Feast of the Sunfish

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Resounding out of New York State's Hudson Valley in 1985, Agitpop's debut album, Feast of the Sunfish, came across like the aural equivalent of a kid firing a backyard pop gun: unexpected, sharp, not heard by too many people, but delivered with complete heartfelt emotion. From the first track, "Problems Respond," the band railed against the oppressive social climate of Reaganomics and the sickly political climate of the Cold War's bitter tail end. Attacking with musical gray matter nurtured on the best offerings of the Minutemen, Gang of Four, and Wire, the trio chops up verses and choruses and lays them back in brief, engaging snippets executed with percussive muscle and rhythmic invention. Except for a handful of well-placed noise bursts, the guitar grit of Agitpop's influences is bypassed for an organic recipe that relies on offbeat percussion instruments (tiny xylophones, pots and pans, clarinet) and open space -- one feels as if the band is floating down a river, shouting to the world on a barge made of tree limbs. Guitarist John deVries sings with a world-weary heave that refuses to give in to what he sees as a world sliding in the wrong direction, while bassist Rick Crescini and amazingly active drummer Mark LaFalce scurry like ants, lifting ten times their rhythmic weight. "On the Hudson" savages big oil companies in the name of environmental sanity, "Astronauts, Cosmonauts" rocks out in the crab-like scuttle that will become the band's mature style, while the aforementioned "Problems Respond" gets at the heart of the record's theme: "Large scale tactics hit small scale homes." Feast of the Sunfish is charming and disarming, like stumbling onto an unplugged backyard jam session among Grateful Dead fans who threw over Jerry and Co. for punk rock. An auspicious, original, and criminally underappreciated debut.

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