Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987

As a fan of jangle pop and exploratory compilations in general this deep dive into the less celebrated janglers from the American ‘80s underground is decidedly up my alley. The comp starts off a new series, Excavations, that explores some of the American impulses behind the sounds that built the basis foundation for the Captured Tracks roster. The label and Mike Sniper cite Pebbles, Soul Jazz, and Numero comps as an inspiration, and given that Mike’s history includes the compact, but excellent catalog of Radio Heartbeat, I’ve got a feeling he might someday expand this series to pick up where that short-lived, but still appreciated Numero spotlight on power pop might have gone. Though I’m just as happy to have them both run concurrent findings if the soul coffers run dry. That hope aside, this first compilation is packed with some great overlooked material that falls under the college rock tag that eventually gave way to Alternative with a bit more bravado over time.

A whole host of the bands on the tracklist here fit the bill for something like a Nuggets spotlight, though perhaps there’s a bit higher ratio skewed towards albums that pan out past the singles that Cap Tracks has pulled out to spotlight. Nicer price points too — a lot of the originals can be picked up in that magical and rapidly shrinking Discogs niche that’ll run you $8-15 for a gem. When I first found comps like Yellow Pills and Nuggets they acted as Rosetta stones for a world of niche sounds that expanded way past the stale radio fodder I found lumbering around the Midwest, and this comp has the potential to open up a whole new era to the kind of listeners like myself who were always looking for more. The comp threads its interest through vaunted labels (Homestead, Enigma) and more fringe players alike, but the sounds all tie together an ‘80s that, like Sarah and Postcard abroad, were acting in direct opposition to the more jocular zeitgeist that rose up all around them.

Packaged with a huge book of background on the artists, archival pictures and liner notes that dig into what makes each track such a worthy addition, the set is certainly worthy of the Excavations aspirations that they’re going for. If you’ve got a soft spot for the less punk strains that swam through the ‘80s underbelly then it’s hard not to be charmed by the round up here.



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