01 April 2009
Electronic music can be divided into two epochs: before and after Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI. MIDI provided a way for drums machines, sequencers, and arpegiattors to all speak to one another, synchronizing each to a machine time code. We're used to it today, so much so that we expect each and every instrument to be in lock step with every other, and if it's not, well, a little digital editing takes care of that.
But before MIDI, there was always a struggle between the human players and the machines, a tension that, at its best, could yield a dynamic interplay between muscles and electrical circuits, the one obeying its own inflexible logic while the other did its best to get in step. It's this interplay that I like best about the Post Punk and New Romantic bands that incorporated synthesizers and drum machines into an otherwise traditional rock format. Such instruments offered not simply a veneer of the modern, the swell of a Moog, or the distinctive crack of Roland 303 snare. They introduced a kind of subliminal struggle, the drama of the human in an increasingly mechanical world.
It's an interplay that is fully evident in this, the first and rarely heard version of Our Daughters Wedding's hit single, "Lawnchairs." Formed in New York in 1977, ODW were a trio consisting of Layne Rico (synthesizers), Keith Silva (vocals and keyboards), and Scott Simon (bass synth and saxophone). The group took their name from a cardboard section divider they found in a display box of greeting cards. Their first release was a three-track 7" ep on their own Design label in the summer of 1980. But it was their second release, in November of the same year, that gave them a place in Synthpop history. "Lawnchairs" became the first independent single to break the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, and, when it was re-recorded and re-released on the EMI label, went on to sell over a million copies worldwide. ODW toured with other bands of the day including U2, Duran Duran, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and The Psychedelic Furs, making them one of the few American acts that could hold their own with the Anglo imports that dominated the airwaves at the time.
This version of "Lawnchairs" is much rawer, and more primitive sounding than the one most are familiar with, but it is also much more striking, with the drums laying down a remorseless metronomic beat, locked in time with the bass synth and melody parts--all played by hand. Over this steady but still human pulse, Silva sings of a world overrun by the most mundane of leisure goods, a world that is as much a figment of his own imagination as a tangible thing in its own right. Like Men Without Hats or even the early Human League, the effect teeters precariously on the absurd, but the beat never relinquishes its hold, giving the song an undeniable if still strange charm. "Lawnchairs / They're everywhere / My mind describes them to me." What could be more romantic?
-- Crash The Driver