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Inadvertently Transcendent: The Scenics’ “In The Summer – The Scenics Studio Recordings 1977-78”

The Scenics
In The Summer - Studio Recordings 1977-78
Dream Tower Records

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There’s an odd appropriateness in Stereo Embers having neglected shining its editorial light on this record until now, a full year past its release. In a sense we have a feeling The Scenics, being from Toronto, are likely rather used to it, as it’s a sad historical fact that being overlooked was a bit of a given for bands hailing from across our northern border. With the rule-proving exception of a couple of Vancouver BC bands, entire scenes from metropolises burning with pretty much the exact rage and energy as London, New York, San Francisco etc were largely left to fend for themselves as the pages of NME, the Village Voice, and the ten thousand zines that seemed to have appeared overnight veritably brimmed with the latest goings-on in Athens GA or Manchester or even freakin’ Hoboken.

Admittedly, the Torontonian punk community was of modest size but this being just 1977 we’re talking about, that was quite true across most all of North America. Fortunately for them, their fans, and posterity, the young men comprising The Scenics – guitarist/singer Ken Badger, guitarist/singer/occasional sax player Andy Meyers (the two shared songwriting duties and, in true bonhomie fashion, each played bass on the other’s songs), Brad Cooper or Mark French behind the kit – didn’t need international attention to thrive and in fact, according to this album’s excellent liner notes from Colin Brunton, the band weren’t even that visible within the insular confines of their own city’s already fringey punk milieu. Instead, eschewing the parties and wholly free of any and all punk clobber – the three in their photos here look more like working class kids from a struggling midwest steel town – the apparently ironically-named Scenics did what all great bands do, bashing it out for hours at a time five nights a week in a hidden-away rehearsal space – in this case, just for added mystique, in the basement of a toy store – honing and shaping their sound for the sheer thrill and joy of it. As heard here on In The Summer – The Scenics Studio Recordings 1977-78, all that woodshedding would yield undiminshable returns, the even dozen tracks – six by Badger, six by Meyers – seething at the seams with the hard-won confidence afforded by all those smoky, sweat-stinking nights spent beneath the streets of Toronto.

In at least one sense on par with Big Star’s #1 Record, The Scenics knew what they had, knew how good they were, and the songs reflect that, punching with an unabashed pop swagger, brash but not cocky, with a sort of dexterous, accomplished naiveté at play. There’s that rarely hit sweet spot for some young musicians where a still-lingering teenage eagerness merges with and energizes a quickly maturing worldview and The Scenics hit it repeatedly over the three sessions – summer and fall of ’77, fall of ’78 – that constitute this record. Astute, earnest, raging and very very good, this collection needs to take its place among the many signature documents of that time. Oh, and the music? Touch of Human Switchboard, touch of Modern Lovers, not a little Velvet Undeground albeit the VU found down the playground bumping playful elbows with the nascent Talking Heads. That’s at least for starters. These guys may have been to the north of many of the major media’s radar screens, but they themselves held their fingers firmly on the pulse of that same current of subcultural energy that was electrifying bloodstreams on both sides of the Atlantic.

The yelping cagey insouciance of “O Boy” that opens this collection (“As a product of a college community / he takes drugs and so does his mother“), sung by Badger in a sort of heliumed rant, is simply a brilliant place to begin this bash, as irreverent as it is scorching. That it’s followed by the instantly-addictive, bass-plunging “Do The Wait,” Meyers injecting his Lou Reed affection with a boyishly bratty charm that puts some spike in that cheek-planted tongue – the song, after all, does rather celebrate the empty joys of existential anomie – is a bold move straight up as the band is more or less giving away the gold-plated goods two tracks in (“Do The Wait,” with its 8-second audio drop mid-song, is the one most people have most likely heard and no surprise, it being an automatic classic and all), but no worries there, and again, the band knows it.


“Wild Trout” somehow manages to tie a young man’s yearning search for meaning to that of a creature plashing instinctively upstream and does it deftly enough – the journey, the destination, the meal, all the same – to crease a grin across David Byrne’s face and thereafter the parade of half-smiling, half-intransigent, all-the-way intelligent idiosyncracy continues. As often as not compacting a perceived pop density together with an equally-perceived breeziness of tone, the typical Scenics song, replete as it is with sufficient hooks along with curious intrigue aplenty, always seems to know enough to insist you listen. You’ll hear those competing intentions twinning up and merrily clashing throughout this anthology, be it in the poignant father-son saga “Great Piles of Leaves,” the title-contrasting jackhammer rhythms of “Sunshine World,” in the title track’s Byrdsy Rickenbacker chime, servicing what’s in fact an über-urban charge through that inescapable excitement/ennui axis we’ve all experienced in our youthful summer months. “So Fine” even goes so far as to apply some (marvelous) sax-led pop-avantitude to what’s at heart a pure post-teenage love song, while the peristaltic closer “One Comes Closer” uses its jerky stop-startiness to convey what may be life’s simplest complication, the depth of self-belief that often lies behind our moments of utmost stumbling awkwardness while also, in a judicious editorial choice, ending the album with a perhaps even more effective use of an 8-second blank space than “Do The Wait.” Again, brilliant.

Like something of a more nuanced Real Kids, The Scenics, as heard here, weren’t punk, weren’t post-punk, weren’t exactly pop but were in essence a rock band that encompassed – and/or forswore – all of that with an intuitive, headstrong grace and the kind of self-assurance bred in basements all across the rock’n’roll firmament since time immemorial, the main difference in this case being one of native talent. The Scenics were/are – they’ve lately been touring – a Toronto band that deserve universal acclaim and acknowledgment of their place in the echelons. They were, and are, inadvertently transcendent that way.

[order In The Summer – The Scenics Studio Recordings 1977-78 here] [read about everything Scenics and order more merch here]