November 10, 2009
“Life is nothing but death and taxes/ And all the trees that get the axes,” Pylon singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay dryly coos on “K”, against a backdrop of prickly guitar tones and a taut bass line. “I’m tired of moving my jaw,” she also sneers, in case you didn’t pick up on her disinterest. The morose opening track on Chomp More reinforces the standard notion that the R.E.M. contemporaries were Athens, Georgia’s version of Gang of Four. But this reissue, another DFA-sanctioned dip into the band’s brief back catalog, highlights the unhinged spin the band put on post-punk, a joyous take on mechanized funk.
Recorded in 1982 after Pylon had already taken a U.S. road trip with Leeds’ most famous Marxist rock collective, Chomp sounds more assured and more open. Packaged in a record sleeve with a die-cut “bite” on the edge and filled with stripped-down dance rhythms and proto-indie guitar riffs, it telegraphs bigger ambitions than 1980’s Gyrate. Hay’s attitude and vocals, the flipside of the bright camp coming from her contemporaries in the B-52’s, swings from dry observations to passionate fury, further broadcasting the group’s desire to evolve. She’s slick yet airy on “Yo-Yo”, a taut take on a relationship’s heavy emotional swings, while she growls on the bright New Wave of “No Clocks”, a passionate song about the honeymoon period. “Crazy” finds her slowly becoming unhinged, escalating into possessed, shriek-laden crescendo. R.E.M.’s jangly cover, which appeared on Dead Letter Office, wisely dials back, since Stipe’s vocals lack Hay’s fury and sharp edge.
The creative guitar playing of the late Randy Bewley, who passed away earlier this year, highlights the stylistic crossroads the group never steered away from. Bewley pivoted a bit towards college rock riffs on Chomp, with the wry, surf-like playing on instrumental “Italian Movie Theme” and the crisp, cold runs on “Crazy” and “Gyrate”. But his wiry, pointillistic style, like the flinty tones that open “Beep”, dominate and helped drive Pylon’s dance floor rhythms. His scratched, staccato notes on “Yo-Yo” were a perfect counterpoint to the oozing bass of Michael Lachowski.
The expanded section of Chomp More — which includes three alternate mixes and “Four Minutes”, an echo-laden, slow-motion collage of samples and sounds — is mostly surplus reels of studio experimentation, intriguing considering the group disbanded shortly after album’s release. The 7″ mix of “Crazy” is more breezy and less interesting than the album cut, but the pitch-shifted vocals and faint echoes found on “Yo-Yo (Male Version)” suggest a faint dub feel, and the reworked “Gyrate” churns together sound effects, a vortex of rhythms that collapses on itself. It’s unlikely there will be additional Pylon releases in the future (the band had hinted at new recordings prior to Bewley’s death). In addition to getting more work from this pioneering band into wider circulation, Chomp More points to the upward trajectory they achieved after only a few years. Coming years after the post-punk revival strip mined the genre’s signifiers, this album still manages to sound unique.