When the post-punk/punk-funk revival started really picking up steam around the turn of the millennium, the excavation of its historical documents began with the objects closest to the surface, with the reissue of bands like A Certain Ratio and the Au Pairs, who were just aboveground enough in their day to remain in the collective consciousness during the music’s time in the cultural cryogenic chamber. Over the next few years, the sonic archaeology expeditions went progressively deeper, till seemingly every late-’70s/early-’80s band with scratchy guitars and thumb-popping bass lines who’d ever been played a Tuesday night at the Hacienda had been unearthed. Now, just as it seems the whole process is finally beginning to wind down, bands that were truly underground at the time are starting to crop up, and things are beginning to get really interesting.
Case in point: the Lines, the British band that released five singles, an EP, and two albums between 1978 and 1982, all of which have remained out of print until now. The rabid post-punk archivists at Acute Records have graciously delivered the Lines’ music from the provinces of high-priced eBay transactions to the digital era with Memory Span, which collects all their 45 and EP tracks, along with a couple of previously unreleased demos.
The first couple of singles are great, scrappy DIY post-punk with a slight whiff of ’60s pop influence a la early Soft Boys/Monochrome Set, but it’s on the tracks from the 1980 EP, Cold Snap, that the Lines really began developing their sound, hinting at the production approach labels like Factory and 99 were starting to get into. The rhythm section simultaneously tightened up, locking into the grooves with more intensity, and loosened, opening up beyond straight rock beats into funk and R&B undercurrents. Simultaneously, the guitars started taking on more of a textural, atmospheric disposition. It all culminates in the EP’s peppy but evocative title track, where mutated trombone blares out over a sparse soundscape.
From there, the Lines grew by leaps and bounds. Over the course of the next few singles from late 1980 to ’81, they dove into the deep end of of the pool, turning out bewitching tracks awash with funk rhythms, ambient textures, and avant-dub production techniques, sometimes abandoning traditional song form entirely in favor of exotic sonic tableaux. Ultimately, it’s the kind of stuff anyone from Tortoise to the Rapture might have claimed as influential — if they’d ever had the chance to hear it. Now at last they can.