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Essential Logic  

Fanfare in the Garden: An Essential Logic Collection
(Kill Rock Stars KRS 399 CD)

Lora Logic’s voice isn’t easy to describe. To begin with, it’s not so much a voice as a multiplicity of vocal effects, a passel of bit characters in fragmentary roles. The range is unexpected, and impressive. At one extreme it’s a trilling, birdlike, untethered falsetto – a voice that scarcely obeys the laws of gravity. At the lower end of her range it’s the husky, muscular vibrato of a cabaret singer with a gift for gender satire. The vocal gymnastics bear abstracted relations to the lyrics, and the nearly tautological song title “Music Is a Better Noise” is as close as Essential Logic comes to a group-defining slogan. The music seems generically of its time, and yet when you get down to specifics, to whom are you going to compare it?
     The Logic part of it is also tricky. Lora Logic can be a passionately original singer, but the subject matter of her passionately original singing tends to be elusive. The very gesture of including the word “Logic” in the group’s name and in her stage name – she was once Susan Whitby – is the first among a battery of challenges to the listener.
     But back to the voice. I always assumed that Lora Logic’s approach to singing was bound up with her saxophone playing. In 1976, at age sixteen, she joined the group X-ray Spex, playing Clarence Clemons to Poly Styrene’s Bruce Springsteen. Sort of. She was one among several of X-ray Spex’s excellently sore thumbs, honking away on the saxophone as if no one had told them that punk bands weren’t allowed to hire horn players. Lisa Simpson, avant la lettre. When X-ray Spex retrenched and gave her the boot, she quickly formed Essential Logic, releasing “Aerosol Burns” on her own Cell label. Dave Wright subsequently joined the group on saxophone, and the instrument frequently hovers around the voice, echoing it dissonantly, the pair buzzing like moths around a lamp.
     Youth – one person’s youth -- also has more than a little to do with Lora Logic’s voice. She was all of twenty-one when Essential Logic split in 1981. Her voice on the earliest of these recordings, especially on tracks from 1979’s Beat Rhythm News [Waddle Ya Play?], exudes confidence, conviction, in-the-moment certitude – these tracks comprise a striking series of performances given the resolutely individualist oddness of her delivery.
     Puzzle number one: Do these performances seem the more brave because of her age, or did her youth itself make the fearlessness possible?
     Puzzle number two: How is the music on Fanfare in the Garden best digested? Many of these tracks initially appeared as singles, back when six or seven minutes of music might be all you were given to chew on for a particular release. For years, the only Essential Logic track I’d heard was the debut single “Aerosol Burns,” which nestles beautifully alongside The Raincoats, Scritti Politti, The Slits, Delta 5, and Robert Wyatt on Rough Trade’s 1981 Wanna Buy a Bridge? I loved it, yet it was enough. Lora Logic’s vocal performance on the Red Crayola’s 1982 “Born in Flames” (curiously but thankfully included here) is one of the reasons that I’ve listened to that song dozens of times, year in and year out, and still find it hard to DJ without slipping it in somewhere in the course of an evening. I am, however, surprised to report that armed with this two-CD anthology I still prefer Essential Logic in small doses – more accurately, in short, loud blasts. Twenty-plus years on, this is still squalling stuff that either rewards your attention or bombs as background music.
     The first CD trumps the second. The early singles and Beat Rhythm News are generally so original as to appear flawless. The Lora Logic solo record Pedigree Charm, from 1981, has much to recommend it, but isn’t possessed of the same ferocity of imagination. Seven tracks from 1997-98 are disappointingly middling -- song-blueprints without substantial, hoped-for verve. Even though a listing is given of the participating musicians, it’s a bit shocking that an anthology such as this doesn’t contain discographical information about where the individual tracks first appeared.


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