Album #219: The Pop Group – Y

  • Released: 1979
  • Origin: Bristol, England
  • Label: Rough Trade
  • Best Track: Don’t Sell Your Dreams

In another exploration of early post-punk, I’m checking out the debut album from Bristol’s Pop Group today.

This album intrigues me. Everything from it’s single-letter title to its image of an Aborigini dance on the front is curious and unexplained. Weirder still is the music, which is certainly more in keeping with the maniacal surrealism of Nick Cave/The Birthday Party than the cold introversion of Joy Division.

Do I like it, though? I’m not sure. I certainly appreciate and admire it. In a genre that can be a tad formulaic, it’s invigorating to hear elements of funk and jazz, with piano clangs and saxophone blasts intermingling with Mark Stewarts yelped, offbeat vocals. The problem is that I feel like after one or two tracks, I’ve got the gist of it, and the interesting effect of the record diminishes as it goes on. I sense maybe I would prefer its follow up, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, which as the title suggests is much more direct, by all accounts.

The last two tracks vary things a little and are probably its best section for me. ‘Don’t Sell Your Dreams’ is stark, intense and minimalist, reminiscent of Suicide a little before it and the Steve Albini catalogue (Big Black, Shellac, Rapeman) that came after, while ‘3:38’ is a swirling mass of noise that makes for an odd end to an odd album.

I suppose this is another album I’m judging with 2020 ears, perhaps unfairly holding it up against more recent records that might not have been written without it. For its time, Y is a real rule-breaker that has no doubt had an effect, direct or indirect, on the more avant-garde side of today’s post-punk like Bambara, Crack Cloud and Pottery, and perhaps even the trip-hop scene of the band’s home city.

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