This Heat, This Heat

Simon Reynolds

By Simon Reynolds

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

This Heat are regarded as one of the archetypal post-punk vanguard outfits. Which they were, but the fact is that this South London trio were just as much a post-psychedelic band, with audible roots in the UK's progressive underground of the early '70s. In 1975, even as Patti Smith and the Ramones released their debuts, This Heat's drummer/vocalist Charles Hayward was playing in Quiet Sun, a jazz-rock combo led by Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. This Heat's slogan was "All possible processes. All channels open. 24 hours alert," and those first two sentiments could easily have been endorsed by proggy weirdos like Van Der Graaf Generator, Gong, or Can. But the third plank of that mini-manifesto marked This Heat as true contemporaries of Scritti Politti and the Pop Group, its totally-wired tone of paranoid vigilance tapping into the atmosphere of tension and dread that suffused the late '70s.

A category-collapsing classic.

Political anguish &#8212 fears of nuclear armageddon, of a right-wing backlash reversing the gains of the '60s, of an emerging police state &#8212 suffused This Heat's music, creating a vibe a world away from the whimsical meander of pre-punk noodlers like Soft Machine. Nonetheless, you can still hear This Heat's proggy past come through on their self-titled 1979 debut in the Robert Wyatt-like plaintiveness and Englishness of Hayward's vocals and the undisguised virtuosity of his drumming, as well as in the group's tell-tale penchant for disjointed structures. More post-punk DIY-noisy in spirit and sound are the contributions of Gareth Williams, a non-musican who supplied jarring blurts and abstract smears using broken-down instruments, effects-pedals, and a primitive form of sampling involving tape loops.

This Heat could be propulsively, even convulsively rhythmic: the eerie percussive timbres and frenetic beats of "24 Track Loop" offers an astonishing audio-prophecy of '90s drum 'n 'bass, while "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback, to a time-bomb tick-tock of Cold War skank, to an abrasive funk-scrabble, But the group were equally effective making a kind of ambient music, albeit of a decidedly non-tranquilizing sort. "Not Waving" sounds like Wyatt languishing in a dungeon where the rats scuttle morosely over the keys of a decrepit harmonium. "Late-prog," "post-punk" &#8212 either way you slice it, This Heat is a category-collapsing classic.