The Method Actors were among the earliest bands to emerge from the same fertile Athens punk/new wave scene that gave the world The B-52s, R.E.M. and Pylon. Acute Record’s new CD This Is Still It–which R.E.M.’s Peter Buck describes in his liner notes as “a kind of secret history of the Athens scene”– revisits the essential early years of the trailblazing duo.
With just two members, Vic Varney on guitar and vocals, David Gamble on drums and vocals, the Method Actors were an experiment in just how much you could do with so little. Using repetitious grooves and stripped down instrumentation, killer rhythm guitar and thunderous drums, they underpinned surprisingly pop, hook-laden songwriting with an angsty racket of barely controlled chaos.
While it was the energy of the typical punk influences like the Pistols and Ramones that got them kick-started, unexpected influences like James Blood Ulmer and Capt Beefheart pushed their sounds to odd, aggressive structures, creating a sort of southern skronk by two guys who could actually sing. Following in the dance based approach of fellow Athenian B-52s, they soon incorporated the atmospherics of groups like Public Image Limited and Joy Division, the minimalism of the Young Marble Giants and the punk-funk of Gang of Four. Still, they never lost the ability to focus on the music’s key elements: incessant, stripped down, trance-inducing grooves and yelping vocal harmonies that vacillate between haunting melodies and excited spasms.
The early batch of singles that comprise the first half of This Is Still It were recorded in marathon sessions in a two-person guitar and drums format that in some ways would lay the groundwork for anyone from the White Stripes to No Age. By the time they recorded their critically acclaimed double LP, Little Figures, selections of which fill out This Is Still It, they were able to stretch out a bit, including adding the sounds of not just a bass guitar, but steel drums to the mix. All the while they never lost the ability to focus the music on it’s key elements of incessant stripped down trance-inducing grooves and yelping harmony vocals that vacillate between haunting melodies and excited outbursts.
These two aspects of their sound are represented well by the first two free downloads included below, but they only hint at the breadth of their output.