Corn-Fed New Wave: Pittsburgh’s The Affordable Floors’ Elegant Pop Still Works Thirty Years Later [pt. 2]

the affordable floors live 2019
The Affordable Floors live in 2019

[…continued from last post]

The Affordable Floors released their second album two year later, in 1989 and instead of co-producing with T.J. Wilkins, the band brought in Al Synder [Corbin Hanner Band] to share production with the band. A lot can change in three years of a developing band and the uptick in production values from Gamut Productions on the debut to Aircraft Studios for “Drumming On The Walls” was palpable.

As if the horn section on the opener “A Thousand Days” didn’t immediately make that felt. Eric Riebling wasn’t exactly taking a shy and retiring stance on his excellent bass playing either. In any case, a suitably brash and exuberant way to open an album, but the real payload for me was the second song.

“Berkeley Square” was a riveting mashup of a new song interpolated with the adapted lyric of the British WWII pop classic “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.” This one was exceptionally subdued and downtempo, with breathy sampled synths issuing over the complex drum pattern as singer/synthesist Harvey Coblin tentatively occupied the modest space for him in the magical arrangement.

Scant stabs of guitar drew from the David Rhodes [Peter Gabriel] playbook sounding not unlike the ones in “Biko” thought this sound was far lighter in tone. With its glassy synths and delicate piano holding the restrained power of the song in check for the first three minutes of its running length. Then, after the third verse, Coblin let rip his unfettered expression vocal, which had been teased by the french horn all but buried in the mix until now. It was a moment that never failed to raise goose pimples.

the affordable floors - drumming on the walls
Anthem Records | US | CD | 1989 | 30385

The Affordable Floors: Drumming On The Walls – US – CD [1989]

  1. A Thousand Days
  2. Berkeley Square
  3. The Red Room
  4. Shield Me
  5. Calm Without A Storm
  6. Blackout
  7. Only Gray
  8. Waiting
  9. Wedding Ring

In spite of its title, “The Red Room” was respite of jaunty pop with the sax of George Dittmeier and the multi-tracked vocals of Coblin. More martial drum patterns and bass syncopating with the synth leads as the guitar issued block chording drifting over the song like a pall of smoke. The xylophones really popped on this song; so rarely used to intensify a song as they did here.

The handclaps and drum pattern of “Blackout” made me recall the rhythm bed of Peter Gabriel’s “I Have The Touch” but they were put to a radically different use on this song, whose tone [in spite of its title] was ultimately cheerful with sunny organ leads swelling up like sunflowers in a field. When the dobro showed up after the middle eight it could have all gone so wrong, but instead it played like a checkmate.

I had to applaud the percussive stickwork by drummer Kenneth Zenkevich that rippled through the intense “Only Gray” like unceasing bolts of lightning. The propulsive drumming only added to the song’s unstoppable momentum. The near instrumental “Waiting” gave us a palate cleanse with yet more in the way of creative drum patterns here to set us up for the climactic “Wedding Ring.”

It stormed out of the starting blocks at full gallop with thunderdrums and fretless bass that time from Riebling, making an immediate impression. The full horn section manifesting again to bring this album to an intense end with perhaps the most embittered breakup song I can name. Coblin spat out the intense lyrics with his multitracked voice increasing against itself in pitch and intensity until he once again let his unfettered howl take full flight.

Never want to wear a wedding stone
I Never want to make a house a home
Never want to watch a family grow
I Never want to feel this anger slow

“Wedding Ring”

As much as I enjoyed “The Sounding” I was impressed by the full development of the band to meet their potential on “Drumming On The Walls.” And I wasn’t the only one who was. The band made the best $600 investment of their lives when they paid that amount to have “Wedding Ring” put on a CMJ [College Music Journal] sampler CD. Marty Scott, then President of MCA Records, listened to every CMJ sampler CD, and was impressed enough with The Affordable Floors song to sign them to MCA records; sensing a band that could really go places on the burgeoning college/alternative radio scene. They got a single album deal in May of 1990 for a $118,000 advance. A healthy start for a young band ready to deliver.

The band were placed in the studio with producer Larry Fast [I’ve told you they were Peter Gabriel fans] and they recorded a mixture of re-recorded songs from their first two indie albums as well as newer material, and in a move that showed fealty to another obvious influence, a cover of New Order’s “Temptation.” Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? But here’s where the story got messy. The inevitable regime change at MCA led to much of their alternative lineup being cut once Japanese multinational Matsushita Electric bought MCA in November of 1990. The band’s window of opportunity had opened and closed within the space of a year.

Tw0 years of trying later, the band got the rights to their recording made at MCA [which couldn’t have been easy or cheap] and went back to the indie scene as Anthem Records put out the first two albums on the CDs that I bought directly from them in 1992, as well as a third album, “All The Things I Meant To Be,” but by that time the band began to understandably fray with members wanting to change course and butting heads. In 1995, after RSI had also begun affecting band members, they decided to throw in the towel.

the affordable floors every broken heart will mend

And so it was until in 2018 the band reunited to make a new five track EP, “Every Broken Heart Will Mend.” The band opened up their own website, and have had a presence now on Bandcamp since then with all of their material ever released, with a further selection of unreleased material [demos, rare Kate Bush covers] all there to be heard and bought. I need to think about getting the albums that I have not heard yet and am very intrigued by the notion of Larry Fast producing this band! The Affordable Floors filled a space that to my ears sounded sympatico with another great Pennsylvania band with similar aims, The Ocean Blue, albeit added Art Rock seasoning. If that sounds good to you too, then Mr. D.J. hit that button!

post-punk monk buy button


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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7 Responses to Corn-Fed New Wave: Pittsburgh’s The Affordable Floors’ Elegant Pop Still Works Thirty Years Later [pt. 2]

  1. My roommate in college was from Pittsburgh and made me listen to their debut- I loved it right away. A classic lost new wave album.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. secretrivals says:

    Monk, have you considered a Corn-Fed feature on Ohio’s Great Plains?


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