Brief candles: Pulsars

New Order and LCD Soundsystem fans: enter here

It’s 1997, and I’m hightailing it past CD racks stuffed with Silverchair, Spice Girls and Oasis, to the quiet corner every record store’s still reserving for cassettes. The wall mounts’re littered with new wave and ’80s alt. bargains. That $3.99 XTC tape is calling to me. You have to work a little harder at your iconoclasm when the checkout kid motions to the pile of Oak Ridge Boys and Alan Jackson tapes with a dismissive “got more music tapes right there.” Is she implying I’ll buy any cassette because it’s a cassette? This is how music snobs are born.

Not every tape I bought in 1997 was a decade out of fashion. Some were even older! Once, a black dude approached me for help, thinking this white guy pulling Isaac Hayes tapes was a store employee. (Hey, profiling hits everybody.) One purchase stands out: although it was brand spanking new at the time, it was as anachronistic then as any Cut Copy, Twin Shadow or LCD Soundsystem record is vogueish now, despite rather similar qualities and referents. Welcome to the world of Pulsars, another entrant in the wrong-place, wrong-time sweepstakes.

Pulsars comprised Chicago-area brothers David and Harry Trumfio. David, a young industry vet, carried the load: writing, producing, playing, and singing most everything. Harry drummed. David’s contacts got Pulsars inked to Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ post-A&M Records venture, ALMO Sounds. And the record they made, an unabashed love letter to the early synthpop 1980s, is excellent in every regard.

“Tunnel Song” video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDXF2rAspv0

Pulsars charms because it time travels with unironic bonhomie absent from Adam Sandler’s contemporaneous The Wedding Singer. Giving its audience credit for intelligence and memory recall, Pulsars present arms with specific musical cues and sounds (a “Gloria”-like bounce, a dinky Depeche melody line, a thrusting Peter Hook interlude) geared to match the simple, topical lyrics. There are odes to Daniel Miller’s Silicon Teens, a crapped-out ’85-vintage computer, a robot surrogate best friend and time machines, all of ’em sung with the earnestness of a guileless comic book geek. But there’s meat on them bones: Pulsars is a rock band at heart, in the way New Order was a rock band. Free your ass and your mind will follow. There’s joy found everywhere on this record…including the crafty dom/sub S&M tune dropped midway through side two.

“Runway” live performance (1997): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umuva0zKZIs

“Runway” is my favourite. Brotherhood-era dance rock at its finest, it explodes from tense, chugging verses into a blissed-out, starry-skied refrain, backended by a marvelous, wordless chorus straight outta the school of OMD, who did wordless choruses better than anyone. Pulsars eventually flutters to a splendid finale with “Das Lifeboat,” a song about female self-destructiveness blessed with a neat metaphor and a sumptuous symphonic arrangement from longtime Bowie confrere Tony Visconti. Soaring, graceful stuff.

These are major-league calibre songs from a guy who cut his teeth engineering other people’s records before stepping out from behind the curtain for a star turn. Given David Trumfio’s pedigree, experience, talent and incisive humour, he’s got a lot in common with DFA/LCD’s James Murphy. With a fine record that matches LCD Soundsystem’s work for craft, cool and ingenuity, it’s a bloody shame Pulsars’ journey foundered on the rocks of failing record labels, withheld tapes and public indifference. This old retro-futurist record is the sound of today. Discover it.

“Technology” fan-made video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OW-wKRWh3Q

As of February 2011, Pulsars is available from volume online sellers like CD Universe and amazon.com. It is not available from iTunes.

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3 responses to “Brief candles: Pulsars

  1. Nice band. Gonna pick up their CD. The story reminds me of the under-appreciated Vancouver band, Pluto.

    Checkout:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto_(Canadian_band)

  2. “These are major-league calibre songs…”

    I’ve had the debut album for about a month now. I agree that it is a well-produced record with catchy choruses. The songs are two-minute glossy pop-punk anthems in 2-4 meter. Nice synth/sequencer accompaniment fills out the sound. Overall I think the lyrics are the weakest spot — stoner themes of robots, love and travel, but which lack cleverness. And I think the songs don’t deviate enough from their the chorus-verse-chorus format (and not verse-chorus-verse)– or maybe it’s that the choruses have catchy melodies, but the verses are all pressed from a similar template.

    Having said that, though, I think there are 3 or 4 very good pop songs among the 12 featured (there are 4 tracks which aren’t songs or are less than one minute). I’ve returned to the disc quite a few times in the car– the shiny suburban punk seems to play nicely on the road. And by the way, much of what I wrote– good and bad– applies equally to the band Pluto I mentioned earlier.

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