From reverb to renegade

'80s retrospectives recapture excesses of style and spontaneity

The weather can be grim in Britain, and no one knows that better than Lawrence from Felt. Over the course of nine releases between 1981 and 1989, the mono-monikered Brit explored the rainy terrain that was mainly in his brain, mixing startling epiphanies with grandiloquent failures.

England's durable Cherry Red Records (25 years old last month) is reissuing the entire Felt discography over the course of the summer. The first batch arrives in the shops this week, a peaked trio with perfumey titles and the kind of florid, tangled guitar work that make Vini Reilly sound like Sid Vicious.

Utilizing little beyond Lawrence's voice, Maurice Deebank's guitar, and a whole lot of reverb, Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty is an expansive album, one where endless looping arpeggios and sighed-out vocals create a mood of emotional iciness. And though it's meant to be spartan (you can almost hear the air between the guitar and drums), it's so insistently monochromatic that it's hard to pay it prolonged attention.

Better is The Splendour of Fear, where Lawrence began warming up to concrete structure. Because his hiccuping voice — reminiscent at times of Edwyn Collins — is pushed to the foreground, it anchors the songs, which consequently feel less like overstuffed baroque poetry and more like pop music. There are moments of out-and-out genius: "Mexican Bandits" sounds like a cast-off Smiths instrumental, and "Red Indians" has the sprawling majesty of The Cure.

The best bet is the career-spanning compilation Stains on a Decade. Stripped of all the free-form experimental jamming that waterlogged so many Felt records, Stains makes it easier to draw a straight line from Felt's moody tone poems to contemporary gentle-rockers like Low and the Clientele. Lawrence is not a man of economy, but amidst the great plains of sound are strewn tiny, glittering diamonds.

Those with less patience and more piercings will be well-advised to forsake Felt altogether in favor of Fanfare in the Garden, the gutsy double-disc compilation from former Rough Trade rock act Essential Logic. Pernicious punk rocker Lora Logic, upon being kicked out of the X-Ray Spex in 1978, embarked upon a string of often volatile, never-boring singles that further sledgehammered whatever structure was left in the pop song.

With her squealing saxophone and distinctive ululating vocals, Logic rode the same crest as the Raincoats and Drinking Electricity, bleating boldly into the '80s while many of her punk peers were breaking up or cashing out. It is the first disc that best captures Logic's renegade spirit.

From the devilish shriek that kicks off "Aerosol Burns" to the palpitating skronk of "Music is a Better Noise," Logic's singles were servants of whim and spontaneous invention. "Quality Crayon Wax O.K." rides like a car with sugar in the fuel lines, grinding and banging and lurching violently forward without warning. It's like Logic is dreaming up the changes as she goes, screaming them out to the band in the studio. It's not that the songs are abstract — all of them are built on traditional foundations. It's more that they have a feeling of spontaneity, jumping and popping like a million little firecrackers.

The second disc, documenting Logic's work in the mid-'80s and late '90s, is less rambunctious. More direct and far less angular than her early work, songs like "On the Internet" and "Love Eternal" are surprisingly mannered (the latter cleaves rather desperately to a staid electronic drum loop). Though they don't match the raw invention of her early work, even Logic's later work bears the earmarks of a unique and singular vision.??