Armagideon Time

The Boston Phoenix was a fixture in my life from the dawn of the Nineties through the start of the new millennium. The weekly tabloid was the Hub’s answer to the Village Voice, and part of a now-defunct regional media empire which also included Greater Boston’s flagship alt-radio station.

Every Thursday or Friday, a van would roll up to the front of the Quinn Administration Building and drop off bundles of the latest issue of “Boston After Dark” — a cosmetically re-badged version of the Phoenix distributed for free. The notion was that countless college student eyes would make up in advertising rates what the publisher lost in printing costs, and that logic was borne out in my case, at least.

The paper was my primary pipeline for discovering which acts were coming to town, which films were playing the local art-house circuit, and which new music releases were worth checking out. I can’t think of a single show I attended during those years that I wasn’t tipped off to via the Phoenix. The CD recommendations were a more scattershot affair, mainly because the types of music I listened to — Eighties style punk, postpunk, and new wave — had fallen out of favor and the associated acts had devolved into (mostly inaccurate) referential swipes at less favored contemporary artists.

That said, what gems I did managed to glean from the dross were utterly stunning. I picked up bis’ Social Dancing specifically because the (snide) review mentioned Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill’s involvement in it, and it became one of my all time favorite albums. It was where I got hepped to the existence of Fischerspooner, and had my interest hyper-piqued by a couple lines about a “Portland retro synth punk outfit” called The Epoxies…

Thanks to the ethically murky wonders of the era’s many file-share services I was able to pull a representative, low bit-rate track by the band and be utterly blown away by how amazing they were. I then played it for Maura, whose reaction bordered on a religious experience and rushed off to buy a copy of their debut album.

There had been a number of self-proclaimed attempts to recreate the sounds of futurist new wave pop since the stigma surrounding the Eighties had given way to nostalgia in the latter half of the Nineties. I checked out dozens in those years and found most (if not all) wanting in some form or another — too ironic, too self-conscious, too grunge-damaged, too boring. The Epoxies, however, had that Reagan Era je ne sais quoi in spades, right down to the obligatory atomic annihilation ditty.

Yet they were more than just a tribute act. They reminded me of The Pogues, in that their sound evokes the best aspects of the source material (traditional Irish music, sci-fi synthpop) but also transcends it. They sound like you always wanted the source material to sound…or misremembered how it actually sounded. Evoking the past while remaining in the now is a tough trick to pull off when it comes to retro, but The Epoxies did it seamlessly.

Mostly, Maura was just glad to find new music that she could get excited about. It’s why I’ll always think of the Epoxies as one of “her” bands, the way The Clash will always be “mine” even if she likes most of their songs. They were also an integral part of the soundtrack for that short-but-epic window between my starting to drive again (after a decade hiatus) and the move to the House on the Hillside. There was an Epoxies track on every mix CD-R I burned for automotive play and at least one on our wedding reception playlist, filled out with material from The Soviettes, The Minds, and other artists from that general punkpop school.

It ended as these things usually end, with an announcement on some website about the break-up, a disappointing semi-posthumous EP, and follow-up projects that you just can’t get into for some reason. At least it left behind a pair of stellar albums, which both occupied top slots on my list of “must have” LPs and still get at least a spin or two every week.

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