During the post-punk era, when genre cross-pollination and sonic experimentation was at an all time high, Young Marble Giants were still something of an anomaly. While New York had gone new wave and Leeds was immersed in a wave of political dance punk, this Welsh trio had taken on a different approach completely, mixing buzzing organs, chugging, percussive guitars, fluid and funky basslines, and the heavenly vocals of Alison Statton. The band had recorded only one proper album in their time together, the 1980 breakthrough Colossal Youth. But that album was as innovative and revolutionary as defining statements get. Truthfully, there was very little that sounded anything like it at the time, and even today, there aren’t too many who have chimed in on its unique sound. There have been a few groups, notably Pram and Broadcast, who have constructed their own spooky atmospheric pop from similar textures, but not with the same punk rawness in which the Young Marble Giants did. And since I’m obligated to mention it, Kurt Cobain was a fan.
Nearly three decades later, Domino records have reissued the landmark Colossal Youth as a, fittingly, colossal three-disc set featuring their collected single and compilation releases, peel sessions, and the early, home-recorded Salad Days compilation. Disc one covers the proper album release, which sounds as innovative and eerie today as it must have in 1980 (I hadn’t heard it at the time, as I hadn’t been born). Tracks like “Searching For Mr. Right” and “Include Me Out” have a melodic, yet punk-influenced simplicity about them, basic drum machine thuds driving their stripped-down arrangements. Even cooler still are the organ-fueled tracks like “N.I.T.A.” and “The Taxi,” which are as spooky as they are hip. It’s not hard to draw a line between these tracks and Stereolab or Broadcast, and as a fan of all three, I wonder, myself, why there aren’t more bands of their ilk.
The album’s title has a playful funkiness about it, while “The Man Amplifier” is a space-age lounge number. The surf-inspired guitar of “Choci Loni” is particularly awesome, slicing through an ambient cloud of analog effects, and “Wurlitzer Jukebox,” which even had a record label named after it, is something of an anthem here. Its jangly chords cascade over the taut, flexing basslines, and Statton’s vocals sound their most angelic. Recalling Hole’s obnoxious cover of “Credit in the Straight World,” it’s refreshing to hear the original here, which gets by much more successfully on subtlety and streamlined cool.
The extras included here, and they are numerous, are no doubt what make this reissue release such an exciting collection. The second disc begins with the Testcard EP, featuring several short, instrumental tracks like “This Way,” “Posed by Models,” and “The Clock.” The “Final Day” single is a sing-songy standout, while b-sides “Cakewalking” and “Radio Silents” are pretty solid themselves. And Salad Days, which features several early versions of tracks from Colossal Youth stands as an essential artifact as well, its rawness coming through loud and crackly. Likewise, the Peel Sessions disc, though quite brief at only five tracks, is not to be missed, if for no other reason than an even punchier mix of the band’s minimal anti-punk.
Young Marble Giants are precisely the kind of band who deserves acclaim for doing something different and following a unique artistic vision, one both influential and far ahead of its time. While there are certainly many who have taken cues from YMG’s atmospheric new wave sound, their style remains distinctive and largely without peer. Sometimes it’s easier to make people notice you when you aren’t making a lot of noise.
Stereolab – Refried Ectoplasm: Switched On, Vol. 2
Beat Happening – Jamboree
Broadcast – Tender Buttons
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.