January 7, 2016
November Group: November Group US EP 
- Shake It Off
- Pictures Of The Homeland
- We Dance
- The popular Front
How I remember mail order ads for this EP in the back pages of Trouser Press back in the day. I noted the release and didn’t think about it for several years until I saw the “Work That Dream” EP by the band in 1985 on A+M Records that was something that I could enter a store and buy, so I did. While I liked the 1985 EP as an example of mid 80s dance rock, I still didn’t bother keeping it when the Great Vinyl Purge happened soon afterward. And that was it for November Group for a loooooooong time.
<flash forward 29 years>
Last January, I was walking the mean streets of downtown Asheville with my wife when a brief step inside Static Age Records revealed several nice items that I needed to buy. One of them was the 1982 November Group EP, which I had never seen before. I excitedly remarked this fact to my wife and left there happily toting this and two other vital vinyl discs I had been wanting. November Group were essentially driven by a pair of women who appeared on all three of their EPs over a three year period; singer/guitarist Ann Prim [pictured on the cover], synth player Kearney Kirby and the XY-enabled rhythm section in use here – Raphael Gasparello on bass and Alvan Long on drums. If that weren’t enough, by the end of the Summer, I had managed to re-buy the “Work That Dream” EP as well as the 12″ single of the title cut. November Group, which I suspected would have more currency with me 30 years later, was now dangerously close to having a complete discography in my Record Cell. That smelled like a REVO edition! Only their 1983 “Persistent Memories” EP on Brain Eater was outside of my grasp, and that’s now in my Discogs feed from a favorite dealer [to be purchased today] and with that a full CD of all three EPs and the 12″ remixes will be a neat and tidy REVO CD. Soon.
The opening track, “Shake It Off,” was an infectious slice of New Wave synth-funk, with Ms. Kirby getting very expressive on the Moog Bass with neat open chords from Ms. Prim on guitar. The rhythm section were hot and the recording was very appealingly balanced and mixed. It sounded like a good eight track studio was used for the recording. The insistent number sported powerful, vocals from Ms. Prim. It sort of sounded like a femme-led DEVO cut from the same period cross pollinated with maybe Rick James? Great dancefloor material and I loved how Ms. Prim interjected three fast exhortations of “shakeitoff/shakeitoff/shakeitoff” like a toaster would on a ska cut; which this otherwise resembled in no way at all.
The pressure got turned a notch higher for “Flatland” with rhythmic interjections of a slow-burning synth riff at half or less of the fast-paced song’s tempo. The massed backing vocal chant of “Hey!” also gave this a hard feel that reminded me of a more melodic Nitzer Ebb. “Pictures Of The Homeland” had a lighter touch while retaining the urgency of all of the cuts on side one. The language of the lyrics touched on delightful harsh Germanic imagery. Knowing that the band decamped to Germany for their A+M EP in 1985, at least they managed to live up to their pretensions.
Side two began with the anthemic “We Dance” and the clean, clinical synths were matched by the vocals and lyrics of Ms. Prim. As with all of this music, the synth predominated while the conventional rhythm section grounded it in rock, even as it had as much to do with disco/funk. The pulsating synths were matched by drum fills every few bars for a propulsive vibe until the startling ending.
Guitar finally came to the fore on “The Popular Front” with snarling, if simple leads set against fast and funky slap bass [a few years ahead of the curve] and the rising synths that held down swelling chords as the whole thing sped like a getaway car. The lyrics here were multi lingual and almost a manifesto of the modern era hurtling toward us back then. The morse code synths kept the nervous tension heightened for the whole song. This was a strong ending to a strong EP that I really should have encountered when it came out in 1982. I would have loved it then, but it’s true that it’s attained a patina of value that shone even brighter 32 years later.
Had I not run into more of their music elsewhere last year, I might not have twigged to the idea of making a comprehensive November Group CD but now that I have heard this debut recording, I can’t wait to do so. This is exactly the sort of thing that I am seeking to re-investigate decades later. The juxtaposition of cold, almost harsh, vocals and sensual, driving synth rock is musical catnip to my ears, and against the current musical climate, driving songs like these have even greater currency with me today.
– 30 –