erasing clouds

The Individuals, Fields / Aquamarine

by dave heaton

The reissues world has a lot of clutter: repackaged 'classics' that have already been repackaged several times over, new variations on 'greatest hits' albums when all of the music is already out there, etc. It's the section of the music-release world that most feels like a cash-grab or a minefield, with companies trying to convince you to re-buy music you already own, or could get in its original form for cheap at a used record store.

At the same time, there are reissue-treasures aplenty when it comes to music from the past that has been unavailable, under-circulated, or under-heard. The latest reissue in the great-bands-I've-never-heard category is of Hoboken, NJ's The Individuals, who formed in 1979, released an EP in 1981, an LP in 1982, and broke up. This CD puts together the LP (Fields), the EP (Aquamarine) and three bonus tracks (a B-side and two alternate versions of LP tracks).

And to my ears it's all great: catchy, slightly odd pop/rock with melodic and sometimes quite cutting guitars and an almost groovy rhythmic base, courtesy in no small part of bassist Janet Wygal's playing. There's that bouncy feeling not foreign to music of a similar genre in that time period (to the dbs or even R.E.M., who recorded Chronic Town at the same time and place that The Individuals recorded Fields), and an overall balance between a casual, everyday-life quality and a dreamy ('art-school") strangeness. But also some really tight, maybe even intense, playing among the musicians that makes the 'post-punk' bands seem not far away, or the Talking Heads too. The album and EP contain plenty of compact single-like tunes, but even within those they leave space for solos, especially by guitarist Jon Klages, that momentarily shade the song a different color.

But whatever music-critic spin I put on this 20-something years later, whatever influences I do or don't read into it, the basic fact is that, hearing the Individuals for the first time now, these songs are intriguing but also vital, driven by their own energy. The Fields single "Our World" has an immortal melody that has me sure I've heard it before. "Dancing With My Eighty Wives", apparently the 'college radio' choice from the album, is pleasantly surreal. In "Walk by Your House" singer/guitarist/songwriter Glenn Morrow tells an attraction/stalker tale, taking us step by step along the route, while the song stretches out for the guitars to tell their own tale.

Those three songs are a powerful trio at the core of Fields, but the album itself is strong start to finish. The earlier Aquamarine EP is as you would expect an earlier EP to be: more playful, less confident, but brave and fun. More keyboards, less of a thick guitar presence, it opens with tapdancing and has at least one killer pop-rock single: "Jackie Said, 'So'".


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