Translator came of age at a difficult juncture in rock’s musical progression, a time when the experimental ambitions of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s were stripped away by punk and new wave, only to leave an uneasy musical void as the ‘80s took hold. It was an uncertain time, when the pundits held their collective breath to see what would come along to fill the chasm. The independent San Francisco-based label 415 made a valiant attempt to rise to that challenge, offering up a daring roster that included bands such as Romeo Void, Wire Train, Red Rockers and Translator, groups that were unafraid to draw on the energy and enthusiasm of mid-’60s Brit rock while still pushing at the boundaries, each in their own way.
Of all those outfits, Translator was one of the more accessible, thanks to a sound that extracted the folk rock essence of the Byrds and R.E.M. and filtered it into the unharnessed execution of their new wave predecessors. Bolstered by the songwriting skills of singers, songwriters, guitarists Steve Barton and Robert Darlington, and anchored by a taut rhythm section consisting of bassist Larry Dekker and drummer Dave Scheff, they were embraced by the college crowd thanks over the course of four albums that have since assumed the stature of minor classics.
Translator’s legacy has been reasserted over the years, thanks to various reissues and the 2008 archival collection Different Time, a double disc that gathered various rarities, outtakes and live tracks that had remained unreleased up until that time. However, in the seven years since, the band’s been silent, making the appropriately titled Sometimes People Forget a timely affirmation of the group’s impressive musical mantra.
Notably, Sometimes People Forget provides a set of mostly heretofore unreleased demo recordings, several of which were recorded in the late ‘70s prior to the band’s first album. The influence of punk and vintage motifs weigh heavily on this material, especially the rockabilly-sounding “Translator,” the breathlessly, kinetic “Optimism” and the oddest entry of all, “Eraser”, a song that sounds like a Sex Pistols song left on the cutting room floor. Likewise, an early take on what would soon become their signature anthem, “Everywhere That I’m Not”, sounds far more fraught with angst and anxiety than that which emerged in the finished version. It too would have been best left forgotten.
As the set winds its way to the band’s heyday circa the early to mid-’80s, the jangle and chime that characterized Translator’s recorded works begins to take hold and the seminal sound of the band in their prime becomes increasingly evident. A few frayed ends remain, but these are initial attempts after all. Still, given the full-bodied revelry that surfaces in “Gravity and “Everything Is Failing”, it’s increasing clear that Translator is at last on track. Ultimately, Sometimes People Forget provides a stirring reminder of just how accomplished this band would soon become. Thirty years later, it’s a welcome return.