Outside the sleepy enclave of Athens, Georgia, where guitars used to sound like bike chains and not-quite-pop music still prevails, most casual geeks know Pylon, if at all, from Bill Berry’s ’87 namecheck: When Rolling Stone called R.E.M. the best rock band in America, its coolest member deferred to this already-defunct neighborhood quartet. Most non-Athenians under 30 don’t know Pylon. But DFA, knowing them at least well enough to know that Gyrate, their jumpy, cathartic 1980 debut, never sounded anything like Murmur, is giving it another chance, remastered and sounding delicious. And not sounding much like Gang of Four, either.
Granted, Pylon did open for Go4. Pylon opened for a lot of people. But singer Vanessa Briscoe sounds too given over to pure anxiety to mount any social commentary, well informed or otherwise. And while the band sounds torn between its punk and funk influences, it doesn’t seem to think too much about what it’s doing, certainly not enough to be “post-“ anything. Maybe Pylon was “pre-“ something, if not just to DFA, then to a few of the acts on its roster. (The fellows in !!! couldn’t have spent their entire childhoods with “Housequake,” could they?) It hardly matters, as long as Gyrate still sounds this angry and free.
The reissue kicks in with two ’79 mini-monsters, “Cool” and “Dub,” which, although tight and energetic if taken piecemeal, are a bit deceptive as a lead-in. There are equally great tracks on Gyrate proper (the sweeping “Human Body,” for one), but it wins on its buildup of tension, on the ten-second intervals wherein one skittish rhythm gives way to another. Reanimated at the last possible moment of the album era, Gyrate is one of those records that pays its most generous dividends if taken at a sitting. Pylon weren’t great songwriters, and had yet to take their most striking risks, but they peaked here, continuity-wise and therapy-wise.
Gyrate is a new wave record that doesn’t know it’s new wave, but still rattles and chatters like hormones themselves. Bass, guitars and drums all hurry to keep up with the ethos, embodied by Briscoe’s slurred screams. Sometimes it sounds like Joy Division, if Joy Division had realized that dying is just as scary as living. Sometimes it sounds like a few terrified teenagers holding up a discothèque. More often, it sounds like a twitchy, glorious mess with no serious debt to anything outside itself. It sounds more of its own time than this one, but it’s certainly welcome here, as it sounds like a pox on anything like nostalgia.