With the weighty new anthology The Aberrant Years, Sub Pop is shining a spotlight on the four albums Feedtime published through Aberrant Records in the 1980s. The timing is dead-on; After 20 years on the shelf, these songs can still hit the ground running. With its exhaustive explorations of some of the less-traveled fringes of punk sound, the music here feels eerily ‘of the moment’.
Feedtime’s sound is, among other things, a mesmerizing piece of cultural diffusion. The Sydney trio played with an unguarded love of old American blues-rock rhythms, but layered in some decidedly UK punk noise over it. And at heart, there’s that indulgent, ‘dare-you’ bleakness that is distinctly working-class Aussie. To say their music falls somewhere on a continuum between Fugazi and Gang of Four is to acknowledge that there are no easy comparisons—call it alternate-universe rockabilly if you like, but the ‘something borrowed’ in their effects and rhythm parts is only background to a unique and driven sensibility for songwriting. If listening to the nearly three hours of material collected in The Aberrant Years makes one thing clear, it’s that Feedtime blazed their own trails through the post-punk landscape.
Just as they sometimes reached between continents for inspiration, though, I think contemporary listeners and musicians would do well to reach across the decades and hear what they came up with. I see a rock scene today with some awkward fissures between new and old, with progressive noise and folk-rock retreating from some of the creative puzzles they share, and Feedtime offers some important insights on those puzzles. Insofar as The Aberrant Years is the ‘roots rock’ of another time and place, it has plenty to teach us about those roots.