Secret Life

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Material became less unique and interesting with each passing release, so it's no surprise that their most solid album is this compilation that gathers their first four singles and EPs, written and recorded between 1979 and 1981. Material's roots were in New York's anti-musical no wave scene, and although from the very beginning these guys had chops galore (Michael Beinhorn sounds like he's playing electronic drums even on a trap kit, he's so precise), there's a much harsher and more aggressive edge to these early recordings than there ever would be on later Material albums, which were far too slick and veered dangerously close to fusion territory. Songs like "O.A.O.," with its fiery Robert Quine guitar solo, and the free jazz-influenced rhythm improvisation "On Sadism" are as fresh and exciting as any jazz-based instrumental music of the early '80s, although the unfortunate vocal disco track "Dark Things" that closes the disc portends the group's slow and steady decline.

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