YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS

 

Post-punk and ''perfection'' rarely went together. This was an era of experimental over-reach, of bands catalysed by the punk do-it-yourself principle attempting to expand the music by embracing genres (funk, reggae, jazz) that in their original context relied on virtuosity and slickness. Artistic ambition and anyone-can-do-it amateurism make for uneasy bedfellows, and many of the key groups of the period made records that were closer to sketches towards an ideal of a new music than the fully-realised deal. Even some of the accredited classics that defined the era - Public Image Ltd's Metal Box, Talking Heads' Fear of Music, Gang of Four’s Entertainment - have the odd moment or several that are substandard, botched, or simply misconceived.

 

And really, that's okay, because perfection wasn't the point of postpunk. What was? Throwing out ideas, setting challenges for band and audience alike, keeping the collective conversation moving. That's why groups like Cabaret Voltaire, the Pop Group, Scritti Politti, Throbbing Gristle, were heroic figures, true catalysts. What this does mean, though, is that there are really just a handful of long-form recordings from the entire 1978-84 period that are immaculate from conception to construction. The Slits' Cut, Slates by the Fall, Pere Ubu's first two albums...and Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth.

 

The Cardiff trio's one-and-only album contains not a wasted note, barely a blemish. The individual songs have something of the ''rightness'' of things found in nature - leaves, snowflakes, pebbles, sea-shells - that are at once miraculous yet commonplace, marvelous and unassuming. Together the tunes add up to a perfectly sequenced whole, a cohesive experience.

 

Colossal Youth became the independent scene equivalent of a blockbuster smash on its release in early 1980, and clearly the punters were partly responding to the sheer quality and aesthetic integrity of the record, which arrived without fanfare, seemingly from nowhere. But they were also spellbound by the originality and unusual-ness of the sound - there was nothing else like Young Marble Giants around at the time - and by its quiet radicalism.

 

Colossal Youth was followed by a couple of EPs, and then the group split up, to everyone's surprise and dismay. Frustrating as this disintegration was for fans, it had the beneficial side-effect of ensuring that the group left a small, perfectly-formed body of work - compact enough to fit on a compact disc.

 

-Simon Reynolds

 

 

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