Pylon were one of the great lost bands of the early eighties. More people have probably heard of them, than have actually heard them. In 1987, when Rolling Stone named R.E.M. “America’s Best Band,” Bill Berry offered his opinion: “Pylon are the best band in America.” Unfortunately, Pylon had broken up four years prior to this.
What they left behind was a scant two LPs, plus a few singles, all on the independent DB label. This was music you really had to dig for to find, at least until very recently. Their 1980 debut, Gyrate was issued on CD by DFA in 2007, as Gyrate Plus, and featured bonus tracks recorded around that time. Pylon’s excellent follow-up Chomp (1982), is also now available from DFA, as Chomp More, with four additional tracks.
Pylon emerged from the Athens, GA scene of the late seventies, and were contemporaries of R.E.M. and The B-52s. While there is some stylistic overlap between the bands, the music of Pylon was the most adventurous of the lot. That is surely one of the reasons they never really broke out of the college rock ghetto. It is also one of the reasons Chomp More still sounds as fresh as ever, 28 years after its initial release.
The record opens up with one of the more unlikely subjects for a song, an ode to a tough Scrabble letter, “K.” It really does not matter what the song is about though, with the angular, Gang Of Four-inspired guitar of Randall Bewley slashing across the funky bass of Michael Lachowski, this is one cool way to kick off an album.
“M-Train” is a good example of what Pylon were doing that was so different than what most US bands were up to at the time. In fact, with it’s prominent bass, the song has much more in common with obscure Brits such as Crispy Ambulance and In Camera than anything R.E.M. were playing.
Singer Vanessa Briscoe was another University of Georgia student, brought in after an apparently riveting audition. She was a great choice, with a continually surprising vocal range. On songs such as “No Clocks,” and “Beep,” Briscoe goes from a whisper to a scream when you least expect it.
The original 12 songs that made up Chomp all have something to recommend them, this really is an album without a bad cut. The four bonus tracks added to Chomp More are for diehards. While there is nothing inherently “bad” in the original recording of “Crazy” or the “Pylon Mixes” of “Yo-Yo,” and “Gyrate,” there is nothing particularly compelling about them either. “Four Minutes” is just weird. It is a half-speed version of “Beep,” previously only available as a 12-inch single B-side. I remember those experimental days of the 12-inch all too well. Can’t say I miss them much.
But those extras are just that, extras. Chomp remains one of the great, lost recordings of the early eighties, and I for one am overjoyed that it is now readily available. Pylon are one of those rare bands who actually live up to the kudos they have received over the years. Chomp More is worth looking into for anyone who enjoyed that particular era of music.