Monday, March 01, 2010

Crazy Rhythm Method Men

The Method Actors are a dream band for vinyl completists. The Athens post-punk duo released several 7" singles, a 10" EP and an album (in single LP and double LP versions). The sleeves feature lavish original paintings and arresting B&W photos of the Mutt & Jeff pair. But the music of the Method Actors has never been available on CD until now. On March 9, Acute Records will release This Is Still It, a compilation of the Method Actors' 1980 and 1981 recordings.

While there is a surfeit of guitar/drum duos on the indie scene today, that lineup was unusual in 1980. Half Japanese were contemporaries (and labelmates) of the Method Actors; but the Flat Duo Jets were yet to emerge. Today's guitar/drum duos -- Japandroids, No Age, etc. -- and their fans could take a lesson from "Do the Method", Vic Varney and David Gamble's recording debut and statement of purpose. Varney was as innovative a guitarist as Ricky Wilson (his primary inspiration), Randy Bewley of Pylon, or Peter Buck (who acknowledges Varney's influence in the liner notes to This Is Still It. Freed from the tether of a bassline, Varney's playing ranged from modal harmonies and drones to taut funky riffs.

This Is Still It begins with ten songs recorded for that debut (NME's Single of the Week) and Rhythms of You, the 10" EP that followed. The songs are imbued with surreal humor and oblique come-ons. "I'd love to go nowhere with you" is the refrain of "My Time", and "No Condition" ends with the punchline, "I'm in no condition to be sleeping alone." These early songs are danceable, odd, and fun; but the band has yet to escape the influence of the B-52's.

The second half of This Is Still It features nine songs recorded in 1981 for Little Figures (Sounds Magazine's Album of the Year). "Rang a Tang" opens with gentle guitar strumming, joined by steel drums (!) and bass (!!) Varney and Gamble come into their own on Little Figures, exploring new instruments, novel arrangements and song structures. This Is Still It was carefully mastered to CD from vinyl (the original tapes were lost in a fire). The bass sounds rich, the guitars crisp, and the drums expansive.

David Gamble left the Method Actors "by mutual agreement" in 1982. Gamble later recorded under the name Jack Heard, and he appeared in the Dexter Romweber documentary "Two Headed Cow". Vic Varney continued the Method Actors for two more years with saxophonist Stan Satin (of the Atlanta band VieTNam), Robert Schmid (Swimming Pool Q's) and Michael Richmond (Love Tractor). This later version of the Method Actors released several EP's on Press Records that are not included in This Is Still It. The CD focuses on the most innovative and celebratory music of the band's career. These 19 songs are brimming with vitality and joy, and that's why This Is Still It.

Do the Method


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