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Definitive Albums: Young Marble Giants 'Colossal Youth' (1980)

Zen and the Art of Drum Machine Maintenance

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Young Marble Giants 'Colossal Youth'
Rough Trade

You're Haunting Me Because I Let You

At first there's silence. As far as ways to start an album go, 'nothingness' usually doesn't rank up there with "1, 2, 3, 4!" But, suddenly, out of the void comes a pulse; a heartbeat of life in a emptiness of space. It sounds cosmic, too: an electronic pulse, sounding out without tone or melody. As the sound grows louder, you can place it: it's a rudimentary drum-machine. And, over the course of Colossal Youth, you'll come to know it well.

Reducing the pop-song to its essentials, Young Marble Giants approached composition as Mark Rothko might a canvas. Using each element at its most elemental —drum machine as rhythm, bass as counterpoint, single-note guitar as melody, half-spoken voice as harmony— the Welsh trio staged a musical study in minimalism.

Elementary, My Dear Welshmen

All bands dubbed post-punk were, it was assumed, outfits who were taking lessons learned from punk and applying them anew. For the Welsh trio —vocalist Alison Statton, and brothers Philip and Stuart Moxham on bass and guitar, respectively— it was taking punk's noble notion of joyous simplicity, and making something cerebral out of it. Punk's three-chords were a beginner's glorious basics; small skills to be amplified large. Young Marble Giants saw simplicity from a different vantage; a song like "Wurlitzer Jukebox," with its shale-brittle guitar and robo-funk bass, showing a musical proficiency that belies the song's boiled-down basics.

Recorded in three days in a studio in North Wales, Young Marble Giants' one-and-only album achieves a perfect kind of simplicity. Their judicious use of parts found something starkly profound amidst the musically rudimentary, their unfettered incantations and metronomic rhythms stripping away mythical notions of musical 'feel' to communicate on the most basic level. When Statton sings "nature intended the abstract for you and me," it all makes sense. Existence is complicated. Music need not be.

Record Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: February, 1980

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