NPR logo Here's Your Late Pass: Right Music, Wrong Time

Here's Your Late Pass: Right Music, Wrong Time

First, there were the originators: Kraftwerk, Neu!, The Cure, Joy Division, Gang of Four, The Sonics, The Wailers and Link Wray, to name but a few. From electronic to post-punk to garage and blues, each genre had its own progenitors and its own set of prominent years. And then, more recently, each of these sounds had a resurrection. But before the tidal wave of revivalists, before Interpol and Bloc Party paraded around like post-punks and before The White Stripes re-ignited garage, there were artists who had already borrowed, re-imagined and paid tribute.

These bands — like The Gories and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — were also influenced by the early sounds, but wore their influence on their sleeves long before most everyone else caught up. Then there was the sadly overlooked Prima Donnas from Austin, Texas, who piled copious amounts of keyboards onto the stage and delivered a brand of character-driven new-wave songs in the mid-'90s, while everyone else in indie rock played guitars. And what about Flin Flon and Air Miami? Two groups led by Mark Robinson (also of Unrest), one a bass-heavy post-punk-inspired band, the other more dance-driven, both bands possessing a sound that wouldn't be popularized again until almost a decade later. And, of course, The Magnetic Fields, who were borrowing from the synthed-out pop sounds of the early '80s long before everyone else was.

There have always been bands that came along too soon; at least that's what it feels like in hindsight. Take, for example, the Olympia bands Karp and Tight Bros From Way Back When, or The Murder City Devils from Seattle. Influenced by Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, MC5, et al, not a whole lot of people got on board with their heavy sound back in their day. Then, years later, when every disenfranchised high-school kid was embracing Korn and hipsters were going gaga over The Darkness and then Mastodon, Karp, Tight Bros and MCD were long gone. Despite metal and hard rock making a comeback, and being much more married to indie-rock coolness, the groups that were too far ahead of the curve were all but forgotten, or at least didn't get to reap the benefits. (A-ha! Maybe this is what reunion tours are for!)

When a band or artist isn't tied to a larger movement, when they aren't part of the first wave, nor part of the second wave, then where does their influence or importance lie? It's difficult for a band not to be bolstered by a larger context, and to exist as a musical outsider in its own scene, appreciated as more of a novelty because of how differentiated it is from everyone else. It's not that these bands that were ahead of their time weren't loved; they were, at least by some, but they didn't have the momentum. They weren't part of a zeitgeist. Instead, these early revivalists exist in a sort of musical no-man's land. They brought us back to an earlier musical era and reminded us of a sound, but I guess most of us weren't quite ready to hear it.

Feel free to list bands or artists who were resurrecting or borrowing from various musical genres long before it was trendy to do so.