The prevalent clichés about the eighties—the clothes, the hair, the cocaine, the veejays, the chrome sterility of music set to shimmering synthesizer sequences and thumping disco beats-—all have a basis in fact. There were some great bands then, but there was also a lot of new-wave fluff. (Yes, Virginia, there was A Flock of Seagulls and a Men Without Hats.) While many of today’s revivalists draw on the decade’s edgier acts (Joy Division, Gang of Four), Austin’s THE BLACK AND WHITE YEARS are unafraid to head straight for the era’s cheesier tendencies. After a bit of a stylistic detour on 2009’s Nursery Myths EP, their second full-length album, PATTERNS (Brando Records), picks up right where their Jerry Harrison—produced 2008 debut left off. Percolating with glitchy bleats and synthesized washes set to basic drum machine rhythms, it could be a series of outtakes from a vintage Cars or Thompson Twins album. Vocalist Scott Butler even bites and yelps like a young Ric Ocasek, but the lyrics aren’t quite “My Best Friend’s Girl.” “I believe in second chances / But I’m aware of where we’ve been / What is life without the slimmest chance of redemption,” Butler sings in “Helen,” as if he’s drawing on an unedited diary entry. There’s too much of this sort of thing on Patterns, and the lack of hooks doesn’t help. But a certain chilly groove is what these guys are really after, and most of the time they nail it. At their best, the Black and White Years would fill the dance floor in any decade.
From the January 2011 Issue Subscribe