There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Singles and Sessions: 1979–81
Kill Rock Stars
Don’t pity Delta 5 for missing out on the recent postpunk revival. There were no awkward reunions. There were no embarrassing features in Harp. Best of all, there were no young imitators watering down and rocking up the band’s sound. Not that they would have had much success anyway. This Leeds-based outfit with Mekons and Gang of Four connections had not one but two funk-informed bassists, not to mention a way with melody and structure that confounded even Greil Marcus. “On record or onstage,” the critical demigod wrote in a 1980 piece for New West magazine, “these songs are a lot trickier than they look.” “Mind Your Own Business,” the A-side of one of Delta 5’s Rough Trade singles and the track that kicks off Kill Rock Stars’ new re-examination of the band’s work, Singles and Sessions 1979–81, is more postdisco than postpunk. It’s anchored by an ascending bass hook that’s definitely the work of more than one player and the kind of skittery-high-hat/steady-snare stuff that really works on the dance floor. It’s also got a drum-and-vocal break and only a trace of the angular guitar work that would come to define the genre in which the group was operating. The result led some critics to characterize the two-man/three-woman band as “the female Gang of Four.” But the fact is, more than 25 years and countless DFA acts on, D5 sounds much more adventurous than Go4, primarily because Alan Riggs wasn’t half the guitar player Andy Gill was. Really: Note-for-note, there’s no comparison, which means that the rest of the group has to be that much more inventive. On 1980’s “Anticipation,” vocalists/bassists Ros Allen and Bethan Peters provide the backbone of the song with a vocal part that follows a commanding bass line, easily assuming the place left for them by the fractured guitar lines. And even on the tracks that seem to go most with other music from Leeds during that period, the members of Delta 5 manage to leave a distinctive mark: the lyrics to blistering 1979 B-side “Now That You’ve Gone,” which turn effortlessly from romantic desolation to sociopolitical defiance; the horns that fill out final Rough Trade single “Colour,” which would have found no place on Entertainment! As postpunk records go circa 2006, that’s as good a reason as any to pay attention. —Mike Kanin