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We Are Not Men, We Are From Brisbane
Devo, Loomer return from…well, we’re not sure
(Failed Recordings/Lost Race)
The Brisbane, Australia band Loomer has disbanded since the 2010 release of its sole album Ceiling on the Bon Voyage label, but it is ripe for re-discovery, having found a new life with recent reissues on vinyl, on the Lost Race imprint, and on cassette, on the Chattanooga tape label Failed Recordings. Loomer is the kind of band that the British music press would have been swooning about, if the group had existed in 1992, and in an alternate universe, perhaps they would have made the cover of the NME or Melody Maker. Ceiling immediately brings to mind early ’90s shoegaze acts with just a hint of psychedelic rock and a gray sheen with roughed-up guitar noise. Imagine Isn’t Anything-era My Bloody Valentine fronted by Liz Harris (a.k.a. Grouper) or Black Tambourine with a more sinister slant.
Guitarists Breannen Stanbridge and Harry Byrne deliver a fuzz-heavy onslaught that varies from persistent drones to spacey echoing to plunging pitch dives, generating turbulence with nourishing swells that give way to cathartic releases. Stanbridge’s mostly dark lyrics are veiled, with the vocals buried in the mix, appropriate for this type of music, like on “Enchanted” with a secret-agent-type guitar lick, adding another element of mystery. “BBQ” offers a throbbing bass line and a thick guitar-fog blanket, evoking certain late-’70s no-wave bands like Mars, and the album’s finest number, “French,” makes every moment count, throwing in a second-act chord progression that triumphantly leads to a pounding, utterly devastating ending. “Saving Daylight” is a deceptive song, apparently about a visit to the beach, which thumps along with dissonant notes before breaking into a sprint tempo with shadowy punk-pop. Sure, Loomer may mostly remind you of other bands (it shares its name with a My Bloody Valentine song title, after all), but it’s one of those nice, satisfying surprises, being an obscurity that’s worth uncovering.
The new-wave-era weirdoes Devo from northeast Ohio have run with a cheeky take on the idea of “devolution,” which claims that humanity is regressing rather than progressing; whether or not this applies to Devo’s own musical career is up for debate. This writer loves the first four proper Devo albums unreservedly, but quality-wise, 1982’s Oh, No! It’s Devo began a decline, sounding uninspired and too slick; sound-wise, however, Devo’s ’80s sparkling synth-pop evolved from a gritty, discomforting and primitive ’70s art-rock that was rough around the edges, which is documented on the 2-CD compilation Hardcore. The collection brings together the two formerly out-of-print volumes of 4-track recordings, created between 1974 and 1977, and adds four bonus tracks, including the true rarity and oddity “Doghouse Doghouse” which uses (gasp!) an acoustic guitar.
This material is simultaneously more insane yet surprisingly at times more deeply rooted in conventional rock genres, particularly on the second volume, than Devo’s more popular ’80s material; although Devo had made good progress with taking a jackhammer to rock music, as heard on the early cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” other tracks like “Goo Goo Itch” use relatively normal boogie riffs. Hardcore also presents Devo at its most provocative and, to some, offensive, unfettered by a notion of good taste; “Bamboo Bimbo” offers several layers of wrongness, while “I Need a Chick” is explicitly crude and is probably illegal in Alabama. No strangers to electronics, Devo’s synthetics here have a warped type of artificiality—more like the Residents than Kraftwerk, with a sort of dystopian, staccato delivery, accented with sickly distorted guitars.
The liner notes are a lost opportunity, simply presenting track information and an essay from Henry Rollins that features a lot of exclamation points but not a lot of insight, but the music on Hardcore itself is what’s enlightening, presenting Devo’s unfiltered, disquieting origins, far from more publicly palatable tracks like “Beautiful World” or “Whip It.”