Listen: it’s an inevitable fact of pop that some bands just get lost by the wayside. And you can call them “cult artists” if you like, as you wait for the day they transcend their previously-humble existence. The day when enough broadsheet journalists and BBC4 documentary-makers cotton onto the potential cred that awaits those who unveil another bunch of obscurists’ treasures. The day when they stop being the sole preserve of a tiny but adoring group of misfits and become another fucking Top Man T-shirt design. But bear in mind that the above scenario is the exception, not the rule – most of these bands stay unknown, regardless of how incredible they are, how unique their sound or how goddamn precious every second spent listening to them can feel.
Listen: Athens, Georgia has provided the world with some of the greatest music ever paraded under the “alternative” banner – which may not mean anything any more, but it was still yet to be coined (never mind co-opted) in the early 1980s. In a world that’s witnessed the horrors of landfill indie, it’s easy to see post-punk as a disaffected British mannerism that gave way to Orange Juice first, then indiepop and C86; all disco beats, bitterly oblique rhetoric and angry white funk. But this city proved as much as any other that there was far more to the genre: the mysterious, smouldering beauty of early REM, Pylon raising holy hell from the simple art of tension and release, The B-52’s’ cartoonishly euphoric sense of otherness… if music is the product of its environment, what does this say about Athens? No, you don’t need to answer that.
Listen to Oh-OK: lesser-known contemporaries of the artists mentioned above, whose admittedly-scant studio output this vinyl-only selection collects, alongside some essential bonus material. The tracks from 1981’s Wow EP may feel slight on the surface, but the rosy-cheeked glee of Linda Hopper’s vocal weaves its own magic around Lynda Stipe’s herky-jerky basslines (always the focus, never the backup). Opener ‘Lilting’ sets the tone, almost resembling a child’s skipping rhyme catapulted through adolescent fascination, and decorated with drums that respond organically to the guitar-less space, rather than merely punctuating proceedings. Meanwhile ‘Person’ declares “I am a person/I speak to you/I am a person/And that is enough” – which would almost sound cheerfully trite if it didn’t also feel indignant and proud, as though responding to patronising verbal sewage from an anonymous antagonist. A 1984 live set captures the band’s joyous purity on a pretty roughshod recording, and man, does it ever feel alive.
Listen: side two gets darker. By the Furthermore What EP, future powerpop hero Matthew Sweet had joined up to lend some six-string chimes to the band’s spindly splendour, but ‘Girlfriend’ this ain’t. ‘Such n Such’ recalls the claustrophobic stutter of REM’s Murmur (perhaps unsurprisingly given that Lynda is the sister of Michael Stipe), while ‘Choukoutien’ is despairingly beautiful, and ‘Straight’ is captivating in its unnerving oddness. It’s a noticeable mood change, but no less viscerally powerful. They’re followed by fresh takes on two live favourites from the band’s glory days, and it’s wonderful to find their chemistry unaffected by the best part of thirty years away. Even if the voices sound a little older, a little more weary, it’s just further demonstration of how uniquely, perfectly human they can be. It’s different, this music – not bound by fashion, form or fucked-up ideas of what a band should be. Oh-OK dance across that thing you call a heart until it beats to the same rhythm; playful and mysterious and hopeful and joyous and endlessly, beautifully warm. This record wants to be your best friend, and you’d be a fool not to let it.
Listen: who do you want to impress most by listening to this record? Yourself? Your friends? Obscurist cognoscenti? Post-punk survivors? Athens hipsters you’ve never even met? Your damn turntable?
Never mind all that. It doesn’t matter.
Just fucking listen.