Review Summary: I'm a janitor, Oh my genitals!’80-’85 Part VIII
An arrhythmic colloid of nervy funk, post-punk moodiness and the twee side of new wave, Long Beach art-punkers Suburban Lawns were never even so much forgotten darlings than a crack of light in an half-empty room, there and gone without barely anyone to heed the noise. Time was to blame in part. It was a fertile period for the underground, and bands were popping up, sparking off and splitting up faster than anyone could digest them. Geography didn’t do Suburban Lawns any favours either. The West Coast spent the early 80’s in incubation, its hardcore scene honing its teeth and just about ready to burst forth. There wasn’t much room in the DIY niche for a gang of bijou post-punkers that coated their gloom in bubbling synths and thin shredding, and anyone who had such aspirations from the Midwest all the way down the California coast, was running to New York City, where that tack was on an up-kick that at the time seemed like it would never halt. Even a video made by promising young director Jonathan Demme (of future indie classic Something Wild
), and a feature on SNL couldn’t elevate Suburban Lawns past cult status.
Retrospect has been kinder to the band, and nowadays you’d be pressed to find a post-punk vinyl collector who doesn’t have “Gidget Goes to Hell” or “Janitor” on a 7”. The five-year lifespan of Suburban Lawns yielded one EP and one full-length, self-produced and distributed, DIY down to the album art. Which is why it’s all the stranger and more stirring just how confident and self-possessed the music is. Suburban Lawns
doesn’t crack the half-hour mark, but manages to get so much done in that frame it’s downright dizzying. Sparkled synths linger behind co-vocalist Frankie Ennui on “Not Allowed,” letting the verses drift loftily, before breaking into speedy punk on the hook. His straightforward punk rock knacks on “Pioneers” and “Jam the Controls” ground the album, giving it an approachability that would have otherwise been lost somewhat in the irresistible artfulness of the Lawns’ other mastermind. The focal point of the band always was Su Tissue, petite and fiery, and as much a spearhead of 80’s avant-females as Ari Up or Poly Styrene. She guides “Gossip,” “Anything,” “Green Eyes” and the immortal contribution to the canon, “Janitor” with equal parts dissymmetry and grace. All of that splendid conflation makes a low-key masterpiece of Suburban Lawns
, an album of testimony, of just how much can be done with so little, a want for experimentalism and an immaculate artistic eye, and the best twee punkers you haven’t heard.