Graded on a Curve:
Pylon Reenactment Society, “Messenger”
b/w “Cliff Notes”

In the decades since their initial breakup in 1983, Athens, GA’s Pylon has retained a sturdy fanbase, in part due to enduring freshness and a perseveringly relevant style, which at the point of its creation was a prime example of US post-punk; today, it can be tagged as dance rock of uncommon smartness and potency. After reuniting a few times and even recording new material, in 2009 Pylon guitarist Randall Bewley unexpectedly died from a heart attack, a tragic circumstance that spelled the end of the group, though it didn’t curtail the desire of Bewley’s bandmate, vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay, to ensure that Pylon wasn’t forgotten. In short, that’s the impetus for Pylon Reenactment Society, though their new vinyl single goes above and beyond the original goal. It’s out now via Chunklet Industries.

As named and featuring the instantly recognizable singing of Vanessa Briscoe Hay in tandem with guitarist Jason NeSmith and bassist Kay Stanton, both of Caspar & the Cookies, plus keyboardist Damon Denton of Big Atomic and drummer Joe Rowe of The Glands, there’s really no mistaking Pylon Reenactment Society as an entity distinct from the band of their inspiration. However, it’s simultaneously a safe bet that nobody’s going to get any nearer to carrying forth the spirit of Pylon in the moment, or for that matter, in the distant future.

It’s a nice reality that PRS are not simply a lackluster gesture in recommencing Pylon with one original member, though Hay’s participation (better put, instigation) is surely a crucial factor in the group standing apart from the ebb and flow of contemporary post-punk action (as was the case back in the day). And her presence is just one of this nifty 45’s appealing aspects. Another is the packaging, as the single looks like a winner before needle hits wax. Specifically, its design is bright and photographically bold, a look which recalls the heyday of ’80s picture-sleeves but without going overboard in the effect.

Of course, the record’s visual attractiveness would be of minimal interest if the music wasn’t up to snuff. The good news here is that both songs more than pass muster as they naturally extend the attributes that made Pylon such a noteworthy affair back in the day; to get right to the point, “Messenger” wastes no time in establishing a heavy-hitting but limber groove.

As evidenced by their posthumous 2016 2LP Live, Pylon was adept at instilling a sense of physical urgency in the club setting and in the home; it’s not for nothing that the band’s 1980 debut was titled Gyrate. “Messenger” continues this sensibility by dishing out a bass-throbbing and drum-thumping mid-tempo that, while certainly post-punky, isn’t the slightest bit labored in achieving this goal. Rather than approximating Pylon’s unique brand of dance rock, PRS rekindle it with precision and verve.

Along the way the guitar stabs nicely and Hay’s vocals unfurl with confidence, culminating in the agitated rawness for which she is noted. As an A-side it’s altogether swank, but after multiple spins it’s the flip that reinforces the success of this 45, kicking out an upbeat mover adjusting and deepening the dance rock thrust, taking a detour into an out-and-out party zone that’s initially reminiscent of their Athens contemporaries the B-52’s.

The differentiating factors are sweetly unexpected and read as seemingly disparate; there’s the sound of a harpsichord (whether real or faux, I’m not sure) sprinkled throughout a tune that morphs into R&B revue-style classicism complete with instructions by Hay on how to get down. Closing the eyes as it unwinds, my imagination conjures massed individuals working their spastic new wave torsos into a collective frenzy, a vision that should be taken as an unreserved statement of approval.

One more cool thing about this 45; it broadens the scope of PRS’s ambition. The 2017 “Part Time Punks Session” 12-inch was cool, but it was essentially a John Peel-inspired aircheck (for the titular program hosted on Los Angeles’ KXLU), and it featured six songs previously recorded by Pylon proper (two from Gyrate and four from ’83’s Chomp). Stepping up developments, these two new ones are truly that, both credited as written by the full band.

If offered in the spirit of preservation, “Messenger” and “Cliff Notes” ultimately achieve greater heights, illuminating Pylon Reenactment Society’s own thing as they underscore the worthiness of Hay’s former outfit. What a cool slice of double-functioning that is.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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