Unless you're an old-ass rock critic or someone who remembers doing the trench-coat stomp at the dawn of the 80s, chances are you've never thought much about Pylon. Championed by the B-52's and cited as a major influence by R.E.M., they're one of the great almost-was groups, a major force in the Athens music scene. They called it quits in 1983, after just four years, re-formed briefly in the early 90s, supporting R.E.M. on the Green tour and releasing one record, and then started playing again regularly earlier this year. In 1980 their debut, Gyrate, was the warning shot signaling the rise of southern punk, but with this expanded reissue (which also includes their first seven-inch, their self-titled ten-inch, and an unreleased track from 1979), it may get recast as one of the building blocks of American dance-punk.
With their aposiopetic art-school funk—every hook is disjointed and broken off in the middle—Pylon sound like kin to the contemporary bands DFA champions, only wilder, more careless, and more amateur. Gyrate is the sound of a kid quartet figuring things out, playing around with barbed twerks and alienated grooves. Vanessa Briscoe's vocals are guttural and disaffected, her pose completely poseless—she never tried to get over on sex appeal. The closest Pylon get to playing a modern-sounding death-disco anthem is "Danger," nearly six minutes of Briscoe growling "Be careful! Be cautious! Look out!" over Randall Bewley's tinny, bargain-basement reverb guitar while the rhythm section grinds on a sick cycle that makes Shellac sound like a cruise-ship band. This reissue is the best thing DFA has been responsible for since the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" remix.
Oi Oi Oi
Not to get all freedom fries about the current state of European dance music, but I could die a peaceful death if I never read another blog post rubbing one out over nouveau French disco, proclaiming everyone with a decent Italo-disco sample the next Daft Punk (Justice, I'm looking in your direction). Over in Berlin, Alexander Ridha, aka Boys Noize, is busy treating pleasure funk like a pimp's business, and he's not shy about turning the motherfucker out. His debut, Oi Oi Oi, is some real I'm-gonna-eat-your-face techno. The first single, "& Down," is juicy, disco-informed house with slugs of overdriven subbass and some Teutonic sex robot commanding everyone to "Dance! Dance! Dance!" With Boys Noize you don't get shit like Uffie rapping in ESL about cocaine over a weak shotgun-cocking beat, only tech-house designed to blow a hole in your gut. Bona fide dance music, the kind that's made for ze klub, has always been a proving game—as anyone who's ever spent the night outside their own home can tell you, there's no point dancing to something that only gets you halfway to humpsville—and right now no one is proving it quite like Boys Noize.
Night Falls Over Kortedala
Lovable losers who play corny romantic pop are practically their own industry at this point. (Thanks, Pitchfork!) Sweden's Jens Lekman is smarter and more lovable than most of them, but he's almost too cute and charming for his own good. The first three times I tried to listen to Night Falls Over Kortedala, his second full-length, I couldn't get past the first two songs, which are both about kissing. In its disco flair, the second song, "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar," sounds like the Pet Shop Boys doing "Copacabana," with Lekman stretching his nasal voice over strings so syrupy they could put Mrs. Butterworth out of business.
Samples are a big part of Lekman's music, and at points he goes for the kind of velveteen ballroom majesty best suited for someone like Andy Williams. The problem is he doesn't have the voice to match—he comes off like a debonair pubescent boy. But when he lightens up and lifts the schmaltz curtain on the third song, "The Opposite of Hallelujah," he's hard to resist. It's a bitter but sweet lament; Lekman takes his sister down to the beach to explain his "unstoppable sorrow," crooning like a teenage Morrissey (with songbird Frida Hyvonen backing him up on sha-la-la detail), but he's unable to get his point across. "I picked up a seashell to illustrate my homelessness," he sings, "but a crab crawled out of it, making it useless."
Lekman's at his best when he's making fun of himself. On "It Was a Strange Time in My Life" he tries to pick up a girl and she gives him the finger. On "Postcard to Nina" he gets to play boyfriend, though only for the benefit of a lesbian friend's Catholic parents. On "Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig" he coos all fey and white-funky over a doo-wop harmony and a Philly soul break: "I saw on TV about this little kid / Who had a pig for a pet / His mom had once been attacked by a dog / So a pig was the closest he could get / This has of course, nothing to do with anything / I just get so nervous when talking to you." Then he shows his hand: "The best way to touch your heart / Is to make an ass out of myself."
For more on music, see our blogs Crickets and Post No Bills at chicagoreader.com.