Where so many have dug nothing but worthless nostalgia out of passé styles — claiming credit for their discerning taste rather than any creative imagination — San Francisco singer/accordionist Angel Corpus Christi (Andrea Ross) is one of a select breed that makes productive modern use of vintage templates. She began her eccentric career with a series of independent singles and albums written, recorded and released with her husband, guitarist/singer Rich Stim (whose distinguished career in DIY fringe-rock dates back to 1976, when the pioneering MX-80 Sound began blasting away in Bloomington, Indiana), and his musical cohorts. The early works (available domestically on a&r/ENT cassette only) include a themed set of Gotham-related covers, with songs by the Ramones, Suicide and Lou Reed (I Love New York), the nearly all-original Wake Up & Cry and Dim the Lights and an unaccompanied collection of squeeze-box covers (Accordion Pop Vol. I). Her first CD, The 80’s, is half-retrospective and half-new, containing one of Angel’s celebrity songs (“John Cassavetes”) and a nifty remake of Alice Cooper’s “I’m 18.”
Ascending to a mainstream label in 1995, Corpus Christi rared back and popped out the year’s best new wave album. Surrounding her carbon-dated canned vocal presence with diverse synth-draped arrangements that manage to sound simultaneously complex and rinkydink, Angel croons the elementary melodies of supremely ingenious hook-filled songs that bounce and bop in an echo of early-’80s dance-club pogo fare by Toni Basil, Lene Lovich, Martha and the Muffins, Algebra Suicide, Hilary, etc. Adopting a stance of mildly bemused enthusiasm, she sings offhand lyrics about the crumbling state of the world (“Big Black Cloud,” “Nature Girl”), her own shortcomings (“Lazy,” “Threw It Away”), sex (“Dim the Lights,” “Candy”) and a presumptuous lover (“Been There Done That”). The anachronistic derivation would be just a gimmick if the tuneful songs weren’t so great. But with an album as confidently, instantly lovable as White Courtesy Phone, it doesn’t matter where she’s calling from. Fine-tuning what Angel had already outlined on The 80’s (there’s even a remake of “John Cassavetes”), Craig Leon produced and played all the keyboards; the guest trumpeter on “Lazy” is none other than Almo’s own Herb Alpert.