The Phones were part of that sudden rush of bright, tight, energetic local bands that came out of the Longhorn-Sweet Potato-First Avenue-Twin/Tone cauldron of postpunk culture at the start of the Reagan era. It was a best-of/worst-of-times type deal. Politics had gone right wing; television stank, however you stroked it; local radio played it so safe that the Twin Cities were the last place in the nation to program the St. Paul-originated Lipps Inc. smash "Funkytown." Funk and punk and KFAI, City Pages and the Twin Cities Reader, represented an "alternative" before the word lost its meaning, and so did the Phones, who formed out of this muck in 1979 to much hope and acclaim, only to fold ten years later without making a dent nationally. The unit endured long enough to just miss the alt-rock boom, taking their distinct and ragged acid-pop to live audiences before headliners R.E.M., Romeo Void, the Psychedelic Furs, and Iggy Pop (a set of bands that ain't a bad composite comparison in terms of sound). Apparently, enough folks remembered the raw, haunting harmonies of guitarists Jeff Cerise and Jim Riley--along with the band's crunching, flailing fretwork and garage-rock drum pummeling--that requests for CD reissues had begun accumulating. Last year, the band decided to reunite not just for a gig--as they had a few times already--but to record a new, fifth album: the catchy Echo Return (S.A.M. Records). Good news: It sounds more like a return than an echo, a mixture of hard-rock noodling and new-wave atmospherics attached to efficient songwriting that does both the Suburbs and Run Westy Run proud. Of late, the band has been regularly gigging around town, with a series of reissues planned. Who says everything originating in 1979 sucks?


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