Various Artists

Optimism/Reject: Punk and Post Punk Meets D-I-Y Aesthetic

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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra

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.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Eater 01:45 Amazon
2 The Drones 03:37 Amazon
3 Alternative TV 03:07 Amazon
4 The Outsiders 04:10 Amazon
5 John Cooper Clarke 02:51 Amazon
6 O Level 02:07 Amazon
7 Swell Maps 01:57 Amazon
8 Patrik Fitzgerald 01:11 Amazon
9 Attrix 04:09 Amazon
10 Subway Sect 02:06 Amazon
11 Freshies 03:07 Amazon
12 Skids 02:34 Amazon
13 Angelic Upstarts 03:31 Amazon
14 The Art Attacks 02:59 Amazon
15 Victim 03:12 Amazon
16 Essential Logic 02:01 Amazon
17
It
Tights 02:41 Amazon
18 Punishment of Luxury 04:05 Amazon
19 The Fall 02:22 Amazon
20 The Cravats 03:36 Amazon
21 Scritti Politti 03:45 Amazon
22 Pragvec 01:48 Amazon
23 The Jerks 03:12 Amazon
24 The Monochrome Set 02:37 Amazon
25 Thomas Leer 04:02 Amazon
26 Devil's Dykes 02:14 Amazon
27 The Vice Creems 02:39 Amazon
28 Nigel Simpkins 01:55 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Ruts 02:48 Amazon
2 The Dodgems 03:30 Amazon
3 Passage 01:39 Amazon
4 Nicky & The Dots 02:21 Amazon
5 Scissor Fits 02:48 Amazon
6 Spizz Oil 02:02 Amazon
7 The Shapes 02:39 Amazon
8 Proles 02:04 Amazon
9 The Molesters 05:40 Amazon
10 The Pack 02:39 Amazon
11 The Raincoats 03:06 Amazon
12 The Tea Set 01:35 Amazon
13 Artery 02:16 Amazon
14 Murder The Disturbed 04:00 Amazon
15 Family Fodder 04:31 Amazon
16 Frantic Elevators 01:26 Amazon
17 They Must Be Russians 04:15 Amazon
18 Second Layer 01:22 Amazon
19 Metrophase 03:28 Amazon
20 Disturbed 04:24 Amazon
21 Door & the Window 03:50 Amazon
22 The Steppes 02:51 Amazon
23 Gl*xo Babies 03:37 Amazon
24 The Associates 03:39 Amazon
25 The Fatal Microbes 01:49 Amazon
26 Disco Zombies 02:19 Amazon
27 Pneumania 02:51 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 The Au Pairs 02:21 Amazon
2 English Subtitles 05:03 Amazon
3 Medium Medium 03:55 Amazon
4 Modern Eon 02:39 Amazon
5 Josef K 02:54 Amazon
6 The Lines 03:33 Amazon
7 Mo-Dettes 03:33 Amazon
8 The Deep Freeze Mice 02:39 Amazon
9 The Chefs 02:41 Amazon
10 The Golinski Brothers 02:33 Amazon
11 The Lillettes 02:11 Amazon
12 The Bodies 03:39 Amazon
13 Nightmares in Wax 03:32 Amazon
14 Weird Strings 03:07 Amazon
15 Again Again 04:26 Amazon
16 The Membranes 01:42 Amazon
17 Manic Jabs 02:01 Amazon
18 Blancmange 02:05 Amazon
19 Mystere V’s 03:15 Amazon
20 Eyeless in Gaza 02:40 Amazon
21 Distributors 03:39 Amazon
22 Tagmemics 04:34 Amazon
23 Rhythm Clicks 03:10 Amazon
24
Get
Blurt 03:44 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Young Marble Giants 01:43 Amazon
2 Charge 03:04 Amazon
3 The Sisters of Mercy 03:02 Amazon
4 Girls at Our Best! 03:16 Amazon
5 A Popular History of Signs 03:58 Amazon
6 Thompson Twins 03:20 Amazon
7 Fire Engines 03:16 Amazon
8 Emma Sharpe 02:00 Amazon
9 The Red Squares 01:51 Amazon
10 The Room 03:02 Amazon
11 The 49 Americans 02:39 Amazon
12 Cult Figures 02:54 Amazon
13 Higsons 03:29 Amazon
14 Laughing Apple 02:18 Amazon
15 The Legendary Pink Dots 02:28 Amazon
16 Marine Girls 02:14 Amazon
17 Normil Hawaiians 03:14 Amazon
18 The Reflections 02:52 Amazon
19 Sad Lovers & Giants 03:17 Amazon
20 To the Finland Station 03:37 Amazon
21 Vivien Goldman 03:47 Amazon
22 23 Skidoo 03:40 Amazon
23 Screen 3 03:18 Amazon
24 The Happy Few 03:35 Amazon
25 The Tesco Bombers 01:54 Amazon
26 ...And the Native Hipsters 02:30 Amazon
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