The Scene Is Now
Total Jive
Lexicon Devil

While the band is supposedly an ongoing concern, The Scene Is Now formed during a time when downtown Manhattan was not the playground for the trustfund-endowed, but rather the furtive soil upon which artists of every steed could plant their flags. For real: artists lived in Soho in 1982, and hence there was an easy cross-pollination between CBGBs punk and leftfield boho-alt. The band’s principals, Philip Dray and Chris Nelson, were formerly of infamous no wave outfit Information (and before that, Minnesota residents). Joining up with Dick Champ and Jeff McGovern, who also played with them in Mofungo, the band divined a sound that rattled and screeched like a 6 train going off the rail, but without all the hysterics. Their music was imbued with a certain amount of purposeful minimalism, and their songs could seem skeletal even when shaking their socks off.

Following last year’s reissue of the The Scene Is Now debut, Burn All Your Records, which contains the band’s most well-known composition, “Yellow Sarong” (covered by Yo La Tengo), Lexicon Devil has put the band’s second record, Total Jive (originally issued by Lost and Twin/Tone back in ’86), back in circulation on remastered CD. It’s a feast of herky-jerky post-punk, catching the band split-fractured between the underlying aggression of the album’s predecessor and the eventualized dissertations that were yet to come. Nelson’s warble occupies a range between Tom Verlaine and D. Boon, and when juxtaposed against the loosey-goosey racket he and his counterparts create, it amounts to something devoid of so-called hooks or rockist notions. Yet, The Scene Is Now was never an intellectual exercise either. Instead, one gets the (relatively) distinct impression that the band was going strictly on instincts, riffing off one another while making the musical equivalent of running commentary. With producer Elliott Sharp also lending his sax at times, the group collectively plays at something only known amongst them, not that it matters.

As such, Total Jive is not an easy listen, though it never comes off as inaccessible. Leadoff cut “Bank” is a frothy swipe at capitalism even while it lilts along a jangly guitar lead and sax skronk. There’s just never the climax one might expect. “Ex-Country Song” is more forthright, guitar crunch propped against rolling bass and drum lines. The instrumental “Satre’s Acid Trip” is as close as the band gets to really cutting loose, but again it’s denouement rather than catharsis. Part of Total Jive’s headiness is the disconnect between cuts (and at times, one moment to the next within each song). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but getting one’s head around the album is a challenging task. Still, part of The Scene Is Now’s raison d’etre seems to have been a mixing of ideas, throwing them all against the wall and if none stuck, oh well. It still sounds pretty good from here, though.
Stephen Slaybaugh