Say! What's This?

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A deeply obscured gem of the post-punk era, Tronics was a London band that served mostly as a vehicle for outsider Ziro Baby's strange, raw vision of rock & roll between 1979 and 1984. As enamored with Bo Diddley as they were the burgeoning, noisy experiments of the post-punk scene, Tronics released several singles and cassette in their time, bounding between zany collages, dark, acoustic punk love songs, and post-punk anthems like the long-coveted "Shark Fucks" single, a classic among the Messthetics scene. With the re-release of their high-water mark album Love Backed by Force in 2012, a whole new audience got to experience the remarkably obscure Tronics sound at its best, and the craving for more of their largely impossible-to-find material grew in many listeners. Say! What's This? comes as a companion piece to the What's the Hubub, Bub? album, presenting material not from an unearthed cassette of the past, but a selection of mostly unreleased tracks recorded between 1979 and 1983, including live tracks, demos, and other rarities. Ziro was an unabashedly art-damaged teenager for much of the time Tronics was a band, and the tone of the proper albums reflects a lot of the openness to mistakes and ugly feelings the disaffected youth was probably going through. Say! What's This? comes on a little differently, with more easily defined power pop and punk tunes like "Do You Hear Me" and "Spontaneous Combustion," which, while recorded with the same grainy lo-fi means, drop the insular bedroom sound of Ziro's solo recordings for a full-band feel. Some of the few demos from the sessions that resulted in Love Backed by Force retain their incredibly strange one-man-band feel, such as the truly bizarre blues-roots-punk of "Squiddley Diddley," and the budget Ramones sweetness of "Spending Time." A live recording of the tender, organ-led ballad "They're Talking About Us" finds some of the same warped romanticism of Suicide at their most tender. There's still a bit of the mysterious movie dialogue tape collages and experimentalism of other releases, but by and large, Say! What's This? is a pleasant grab bag of Tronics' more band-centric material, walking its own weird path into the new wave era without really losing the bizarre tendencies that made them one of the more unplaceable entities of their time. While in some ways without peers, the expanded availability of the Tronics' catalog bore some similarities to the reissues of the Cleaners from Venus material that came out around the same time. Getting to look into a bigger picture from these, and other undeniably underground forces, reminds us of how limitless music can be when it's bold enough to be truly independent and without self-imposed limitations.

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