By now, this decade’s wave of nostalgia toward the post-punk movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s has mainly crested. The culprit in this almost-instant disillusionment was a crush of bands that borrowed heavily from the innovations of their inspirations rather than embracing the spirit and adding alien elements on their own. This retro blip’s silver lining is that it has freed record labels to dust off their back shelves, yielding an embarrassment of reissued riches. Kids may no longer care where the sound of Franz Ferdinand came from, but Domino Records answers anyway with Josef K’s Entomology, a lovingly compiled edition representing the Scottish band’s key singles, album material and BBC sessions.
The prize for collectors is the inclusion of material from Josef K’s scrapped 1980 debut, Sorry for Laughing. Orange Juice got an up-tick in recognition last year with that hook as well, and fussy perfectionism isn’t all the two groups had in common. In addition to being countrymen and label mates (on the legendary Postcard Records), both groups trafficked in angular guitar slashes married to near danceable rhythm. What’s missing in Josef K is the pop craft and self-deprecating wit. The band’s static gloom places it closer to an enjoyable Joy Division runner-up such as A Certain Ratio than an underappreciated innovator finally getting its props.
Highlights are the moments when the typical sturm und drang is lifted by more complex arrangement. “Sorry for Laughing,” the band’s unrivaled zenith, is a dance-tempo powerhouse running on choppy guitar licks and Paul Haig’s suave croon. It’s elevated to anthem level because the chiming chorus gives some relief from the constant nervous string punishment, letting listeners anticipate a return to pounding. “Chance Meeting,” the single released in 1979, is brightened significantly by piano and brass. “Pictures (of Cindy)” is made interesting by layering bent guitar notes over the usual spikes. A John Peel session performance of Alice Cooper’s “Applebush” surprises with a sing song sweetness. Too often, though, Josef K’s songs seem to stall, too lost in their Kafka copping paranoia to go anywhere.
although Entomology is clearly the best available collection of the band’s short career, it ultimately confirms its second-tier status in the canon of post-punk upstarts. Perhaps it’s an unessential buy for those without a completist’s need to uncover every corner of the genre, but the album is home to some choice playlist fodder at the very least.
Band: http://www.josefk.net/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/theonlyfunintown