B/W: XTC – “Science Friction”


Discomfit Pop

  1. Any piece of music that conforms to your expectations of pop music (i.e. that said pop music be indelibly catchy, regardless of its content and/or trappings; expectations that overlap, but do not denote, Market Pop, which is a whole other kettle of fish) that—simultaneously—works to bring you out of your comfort zone (to “discomfit” someone is to make them uneasy, which can be done in myriad manners) and draws you into the purview of thought, however trivial or asinine or insipid or profound or deep or wondrous the thought may be.

Use In A Sentence: XTC, Swindon’s finest, have been purveying Discomfit Pop more or less from their inception in 1976, up to their untimely demise in 2006.

It never mattered the fashion—they more or less shed fashion after they stopped touring in 1982; becoming, as it were, nudists in the music scene—because nothing could tamp down XTC’s idiosyncrasies. It made them popular for a time. It’s the reason for their reverence.

We won’t say much more about XTC’s career here—about how they went from neurotic new-wavers to blissed-out studio pastorals and (by the end) polished—because it’s evident from the singles. Through this series, I’ll be pulling liberally from the Chalkhills website, which is as whole a fan site as I’d hope to see for a band this great.

But to get to the beginning. In the very beginning, XTC were coming off a stint as The Helium Kidz, a glam band heavily indebted to the New York Dolls, whose claim to fame comes from being featured as up-and-coming Roadrunners in NME. The original core of XTC was already there: Andy Partridge on vocals/guitar, Colin Moulding on bass, and Terry Chambers on drums.

These three (along with keyboardist Barry Andrews) would go on to become XTC. 3D Single was their first release, which was withdrawn and rereleased (more or less) as “Science Friction” b/w “She’s So Square.”

Look at these goofballs. Skinny, marmoreal under the light. In this video they look as they sound: nervy, just a bit nerdy (the lyrics reference comic books and Martians) and frenetic.

The crux of the song is Partridge’s agoraphobia or (more specifically) his siderophobia[1]:

I look out of my window at night.
I see the stars and I’m filled with fright.

“The ale inside [his] head” doesn’t help Partridge’s uneasiness. He’s feeling the science friction and XTC makes us feel it too, with the razor-yowl guitars and staccato keys, to say nothing of the driving rhythm.

Compared to “Science Friction,” there’s almost a sense of decorum to “She’s So Square.” The girl in “She’s So Square,” wearing plastic boots and heavenly (that is today, dead?) hair, raving about the Yardbirds? She’s so, well, square, and the song delights in pointing this out.

Both songs allude to XTC’s larger career arc, but none of them typify the sort of band XTC was. Their Discomfit Pop was still green.

Addendum: check out the demo of “Science Friction” the band recorded for CBS; it’s slower, but it has some downright raw textures to it.

[1] Here’s what Partridge had to say about the song’s inception: “Freud would have a great time with me because as a youngster I actually had a fear of stars (astrophobia?) and would run home from cub scouts sweating and shaking in case I actually looked up.”