As the late-70s moved into early 80s, the college town of Athens, Georgia evolved into a hotbed of adventurous, underground music. The town became synonymous with the emerging “college rock” genre and inspired artsy, weird kids of all stripes to form bands and expand the collective sonic palette. The years to follow would see locals R.E.M. and the B-52s achieving mainstream adoration outside the city limits. Although Pylon never had a hit the size of “Losing My Religion” or “Love Shack”, the band was no less influential. R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck famously called Pylon the best band in America in 1987. Chomp More is an expanded version of Pylon’s second LP, and one worthy of their vaunted status with Mr. Buck in particular and American underground music in general.
Gyrate, originally released in 1980, introduced Pylon as a danceable but caustic force. They could make you dance, but could cut you all the same. The production on Gyrate emphasized the hard edges of Randall Bewley’s guitar and the ominous, guttural vocals of Vanessa Briscoe Hay. The album, also recently released in an expanded form by DFA, still sounds raw and unhinged today. After a series of singles and EPs, Pylon released Chomp in 1983 following tours with the likes of Gang of Four, R.E.M., Talking Heads, Mission of Burma, and U2.
Life on the road tightened up the band’s playing, but fried the mental states of its members and led to a break-up in 1983. Although there would be subsequent reunions in later years, the band never quite regained the potent mix of polished, taut funk and fractured emotions achieved on Chomp, re-released here as Chomp More. The album finds the band giving greater contrast to the howling angst of Hay through an increased emphasis on cleaner production. The grooves may be built for the dance floor, but the tortured vocals on top of them aim for a place much more isolated and desolate. The contrast between these worlds produces an unsettling, but oh-so-nice effect: bringing you close, while simultaneously pushing you away.
While comparisons to Gang of Four and Talking Heads aren’t entirely unwarranted, they fail to speak to the singularity of style that Pylon developed. The band managed to walk the boundary between accessible, party dance rock and unsettled personal meltdown better than anyone – and that’s some pretty unique territory. The band strikes for the heart of the dance floor with the martial, slashing funk of “Beep”. Bewley’s guitar interlocks with Michael Lachowski’s bass to produce a hypnotic, twitching spasm. Add in the band’s wonderfully odd ode to Scrabble, “K”, and “Crazy”, later covered by R.E.M.‘s on Dead Letter Office, this album nearly stands shoulder to shoulder with the brilliance of Gyrate. At times, Chomp More manages to even transcend Gyrate through sheer force of precision and intensity.
DFA’s version features “Four Minutes” and three alternate mixes that don’t bring much to the table beyond the original. Regardless, Chomp More marks the first time this album is available on CD and, even more than Gyrate, functions as a palpable gateway for a new audience to discover a fantastic band. This release, coupled with DFA’s earlier release of Gyrate Plus, regrettably became even more poignant with the sudden passing of Randall Bewley in February 2009.
Despite the inevitable march of time and loss, the spirit of adventure, experimentation and fun embodied in the first wave of American college rock endures today. Pylon was, and continues to be, instrumental in this history. As Peter Buck and the initiated already know, Chomp More is proof positive.
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// Notes from the Road
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