It didn’t take long for me to develop a severe allergy to the term post-punk. For the most part it ended up meaning “bands just good enough to attract attention from critics in a period of general musical malaise while not actually being all that good”. It meant, all too often, the worst of punk—musical incompetence and rejection for rejection’s sake—fused with the crass commercialism of mainstream rock.
It took Minimal Compact to take the bad taste of post-punk out of my mouth. If a big part of that is simply the fact that Minimal Compact is a great band, so be it: like all great bands, they sound pleasantly dissimilar to the music that surrounds them and which they draw on. They built a new sound on the foundations of a few other basic ones, and it's a sound I would dearly like to have heard serve as an inspiration to a broader number of bands.
With a name like Minimal Compact, I was expecting a band patterned along the lines of Polyrock or Philip Glass’s occasional excursions into pop territory (Songs from Liquid Days, etc.). Instead, one can detect about three different strains running through their music: the stripped-down funk used by many post-punk outfits of different stripes; the brittle, sometimes reggae-inflicted guitars of same; and--most prominently and distinctively--the Israeli folk-tune flavor of their music. Makes sense: the band hailed from Tel Aviv, but departed for Amsterdam as a way to broaden both their commercial prospects and their musical horizons.
One + One By One collects both an EP and a full-blown album, the former recorded in Belgium in 1981 and the latter in London in 1982. Both were produced for Crammed Discs (fitting that a band named "Minimal Compact" would record for "Crammed", I remember thinking) under the stewardship of label-leader Marc Hollander, he also being chiefly responsible for another little Crammed masterwork under the moniker Aksak Maboul, Onze Danses pour combattre le migraine. When crammed together (sorry) on one disc, the album and the EP complement each other nicely: the EP is the more succinct and direct, the album more expansive and adventurous, although both of them share a clear and common sound.
It's a cliché to call a band "intelligent" -- the word is too easily applied to groups that merely throw around references -- but Minimal Compact went the extra mile to deserve that label. This was about more than just their taste in things, but their taste was good, too: one of the tracks from this disc was set to words harvested from Christopher Isherwood ("Creation is perfect (I am a camera)"). And then in the middle of another track there's a spoken-word segment of affecting honesty:
Life is so much more secure in Europe.
From the beginning, there's a lot more money.
By the time you're eighteen, you have everything.
I never wanted to write anything negative:
What are you doing right?
Everyone else says, business is bad.
Friendship has always been more important.
That's what produces the music.
Somehow, the music produced by the friendship on this record is able to give those words the context they need to make them quietly sincere instead of cheesy.
It's not always wise to say "this is where I started, and where you should start too", especially since there are at least two other Minimal Compact compilations that show off the band's full range of color and evolution over the course of a wider span of time than demonstrated by this disc. But this is where I got my foothold with them, and maybe where you can get yours as well.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind