People tend to have mixed reactions about the mere existence of comprehensive compilations of defunct bands. Collectors and obscurists may scoff as what was once special in its rarity becomes easily available to anyone who has $15 to spend. Many champion the same – it’s the sudden accessibility of a “criminally under-appreciated” band’s music. And there are those that recognize both views but will ultimately pick up the compilation to finally possess those one or two elusive tracks or the superior sound of a 21st Century digital clean-up. With all of these things in consideration, Kill Rock Stars’ Fanfare in the Garden: An Essential Logic Collection manages to satiate nearly everyone: the snobs, the collectors, the uninformed, the historically inclined, and the curious ear.
Essential Logic was a British punk band, fronted by the peppy, playful Lora Logic (aka Susan Whitby) in 1978 and disbanded in 1981. Formed at the cusp of the era when bands began infusing their punk ideals with experiments in other genres (leading to the overused and increasingly irrelevant term “post punk”), Essential Logic brought to the mix a unique combination of free jazz, punk and general spazziness. Lora’s vocals and frantic saxophone lines gave the band a sense of urgency while her mere presence helped the female punk-rockers of the time find their voice. Ushering in the ’80s, the band pared down their atonal leanings to a more poppy, disco-influenced wail, still retaining the signature horn section and Lora’s high-pitched vocals. Early in the decade, the band fell apart as numerous line-up changes took their toll. Lora Logic remained mostly inactive until the late ’90s when she new formed a new version of the band, releasing a string of Internet-only songs in 2000-2.
Unlike other compilations, this one does not try to be complete or chronological, thus leaving the listener with more of a sample — if you like these enough you can try to find the original albums. The two-disc collection contains tracks from throughout Logic’s entire career, from the band’s first self-released single, “Aerosol Burns,” to their first EP and Beat Rhythm News on Rough Trade from 1979. It’s also got a bunch of singles, nearly all the tracks from her self-titled 1982 Rough Trade album, a song she did with the Red Krayola, and tracks recorded in 1998, including previously unreleased four-track recordings throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
There is a kind of meandering quality to the band’s earlier recordings. While they are infused with energy, the songs tend to be overly long — a young band trying to cram too many ideas into each song — and not always successful. The urgency and songwriting finally gel with the 1980-’81 singles “Fanfare in the Garden” and “Music is a Better Noise.” By that time, Gang of 4, the Delta 5, and scores of others had incorporated disco rhythms and an ironic pop sensibility into contemporary British indie music. These songs offer a well-balanced fusion of (tongue-in-) cheekiness and empowering sexual energy, all under the guise of perfect and pretty pop songs.
Second discs in these sort of affairs often get overlooked, sometimes containing misinformed studio outtakes or rarities that only a completist could love. While the second disc does include a little of the above — and unfortunately Lora’s late ’90s songs do not stand up to the earlier material — it also includes some gems: the breezy, beautiful Red Krayola track, “Born in flames,” and two unreleased 1983 demos that sound like bizarre forays into minimal electronique or reggae.
The entire package, with liner notes from Greil Marcus and artwork done by Kim Gordon, has much to offer, and its imperfections are nearly as endearing as its successes. It doesn’t give the whole plot away — it offers the right amount of tease and sample to arouse interest and further exploration. Recommended.