Lora Logic: Pedigree Charm 12” (Rough Trade; 1982)
Pardon me while I give a bit of deep biographical context here. In the early 2000s, when I was in my early 20s, the website Kill from the Heart went online and changed my world and my taste in music. Before that, I had a few hardcore records that I loved, but Kill from the Heart—along with compilations like P.E.A.C.E., Party or Go Home, and Welcome to 1984—schooled me on how these records were part of a worldwide movement, one that I’ve continued to research, learn about, and take part in for the past two decades. However, the habits that sent me down the hardcore rabbit hole developed earlier in my life; they just had different objects.
Before I went down that rabbit hole, I spent a lot of time researching first wave punk, because I loved that music too and, at that time, it was much better documented and easier to research in mass media. Whenever I would gain access to a new database, the first thing I would do was search the word “punk.” I remember in my high school, before they connected it to the internet, there was a ProQuest research station. It sounds silly and primitive now, but there was a workstation that had an index of articles on its hard disk. So, I would search (for the word “punk”), and then there were these giant spinning towers of CDs. The search results would tell me what CD to pull from the towers and load into the computer, and then the system would access that article and allow me to read and print it, sort of like a digital version of the microfiche machines in libraries. Then I’d go to the next article in the search results and have to pull a different CD, load it, etc. I remember downloading articles about Vivienne Westwood in fashion magazines, stuff about the Sex Pistols’ first reunion tour in 1996, and a lot of stuff about Nirvana. These things helped me navigate what to buy with my limited budget, since there were no older punks in my town to show me the way.
Then later in the 90s, when I was in college, punk hit its 20th anniversary and there was a wave of media attention. The music section at mainstream bookstores like Barnes and Noble now contained several books on punk, and I read them all. The most pivotal was Jon Savage’s tome England’s Dreaming. I remember reading the book the summer before I went overseas for the first time (to England and Australia), and the timing couldn’t have been better. I gobbled up singles and albums by the groups I read about in England’s Dreaming, most of them dirt cheap. I came back from that trip with several hundred records, which I then spent the next few years digesting. This is also around the time eBay came on the scene, allowing me to fill in gaps in my collection and connect even more dots. Eventually I had a pretty sizable collection and a lot of knowledge about first and second-wave punk and post-punk, particularly from the UK. I loved the Pistols and the Clash, but bands like the Ruts, Cockney Rejects, the Buzzcocks, the Dickies, Wire, Stiff Little Fingers, the Fall, Discharge, Joy Division, and many others emerged as all-time favorites. To this day, the music of this era feels like home to me, and it’s what I put on when the sun is shining outside or when I get in the car for an exciting road trip.
I was still on that part of my journey when, in 2003, Kill Rock Stars put out a double CD collection by Essential Logic called Fanfare in the Garden. The CD got some press on its release (my research this morning revealed a Greil Marcus review in The Guardian), and Lora Logic was already on my radar because she was the saxophonist on X-Ray Spex’s early singles (though she was edged out of the group by the time they recorded their album). However, when I picked up a copy of Fanfare in the Garden, I was not into it. Part of it might have been that the “double CD discography” thing that happened so much during the CD era just wasn’t a listener friendly format. Lora Logic’s music is challenging, and even the best music wears on you after 2+ hours of listening. So, I relegated Essential Logic to the “not good” pile and probably passed on a lot of their records in subsequent years.
(Side note: I remember buying a double-disc compilation by the Saints called Wild About You 1976-1978 - Complete Studio Recordings on that same trip. This release—a treasure trove of great punk rock—suffered from that same sense of listener fatigue. I remember not liking the Saints’ 3rd LP, Prehistoric Sounds, because it was at the end of that collection and I was just tired of listening to the Saints after two straight hours. Eventually I picked up a vinyl copy of Prehistoric Sounds and now I ride hard for it. Wild About You also committed the criminal sin of putting 2/3 of Eternally Yours at the end of disc 1 and the last few tracks on disc 2… what were these people thinking?)
Then, in the early 2010s, I got a copy of Wanna Buy a Bridge?, Rough Trade’s 1980 sampler LP. I listened to that LP all the time because, while it was mostly songs I already knew and even owned the original singles for, it was jam-packed with hits and fun to listen to. Essential Logic’s 1978 single “Aerosol Burns” appears on that compilation, and I grew to love it. Eventually I picked up a copy of the single too.
The next step on my Lora Logic journey was a few weeks ago, when I watched the 1983 film Born in Flames (which I wrote about in my staff pick in January. That movie, which I loved, had a title song by the Red Crayola on which Lora Logic sang, and I loved the track too. So Lora Logic was already on my mind, then I read a brief mention of Lora Logic’s 1982 solo LP, Pedigree Charm, in a book. I sampled it online and ordered a copy on Discogs, which cost $15. Since it arrived I’ve been listening to it a lot and I like it. Pedigree Charm (minus one track) is actually compiled on the Fanfare in the Garden collection I mentioned above, so I heard all this music 20 years ago. But what I brushed off as “not punk” back then now sounds like the punkest, most interesting music I’ve come across in a minute.
I can see why a cursory listen to to these tracks might not lead me to investigate further, because Pedigree Charm sounds like a product of the early 80s. While the playing is organic (there are synthesizers, but no drum machines and it doesn’t sound robotic), the sounds are clear, compressed, and tight, like a polished 80s studio recording. This is particularly true of the bass tone, which is full of the funk grooves and string popping that played such a big role in the post-Gang of Four musical landscape, but with a clean, compact tone that wouldn’t be out of place on a Phil Collins record.
The thing is, though, even if the production is sterile, the band plays with fire and passion. Most of the songs here are quite fast and the band plays hard, not sounding like bored session players, but skilled and engaged studio musicians. And then there’s Lora Logic’s contribution on vocals and saxophone, which would spice up even the most mundane backing tracks. People often comment on the sense of unrestrained joy that characterizes Lora Logic’s music, and that’s very much in effect here, but as both a saxophonist and a vocalist she has a Miles Davis-like way of deploying a simple melodic line that forces you to hear what all the other instruments are doing in a new way. I am infatuated with her sense of melody and now that I’ve discovered that I feel like I need to hear everything she ever played on.
As I was researching this morning, more of my picture of Lora Logic’s music came into focus. I learned that not only did she play in X-Ray Spex and record with Essential Logic, the Red Krayola, and as a solo artist, but she was also a prolific guest musician. She had a habit of working with cutting edge bands, playing on records by the Raincoats, Swell Maps, Scritti Politti, and Dennis Bovell. She even laid down some sax on Finnish punk band Kollaa Kestää’s debut LP, Jäähyväiset Aseille!
And thus one record bought leads to a dozen more on the want list.