Suburban Lawns – Suburban Lawns (1981/2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24bit/96kHz | Time – 28:52 minutes | 622 MB | Genre: Punk Rock, Post-Punk
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © I.R.S. Records
If your brain has a shortlist of bands that instantly evoke New Wave, Suburban Lawns deserve a slot right next to the likes of Devo, Talking Heads and the B-52’s. After putting out two singles on their own Suburban Industrial imprint, the Lawns signed to I.R.S. Records and released their debut LP in 1981. While the band gained cult status thanks in part to a Jonathan Demme-produced music video which aired on Saturday Night Live, their self-titled album would sadly be the five-piece’s only full-length statement.
Suburban Lawns’ asymmetrical aesthetic is personified by co-vocalist Su Tissue, whose mesmerizing stage persona was at once childlike and terrifying. Her unique style embodies the awkward/arty female singer of the Reagan era, while the group’s male vocals – courtesy of Frankie Ennui, Vex Billingsgate and John McBurney – maintain the satirical themes of Southern California’s postwar mirage of limitless sprawl.
Suburban Lawns’ catchiness can be attributed to their drum-tight performance and taut songwriting. Listen to the vocal trade-offs on “Anything,” which could have easily come out on any purely Punk label from LA at the time, while Tissue’s deadpan delivery on “Janitor” glides into the best art-warble this side of Lene Lovich, broaching the possibility of nuclear annihilation with a murmured “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.”
From a West Coast scene dominated by 7-inch singles and EPs, the Suburban Lawns’ lone LP remains in a class with precious few. It’s not surprising that they found acceptance in the Hollywood punk scene, despite their Long Beach roots, and would influence other bands such as Minutemen. This is not a disc that will get parked in your collection hoping to get pulled once in a while; this is a record you will play.
In the ’60s and ’70s, it seemed it was the birthright of every British art student to form some sort of pop group (ranging from the Beatles to Gang of Four), but it wasn’t until the late ’70s and the rise of the new wave scene that the same thinking began to spread in a big way on American college campuses, where would-be painters and sculptors discovered learning a few chords and penning some oblique lyrics could lead to shows at off-campus bars, with free beer, brief romantic partnerships among fans, and the envy of their peers as their reward. Talking Heads were the biggest and (arguably) best art school band of the era, but Suburban Lawns were one of the most successful examples on the West Coast; formed by two CalArts students, Sue McLane and William Ranson, the pair adopted the respective stage names Su Tissue (vocals and keyboards) and Vex Billingsgate (bass and vocals), and teamed up with guitarists Frankie Ennui (born Richard Whitney) and John Gleur (real name John McBurney) and drummer Chuck Roast (aka Charles Rodriguez). Between 1978 and 1983, Suburban Lawns gigged frequently on the West Coast new wave circuit, and put out two successful indie singles (“Gidget Goes to Hell” and “Janitor”) before they cut their self-titled debut album for I.R.S. Records in 1981. On vinyl, Suburban Lawns sound unrelentingly “clever” and a bit too self-consciously quirky for their own good, but there’s more than enough surreal humor in the lyrics of tunes like “Flying Saucer Safari,” “Computer Date,” and “Intellectual Rock” to compensate, and the musicians had impressive skills to pull off the breakneck tempos and acrobatic guitar figures that dominate these songs, sounding taut and jaunty at each turn. And though Vex Billingsgate’s “Local television announcer gone berserk” vocal style had its charms, Su Tissue’s three-way cross between Nico, Yoko Ono, and a performance poet working on two hours sleep was not only a touchstone of the era, but a witty and singular sound in its own right. Suburban Lawns manages to sound like the archetypal ’80s new wave album and an arty pop project that doesn’t bear close resemblance to anything else at the same time, and either way you look at it, it’s an off-kilter triumph. – Mark Deming
1. Suburban Lawns – Flying Saucer Safari
2. Suburban Lawns – Pioneers
3. Suburban Lawns – Not Allowed
4. Suburban Lawns – Gossip
5. Suburban Lawns – Intellectual Rock
6. Suburban Lawns – Protection
7. Suburban Lawns – Anything
8. Suburban Lawns – Janitor
9. Suburban Lawns – Computer Date
10. Suburban Lawns – Mom And Dad And God
11. Suburban Lawns – Unable
12. Suburban Lawns – When In The World
13. Suburban Lawns – Green Eyes
14. Suburban Lawns – Jam The Controls