The Neats: 1981-84 The Ace of Hearts Years

Neats_1981-84AceOfHeartsYearsReissue of seminal Boston post-punk guitar band

The Neats were something of an anomaly within the early-80s Boston music scene – failed to hew exclusively to any of the punk, pop, roots or garage ideals of the time. Their trance-inducing rhythm guitars shared a greater resonance with the Feelies, Dream Syndicate and early REM than their Beantown brethren. They would later evolve away from this sound for 1987’s Crash at Crush, but their original musical vision was captured in a single, EP and album for the legendary Ace of Hearts label. All of that, plus a pre-Ace of Hearts track for Propeller, and four previously released post-album tracks (#19-22) are collected here for the first time in digital form.

The disc begins with the 1982 EP Monkey’s Head in the Middle of the Room, whose opening track “Red and Gray” is a microcosm of the group’s charms: electric guitars that intertwine rhythms, counterpoints and melodic overlays, a driving rhythm section that perches on the edge of anxious, and vocals that break from their post-punk passion for transcendent moments of melody. The instrumental passages aren’t as jittery as those of the Feelies, but have a similar quality, and Eric Martin’s vocal alternately punctuates the rhythm and wanders introspectively across the beat. The EP closes with the superb instrumental “Pop Cliche,” suggesting a backing track from a post-punk version of the Byrds.

The EP was voted fourth best in a strong year for pop EPs (not even mentioned in the poll are the Three O’Clock’s Baroque Hoedown, the Bangles self-titled EP and the Lyres AHS 1005), securing the group another release on Ace of Hearts. Their 1983 self-titled album (tracks 8-16 here) didn’t differ startlingly from the EP, but as the nine new tracks demonstrate, the EP’s groove was far from played out. There’s overt psychedelia in the tail end of “Sad,” and the organ of “Sometimes” and harmonica of “Do the Things” add some garage flavor, but the recipe remains largely the same as the earlier release. The album (like the EP), garnered a lot of college radio play, and the band’s tours showed how well the new material worked on stage.

The album’s single “Caraboo” was backed by a dinner-dance styled cover of the standard “Harbour Lights,” with Martin’s vocal treated to a megaphone effect. The organ-laced “Six” is included from the 1981 four-artist EP, Propeller Product, and features a staccato vocal that was touched by punk. The CD’s final four tracks were recorded in 1984, though apparently never before released. They’re hard driving, as good as anything the band recorded before, and would have made a nice EP to cap the group’s stay on Ace of Hearts. Nearly all of this material (save “Cariboo” and its flip) sat unreissued for years, and is now thankfully available on one handy disc. If you can’t find it for sale here, try direct from Ace of Hearts Records. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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