Published Oct 17, 2014The history of post-punk has not been kind to the Pop Group, the Bristol-born avant-garde rock group that only lasted from 1978 to 1981, until their recent reincarnation in 2010. Although critically lauded in certain circles, it seems as if the band was a little too ahead of its time in style and sound, even when it came to the subgenre's revival and subsequent reiterations from the early 2000s onwards. That being said, two new compilations from Kartel/Amped imprint Freaks R Us examining the group's past may change that.
The first, We Are Time, is an updated reissue of the band's 1980 collection of early live and studio recordings. Acting like the band's version to Hatful of Hollow, the album finds the group at the height of their creative verboseness, with the politicized ramblings of frontman Mark Stewart (especially on album highlights "Colour Blind" and "Sense of Purpose") nestling against guitarist Gareth Sager's Funkadelic-fronted-by-Keith Levene guitar work nicely on Peel Session excerpt "Kiss the Book," as well as the album's self-titled track taken from a Glastonbury live set.
Cabinet of Curiosities, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like — a collection of items that may seem interesting at first listen, but only hold real value for longtime fans. Made up of Peel Sessions, alternate versions and live appearances from around Europe, there isn't much here that newcomers will find enjoyable or particularly listenable if they haven't accustomed their ears to the group's take on jazz-infused punk before. Still, it may be alone worth it to hear Roxy Music member Andy Mackay's original mix of "She is Beyond Good and Evil."
While more straightforward post-punk groups like Joy Division and the Fall may be more synonymous with the subgenre, it's hard not to hear aspects of the Pop Group's sound borrowed by other bands throughout these two discs. Echoes of the band can be heard from the 1980s onwards in the groove-heavy punk rock of Sonic Youth and Minutemen, as well as the angular sounds of fellow British acts the Futureheads (just listen to We Are Time opener "Trap") and the Maccabees. (St. Vincent is also a fan, as she's been known to cover the band's "She is Beyond Good and Evil" live.)
With a new album reportedly underway and the group performing We Are Time in full around the UK this fall, there's been no better time to rediscover (or discover) the Pop Group, and these two collections are perfect jumping off points. (Freaks R Us)