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Josef K

Considering the degree to which the musical period spanning from '79 through '83 has been plundered in recent years, it's surprising nobody's ripped off Josef K yet. "Twee" in the best possible sense of the word, Josef K was an essential part of the early '80s "Scottish sound" (along with their more R&B-influenced friends Orange Juice), crafting a herky-jerky but strangely light and gentle aesthetic something along the lines of what Joy Division might have sounded like if they'd decided to be a pop band. Though undeniably post-punk, Josef K had a thin sound that kind of tickles your ears rather than sinking into your belly: a mix of tinny, gloomy-sounding guitar parts with a gentle but shambling rhythm section and goofily laconic vocals.

The band's roots lie in the Edinburgh of 1978. Unlike so many new UK bands at the time who drew inspiration from the first wave of English punk, Josef K took its cues from the arty American proto-punk rock underground, performing early covers of classics by The Velvet Underground, Television, and Talking Heads. They were known first as TV Art, rechristening themselves in 1979 after the beleaguered anti-hero of Kafka's The Trial. Soon after the band formed a loose alliance with Glaswegians Orange Juice, playing shows and signing to their fledgling Postcard Records. This relationship ultimately led to the legendary Postcard singles series, comprised primarily of Orange Juice and Josef K releases (though Aztec Camera also released a pair and The Go-Betweens released one), which would prove extremely influential to the development of the "C-86" indie pop movement in the mid 1980s, spurring the development of such bands as The Pastels, The Smiths, The Vaselines, The Wedding Present, and Heavenly, and labels like 53rd and 3rd, Sarah, Flying Nun, Slumberland, and even Creation.

Josef K ultimately recorded five Postcard singles (six if you count the one on the shortlived pre-Postcard label Absolute during the two-year lifespan of the label. They recorded their "debut" album, Sorry for Laughing for Postcard in late 1980, but both the band and label determined it was too slickly produced and not properly representative of the band's blistering live sound, so it was shelved. Thus Josef K's only proper LP during their lifetime (and the only full-length ever put out by Postcard) was 1981's The Only Fun in Town. Recorded in less than a week, it was Josef K at their best, sometimes dour and sometimes glib, always spontaneous and never ponderous, it proved to be an enduring classic of the era.

Josef K broke up shortly thereafter. Vocalist Paul Haig went on to have a moderately successful career, subsequently exploring synth-based dance-pop, and deeper electronics, while the rhythm section of David Weddel and Ronnie Torrance joined Nick Currie (later known as Momus) in the early 4AD indie pop band The Happy Family and guitarist Malcolm Ross turned in stints with both Orange Juice and Aztec Camera.

In 1987, Young and Stupid, a compilation culled from Josef K's many singles, appeared for the first time. It has been reissued twice since, each time adding new material. The LTM version, released in 2002, features fully remastered sound, a June 1981 John Peel session which captures the band's famously immediate live sound, and additional live and early demo material, running 21 tracks long. For anyone interested in the formative days of indie pop, LTM's release of Young and Stupid is a fantastic place to begin.

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