Tuesday, April 26, 2011

100. NNB, "Slack" (1978)


The usual referents for this somewhat obscure slice of late-'70s Minneapolis punk-rock underground go to Television and Pere Ubu. I guess they will do, plus I'll throw Ultravox! into that brew as well. "Slack" combines the dark current of Pere Ubu with the spick-and-span play and production values of Verlaine & co. Lyrics riff sharp on sleeplessness and insanity: "Can't sleep any more 'cos I always wake up screaming / Don't leave any more 'cos I always come back dreaming," singer/songwriter Mark Freeman goes, sounding a little bit like Lou Reed. I'm throwing around a lot of names here but I don't mean to imply this is any kind of exercise in aping its sources—to the contrary, they are almost completely absorbed, and the result is startlingly original. This (and the band, and Freeman more generally) has long been one of the best-kept secrets of the many estimable Minneapolis punk-rock contributions of its time. A throbbing bass and tidy guitar play that blows up into giant ominous chords set the tone as it moves through its deliberate and dream-like paces. It's chilling and thrilling, with nary a single wasted gesture across its 4:08. Eventually something like a solo comes along to close it down, heavily inflected with feedback (this is the point where I'm hearing shades of Ultravox!). It's altogether a nicely packaged single (that's the cover image above), with who knows what number of total copies manufactured—I doubt it ran to even five figures. For whatever reasons it has remained all too criminally unanthologized and thus mostly unavailable, except now within monied collector circles, where it commands handsome prices on the order of $50 and upwards. Without question the greatest song ever by someone with whom I attended grade school.

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