Happy Go Licky Will Play

Happy Go Licky
Will Play

A LITTLE KNOWN quartet that shot through the D.C. straight-edge scene from '87-'88, Happy Go Licky has at last been documented on Will Play, and can now finally join the rock-as-art pantheon in the sky. Witnesses of Licky's sublime live shows knew this post-punk anomaly was something more than just another variation on straight edge's fast, distorted, verse/chorus predictability. This band was a beautiful apocalypse on stage. Never afraid to be sexy, they played with slower, sparse grooves, and sophisticated noise 'n' techno noodling. Always brave, they never felt the need to hide behind tough-guy, low-brow poses.

Ten years later, Licky still sounds new and strange. This recently issued career retrospective transcends both the insularity of the punk-rock era that bore it and the parochial D.C. indie label, Dischord, which owns it. This all despite the fact that a previous incarnation of Happy Go Licky--the more anthemic "emo-core" band Rites of Spring--was on Dischord's roster as well. And after Licky dissolved, two of its members (drummer Brendan Canty and singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto) were quickly transformed into half of the label's eternal cash cow, Fugazi.

Will Play compiles 73 minutes of live recordings and other tidbits on one disc. The typical song here (see "Ansol" or "Suzuki") alternately spreads layers of guitar effects, bizarre tape loops, and ingeniously timed silences over an infectious, thumping dance sensibility. It's all laced together by smart, cathartic vocals ("She's my man now--she kisses me on the mouth"). At times the pace slows and grows ethereal ("Brigham Young"). Instruments and vocals march together in an off-kilter procession ("13 Months of Sunshine"), and rock compositions come off as quirky, improvisational lounge acts ("D.I.Y. Ansol").

Sound quality varies throughout, yet each of the 21 tracks earns its place in an organic arrangement. Placing this music in that very inorganic mass called rock history is another matter. You hear strains from seminal ancestors like Mission of Burma, the Fall, or Pere Ubu brushing up against present-day innovators like Girls Against Boys or Tortoise. Finally, time goes out the window and what's left is four guys making a sound that helps you live, blood pumping through your head.

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