David Byrne

As a Talking Head, guitarist/songwriter/singer David Byrne showed an inquisitive, intelligent interest in unusual applications of, and exploratory cultural variations on, pop music. His solo musical work revolves around transfiguring pop through the infusion of alien elements or by injecting it into foreign situations. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a continuation of his…

Visage

Formed around cult-figure fop Steve Strange (Harrington), Visage began as a part-time group uniting the formidable talents of Ultravox’s Midge Ure and Billy Currie, Dave Formula and John McGeoch (both then in Magazine) and ex-Rich Kid drummer Rusty Egan for the ultimate in dance-oriented new romanticism. Visage is filled with rich humor and sound puns…

Yello

Hailing originally from the worlds of performance and fine art, the Swiss trio Yello (Boris Blank on electronics, Dieter Meier on vocals and Carlos Peron on effects and tapes) is second only to Kraftwerk in the annals of primary European synthpop. Sometimes dark in tone, at other times just plain silly (“Pinball Cha Cha,” “Bananas…

Chris and Cosey

Rising in the very early ’80s from the corpse of Throbbing Gristle, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (aka CTI, the Creative Technology Institute) infuse their electronic mantras with the beat of the factory to create a desolate industrial vision. Much of the work on Heartbeat follows solidly in Throbbing Gristle’s footsteps, with found voices…

Clock DVA

Appearing in 1980 and allied with industrial bands like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, Sheffield’s Clock DVA aped the sound of British white soul groups of the day on the wholly improvised White Souls in Black Suits — although the mock-soul energy is strangely vitiated by urban metal noise that distorts the songs around the…

Wazmo Nariz

On record, Chicago’s Wazmo Nariz (Larry Grennan) mixes witty double entendres and a semi-jaundiced, semi-naïve view of the mysteries of sex with solid songwriting and unusual vocal gyrations, backed by an excellent band. The result is offbeat Midwestern pop: “Tele-tele-telephone” (an independent single eventually reissued in the UK by Stiff) and “Checking Out the Checkout…

John Foxx

After three albums as the band’s lead vocalist, John Foxx (Dennis Leigh) left Ultravox to pursue a solo career. A prime factor in the group’s original sound, Foxx was, by extension, a major influence on the new romantic movement that followed in its wake. Fortunately, both Ultravox and Foxx solo continued to make music of…

Cowboys International®

Ken Lockie, an early cog in the loose Clash/Pistols axis that revolved around guitarist Keith Levene and eventually led to the creation of Public Image Ltd., is the man behind Cowboys International. The ’70s edition specialized in deceptively chipper numbers about fear, loathing and love betrayed. Credited to Cowboys International®, The Original Sin is a…

Monochrome Set

Beginning with a series of arty rock singles, this amusingly suave and sarcastic London quartet fronted by Bid (vocals), Lester Square (guitar) and Andy Warren (bass) —all of whom had played with Adam Ant in obscure early bands—took a sharp sardonic swing towards lightweight pop when they reached album format. Aided by producer Bob Sargeant…

Muffins

Hailing from Maryland and its environs, the Muffins mined the (under)ground first opened by the jazz-rock experiments of Henry Cow. (In fact, they backed guitarist Fred Frith on one of his solo records.) Though tentative, the Muffins were one of the few American bands of their era to explore the truly unusual, and if they…

Brian Eno

Face it. The complexities and ironies of Brian Eno’s prolific procession along his self-declared uncertainty principle (“oblique strategies”) are unfathomable. Put simply, how did the most obscurely gifted of the glam-clad gang of non-musicians who revolutionized ’70s rock as Roxy Music become, in turn, a bizarrely thrilling rock auteur, the fairy godmother of no wave…

David Thomas

A song stylist in the truest sense of the word, David Thomas is one of rock’s few truly one-of-a-kind artists. But The Sound of the Sand and Other Songs of the Pedestrians, the Pere Ubu vocalist’s first solo album, still came as something of a surprise. His lyrics and unusual compositions bring strangeness out of…

Thomas Leer and Robert Rental

Thomas Leer’s method of recording is as unique as his work: he locks himself in his home studio alone with his synthesizers and tape machines and emerges months later with a record. Apart from pop trends, Leer has turned out some of the most creative and human synthesizer work on vinyl. The Bridge, done in…

Units

One of America’s first electronic new wave bands, San Francisco’s Units — Scott Ryser (synth/vocals), Rachel Webber (ditto) and Brad Saunders (drums) — started out playing Cabaret Voltaire-style cacophony, but quickly developed an educated electro-pop approach. Lyrically, Digital Stimulation is rife with irony and black humor; the spontaneous, creative music complements it well. The Units…

Suicide

A mainstay of the New York rock underground since the early 1970s (thereby prefiguring Soft Cell and all the other synth-based duos as well as an entire subsequent generation of droney noisemongers), Suicide mixed Alan Vega’s blues-styled vocals and Marty Rev’s synthesizer (originally a broken-down Farfisa organ they couldn’t afford to repair). Escaping the dingy…

Was (Not Was)

Shattering the imaginary divisions between “black music” and “white music,” Detroiters David (Weiss; sax, flute, keyboards, vocals) and Don (Fagenson; bass, keyboards, guitar) Was use undated soul and funk as a flexible backdrop for their alternately serious and sarcastic commentary. The historical problem with a lot of dance music has been its rabid dissociation from…

Gary Numan

Gary Numan (Webb) originally rose to UK prominence in 1979 with a frigid synthesizer dance hit, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” His basic sound — subsequently very influential in the dance music and new romantic spheres — began with precise, antiseptic synth handling much of the instrumental work, topped off with lobotomized deadpan vocals singing science-fiction lyrics.…

Flying Lizards

Led by pianist David Cunningham, the Flying Lizards started as (and largely continued to be) a novelty group that took classic rock songs and reduced them to parody with neo-Kraftwerk synthesizer minimalism and robotic deadpan vocal readings (as epitomized on the eponymous debut album by “Summertime Blues” and “Money”). The serious work shows Cunningham leaning…

Judy Nylon and Crucial

Abandoning New York for London, no-wave singer Judy Nylon teamed with Pat Palladin to form Snatch, ultimately making the German-inspired sound collage “R.A.F.” with Brian Eno, which appeared on the B-side of his “King’s Lead Hat” 45. The Snatch EP features Nylon and Palladin teaming up for a pseudo-Tom Waits blues drone called “Shopping for…

Killing Joke

Emerging in London at the tail end of ’70s punk, a time when bands like Wire, the Fall, Public Image and Gang of Four were experimenting with the very structure of rock, British nihilists Killing Joke went a step further, adding noisy synthesizers to the overpoweringly brutal attack. Clearly prefiguring industrial rock of the late…