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Josef K - Entomology

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Artist: Josef K

Album: Entomology

Label: Domino

Review date: Jan. 17, 2007

The Sound Of Young Scotland: gaunt boys, unkempt hair, brittle guitars. Josef K were the square peg in the round hole: Orange Juice birthed and perfected indie pop by lifting moves from soul; Aztec Camera’s baleful, gorgeous pop songs glimmered with quietist late-teen angst; The Fire Engines came on abrasive, but deep in their heart was a spindly melodic core, even though this was only convincingly exposed on their “Candyskin” 7”.

I remember, while obsessing over my brother’s Postcard singles collection when I was a mid-teen, trying to process Josef K’s place in the scheme of things. They always felt too taught and right-angled, too conceptually thin really to resonate. The giddy pop thrill of Orange Juice’s “Blueboy,” that was worth scratching the shellac for, but Josef K’s first Postcard single “Radio Drill Time” was hobbled by its ungainliness. The elements were all in place – scratchy, itchy guitars, knock-kneed disco drums, Paul Haig’s knowing vocals, post-Ravenstine electronics that bubbled on the song’s surface – but it felt distant, cold-blooded; theory pop without an actual theoretical backbone.

Entomology compiles most of Josef K’s singles, selections from their two albums, the aborted Sorry for Laughing and the posthumously released The Only Fun in Town, and three songs from a 1981 Peel Session. The singles flare intermittently: the group’s second pass through “Chance Meeting” is a giddy crypto-pop song with pianos, autoharps and brass, and their second single “It’s Kinda Funny” is still their finest moment, sourcing a melancholy that Haig and co so often bypassed for the tetchy angst and existentialist drama that was the order of the day.

The DNA of Josef K’s music is reflected everywhere these days via the return of post-punk angularity – Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture etc. Entomology is full of music you desperately want to love, as it’s so clearly superior to the music that has subsequently genuflected in its direction. Thing is, I’d much rather hear a couple of minutes of Paul Haig’s droll yet strangely alluring post-Josef K solo records than the entirety of the host outfit’s material (and that claim is made safe in the knowledge of the worthiness of Josef K). It’s most telling that my favorite song on Entomology is the group’s oddly reverential take on Alice Cooper’s “Applebush,” from his classic debut Pretties for You. Now, if only the group had channelled more of the haphazard, wayward madness of their record collection…

By Jon Dale

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