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Album Review: Josef K – Entomology

Label: Domino Records

Josef K, named after a Kafka character, were a terrific Scottish band of the early 80s who wore their misery and angst on their sleeves. Their music is reminiscent of that weird kid at school who made everone knuckle under with a darting stare or a few phrases.

Josef K were a dark lot who created solid art pop records in the vein of Magazine, Televison or the Velvet Underground. They had attitude, spite and a keen sense of pop melody that Devo would kill for. Although they initially seemed to be a brief blip on the UK pop scene at the time, in retrospect they were massively important.

Despite the brilliant debut album The Only Fun In Town, they are most famous in larger circles for giving us Sorry For Laughing, a pop gem without parallel whose title track was later covered by Propaganda. As an album Sorry for Laughing was a chore. This second album was a chore. It was recorded in 1980 and then re-recorded and fiddled with to exhaustion. After being released in a shinier, more palatable format in 1981, the band called it a day.

That’s why Entomology is truly special. It compiles the band’s 1981 John Peel Session with some obscure 7″ singles, the best being the punchy opener “Radio Drill Time.” Their also are some clever b-sides like “The Angle” which show a band experimenting and searching to broaden their capabilities.

The real treasure however is hearing material from the original Sorry For Laughing sessions. These six tracks, especially “Drone” and “Citizens” show a band that was itching to be heard while putting a giant exclamation point on their relevance.

Franz Ferdinand may be the new Scottish gentry, but it was Josef K who threw the first punch to the staid scene of their time. Vocalist Paul Haig dragged the gritty, raw underbelly of the Scottish underground into the light delivering brusies to the otherwise UK pop world in the process.

The real thrill of hearing Entomology is that it drives home the point that this band of Highland roustabouts did whatever they wanted, crafting really great rough around the edges pop music. Josef K were great becuase of their tongue in cheek lyrics, fragile guitars and winding boppy melodies. All of which paved the way for bands like Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines and the Futureheads.

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