THIS HEAT . This Heat . ReR
DELTA 5 . Singles & Sessions 1979–81 . Kill Rock Stars
MAXIMUM JOY . Unlimited (1979–1983) . Crippled Dick Hot Wax
Last year, Jess Harvell, an esteemed writer at the indie site Pitchfork, grumbled: “At some point, on or around August 2003, any remaining good (just good!) post-punk bands had finally been exhumed, renovated, rehabilitated, whatever. That’s two years now of chasing up the lesser lights, dodgy one-shots, side projects and general jerk-offery.” Snarky and dismissive though Pitchfork may be, this was still a lazy, offhand disavowal by a writer who knows better.
Yes, post-punk (the catchall phrase for the music that followed the ’76-’77 U.K. groundbreakers) is the name-drop of choice for today’s acerbic new rock bands — Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Art Brut, LCD Soundsystem — and it’s the subject of renowned music scribe Simon Reynolds’ forthcoming book Rip It Up and Start Again. But despite the impending renaissance, most of post-punk’s main documents remain woefully out of print, its effulgent flashes snuffed, and the traces hidden in the singles boxes of a few collectors. Thankfully, three long-overdue reissues of This Heat, Delta 5 and Maximum Joy cast post-punk back into the light for a new generation.
This Heat’s debut comes around like comets do, blazingly brilliant yet frustratingly intermittent in its frequency. Out of print for at least 15 years, Blue & Yellow (as it’s often called) reveals the band to be a power trio in a post-punk landscape. The three had the chops of their forefathers — be it Cream or Red-era King Crimson — but cut up the licks with studio alchemy and backing tape loops the size of their rehearsal space. While those that make up “24 Track Loop” lasso in elec-tricky Miles and anticipate blippy minimal techno, the percussive patter of “Water” unspools in such a way as to be mistaken for Javanese gamelan or wind chimes. A true force of nature, “Horizontal Hold” bursts forth like volcanoes do, but This Heat temper such bombast with interplayfulness. Deft enough to convey subtle emotional hues, they evoke disconsolation and disconnect on the bleak “Not Waving” and agitated dread on “The Fall of Saigon.”
The Delta 5 were an integral part of the early Rough Trade stable, coming up with fellow Leeds art students like the Gang of Four and Mekons. While GoF is by far the most abused musical metaphor in the 21st century, and the Mekons still kick around as a Chicago country band, the three women and two men of the 5 have long scattered to the winds, nowhere to be found in digital form. Luckily, Kill Rock Stars continues to document post-punk’s notable female presence (see their choice Kleenex/Lilliput and Essential Logic sets) with this collection of the Delta 5’s singles and a few live selections.
Punks already bored with punk, D5 were instead obsessed with Blondie, Parliament and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and set about creating a wiry, though no less pliant, take on disco and funk. While “Mind Your Own Business” and “Make Up” spleen like the Sex Pistols, their jags nestle on a snappy low end. Their politics are razor-sharp, but honed to slice on a more personal scale; the tiniest of details and gestures accrue on songs like the frustrated “You” and the more wistful “Now That You’re Gone.”
As rambunctious as their name would imply, Maximum Joy, built around singer/violinist Janine Rainforth, rose out of the ashes of the Pop Group (another post-punk band woefully unavailable) and Glaxo Babies. On “Building Bridges,” Rainforth expostulates on not minding the gap between “you and me” and “them and us,” as behind her the group deftly removes the boundaries that separate R&B, jazz, dub reggae and disco to create an ecstatic no man’s land. It helps that Maximum Joy had a young Nellee Hooper (pre-Madonna, -Björk and -No Doubt), along with U.K. dub producers like Adrian Sherwood and Dennis Bovell, onboard to make the squirming mix cohere. A heretofore unheard (to these ears) band, Joy delightfully tucked skronky horns, rubbery bass and needling guitar into the deep-pocket grooves of “White & Green Place,” “Stretch” and “Man of Tribes,” leaving plenty of space for that other post-punk m ainstay, the cowbell.
Let’s just hope that such jerky, rhythmic post-punk can now remain ?in light.
For more on Delta 5, go to laweekly.com