Postpunk Heroes Reheated, But Still White-Hot


It’s about bloody time. Murmured about for years, this long-anticipated box containing every bit of music released by postpunk trio This Heat (plus a bonus disc of distant-sounding soundboard tapes) finally addresses the decade-long absence of their discography from shelves, while also honoring the memory of “nonmusician”–multi-instrumentalist Gareth Williams, who passed away in 2001. Their self-titled debut from ’78, nicknamed “The Blue and Yellow,” could’ve been cut tomorrow. Charles Hayward, Charles Bullen, and Williams holed up in a meat locker spacious enough for their instruments and tape loops, letting the resulting sound clashes naturally occur: Prog’s knots plunged into dub’s void, musique concréte combusted with punk’s messthetics, and all of it dosed with keyboards both Miles moody and Dr. Who–ozy.

And that’s just their first song, “Horizontal Hold.” Another, “24-Track Loop,” spurts future genres like an alien queen drops larvae: postrock, jungle, minimal techno, and other mutations are expulsed in six minutes. (Repeat, a 1993 disc of tape loop outtakes, carries such tomfoolery to its inevitable conclusion: twinkling ambient). “The Blue and Yellow” isn’t just experimentation, though: Isolation and despair slowly drown “Not Waving,” while “The Fall of Saigon” feels as harried as its title. And the Peel Sessions disc shows that they could juggle, tame tigers, and eat fire while re-creating their sound live.

By the time of their last record, 1981’s Deceit, This Heat had honed their powers on caustic songform and protest. A protean, dangerous beast, it seethes and lashes still—Hayward’s vocals hiss, lullaby, tremble, or else scream as if tortured, while “Paper Hats” and “A New Kind of Water” crest resplendently, then crumble like the Roman empire. Of the six Cold Storage discs, the briefest may be the most rewarding: “Health & Efficiency” (originally a 12-inch)finds the pasty lads emerging for some sun worship, even as its chants (and loops) express their enthusiasm for the end of time.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 4, 2006

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