Like Honor Role, 86 was one of the few mid-’80s Southern indie bands immune to jangle-pop obsessions. Melodrama and juvenilia plagued its records, but, for the time and place, the Atlanta trio was worth noting.
Firmly rooted in collegiate post-punk, Closely Guarded Secret contains lots of new wave fallout and youthful squirreliness. Well- played but anonymous, the seven-song mini-LP is simple but enjoyable. Despite lame vocals, Ken Schenck’s choppy, early- U2-ish guitar playing saves the ship. And is that a Police influence on “No Answer”?
The artier Minutes in a Day is less redolent of the rehearsal room. Mac McNeilly has matured into a tricky, hard-hitting drummer. Schenck loosens the reigns and cranks up the squawk. The dark title track is a guilty pleasure of edgy rhythms and reverb.
The final studio album dispenses with some of the amateurish tendencies of prior work. Max Koshewa’s newly fattened bass thickens the previously anemic bottom end. Confident, louder compositions allow Schenck to squiggle all over the place. His solos weave a crooked, luminous path as the rhythm section locks into position. Still, the album suffers from whiny, Anglo-fixated vocals, clichéd lyrics (advice: don’t print ’em) and overt politeness.
86 was reportedly one hell of a live act. To capitalize on that, its label issued Way to Go, a limited, farewell attempt to capture the onstage experience.
After 86 bit the dust, McNeilly picked up a bass and played in Phantom 309, who split an EP with Shenck’s next project, the Sun Also Rises. Mac later reclaimed his drum throne for a long stint with the Jesus Lizard, netting his original group some posthumous notoriety.