Album Reviews

Josef K – Entomology

(Domino) UK release date: 20 November 2006


Those guardians of the wittier end of today’s indie world, the Domino label, have had some fun of late. Their coffers swelled by the world-conquering Franz Ferdinand, they’ve taken to the occasional significant retrospective.

It’s logical that Josef K, Edinburgh’s turn-of the-80s guitar manglers, four skinny boys in suits when Franz were in nappies, whose Kafka-referenced name has been checked on more than one review of Alex Kapranos’ gang, would be a more than reasonable choice for a compilation.

Josef K came and went in a couple of summers, leaving singer Paul Haig to dampen his pop funk sensibilities in the mistaken belief he was Sly Stone, and the excellent guitarist Malcolm Ross to jump into bed with Postcard labelmates Orange Juice. Before that, they recorded and shelved one album, Sorry For Laughing, and being contrary sorts, released another, The Only Fun in Town, which seemed like commercial suicide at the time, particularly as it appeared to have been recorded down a very deep well.

Such concerns were not Josef K’s though. Add a clutch of fine singles – each one a little existential statement on its own, and a farewell John Peel session, and it was all over. Leave a good-looking corpse and all that.

Josef K have been compiled before, on Marina’s long-deleted 1998 set Endless Soul, but Entomology goes six tracks better (22 in all), and arranges them sort-of chronologically. Which is fine, and even seems to vindicate the band’s decision to re-record their album, but a couple of corking early 7″ singles aside, it only really gets going eight or so tracks in.

That’s really a small gripe though. Even a quarter of a century on, these songs are brittle, angular, keening, alarmingly funky things. The stance is determinedly cool (even if they were apparently partial to the odd kaftan), but at the same time the band play like their lives depend upon it. Like their contemporaries the Fire Engines, they may be namedropped constantly, but nobody can touch them.

When the opening chiming chords of Endless Soul announce themselves, they’re as exciting as they were when first heard on Rough Trade’s epochal C81 compilation. Chance Meeting, with its horn-enhanced refrain, is a glorious, almost prime Byrdsian thing, Haig’s Verlaine-esque vocal marking out (as Paul Morley’s astute sleevenotes point out), the band’s roots were firmly in New York’s art rock camp, far removed from the fag-end of British punk.

The set closes with three tracks from that momentous Peel session – the very fine Heaven Sent and the blistering The Missionary previously saw active service as posthumous singles, but Alice Cooper‘s bubblegum Applebush represents a special treat for trainspotters. The whole of Entomology should open new ears and eyes to Josef K’s thrilling, scraping, clattering greatness.


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