[Db/ Armageddon; 1980; r: DFA; 2007]
…on which the beloved Gyrate gets its remastered, expanded, completist, contextualized due. Even with liner notes by principals from R.E.M., the B-52's, and Gang of Four, this reissue from the dependable vinyl-miner James Murphy at long last permits the appreciation of Pylon to stop being hipster homework; DFA's generation-later vouch frees the listener, finally, to enjoy the assaultive relationship of Michael Lachowski's often ominous boing-boing-bass and Curtis Crowe's hot-pursuit whackamole drumming. The 10 songs from every copy of this seminal Athens band's debut are here, as well as both of the alternating "11th" tracks. Also included: The "Jamaican" version of "Danger" ("Danger!!") from the Pylon!! EP, the confident first single, and a previously unreleased track whose title is also, less than incidentally, Gyrate's defining preoccupation: "Functionality".
declares everything cool, baiting dissidents. "Dub" brags angrily of devouring dub at the start of each day, lest any white British acts think themselves superior The original three musicians had a self-assignment. Their aim: To get NYC ink and then press kaboom. They weren't yet traditionally proficient with their instruments, and thusly seemed to approach their technological implements with a "How can I use this tool?" ethos, resulting in a kind of primitive precision, each member locking into a groove hardly ever intuitively related to that of another member. Before they found Vanessa Hay (née Vanessa Briscoe), they came close to using a recording about teaching parrots to talk as "vocals." Hay's eventual Situationist bark often reduced musicality to Pavlovian stimulus-responses via a joyless-sounding (but, ironically, joy-producing) series of reports or demands: "Cool" fascisticallydigesters of the mode. Whereas Joy Division demanded "Dance, dance, dance to the radio"; Pylon grunts the tad-more-individualistic "Dance, dance, dance if you want to," even though the invitation is parsed like a warning with harsh consequences. "Volume" instructs its audience to "forget the picture" and "turn up the volume." "Gravity", obviously about the physics of the nightclub, taunts listeners by telling them that they both "cannot resist the urge" and "cannot dance," framing the insanely danceable track as an incitement to rebel against its mouthpiece. "Read a Book" is some seriously infectious Maoist literacy-advocating combat-rock.
Other tracks seek to provoke proletariat detournement: "Precaution" is about anything but risk minimization. "Human Body" juxtaposes bottom-rung job skills ("I can sweep/ I can mop") against enlightened capabilities ("I can think") while espousing "safety glasses" and "safety shoes" for the sake of a vessel that can "function/ without going to school." "Working Is No Problem" pretends to establish boundaries between the brain and the body, but the knowledge that Hay was a nurse, factory worker, and Kinko's manager makes it even more literally functional: Lyrics such as "Everything's in boxes" and "I'm not a racecar driver" obtain a kind of not-neurotypical discipline. "Stop It" raises the faux-dictatrix stakes, as the listener is instructed first to not rock-n-roll, and then to rock-n-roll on cue. "Driving School" merely catalogs, unromantically, the common nouns of public schools' instructing folks to use the dominant/subsidized means of transportation. The song insists that for certain industries, the government is a willing propagandistic babysitter, and even the stereo is implicated. Yet: all of these cuts are pogo-able, full-on jams, every scraped string ahead of (the mainstream version of) its time.
Did Hay adopt such a dry tone in order to defuse gender-based responses to her band's art, to become a sexless object instead of a sex object? (I, for one, am intimidated by the orgyhole-shorthand-versus-radio-signal agenda of her current project, FFFM.) Many a female-led band since (Numbers, Controller.Controller, Love of Diagrams, Glass Candy) has adopted her iced-ham, standoffish tone. Maybe, like her fellow Georgian artist Flannery O'Connor, Hay "refused to do pretty." Meanwhile, her bandmates were busy wondering how minimalist, how non-"human," analog dance music could get without ceasing to be fun. The result: a kind of militaristic disco. No, wait, I meant: android reggae. No, wait, I meant: postpunk without the melodrama. Of course Pylon didn't blow up like their fellow Athens luminaries; they were too fucking Spartan.
-William Bowers, November 28, 2007
A snippet of Pylon performing live and fantastic Vanessa Hay & Randall Bewley interviews.