Released ??, 1986
Produced by George Pappas, Billy Swain and 86
Engineered by George Pappas and Dan Vaganek
- New Pair of Eyes
- The City
- Seven Weeks and One Day
- Shade of Black
- Kings Mountain
86 is a curious band in the entirety of my music collection–barring the handful of CDs (and even a 7″) I have acquired from people I actually know in person. In some ways, it’s actually even more curious than those items, as it was never issued digitally at all. 86 was a band from Atlanta, GA in the mid-to-late ’80s that got around somewhat in the southeast from what I have gathered, but not much farther. Indeed, the only reason I know them is someone I know who lived in Atlanta at the time they were around–from about ’83-’89–and asked me to make digital copies of her aged records from those days, some of the last she was keeping around, even past owning a turntable. For some time, all I had was the needle-drops of the two records she passed me (Closely Guarded Secret from ’85 and Minutes in a Day from ’86) that I of course dutifully sent back when I was finished.
If you try to find information on them, you will find very little these days. There’s a surprisingly complete page on Discogs.com, there’s a–no, I’m not kidding–MySpace page, and there’s this little blog entry that does actually have needle drops of their entire catalog. I’ve noted in my “What is this?” page that I don’t normally like linking to or including such things, but these two releases I have, at least, were put out by Twilight Records, which was based in Atlanta, and doesn’t appear to have released anything for over two decades–for certain, these albums were pressed on vinyl only, and have not been re-pressed, re-issued or re-released.
This is actually a kind of fun and exciting way to start this blog: a vinyl-only release from a band you’ve probably never heard of, that is wildly out of print. I myself was naturally in need of listening to them as I recorded them for my friend–short of deliberately making the things silent and shutting off all other digital output from a computer not distinctly designed for such purposes, there’s no other way to record analog materials. I found myself liking them more and more as I listened and edited down the tracks to manageable digital forms (separating the tracks and eliminating excessive pre-track silence).
As a result, one day when I walked in to a record store I patronized on occasion and recognized the copy of Minutes in a Day, I pulled it out immediately and found Provocation right next to it, picking it up without a second thought as well. This record store was of course in Carrboro, North Carolina–so not a monstrous distance from Atlanta, and in an area noted for a destination music venue for decades now (The Cat’s Cradle).
Of course, the first song that appealed to me was actually one released as a single, and appearing on Closely Guarded Secret otherwise, but I’ll go ahead and throw out a recording of it from their last show matched to some photos from the same show, all of which was uploaded by a fan to YouTube:
I’m mostly ecstatic because I finally know the full lyrics of the chorus–they were always a bit muddled in my copies!
But, let’s on to this album:
Provocation is, in effect, the only full-length album 86 ever released. They did come from the time frame and genre most associated with post-punk and its offshoots into “alternative rock,” which does explain or excuse the 24 minute running time of Closely Guarded Secret, and Minutes in a Day explicitly labels itself an EP, so its 18 minutes is understandable as well. Still, at 12 tracks and only 31:00, Provocation only just squeaks into a reasonable full length run-time.
If you listen to enough bands labeled “post-punk,” you’ll find that there are at least strains that hold similarities between each other, even as universally there’s not an easy handle to place on the entire genre or group of bands held under it. 86 falls in line more with the Mission of Burma side of things–much more post-punk than alt-rock, which means less pop, and more angles, to oversimplify things a bit. If you know what U2 sounded like in their earliest days, it’s a lot like that, but nothing like what they began to sound like with even War and “New Year’s Day”–more like “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” and “Out of Control.” If you only know U2 from their singles, it’s best you forget I made this comparison! Echoes of Echo & the Bunnymen, The Killing Joke and the Cure are not impossible to find, either.
The album starts with “New Pair of Eyes,” the band pushing things right out of the gate with vocals that drag the music in a forward motion, unified between multiple members of the band and establishing their sound very clearly, with Mac McNeilly drumming furiously and making full use of his kit while Max Koshewa’s bass establishes the melody’s foundations that their vocals truly define and Ken Schenck squeals and bends seemingly unaware of everything else around him, but fitting in all the same.
“The City” has Koshewa establishing the beat with a muted set of bass chords as Schenck slowly crunches in with similarly staccato guitar and McNeilly’s drums arrive to form the more complicated rhythmic underpinnings of what continues to be a lurchingly forward-leaning but chopped up sort of song.
“Seven Weeks and a Day” (mislabeled on the album sleeve, label, and mis-placed in the inner-sleeve’s lyrics, the only way to properly identify it) is probably my favourite song on the album. There’s a dejected and forlorn tone to the vocals (shared by Koshewa and Schenck, but seemingly primarily Koshewa) that plays contrary to a rather buoyant bassline that slides and sounds almost like what you would expect from a very large rubber ball bouncing, following along with a strong drum attack and guitars that again seem to be playing something that seems out of place but isn’t at all. Eventually, the chorus of, “A loss of life/A loss of limb” shifts in pitch, energy and tone, becoming more desperate and aching as the song builds. A real winner.
The end of side one has McNeilly’s first run on lead vocals as well as Schenck’s, each of which shows (as do many of Koshewa’s lead vocals) the more deliberate approach each takes to their instrument when singing. Rarely leaving the instrument to hang as they focus on their voice, they do typically choose a simple pattern, but an odd and interesting one: McNeilly’s turn on “Shade of Black” (its title being in the song being the only way to confirm the aforementioned track order goof) has him riding his hi-hat over steady bass kicks, until he finishes his vocal part to turn to a furious string of poundings that end out the song, moving from menace to actual threat. Schenck’s approach is not dissimilar on “Kings Mountain,” though he has an almost spoken-word approach to the vocals, while Koshewa again uses bass chords, somewhat unusually, as the focus of his playing for the song. McNeilly is mechanistic but uses more fills when he’s focused on drumming, all of it leading to Schenck’s wild and meandering guitar solo that closes out the song and the side.
Side two has only more good stuff: “Eyeless” is their most punk or hardcore track in terms of energy and aggression, while “Sonambo” has Koshewa referencing “the best laid plans of Mice and Men” over an unusually hesitant sort of bassline, but under the cascading shards of Schenck’s fascinatingly angular guitar work. There’s a brief “interlude” of reversed recording before the album’s final tracks, with Schenck overpowering “Wondering” with a guitar that seems to just arc over the rest of the song like streaks of lightning before it finds itself curving into more comfortable bends, while the vocals of all three members contribute to a deliberately confused atmosphere of conflicting lines. “Inside” has more cheerful bass contrasted with Schenck seeming to cut through the rhythm section with a veritable saw of guitar–not in the sense used to hilarious effect in metal, where the credits read “buzzsaw guitars,” but actually sounding like it’s buzzsawing through the song itself. “Wheel of Confusion” closes the album with another upbeat tempo, frenetic drumming from McNeilly failing to betray his position as vocalist for the song, while Schenck rides his tremolo arm like nobody’s business, wobbling the melody off in strange directions, letting it carry the melody between vocal lines as Koshewa thunders along steadily between either of them, holding it all together.
Honestly, this record stands happily and readily in my collection–it doesn’t feel like some amateurish, almost-there effort from a band it’s just cool to know because they’re kind of obscure. It’s a great record, and should really have gotten out further than it did–but may just have been lost in the shuffle of a time where its sound wasn’t as distinct as it is now.
While Koshewa and Schenck seem to have faded into the background, McNeilly went on to join The Jesus Lizard (who I’ve vaguely ruminated on listening to, but now quite need to) who are much more famous than 86 ever was, or sadly ever will be.
If you want to try grabbing this record in a nice, real, physical format:
Discogs also has a few out for sale, too.
- Next Up: Aborym – Kali-Yuga Bizarre