The Epoxies’ Web site (www.the-epoxies.com) has got the cheek to pose this question: “Are we really so New Wave?”
Are they kidding? They’ve got to be kidding. Wait, yes, they’re kidding. Everything about the Epoxies screams New Wave: the horizontally-striped black and white sleeveless T-shirts. The two-tone and Geordi La Forge-style wrap sunglasses. The bondage gear, the varicolored duct tape and the speckled creepers.
And above all, the music. Good Lord, the music—I can’t listen to it without imagining the cast of “Square Pegs” lip-synching Kim Wilde hits for the high school talent show. It’s totally New Wave, all butterfly synths, crisp propulsive beats and “whoa whoa” backing vocals. Remember Kim Wilde’s big hit “Kids in America?” That’s the sound we’re talking about—almost to the note. “Need More Time,” in fact, the first Epoxies single and the opening track on their self-titled debut album, sounds so much like Kim Wilde, I was amazed to learn it wasn’t a cover.
New Wave is such good fun—a mildly embarrassing skeleton (albeit a skeleton wearing a skinny tie with a shirt that buttons diagonally, of course) from the closets of a lot of us old farts. And, for the younger folks who remember it either dimly or not at all, a fertile ground for rediscovery and some good-natured fun-poking. From the looks of them, and from the bit of band history that can be gleaned from the info posted on the site, the Epoxies would have been old enough to be buying the records but too young to be playing in bands of their own during the early ‘80s. Old enough to check out the wave but not old enough to paddle out and ride it in themselves. What goes around comes around.
Some music fans view New Wave (which flourished mainly from about 1978 to about 1985) as punk music’s capitulation to marketability and danceability in the decade or so following the great ’77 explosion. Among its other alleged crimes—and perhaps owing to the ease with which its outward trappings were co-opted by bands with rock star dreams and/or Malcolm McLaren-style svengali managers—New Wave has often been accused of being a triumph of style over substance. In fairness, though, there was no shortage of coattail-riders among the first echelons of British punk bands, either, and it didn’t take fashion retailers long to figure out how to package and sell that look for anyone who wanted it. The appearance of MTV in the early ‘80s—back when they still showed music videos—also played a big part in popularizing the particular look that most people today associate with New Wave. Four words for you, here: A Flock of Seagulls.
Others look at the proliferation of different styles—not just in sartorial trappings, but in the music itself—and see the early stirrings of Goth (Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure), power-pop (the Knack, 20/20 and the Vapors, whose big hit “Turning Japanese” is a bona fide New Wave classic) and even ska (the Specials, the Untouchables, Madness and the English Beat). Perhaps the most enduring legacy of New Wave is the eerie, spacey, icy and/or cheesy synthesizer sound that characterizes so many of its classic recordings. Synthpop was a sub-genre all its own, among its practitioners many of the bands that went on to make New Wave’s biggest commercial splashes: Depeche Mode, the Human League, and Soft Cell.
The Epoxies, closer to power-pop than anything else, have built themselves a very impressive musical lexicon from all the discarded conventions and New Wave vocabulary units they’ve found scattered along the highway. Their use of synthesizers, as mentioned, is so vintage-sounding as to be completely indistinguishable from the real thing. They also pack their songs with embarrassingly good hooks, which is the sine qua non of New Wave power pop (at least one Epoxies member used to be in the Portland pop-punk band the Automatics; if true, that association certainly explains the Epoxies’ penchant for pile-driving catchiness and irresistible choruses).
Anyway, it takes a guy back to an especially fun time to be a punk rocker in the “Square Pegs” mold. Why not make a nostalgic night of it? Haul out the Rubik’s cube or hook up your old Atari and get warmed up. It’s going to take me awhile to tape up my pants.
The Epoxies put the neunundneunzig back in your Luftballoons Wednesday, Sept. 4, at Jay’s Upstairs. 10 PM. Cover TBA.