Birdwood Cage

The Wolfgang Press, 1988

Growing up, certain bands were downright elusive. Magnetic songs appeared on odd compilations, but their records was either hard to come by or demanded steep import prices. Of course, Portland OR, may not have been the best market for obscure British art-pop. As such, it wound up taking me decades to finally cobble together a decent collection of groups like Durutti Column or the Wolfgang Press.

Well, late period Wolfgang Press was easier to find, since they had a minor, alternative radio hit with A Girl like You: a slab of underground synth-soul that's weirder than it seems. But that was nearly the end of their journey—if you dig your way through their back catalogue you find all the same sonic components, just in vastly different portions. One of their first singles delivered such a violent cover of Respect it seemed they were taking the piss. In retrospect, it was more of a post-punk / industrial band with the desire but not the technical acumen to play soul. Over the years they developed some chops, and a wholly unique angle on it, besides.

While it's always satisfying to see both where an artist started, and where they ended up, it rarely compares to all the work in between—that exploratory sonic cartography. The middle work of Wolfgang Press is especially appealing. On Birdwood Cage, there's a song called Shut that Door that sounds like Cabaret-Voltaire-meets-Talking-Heads. The track rides a mean, distorted bassline and features a searing squall of a keyboard lead that's topped by an eminently confident vocal, swerving between growled and howled. Kansas is a surreal, mid-tempo, industrial funk jam.

For years, albums like Birdwood Cage were the collector's equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster, to me: I knew of them, but could neither hear nor have them. Honestly, only a few of these albums could hold up to years of my yearning expectation, but The Wolfgang Press endures.