Artist: Surplus 1980

Album: Relapse in Response

Surplus 1980 — a new band, though founder/frontman Moe Staiano has been a fascinating percussionist in S.F. Bay bands for 15 years — have a well-chosen name. As long as you pick up on the right 1980 musical references: the skewed-punk and post-punk and spiky New Wave ones. surplus_1980Essential Logic, Pere Ubu, the Fall, the Slits, the Ex, Tin Huey, first-album Gang of Four: Relapse in Response is a louder and faster record than any of those, but draw from the same well of shouty discordant rock’n’roll clamor, the same joy in complaining. Chord progressions are less friendly than on a Chuck Berry record, but have the same elemental drive, and the drums — plus Staiano’s various re-purposed metals and tools — are clattered up front to make sure we don’t miss them.

Sometimes the guitars sound like sound effects from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Sometimes they sound like mis-transcribed Black Sabbath. Sometimes there’s horns, oboes, and clarinets helping out. Or toy piano. Assertively, of course; Surplus 1980 know, surely as any 4-year-old does, that even toys are a form of intrusion.

Staiano has a strong voice, but makes little pretense of being a singer. He can, when he chooses, go up and down a few notes on a scale, without smashing them beyond the point of repair. More often he’s a speaker, a character actor. M.E.S. Shoe Contract (named for the Fall’s Mark E. Smith) includes bouts of high-speed high-pitched urgency: “I could quit! I feel like having a clear view of focus of a storyline defeats the purpose of anything of lyrical significance! Wit is a form of smartness! Smart is sexy but I am not smart! So I will shut up, which is probably smart!” And a caveman-firm rejoinder: “So that makes me sexy, so that makes me sexy”. And the staccato, firm shouts correcting “But! this! absolutely! has! nothing! to do! with sex! at! all!”. Ironically, his male-female duet with Jesse Quattro later in the song, toying together with the phrase “It’s pure nonsense!”, *is* sexy… or maybe I’m just saying that and don’t really mean it. A little self-knowledge is a dangerous thing; I feel blessed to have none.

Trying to Succeed, Waiting with Little to No Result is frustrated angst-punk; Let’s Put Another One There is a critique of urban sprawl; the 8-plus minute Ed Saad, crammed with cool high-speed arrangement ideas, is probably about many things but the most obvious is the pleasure of saying “Ed Saad Ed Saad Ed Saad Ed Saad Ed Saad”. The Gooseneck, by Amy X Neuburg and the Cello ChiXtet, is a wonderful punk song to cover, sly and free-associative and funny as well as indignant. Staiano doesn’t even attempt its tricky melody or cello arrangement (although he does have a cello or two just sawing away), just focusing on the words as his band stampedes through: the best melody is handed to trombonists, who let you hear them slide from note to note.

So if it doesn’t help you to picture Surplus 1980 in relation to a bunch of old punks that only critics and geeks ever liked, perhaps you can picture them as an insane runaway marching band. Which is the best response *I* can imagine to those daily 6:30 a.m. practices, or to being loud strutting mascots to a bunch of annoying high school football players. A good sort of marching band, then, to have around.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!

Technical note:

You can hear various Surplus 1980 songs on their Soundcloud page, and buy Relapse in Response at Wayside Music .

If you’re game for buying things via our Amazon links (and it makes us happy when you do) – well, Amazon doesn’t have Surplus 1980. But if you’d enjoy them, maybe you’d also want the new Pere Ubu cd we’re linking in its place. Or the complete set of Oz books! I hope Amazon has that; click around, find out.