The late ’70s and early ’80s post-punk period threw up many fascinating and varied noises, fired by the new freedom of an anything-goes approach to making music. Bands, despite often being barely competent, latched onto ideas from funk, reggae, jazz, even disco, or the underground experimental sounds that had flourished before punk’s year zero decreed they be shut out.
Into such a climate, Rough Trade Records, then on a roll, unleashed Young Marble Giants‘ one and only album, Colossal Youth, in 1980. An oddity then – and a very successful one, as it turned out – it remains a remarkable and different record.
Formed in Cardiff by siblings Stuart and Phil Moxham (guitar and bass respectively), and Phil’s girlfriend Alison Statton on vocals, YMG defined lo-fi long before anyone thought to coin the phrase. It’s music so small you feel you could slip it in a matchbox.
A rudimentary drum machine puffs and wheezes away in the background. Phil’s dextrous, trebly, elastic bass dances rings around Stuart’s muted guitar with a near-telepathy. Alison sings, almost as if to herself, slightly self-conscious, embarrassed. Stuart apparently didn’t even want her in the band, but she defines the YMG sound as much as all the other elements.
This melancholy, monochrome pop, so right for the times, now plays like a blueprint for any subsequent band with nothing to spend, a small space to create in, and only a tape recorder to save it on. It’s cheap, and it’s very much analogue, but it’s also disciplined, tight, with not a note wasted. All 15 of Colossal Youth’s songs and instrumentals possess simple, memorable melodies, and just two clock in over the three-minute mark. The song titles alone suggest something a bit different is going on here: Eating Noddemix, Choci Loni, The Man Amplifier, Wurlitzer Jukebox.
Pinning down references is tricky – there are hints of classic ’60s pop, a little Duane Eddy twang, and a spot of Booker T and the MGs‘ super-drilled perfection; there’s a flourish of organ vibrato that belongs somewhere with black-and-white television, ice cream and seaside holidays long gone; there’s even a nod to the TV interval music of old.
Domino’s issue of the album includes a second disc. There you’ll find the six tracks from the instrumental Testcard EP, three from the Final Day single (including the 1:42 title song’s concise summation of a post-apocalyptic world), and less essentially, a previously released collection of early demos. Pleasingly, the album stands alone on the first disc, flawless and untouched. You only get one chance to hear Colossal Youth for the first time. So if you’re not yet initiated, unhook the phone, put some time aside and revel in its tiny beauty.