Of the particularly fruitful New York City music scene around the turn of the eighties, many bands blossomed. Many bands dive-bombed. With the reissue of their first—and only—album, Social Climbers have one last chance at the former.
A product of the Post-Punk/No Wave scene with an especially notorious flair for hijinks, had Social Climbers issued this record today, it might have found an audience. Its warped electronics and even warped-er vocals could have represented a nice antidote to the scourge of Chillwave (does it even need an antidote at this point?), and Mark Bingham’s lyrics acidly satirizing the scene in which he operated would have made for charming blog fodder.
Sadly, however, that won’t ever happen. Social Climbers disbanded in 1982, and Mark Bingham is probably a college professor or something. Instead, we’re left with Social Climbers, their genuinely weird, genuinely great album. Musically, Social Climbers represents an intersection of Suicide’s drum machine-fueled ramblepunk, Television’s gift for off-kilter melodies, and Talking Heads if David Byrne had been a Midwestern farm boy. It’s quintessential No Wave, equal parts dancey and noisey
Social Climbers is very much of its time, at points touching upon white-boy dub (“Chris & Mary”), pitch-perfect krautrock (the instrumentals “Palm Springs” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still”), and half-assed, synth-fueled stabs at country and western (“Hello Texas”). The highlight of the album is “Tickhead,” a live track tacked on for the reissue, which finds the Climbers abandoning their sound, their charming discord. It’s less a song and more of a moody sound experiment, and it hints at an altogether different Social Climbers than what we find on this record.
That other, more experimental Social Climbers is lost to the ages, relegated to word-of-mouth and obscure liner notes. Social Climbers is a valuable document of its time, place, and a reminder of the greatness that might get away. We shouldn’t let them get away a second time.