Alt-rock time capsule
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Athens, Georgia bustled with music, energy and talent, quickly establishing itself as one of the American South’s bastions of alternative rock. Though superstar bands like the B-52s, R.E.M. and Widespread Panic have garnered the most fame in the years since, contemporary group Pylon left just as impactful a legacy.
Founded in 1979 by University of Georgia art students Randall Bewley, Michael Lachowski, Curtis Crowe and Vanessa Briscoe Hay, Pylon were the self-proclaimed pioneers of “feasible rock.” Pylon’s music was bold and subversive, yet strangely practical–by combining stripped-down minimalism with clever, danceable hooks, Pylon enamored legions of fans through genre-bending magnetism and distinctly post-punk sensibilities. Despite only ever releasing two full LPs, the band heavily influenced the next generation of rock music while cultivating Athens’ budding collegiate music culture.
Now, four decades later, listeners can relive Athens’ alt-rock renaissance on Pylon Box. The all-inclusive box set contains remastered albums Gyrate and Chomp, a collection of B-sides, rarities and singles dubbed Extra, and the Razz Tape, a previously unreleased session predating the band’s 1979 debut. Additionally, Pylon Box features an autographed, 200-page book chronicling the band’s history and influences via never-before-seen photos and artifacts from its members’ personal archives.
Evidently, Pylon Box is a sizable time investment. With a whopping 47-song track list and nearly 3-hour runtime, it’s a deal that’s certainly geared more towards long-term Pylon fans than newcomers. That said, modern listeners shouldn’t immediately discount Pylon Box. Gyrate and Chomp, the band’s studio LPs, have proudly stood the test of time. Both albums are immersive forays into the history of alt-punk, and are complemented further by Extra and the Razz Tape’s unfiltered, behind-the-scenes candor. Pylon’s music has aged extraordinarily well and is fit for casual and hardcore listeners alike. Each song is distinct, yet recognizable thanks to Pylon’s defining features: complex, catchy guitar hooks, minimalist yet upbeat drums and urgent, energized vocals. While standout singles like “Cool,” “Crazy,” “Danger” and “Feast On My Heart” will draw in fans both new and old, previously unheard rarities like “Functionality” and “Information” will transfix listeners for the long haul.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that Pylon Box doesn’t contain 47 distinct songs. Many of the unreleased rarities on Extra and the Razz Tape are simply alternate or live versions of songs from Gyrate and Chomp. While the raw, magnetic energy of Pylon’s music shines through on all four LPs, listening to the box set on Spotify or Apple Music is far cheaper than purchasing Pylon Box–the CD collection costs $85 while the vinyl collection runs $150 (both sets include the 200-page historical booklet). Pylon Box is certainly worth a listen, but casual listeners are perhaps better off streaming than purchasing.
The Razz Tape features previously unreleased singles “Information,” “Efficiency,” “Dub,” “Functionality” and “Modern Day Fashion Woman,” as well as live versions of “Cool” (Pylon’s debut single) and six tracks from Gyrate. Meanwhile, Extra unearths unheard singles “3 x 3,” “Untitled” and “Recent Title,” studio versions of “Dub” and “Cool,” two alternate versions of hit “Danger” and live recordings of three songs from Chomp. Though Extra and the Razz Tape may prove overwhelming to first-time listeners, hardcore Pylon fans will enjoy the pair of LPs as a cohesive, long-overdue origin story complete with a veritable treasure trove of new music.
Despite the band’s short lifespan, Pylon inspired a generation of artists with its distinct, bold blend of alternative, punk and rock. After releasing Gyrate and Chomp and opening for U2 on an international tour, Pylon decided to call it quits in 1983. According to Hay, the band said “’Let’s just quit while we’re having fun.’ That was kind of the idea in the first place… we accomplished what we set out to do.” Pylon died as it had lived–an energetic, avant-garde, artistic passion project.
Pylon reunited several times over the following decades. The band officially reformed in 1989, releasing a compilation pithily dubbed Hits and opening for R.E.M. Fun fact: when Rolling Stone named R.E.M. “America’s Best Band” two years prior, Bill Berry, the band’s drummer, stated: “We’re not the best rock ‘n’ roll band in America.” Instead, he asserted that the title belonged to Pylon, the best live band he’d ever seen.
In 1990, Pylon released new album Chain before breaking up again the following year. The band regrouped for a handful of live performances across the next several decades until founding guitarist Randall Bewley passed away in 2009.
With all said and done, Pylon’s decisive vision set the band apart just as much as its unabashed, subversive creativity. Hay’s assertion that the members were only in it for their personal enjoyment is abundantly clear across Pylon Box, and for the best reasons. The box set chronicles the storied, on-and-off-again history of one of alt-rock’s most passionate, influential yet unrecognized forces. It’s a journey that will appeal to fans of rock music the world over, regardless of age or subgenre preferences. Pylon Box is an audiovisual time capsule that’ll be enjoyed (but not necessarily purchased) by collectors and new fans alike.