Monday, April 5, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #60

PylonPylon via

Anyone who was involved in college or alternative radio in the '80s, or who listened to the music found "left of the dial" in that era, knows that the little college town of Athens, GA was as important to that scene as New York, DC, Minneapolis or LA. With The B-52's and R.E.M. leading the charge, and lesser-known but equally as talented bands like Flat Duo Jets, Love Tractor, Dreams So Real and The Method Actors following close behind, the Athens sound seemed to be everywhere. Yet, much in the way the DC hardcore scene would not have existed without Bad Brains (see NW4NW#58), so too in Athens was there a groundbreaking band who inspired the others to pick up their instruments.

Pylon came together in its earliest incarnation around 1978 at the University of Georgia. Guitarist Randy Bewly and bass player Michael Lachowski formed the nucleus, rehearsing in a space that would soon come to be known as The 40 Watt Club, named in honor of the lone bare bulb that lighted their late night sessions. Curtis Crowe joined on drums, and in February of 1979 Vanessa Briscoe jumped on board as vocalist, completing the band and defining their sharp, jangly, angst-ridden sound.

Pylon's music took the form of simple, straightforward, repetitive lyrics layered over shards of guitar, bass and drums. Briscoe's twangy accent and vocals that fluctuated between sandpaper and syrup helped Pylon's songs stand out among the post-punk crowd. As a result, their first single, 1980's "Cool," was a standard entry on many critics' "Best Of" lists. The band released two outstanding albums, Gyrate and Chomp!, and the singles "Crazy"(later faithfully covered by R.E.M.) and "Beep" before disbanding in 1983.

Legend has it that Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson happened to be in attendance at one of Pylon's earliest performances, and immediately went home and formed the band that would be The B-52's just so they could play on the same bill with Pylon. Perhaps that's stretching things a bit, but not too much: consider that in 1987, when Rolling Stone named R.E.M. "the best band in America," they protested, saying that in fact Pylon was the best band in America. After that remark generated renewed interest in the band, they briefly reformed, recorded another album, and then went their separate ways again. Sadly, Pylon founder Randy Bewly passed away in 2009.

Pylon tends to be one of those bands that many folks have heard of but never actually heard. This week's NW4NW entry helps to rectify that for some of you, I hope. The clip is for the track "Stop It" from the Gyrate lp, one of my favorite Pylon songs. Enjoy!

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