Everyone knows that the 1980s got to be cool again in a kitsch sort of way right around the turn of the millennium. (Take that, fin de siècle scholars!) I've always assumed it was part of the twenty-year cycle of coolness: the thin lapels and skinny ties popular during the 1960s came back to haunt the 1980s; second wave feminism and bellbottoms, new in the 70s, were thoroughly distorted but nonetheless revitalized in the 90s; and wait, what's that? The 90s have hit the runway?
If it looks silly to begin with, it always looks at a little sillier the second time around. The 80s comeback exemplified that rule, I think. And yet, as the trend starts to fade, I feel compelled to admit that many of us who thought 80s chic was pitiable at its peak couldn't help falling under its influence. The vintage 80s arrived in the small North Carolina mountain town where I was living from 2002-2006, just about the time it arrived everywhere else, which meant I was right on time for the NORTH CAROLINA NEW WAVE REVIVAL.
In conjunction with the world of fashion, the 20-year itch of nostalgia left an indelible mark on the music scene in Asheville, NC. Okay, admittedly, it wasn't so central as all that to the music scene. Asheville's best band certainly didn't lose its way. But my favorite band at the time could be described fairly as retrograde 80s new wave. The members of that band wouldn't appreciate the description, I'm sure, so let me add a caveat. Among the mad wash of neon leggings and blipping synths, they harvested the most interesting ideas and plenty from beyond that limited sphere of influence. That's what makes them worth sharing here.
Piedmont Charisma was a five-piece band featuring Josh Carpenter (drums), Chad Pry (bass), Ben Ridings (guitar), Emily Staton who was later replaced by Erin Sale, and Charles Corriher (vocals) who seems to have had a falling out with most everyone in Asheville. I lived with Charles for a time while he was dating my friend and then roommate Candace Lazarou. He gave me fodder for one hundred good stories, none of which I remember anymore. But, while living with Candace (and sometimes Charles) I played in her band, which sounded a lot like his.
Piedmont Charisma (2002)
Some people called the band "Candace Charisma" instead of its proper name, Congratulations, which she hated because it came a little too close to the truth. She also hated her music being described as New Wave, 80s Dance or Synth Pop, but I suppose none of those labels tell a lie. We described it otherwise, of course, but our disavowal didn't save us from sounding like part of a trend. I guess time leaves its mark on shitty art. I can still hear a sincere grasp for something better in those songs, though, so I'm sharing them with the world for the first time. They deserve that.
Perhaps my former band mates would disagree. Two of the four of us have gone on to record better things. Jascha Ephraim (drums and professionalization) moved to California to make it big and, whatever success is, he certainly made it bigger. Evan Hill (guitar, song smithing) now fronts his own band, Wilson the Rocker. Last I heard Candace (guitar, keys, vocals, vision) was driving around the Continental United States in a Kia Sephia, but even she's still making music. I, on the other hand, put my bass away and am now writing stuff so boring that not even my family will read it (this blog included).
Whatever. Have a listen to Congratulations' only demo. We recorded it in the fall of 2003, if I remember correctly. It's not a great mix, but the guy who did all the work did it for free and did it in a hurry. I hear there's a better mix and another song floating around somewhere, but I don't have either. I do, however, have a copy of Piedmont Charisma's only album, released in 2002, which I'm including alongside the Congratulations demo for an honest comparison. Apparently Piedmont Charisma almost finished a second album before learning to hate Charles Corriher's guts, but it's never been released. Their best recordings are from an early single, which has been posted at Willfully Obscure.
Nearly ten years later, it all sounds oddly dated and post-dated. Who knows, maybe it'll be cool again ten years hence.