In the hierarchy of forgotten bands from the 1980s, the Individuals rank near the top—the top being the bottom, in a manner of speaking, the higher numbers corresponding to the deeper pockets of obscurity. The Individuals—Glenn Morrow, Jon Light Klages, and siblings Doug and Janet Wygal—were like any number of bands from that particular moment in time, bands that came and went and received some critical acclaim along the way. (The New York Times’ Robert Palmer, for example, ranked their sole LP, Fields, as one of the best of 1982.) They enjoyed essentially the same brief lifespan as Mission of Burma, incidental as that comparison may be, forming in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1979, and disbanding just a few years later in 1983. Unlike a band like Mission of Burma, however, the Individuals never acquired a lasting cult audience, and so they’ve been missing from the canonical radars that look back and take stock of unsung musical bests.
The band didn’t entirely withdraw from the music business. Morrow went on to help found the Hoboken independent label Bar/None, the same label that’s now releasing the Individuals’ entire recorded output some 25 years after they called it quits. Fields/Aquamarine, which compiles the band’s only LP and EP together on CD for the first time, is an unexpected addition to the marketplace and an exciting release for fans of ‘80s college rock like R.E.M., the dBs, and the Feelies. (Both releases were produced by the dBs’ Gene Holder; Fields was engineered by Mitch Easter at his North Carolina studio at the very same time that R.E.M. was in town recording its debut EP, Chronic Town.) There’s nothing extraordinary about the Individuals—they didn’t manage an epoch-defining single like “Radio Free Europe”, nor do they have a particular song that transcends the workmanlike competence of their very name—but they exhibit the typical spirit of the time, that paisley-shirted wardrobe change of post-punk, typified by jangling guitars and nerve-end drum kits.
Tracks like Fields’ “My Three Sons (Revolve Around the Earth)” and “Hooks & Ladders” boast especially tough and thorny hooks, with Janet Wygal’s bass thumbing through the loose-leaf guitars. There’s an air of blissful detachment to the lone-gone grooves of “Dancing With My Eighty Wives” and “Our World”, while “Johnny’s in the Mines” and “Swimming in the Streets” take fast and slow trots around Talking Heads-esque starched funk routes. Aquamarine is a much more idiosyncratic product, full of rigid vamps, popping bass, and almost anti-pop hooks. It’s in these earliest tracks that the Individuals find their lean and knotty groove; melody, song structure, and Morrow’s confident, yet unassuming, voice would come later, followed by a disappearance and, like all good things with legs, a welcome return.