8 November 2011
by Mike Katzif
Sometimes there are bands that I’ve heard of, and read things about, but never actually heard much of. This is the case with The Pop Group, a late 70s, early 80s post punk band that falls in the same wheelhouse as bands I already love like Joy Division, Gang of Four and Talking Heads. I kept seeing their name but strangely, it took another artist covering their work to finally get me to dig in and see what their all about.
On their recent tour, St. Vincent has been playing The Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good And Evil,” an all-out assault of guitar noise and seething and sexy, if not disturbing vocals. St. Vincent played this song last night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a ballsy move for the talk show crowd who just want to hear something off the new record. But for singer and guitarist Annie Clark, it’s a perfect song to cover.
Clark has perfected this juxtaposition between alluring image, silky voice and stunningly beautiful melodic arrangements with fucked up lyrics of pain, loneliness and violent thoughts. And her guitar work is both skillfully dexterous and intensely loud and explosive. I recently caught St. Vincent on this Strange Mercy tour at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club, where she showed off her sweet, witty side and her under-the-surface boiling turmoil that manifests itself with her bursts of guitar feedback and killer riffs. Mid-show, Clark busted out The Pop Group song and it enveloped the entire room with white hot distortion.
Clark showed early signs of this newer, rawer direction during this year’s Our Concert Could Be Your Life show, Clark and a rotating cast of great indie rock bands paid tribute to the previous generations of indie rock that were depicted in the exceptional Michael Azzerad book Our Band Could Be Your Life. There, Clark pulled out “Kerosene” by Big Black, a song that first made a lot of people rethink how Clark could own the stage.
Seeing St. Vincent cover The Pop Group sold me and made me want to finally dig out that band’s 1978 album, Y, and I’m glad I did. It’s a masterful and weird record mixing post punk and funk grooves with avant jazz and experimental noise. They’re brasher, noisier, more experimental and atonal than many of the bands from this era. And they play with angular melodies and off kilter rhythms that at times feel in the pocket and other times completely sprawl out into washes of noise. It’s great, great stuff, even if it IS over 30 years old.