Album Review: Strum and Thrum – The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 (Captured Tracks)

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The first of a series of planned thematic compilations by the Captured Tracks label, this release not only serves to showcase the brilliance of the American jangle-pop scene and demarcate it from the simultaneous College Rock scene, but it also gives a context/history of how the unified, alternative jangle-pop genre, eventually developed on both sides of the pond.
As such the album presents the interconnections of three distinct styles. Initially, I’m In Heaven (The Cyclones), Say Goodbye (Riff Dictors), Seven Steps Down (Salem 66), Purple Parlor (Downy Mildew) and Sunflower (The Springfields) are all tracks that lie somewhere on the Sarah Records spectrum of sound.
From cute, cool, deadpan jangly indie-pop, to more fully formed, band based jangly melodies, such a group of sounds is often lazily referred to as an ‘anglophile sound’, when in reality both sides of the jangle coalition developed it in equal measures. It could be argued that it was only really the success of Britain’s Sarah Records in getting the sound into our homes that coined that particular phrase.
The most interesting aspect of the album can be seen in tracks characterized by Breakin My Heart (Vandykes), Is It You (The Darrows) and Essential Things (A New Personality). It was this vibe that eventually usurped (at least from an underground perspective) the post-punk sense of doom and melancholy, with the more lucid sound of jangle pop.
Still imbued with chunky bass lines and darker vocals, such tracks reveal the point where the prettier end of the guitar spectrum began to consume the last remnants of post-punk in the consciousness of the ‘cool kids’.
The final category of act on this superb compilation, is where I personally feel a uniquely American jangle underground is truly demarcated from their British counterparts. Here tracks like She Collides With Me (Sex Clark Five), I Feel So Sorry Now and When Do You Say Hello (Great Plains), typifies the rock edged, ramshackle sense of the perfect American ‘throw it at a wall and its bound to stick approach’, that the Brits could never really compete with and that spawned the eventual shambol of some of todays better jangle rock acts. Sure Britain had a C86 contemporary, but this was an altogether more abrasive feel, altogether more ‘American’.
An album for jangle-pop historians and just pure fans alike, this is going to be on all manner of ‘best ofs’ in January 2021 !
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