In my spare time I have been spending time on a comprehensive piece on the Athens Scene in terms of R.E.M. As of course, I have such a detailed history of being down there. . .
(insert laugh track here)
However, when albums such as this pop out of the woodwork they do need some extra listening.
The Method Actors to me were just a name. I had never been able to spend any time actually listening to their music at any real depth and so this album's release came with a bit of apprehension. Am I just buying this album because they came from Athens? My answer to that was 'Yes'. In fact, I failed to read any reviews on it but based my knowledge on the fact that Pylon has posted it on their Facebook fan page.
And getting back to the R.E.M. piece I was writing earlier on their 30th Anniversary gave me a second reason to purchase it. I concluded the purchase was for “Research” which I have now decided is an apt reason to purchase any music whatsoever.
(Not that this has ever been a problem with my own wife as she has always encouraged me to write, write and write some more but for those of you out in the real world looking for a way to purchase more music, what better than to start a blog and tell your significant other that the purchases are blog expenses.)
Of course this is what happens to music. It is born and has a day and a life whereby it fulfills our fantasies and then we move onto the next one. For these songs they were trapped in time and once again released to a different time and audience. The Method Actors have been trapped in a vacuum waiting for the perfect moment to put their name in the news again.
The Method Actors were a duo consisting of Vic Varney on Guitar and David Gamble on drums. Their sound, however, is in no way minimalist in nature as what they are able to accomplish as a two-piece will astound the listener.
What of course has shocked me from this purchase was that the music was surprisingly good. The list of names that they put together regarding the Athens scene is not just an overblown pile of trash. As I read off the name “Method Actors” they will be firmly supplanted as one of the true treasures of the Post-Punk movement.
It would appear that both Drowned In Sound and Pitchfork would agree.
But in terms of their sound compared to R.E.M., I see that they are much more of an influence especially guitarwise as Peter Buck admits in the liner notes.
The Athens music scene was very vibrant in the late 70s early 80s. Everybody is familiar with the B-52s and REM and to a lesser extent Pylon and Love Tractor, but one of my favorite bands and most innovative was the Method Actors, a band that I must have seen play 100 times.
To me the Method Actors really had it all. Their unique two-man lineup, guitar and drums (both sang—weirdly, marvelously), was unheard of at the time. David Gamble used thunderstick that must have weighed at least a pound each, had the deepest voice I ever heard and looked like a brick shithouse version of Jeff Chandler in boxer shorts; Vic looked like a cigarette with a guitar. Anyone who has seen the White Stripes knows how much can be gotten out of that configuration but at the time it was considered strange and extreme. They were incredibly prolific, with new songs every time you saw them, single releases, European EPs, and new albums consistently.
They were a propulsive live band with a full sound that belied the two-man lineup. And in Vic Varney they had an extremely talented guitar player who rewrote the rules on rhythm guitar, at least as far as I was concerned. I stood in front of Vic night after night watching his hands and trying to figure out how he did what he did. In his use of drum notes, broken chords, modal harmonies, and dissonant rhythms, he created a template for some of the things I did later with my band.
These records have been out of print for a very long time. I recently rediscovered them on vinyl and was surprised to see how much of an influence Vic had cast on my playing. I’m extremely happy to finally see these records back in print. They amount to a kind of secret history of the Athens scene and their re-release is something to be treasured. Maybe this release will be a good introduction to the career of Vic Varney, who is still making great records 25 years later. - Peter Buck
Ok, so Peter Buck is a fan. Why should you be a fan? When I hear the first track “Do the Method”, it brings upon all the elements of what I would expect out of the early Athens Dance scene.
In fact, if I was not denied entry of a certain club in Chicago on the night of my Bachelor party, that plays retro 80s music on Thursday night, I would argue that they could just play this album straight through and it would be a rip roaring event.
As you scan through the album on first listen, however, you will notice a plethora of sounds that are not just lined with hooks. We do hear some of the more artsier moments of the Athens scene. ‘You’ slightly danceable awkwardness reminds me more of a band like Pylon.
'Rang-A-Tang' sounds like a song that should have been placed on a John Hughes movie from the 80s. Most definitely the most poppy track on the album, the part of the song is pop bliss before Varney goes into a David Byrne-spiel halfway through before the songs is brought back to form.
This 19 track album is full of other surprises, as pscychaedelica makes it’s appearance later on. On tracks such as ‘Pigeons’, the longest track clocking in at 6:55 that take you back to the late acid rock bands of the 60’s with little vocals and Varney but his rhythm guitar and the persistent drumming of Gamble.
Point being, you should not just get this because it’s from Athens, nor because Peter Buck likes it but rather this is genuinely great music that if you appreciate this scene will no doubt be listing this among the better re-released albums of the year.