Translator: Sometimes People Forget

Translator_SometimesPeopleForgetA treasure trove of demos from 1980s powerhouse

Translator’s 1982 modern rock classic “Everywhere That I’m Not” turned out to be an ironic title, since it was itself everywhere. The record’s canny combination of an impassioned post-punk vocal, a singalong chorus and the rocket fuel of Columbia Records’ distribution network launched the single on both college and commercial radio. Translator formed in Los Angeles, but found their home on Howie Klein’s San Francisco-based 415 label, alongside Romeo Void, Wire Train and Red Rockers. The group’s debut, Heartbeats and Triggers, gained deep album play on college radio just as the medium was itself was gaining traction as a tastemaker. The band recorded three more albums, showing off talent and imagination that spanned well beyond their new wave breakthrough, but they never again caught the popular heat of their debut.

This volume of demos is centered around that key year of 1982, collecting early, pre-LP material from 1979, and extending through tracks recorded at the time of their self-titled third album in 1985. Most familiar to most listeners will be the demos of “Everywhere That I’m Not” and its album-mate “Necessary Spinning.” Each is surprisingly finished in its attitude and arrangement, sounding ready for both the studio and stage. The former is among four recordings by the original trio lineup, waxed before guitarist Robert Darlington joined the band. The band’s first two demos, “Translator” and “Lost,” show how the band merged rock ‘n’ roll roots – rockabilly, surf and mod – with a harder punk delivery. By 1980 the group had grown into the quartet that would stay together throughout their four 1980’s albums, and regroup for 2012’s Big Green Lawn.

The demos include material from each of those four original albums, including an early version of “Beyond Today,” titled “Get Out.” The demo’s raw sound – particularly its dry vocals – contrasts sharply with the album’s polished production; the original on-the-nose protest lyrics were smartly replaced by more open-ended, philosophical thoughts. In many cases, the album versions only lightly brushed up what was already in the demos, clarifying the acoustics, enlarging the drums and tightening the guitars. What will be especially interesting to fans are the songs that never made it past demo form, including the post-punk “Lost,” prog-rock “Fiendish Thingy,” punk rock “Optimism,” neo-psych “We Fell Away,” French language “My Restless Heart,” hard-rocking “Brouhaha” and the superb set closer “I’ll Be Your Summer.”

Those looking to expand on their memory of “Everywhere That I’m Not” should start with the group’s debut or a compilation of album tracks. But if you’ve already picked up the group’s catalog, this 22-track set, curated by Steve Barton, is a great place to continue. In addition to songs that never made it to a final studio version, the unrefined edges of the demos provide insight into the band’s vision of themselves. Better yet, several of the tracks were recorded live-in-the-studio, giving fans a chance to re-live the band’s stage dynamic. Translator’s breakthrough in the post-punk new wave era turns out to have been more a matter of timing than of musical destiny, as these demos show their range was a great deal wider than could make it on MTV or commercial radio. The disc’s 20-page booklet includes quotes from David Kahne, Ed Stasium, Steve Berlin and detailed liners by Steve Barton. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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