Normil Hawaiians evolved from a politically charged post-punk band to a more experimental unit, with theatrical performances and a heavy emphasis on improvisation. During the 2010s, Upset the Rhythm released the three albums the band recorded during the 1980s, and the group reunited and began performing for the first time in decades. Dark World (79-81) is the first compilation of material from their formative years, when their sound was more punk-influenced. There are no ten-minute space-outs here -- each track could easily fit on a 7" single, even though the band only ended up releasing two of them during their initial run. The lumbering opener "Dark World" reflects the communal nature of the group, ending with the repeated encouragement "time to grow your own crops." Janet Armstrong, who would later sing backup on David Bowie's single "Absolute Beginners," takes the lead on songs like the raucous punk anthem "I Wanna" and the midtempo, violin-laced "Ventilation," which are some of the band's catchiest, most appealing songs. "The Beat Goes On," a minor hit on the U.K. independent charts, appears three times on the compilation, first as a rough but spirited demo, then in its triumphant single version, and finally in a beefier, yelpier version recorded for John Peel's radio show. Also appearing as part of the band's Peel Session is a cover of Frank Zappa's "Mr. Green Genes" (listed as "Uncle Green Genes"), which, along with the group's piano-based cover of "In Heaven" from Eraserhead, points to some of the band's early influences outside the realm of punk. The group experiment with dub and funk rhythms on songs like "Outside" and "Obedience," placing them in the vicinity of the Pop Group, and "Party Party" is chipper enough to be a ska song. "Still Obedient," the A-side of the band's other 45, is filled with harsh ranting over an insistent rhythm, with leader Guy Smith occasionally calming down to emphasize the line "If you're ahead close your eyes, you won't notice the subtitles." Already at this early stage of the band's existence, Normil Hawaiians had stretched the boundaries of punk while remaining true to their ideals, and Dark World (79-81) collects their best, most urgent material.
Dark World (79-81) Review
by Paul Simpson