Formed in Los Angeles in 1979, this talented quartet really got rolling after moving to San Francisco. Translator’s music encompasses elements of traditional folk-rock, adding modern sounds, novel ideas and cool deadpan pop — simply put, diversity makes Translator fine and often fascinating. Singing guitarists Steve Barton and Robert Darlington have a wide stylistic arsenal and each has the ability to write varied songs of quality and endurance. Heartbeats and Triggers, produced by David Kahne, is a great debut album with very few weak tracks.
No Time Like Now contains another batch of melodic and rocking tunes played with ringing guitars and attractive harmonies; unfortunately, a lot of the songs don’t wash. While “Un-Alone,” “Break Down Barriers” and the title track keep the musical faith, “L.A., L.A.” is a trite, gimmicky digression and “I Hear You Follow” is too reserved. Others are equally unprepossessing or simply plain. Stick with the first album.
Translator, produced by Ed Stasium, is for the most part a return to form. “Gravity” is as good as anything they’ve done; other tunes maintain a tasteful, invigorating blend of vocals, rhythm guitars and intelligent songwriting. The biggest problem here is time: for a third album, they’re not really going anywhere new creatively, and commercial success still seems well over the horizon.
Perhaps that frustration explains the radically different album that followed: the one-take guitar rock on Evening of the Harvest scarcely resembles prior Translator music. To be fair, this isn’t your average numbskull arena rubbish, but the muscle comes as an unwelcome shock. Each track includes (individually credited) guitar riffing, but most retain a trace of the band’s melodicism amid the audio clutter.
Translator broke up in 1986. The career-summing Everywhere That I’m Not draws from all four albums, adding one otherwise non-LP bonus: a version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Today.” The track selection isn’t ideal, but it’s a fair representation of this special group’s work.