A leading light in Scotland’s neo-pop revival, Edinburgh’s Josef K attempted an uneasy marriage of pop form and psychedelic sensibilities on a string of melancholic singles, all contained on the band’s one original album, The Only Fun in Town. Singer Paul Haig is the only member identified by name, and his presence is certainly the strongest here. There is a fragility in Josef K’s gentle but foreboding work, produced in darkest wall-of-molasses sound, that suggests an intensity of thought comparable to Joy Division’s. (Some of Haig’s subsequent solo work sounds a lot like New Order.) But the album — which was first recorded in 1980 (as Sorry for Laughing), scrapped and then redone with largely different material from scratch the following year — never reaches the level of animation found in the singles, and it was neither surprising nor inappropriate when the group broke up shortly after its release. Dank but intriguing.
Heaven Sent and Young and Stupid/Endless Soul were both released after the band’s dissolution and consist of singles, demos, outtakes and Peel sessions. Ironically, these two records contain the band’s best material. “Heaven Sent,” “Radio Drill Time” and “Heart of Song” are nothing short of pure pop brilliance, surprisingly unaffected by the passage of time. Josef K were the definitive Scottish neo-pop masters, and their legacy lives on in many of the groups currently emerging from that land.
Guitarist Malcolm Ross continued his Scot-pop career in Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, while the Josef K rhythm section went on to form the Happy Family with Momus. Entomology is a 22-track retrospective that offers a thorough history of the group’s recorded work, including B-sides, Peel sessions and outtakes.