Future heads

By FRANKLIN BRUNO  |  June 13, 2006
PROGENITORS: Without bands like Delta 5, half the Kill Rock Stars roster might never have lifted an instrument.
Only trace elements of Orange Juice’s music have filtered down to Franz Ferdinand, mostly in the form of a shared penchant for octave-leaping disco bass lines. You could argue for a closer match in fellow Postcarders Josef K — or their Edinburgh contemporaries Fire Engines, whose Codex Teenage Premonition (Domino/Creeping Bent) is an odds-and-sods collection of early-’80s live recordings, radio sessions, and ragged studio tracks laid down well before their first official release. (Fond, a 1993 compilation of their better-realized efforts, remains out of print.)

Anchored by standout drummer Russell Burn and punctuated by David Henderson’s adenoidal yelps, the spiky, riff-propelled “New Things in Cartons” and “Hungry Beat” owe something to the tumble-down lope of the Fall’s “country-and-northern” period. It’s only in retrospect that this raw rhythmic material sounds like something that could be mined for commercial gold. But that’s just what Franz Ferdinand did, even repaying the favor by inviting the Engines to re-form long enough to share a tour — and one side of a let’s-cover-each-other’s-songs split single, included here — in 2004.

These bands graze the edges of the sound that “post-punk” now calls to mind. Delta 5 hit the double bull. Singles & Sessions 1979-81, on Kill Rock Stars, is a fitting sequel to the Washington label’s reissues of work by Essential Logic and Kleenex/Lilliput; without such examples, half the KRS roster might never have lifted an instrument. The group shared a jagged, unadorned sound — and an art-school background — with Gang of Four and the Mekons. What set them apart was their mixed-gender line-up, with frontwomen Bethan Peters, Ros Allen, and Julz Sale turning every song into one side of a politically freighted lovers’ quarrel.

They established their template early, with “Mind Your Own Business,” a petulant, overlapping call-and-response (“Can I interfere in your crisis?” “No! Mind your own business”) backed by warring bass lines and a perfect two-note anti-solo supplied by Mekon Jon Langford. The similarly structured “You” is no less derisive (“Who only likes sex on Sunday? You, you, you!”). Later songs taken from a 1980 live set are both more tuneful and more programmatic: “Make Up” (“Do you wear it? Does it wear you?”) won’t be licensed for a Revlon spot anytime soon. This disc omits their final LP, See the World, which was panned on release as a cosmeticized compromise (horns! marimbas!) but is well worth rehabilitation.

“Mind Your Own Business” also appears on Grlz (Crippled Dick), a compilation of female-fronted UK artists of the day. Thoughtfully selected but skimpy on recording dates and personnel, the disc ranges over lavish cabaret rock (Nicolle Meyer’s “Nowhere Bei Mir”) and burbling synth-pop (Dorothy’s “Softness”), but the emphasis is on urban-tribalist dub/funk hybrids. Two descendants of Bristol’s improv-heavy (and all-male) Pop Group combined elastic bass lines and tight horn sections with boundary-smashing exhortations. “It’s only just beginning . . . stretch it to the limit,” enthuses Maximum Joy’s Janine Rainforth. The young Neneh Cherry offers a more concrete recommendation on Rip, Rig and Panic’s “Storm the Reality Asylum”: “Get a wall with a spray can.” The Slits’ ghostly remake of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (produced by lovers’-rock pioneer Dennis Bovell) and New Age Steppers’ “Fade Away” (“The rich is getting richer”) lean heavily on reggae studio techniques.

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