over the moons of many songwriters.
Today, with summer not quite over, I have some thoughts about the great lost single from 1967.
Lost in that it was never found. It was, in fact, left off Love’s masterpiece, Forever Changes, for a perfectly understandable reason: Arthur Lee felt it was too upbeat and would have marred the fragile balance between solemn and stirring that the eleven song cycle achieved.
Why is it that duos make some of the heaviest music? There’s the blistering pop-punk of Vancouver’s Japandroids. There’s the blistering garage-punk of Chicago’s White Mystery. There’s the bass-and-drum assault of Providence’s Lightning Bolt and Seattle’s Big Business, although the latter added a guitar on their last album… and became decidedly less assaultive in the process. There’s the mean-mugging, ear-shattering electro crossover of Justice and Sleigh Bells. There’s Sunn 0))), of course, which will always be two vets toppling Richter scales with reverb, Oren Ambarchi’s synths and Atilla Csihar’s vocal cords notwithstanding. Even the Black Keys and the now-defunct White Stripes cut their teeth on blues-rock muscularity before folding into the hook-savvy mainstream. If Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the patron saints of quiet rock, linked the two-man band format with a delicate touch, then these bands have mounted something of an emphatic counterlegacy.
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