[CD Review] The Lines, 'Memory Span' (Acute)

Rico Conning may never be a household name, but his production and engineering touches behind-the-scenes have helped to shape popular music. He's most famously worked with acts such as Depeche Mode and Wire, as well as the Torch Song collaboration with über-producer and fellow Englishman William Orbit. He didn't simply emerge out of nowhere—his late-'70s/early-'80s band the Lines, for which he sang and played guitar, showed his ear for where rock instrumentation and snappy dance moves meet.

Memory Span compiles the various singles the group released during their lifetime into an attractive collection; it's the kind of heartfelt effort in which the Acute label has specialized, rescuing lost music even in the era of the endless MP3 jukebox. Remastering and repackaging wouldn't be anything if the music weren't worth it, though, and what Memory Span shows best is that while the Lines aren't by any means lost geniuses, they had the kind of easygoing spark that made them the equal to acts such as the Feelies and Orange Juice: skeletally nervous post-punk with a big percussion punch.

Conning's singing is striking, alternately calmly restrained or jumpy without being histrionic, like a less dissipated and (admittedly) sometimes more whiny Peter Perrett of the Only Ones. On songs such as “False Alarm” and the beautifully atmospheric “Nerve Pylon,” that element and his crisp-as-hell guitar work stand out. But praise also should go to the equally precision-sharp playing of the Nicholas Cash and Jo Forty rhythm section, which became increasingly more complicated and aggro-funky as the Lines went on—the dub-freakout slink of “Transit” is a mini-masterpiece. Anyone mainlining the Vampire Weekend record now could do themselves a favor by giving this a listen—and dancing.

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