The Method Actors

This Is Still It

Acute

Jul 07, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


An early-'80s Athens, GA band that never got the level of attention bestowed upon even the scene's second-tier commercial contemporaries (Pylon, The Love Tractors), The Method Actors were a flat-out terrific post-punk band, with a stentorian push-pull sound as equally indebted to Television as Gang of Four. Their records have aged remarkably well, as evidenced on this terrific compilation that culls pretty much everything the band did during their 1980-81 prolific peak. Hell, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck claims in the record's liner notes, written with the erudition and enthusiasm as only one who lived through the scene could've, "I must have seen them play 100 times."

And their jagged edge can be heard on the more roughshod moments of R.E.M.'s early discography, tempering that band's heralded Byrds-ian tendencies with a more than welcome discordant edge. But The Method Actors in of themselves are a revelation to listen to, as on the Spartan "Privilege," from their 1980 album River of You, in which singer Vic Varney's flat intonation of "If I never wrote another line you'd still be here/And I'd still be telling lies and having fun" is half-whispered over queasy guitar chords that echo the languid sentiment of the song.

The slow-burning surge of "My Time," also from River of You, is a fine example of the spring-coiled tension at the heart of the band's ethos, as Varney laments cheekily, "I'd love to go nowhere with you," in an affected drawl over a racing pulse rhythm guitar. It locks in adroitly with the thunderous drumming of David Gamble, his parts as essential to the band as any of Varney's more ostentatious contributions.

Yes, these were cacophonous post-punk numbers, but the band had melodic tendencies at their core, as illustrated on the maudlin number "Rang-A-Tang." The track blossoms glacially, eventually metamorphosing into an off-kilter grandeur redolent of Talking Heads, so over-driven but never over the top, the epitome of restraint.

This band didn't have the sublime commercial melodies of R.E.M, or the innate propulsion and dance-inflected propensities of the The B-52s, but they were nonetheless a briliant Athens act that never got their due. Here's hoping this compilation changes that, and that listeners also follow Buck's heed from the liner notes, when he suggests, "Maybe this release will be a good introduction to the career of Vic Varney, who is still making great records 25 years later." (www.myspace.com/methodactors)

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