Reasons to believe

Photo Michael Spano

Photo Michael Spano

When the latest batch of city slickers — Bongos, dBs, Raybeats, Fleshtones et al — staked their claim to a nice slice of the New York pop pie they left out one vital factor.
Chiming choruses, twanging charm, smiling beat and razor riffs all have their place, but where the hell was the missing link?
Idiosyncracy’s what we’re talking about — or the lack of it. In their eagerness to avoid the dominant street punk image of the city’s musical tradition, the new New Yorkers headed straight for the past, plundering Sixties pop and R’n’B, but forgetting those essential quirks. And where was the present?
Enter the Del-Byzanteens. Five individuals cloaked in a shroud of enigma, the Del-Bs — and what a great name — were responsible for « Girls Imagination », an exquisite 12 inch that captured the Melody Maker Single-Of-The-Week spot when released last july on the Beggar’s Banquet offshoot Don’t Fall Off The Mountain.


« Girls Imagination » floated in a middle-Eastern dreamworld, folding wistful melodies into a writhing twist. Ears pricked, noses sniffed; the scent of significant talent was in the air. « Lies To Live By » proves the vision is no lie. If a sharper group has come out of the East Coast in the last couple of years we’ve yet to hear it.
Divided into two distinctly separate sides, « Lies » shows the Del-Bs as a group with two personalities, the first a sophisticated breeze of mentholated pop, the second a wised-up bunch of tougher delights.
The pop side of the Del-Bs is nothing like the cynical opportunism practiced by some of Britain’s spivvier new stars, just a sensible exploitation of a natural shine — hear « War » or the haunting title track and you’ll soon get the drift.
It’s on the second side that the group get the chance to show the heavier side of their mettle; the new version of « Girls Imagination » is less Egyptian, more musclebound and as seductive as ever, « Apartement 13 » is an intriguing collage of assorted percussion, tape loops and random synthesizers colliding and drifting at will.

Finest moment, though, is « Welcome Machines », a slow-fuse burner that sizzles darkly against a backdrop of mysteriously wailing keyboards. The general feel of latent power behind early Can seems the only relevant reference point, and that’s only a vague approximation. This is mighty stuff.

Apart from its length — a mere 30-odd minutes — the only complaint about « Lies » is that it’s a collection of tracks rather than an LP. The Del-Bs, as displayed, almost revel in their versatility — hey, look what we can do, this is easy! — Instead of narrowing the focus for a clearer identity. Okay, most groups just define a style and repeat themselves endlessly. The Del-Bs sound too knowing to fall into that trap, though.
Go to it, boys.

Lynden Barber
Melody Maker

Alt Lies

The Del-Byzanteens
Don’t Fall Off The Mountain X-14

Lies To Live By

imageEndorsements and medallions first. The Del-Byzanteens’ « Lies to Live By » is a debut equal to anything out of New York these past six years. Now let me tell you why.
Alternative American music can be so lean and nervous, so fearful of luxury and amplitude. Sure ever since Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine and through Byrne and Chance’s crews, New York musicians have been cultivating a guitar style that communicates a subterranean stress but even when they take to synthesizers, they’re still laying down tripwires for the nerves.
But didn’t I say « alternative » American music back there for that’s the nub. With the impossibility of a unified pop-culture that would give some encouragement to questioning imaginations, some confidence that they need not address themselves solely to minorities, dissenting Americans retreat to a painfully self-concious bohemian subculture. From the Del-Byzanteens, you’ll receive another samidzat; in « Lies To Live By », more music warning of betrayal and faithlessness.
The Del-Byzanteens know beauty but the beasts in their back-garden are their priority. In reckless desperation reversing the terms, the title track announces their themes when they admit: « The truth´s a wound but the lies a gun/Truth´s the blues but lies have fun ». Don’t straightforwardly take those axioms as a last-gasp collapse into cynical falsity; their music plays the wound, the blues, the « truth ».
With Phil Kline’s guitar pared to the bone, the Del-Byzanteens could be bare Bunnymen on a psychedelic decline not ascent. Even when Kline and his four colleagues, bassist Philippe Hagen, keyboardist Jim Jarmusch and their rimshot twins, Josh and Dan Braun, adapt foreign style, they drain them of any ceremonial colour. They reggae on « Draft Riot » and raga on « War », re-enter folk-rock space on « Sally Go Round The Roses » and deal their Eastern card on »Girls Imagination » but these are not the stratagems of cultural magpies intent on impressing you with their exotic record collections. Through the wringer of « Lies To Live By » everything comes out Del-Byzanteen.
They slowly graduate their message through the album leading up to the psychic gale warnings of the second side.
« Draft Riot » with its too-timely refrain « I don’t know what happened/I don’t know what you’re asking me for/Is that all that hapened?/Add it up and there ought to be more » summarizes the triviality of war and « conflicts » though « War » itself is the one under-weight track in such heavy company.
« Sally Go Round The Roses » takes the primitive perenial and re-locates the lady in an undomesticated urban landscape.
« Girls Imagination » finds Hagen fingering that bass rumble, the legacy of « Peter Gunn » and Lalo Schrifrin, now beloved by his American instumentalists before his companions settle for a sinuous but never sensually-flattering groove and close in mocking vocal tumult.
But it’s the closing tracks, « Welcome Machines » and « Appartment 13 » that mark the Del-Byzanteens as something more than your usual art-isans. « Welcome Machines » shows their backgrounding in the film world with more B-movie pulsations from Kline and Hagen and a siren’s alert from Jarmusch as they advise the approach of the outer limits of technology, warning « keep one step ahead of the impact ». By the opening of « Appartment 13 » the machines are in the house and salivating for the closing experimental instrumental.
Like Defunkt’s debut album, « Lies To Live By » marks the beast of dread and fights embitterment with countervailing passions.
David Byrne once remarked that we might be entering an absurd society where millions sat unemployed in tenements surrounded by useless video and other electronic equipement. The Del-Byzanteens alarmingly conjure with the same distortion of cultural possibility and economic and emotional stultification.

Bill Graham
The Hot Press

The Del-Byzanteens, Fungus From the Lower East Side

Photo Michael Spano

IT MUST be something they put in the water. Or maybe it’s a subsonic signal emanating from television sets even when switched off. Or even some notionally subliminal graphic woven into the advertising copy in the New York Times.
Whatever it is, New York somehow stimulates its inhabitants into a near obsessive artistic frenzy, a perverse but immaculate understanding that you is art. When England had The Beatles and the Stones, New York was giving us The Fugs and The Velvet Underground.
Although punk found a mass market in England, its roots are traceable to the mid-seventies New York scene. Richard Hell, Ramones, Patti Smith. In the eighties they’ve given us Laurie Anderson already and the day of the Del-Byzanteens cannot be far off.
Jim Jarmusch (keyboards, vocals) and Phil Kline (guitar, vocals) left Akron, Ohio in the days when it was more famous for tyres than for musical innovation. « We lived in a suburb called Cayahoga Falls where youth culture means customizing your car. We met up again in New York because we lived within two blocks of each other ».
With no real intention of playing live, Jim and Phil got together with Philippe Hagen (bass) and formed The Del-Byzanteens. « Our research », says Phil , « has turned up about fifteen earlier Del- groups. The Del-Vikings, Reparata and The Del-Rons, Del-Crescents, Del Shanon. It gets complicated when you include the Ran-Dells, Hondells, Shondells… You never run out of them. »
TYPICALLY, the inspiration for their name came from none of those more illustrious predecessors. Jim, with a 33 1/3 voice in a 45 world, recalls « I saw a band, early seventies, called Pablo And The Del-Crustaceans. They wore one black glove, paper hats and played so badly it was almost exciting. All they did was to copy note for note, every track from the Stones Out Of Our Heads album, side one followed by side two. »
Rehearsing in New York with percussionist with James Nares, they considered becoming a purely instrumental band but somehow their way onto  their first release,  a much adored EP on Don’t Fall Off the Mountain Records (such names are made in heaven) which a swirling, dervishing, fairly indescribable but very listenable music. One inspired reviewer for Smash Hits called it « Hypnotic, eastern, snaky. menacing. »
« We started out doing long raga-like improvisations, more like a chamber ensemble. », explains Phil, shaking his head in disbelief, « but it grew like some giant fungus from the Lower East Side. » They live in a derelict Manhattan district where cigarettes are bought in ones and twos. « At night, from our window, we look out and see these slow-moving, shambling people. It’s like Night Of The Living Dead. »
ACROSS FROM THEIR APARTMENT lives John Giorno, a New York Buddhist poet from the Ginsberg and Burroughs school. « Poor guy used to hear all our rehearsals, » says Phil, explaining why they’ve been asked to contribute music to a forthcoming album of poetry which Giorno is organizing. Their music has also found its way onto celluloid in Wim Wenders’ new movie « The State Of Things », a connection which developed when Jim was working with Nicholas (Rebel Without A Cause) Ray. Jim has directed two feature films of his own and worked as Ray’s assistant on the film he made about his own imminent death from cancer, « Lightning Over Water ».
Similarly, bassist Philippe makes much of his living from graphic design, and also plays live with Polyrock while the Del-Byzanteens are re-thinking their music. « We’re moving towards a music which is written in the recording and mixing process as much as beforehand. We do this better than live performance, » explains Phil.
Jim adds, « Besides, other bands used to laugh when we set up our equipment. Wanted to know if our amps were gas-powered. »
THE COLLAPSE of the New York club scene has enabled the band to visit London, where their record company is based, to discuss future plans and the release of a second album later this year. « There used to be about twenty clubs in New York, now there’s barely a handful, » says Phil.
Until that changes, the Del-Byzanteens, drummerless, will continue as a three piece writing and recording group, churning out odd bits of graphic design and feature films in their spare time.
Maybe it’s a tasteless, colorless food additive. Or an emission of light waves above the human visible spectrum, radiating from traffic signals? Whatever.

At the microscope: Johnny Black
in Master Bag N° 15