Agitpop

Back at the Plain of Jars

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Hitching up with Rough Trade and taking their band's backyard punk aesthetic out on tour, the members of Agitpop released a second album that saw them bloom into full glory as a rhythmic juggernaut, cutting, pasting, and doubling back on themselves in a full extension of their love of the Minutemen and second-wave U.K. punk. Leaving behind the overt political barbs of the band's debut, Back at the Plain of Jars dives into a social agenda, and its first side is the best music this sadly underappreciated trio ever made. The crackling kickoff "Five Day Forecast" introduces guitarist John DeVries' raggedly moving singing, as he howls what could be the record's percussive description: "Boom goes the brick/Crack goes the stick!" Even better is "Not Another Surprise," in which bassist Rick Crescini is a moving dartboard that drummer Mark LaFalce repeatedly nails in the bull's-eye as DeVries, sunk to his neck in musical history ("Please don't write 'Hey Joe' me/And I won't sign D.C. for you"), wails for all he's worth. The rhythmic communication is often astounding -- fans of Agitpop's live show in the mid-'80s will recall the band members stopping dead in the middle of a contorted jam to pound furiously on homemade percussion contraptions that each had stationed nearby -- and the hyper cover of Lipps, Inc.'s disco nugget "Funkytown" is searingly tight. The record's second side doesn't quite hit the heights of the first, but the sly Ronald Reagan knock "His Worst Movie Ever," "Martha," and "Ode to Mr. Average" all kick serious rump. The band's subsequent set, Open Seasons, moved into wider-screen territory and hit some dizzyingly great heights in the process, but understanding of the Agitpop modus operandi was essential to its enjoyment, which makes Back at the Plain of Jars the best place to fall in love with this beguilingly inventive band.

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