Various Artists

Avon Calling: The Bristol Compilation

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The post-punk scene of the late '70s and early '80s is to contemporary indie rock fans what the mid-'60s garage rock scene was to the post-punk scene of the late '70s and early '80s: both a source of musical inspiration and a seemingly inexhaustible resource for obscure, often weird, but sometimes magical 45s. One of the golden ages of D.I.Y. indie rock, rare post-punk from this era is still being uncovered over a quarter-century later. The two-disc Avon Calling: The Bristol Compilation has a handful of tracks by bands not entirely unknown -- the Glaxo Babies are represented with six tracks, including their career high point "Christine Keeler," and the Art Objects (later to become Brit-pop stars as the Blue Aeroplanes) have their excellent "Showing Off to Impress the Girls" dusted off -- but nearly all of these bands and songs will be all but unknown to all but the most hardcore collector geeks. What's most illuminating about Avon Calling for those who weren't there the first time around is that it puts the lie to the narrow definition of post-punk that has grown in the popular imagination since the turn of the millennium, when it seems that this era in British pop music consisted solely of bands that sounded sort of like either Joy Division or the Human League. As a matter of fact, there's little Manchester gloom or straight synth pop among these 46 songs. Instead, the Private Dicks' "Green Is in the Red" and the Stingrays' "Sound" are brisk, sunny power pop with tuneful choruses and great guitar riffs. Some songs are simply re-purposed '70s art rock with the proggy noodling and flashy solos cut out; the Europeans' "On the Continent" and Moskow's "Too Much Information" don't really sound all that different from contemporaneous singles by the likes of 10cc or Manfred Mann's Earth Band. Other songs keep the second-wave punk flag flying, the like X-Certs' "Anthem" and the female-fronted Vice Squad's appealingly bratty "Nothing." Other songs come off as weak carbon copies: the mod pop of Vitus Dance's "Down at the Park" is a little too close to the sound of All Mod Cons-era Jam. Ditto the Slits-like dub reggae of Double Vision's "My Dead Mother" and "List 99." On the other hand, the lo-fi D.I.Y. rush of the quirky but accessible "Desire" by Sneak Preview and the Skodas' shrieky minimalism of "Everybody Thinks Everybody Else Is Dead Bad" and "Mouth" does sounds quite a bit like what most people think of when they think of U.K. post-punk these days. Touches like a bit of John Peel introducing the Glaxo Babies' "It's Irrational" and an interesting, scene-setting radio interview by DJ Simon Edwards set the social context. This might seem like the sort of compilation that's mostly for boffins, but there is enough solid material on Avon Calling: The Bristol Compilation to make it worth recommending to even the casual fan of the style.

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