SurfaceSurface, Surface (Columbia, 1986). Three years after releasing the heavenly midtempo boogie track "Falling in Love" on Salsoul, Surface signed to Columbia and released their first album, a Lover's Lane paradise populated by aching, delicately durable ballads -- "Happy" being the absolute hottest. Few of the ten tracks cannot be classified as slow or slowish, including the decent late-period electro of "You're Fine" and "Lady Wants a Man," as well as the faintly "Falling in Love"-echoing "Feels So Good." Otherwise, it's slow grinding and gentle pleading, none of which is overly dramatic -- not by mid-'80s R&B standards, at least. Between this and the first Keith Sweat, modern songwriters and producers aiming to make steamy, electronically-enhanced slow jams have several ideas just waiting to be lifted. (Out of print.)

  • "Happy"

  • "Let's Try Again"

Wheel in the RosesRema-Rema, Wheel in the Roses (4AD, 1980). Rema-Rema's only release was one of 4AD's first, following the four Axis singles and Bauhaus' "Dark Entries" 7". Released post-breakup, Wheel in the Roses hinted where a couple of the members would go with Mass and the Wolfgang Press, while another member -- Marco Pirroni -- would become an Ant. It falls somewhere within the territory staked out by first-album PiL, third-album Wire, and a funkless version of the Pop Group, with wonderfully sludgy rhythms, hectoring vocals, and guitars that stun without catering to rock conventions. Hardly an essential or unique post-punk release, but it's an energizing slab of lunkheaded racket, more than a forgotten piece of 4AD history. (In 2003, the label pressed up 1,000 copies on CD and made it available through mail order.)

  • "Feedback Song"

BartzGary Bartz, Bartz (Arista, 1980). After 1978's occasionally gorgeous Love Song and often sluggish Love Affair, saxophonist Bartz linked with frequent session associates and production duo James Mtume and Reggie Lucas. Mtume/Lucas had transitioned away from soul-jazz to straight soul/R&B, with Roberta Flack, Phyllis Hyman, and Stephanie Mills as some earlier beneficiaries. Add Howard King (drums), Hubert Eaves III (keyboards), Tawatha Agee (vocals) -- this is an Mtume-the-group album in all but name. Carrying much more rhythmic oomph than either '78 Bartz date, the album's clear-cut highlight is "Keep Goin' On" (a Tawatha showcase), but "Need Your Love" and "Music" (where you can hear Eaves revving up for "D" Train) are also bound to move those who love all other late '70s/'80s Mtume and Mtume/Lucas-produced albums. (Never released on CD.)

  • "Keep Goin' On"