The punk explosion of 1977 in the U.K. resulted in boatloads of bands playing hard-and-fast music with spiky attitudes and anthemic choruses. While to many people it felt like a blast of freedom, it soon became a kind of stylistic straitjacket with bands being slagged for not being punk enough. As this familiar plot played out, there were many bands who took the D.I.Y. approach of punk and applied it more liberally to their sound, look, and attitude. They used the freedom that came with punk to explore different sonic landscapes, make weird noises, and generally do whatever they liked without any fear. Cherry Red's thrilling box set Optimism/Reject: Punk and Post Punk Meets D-I-Y Aesthetic rounds up 105 songs by bands untethered to the norms of both mainstream rock and punk. That's not to say there aren't bands that sound very punk, complete with snotty singers, slashing guitars, and jumped-up tempos. The punks here are more rickety and lo-fi than the Clash, though, and less metal than the Pistols, too. Groups like Subway Sect or the Tights weren't going to scare the charts either. Most of the set details the different paths bands took after punk's initial landing. From the poetry of John Cooper Clarke to the doomy goth of Sisters of Mercy, the horn-y blast of the Higsons to the poppy bounce of the Chefs, or the abrasive howl of the Membranes to the whispered beauty of Marine Girls, the set covers a lot of territory in fascinating fashion. There are only a few bands recognizable to anyone without a PhD in post-punk. None of the big bands like the Fall or Josef K are represented by their best-known songs, and the groups like Thompson Twins or Scritti Politti, who actually became hitmakers, are represented by songs that sound nothing like their hits. Like most compilations, there are a few duds to skip over, but the ratio of hits to misses here is exceedingly high, and like the best compilations it inspires further investigation. Practically every other track compels the listener to check if the band has more music to track down. Whether it's the skronky noise of Essential Logic, the goofy charm of the Shapes' "(I Saw) Batman (In the Launderette)," the angular pseudo-glam of Weird Strings' "Oscar Automobile," or the Laughing Apple's clanging "Chips for Tea," there are numerous obscure and wonderful treasures to be found within these four discs. It's an invigorating history lesson that shows that you don't have to be a punk to be punk, and that the underground was alive and well. Not only that, but unlike punk, women were far more involved and the music was completely unpredictable and weird. Listen from start to finish or drop in as you like, Optimism/Reject is a vital document of an era that hasn't been captured as fully and impressively as this before.