Armagideon Time

The period from 1993 through 1999 saw my musical tastes broaden tremendously, thanks to punk losing its puritanical stranglehold on me and a twenty-first birthday gift of CD-playing boom box. I kept on buying used vinyl up through 1995 or so, but the bulk of what hit my ears was delivered digitally.

Having become the dominant format for recorded music, compact discs moved beyond the triple-platinum pop and audiophile sets and into stranger and deeper realms. The hour-and-change capacity made CDs an excellent medium for compilations and collections, and Rhino Records went wild with that added runtime. I specifically picked up the label’s DIY series of late Seventies punk and powerpop on compact disc because each entry included a couple of tracks which couldn’t fit on the cassette version. Then came the first proper (yet still incomplete) release of the Valley Girl soundtrack, which was followed up in turn by the fifteen-volume Just Can’t Get Enough chronology of the “new wave” sound.

Even better, they dropped as slightly less expensive midlist offerings whose sticker price was further offset by Tower Records and Newbury Comics coupons pulled from the stacks of student-aimed publications dumped every week in the campus lobby.

My favorite of the lot was the three-volume Postpunk Chronicles set released right on the eve of the new millennium. Despite the title, the series covered the full spectrum of Eighties “college rock.” It was a glorious time capsule featuring everything from “Paisley Underground” sounds to neo-janglepop to noise rock to, yes, straight-up postpunk gloom — meticulously curated and served up with copious liner notes in typical Rhino fashion. The discs got countless plays at home and in the Sony car stereo whose value far exceeded that of the 1990 Cutlass which hosted it. They also triggered an outward burst of ancillary music purchases as I chased down additional material from particularly promising new-to-me artists.

They were the type of albums I could throw on whenever and feel good about my decision. This would’ve made them ideal candidates for a present day vinyl purchase…except they never got a vinyl release. I thought about buying up the various component albums, but gave up on the idea after scoring copies of Green on Red‘s and The Three O’Clock‘s debut LPs. The expense, combined with a lack of shelving space and the sad realization most of the bands only had one track I actually wanted to listen to, made it feel like a fool’s errand.

…and then, several months later, I realized that most of the cuts had been single releases. More importantly, they were single releases that were fairly inexpensive on the secondhand marketplace. Things were kicked off in the middle of last summer with a triple purchase of Most Favorite Jams from the Postpunk Chronicles set. All were bought as 12-inchers, mainly because I didn’t have a place to rack 7-inch singles at the time.

Maura told me “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag” sounds like “Satan playing cartoon music,” which is both accurate and no insult from where I stand.

Medium Medium’s “Hungry, So Angry” is the type of postpunk dance jam I would’ve sneered at during my punk rock heyday. Because I was a complete and utter fool.

“Eye of the Lens” is what happens when a lone single release embodies the sound and vibe of an entire scene, and nothing by its artist or any other postpunk act will ever match those four minutes of atmospheric perfection.

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