Surplus 1980

Surplus 1980 [Moe! Staiano] — Relapse in Response (Dephine Knormal, 2011)

If you know Moe’s solo percussion act — relentless energy, loud and fast but high-precision — you have an idea where this music is coming from.

The word that comes to mind is “manic.” Even when the tempo isn’t that fast, Moe F-I-L-L-L-L-S the space with drums. Fast, loud, madcap drums. He also packs the room with guitar blasts and some evil, rubbery bass.

As mentioned before (see links below), Surplus 1980 is a rock band, the second coming of the instrumental punk band Mute Socialite. Surplus 1980 is a thicker brew, this time with vocals, horns, and strings added here and there, courtesy of a host of Bay Area talents. It puts an out-jazz touch on the punk ferocity, but this is still a high-energy rock band at heart.

That he hangs out with these folks shows in the composing, too — complicated single-note guitar riffs or repeated odd-time-signature blasts. Much of this is played by Moe himself, but he does enlist other guitarists and bassists to flesh out the sound, or just to provide another point of view.

Some of the lead vocals consist of overdubbed Moes, barking out the words. Self-deprecation is a common theme. “M.E.S. Shoe Contact” is basically about the awkwardness of trying to write lyrics; “Trying to Succeed, Waiting With Little to No Results” is pretty self-explanatory. “Let’s Put Another One There” is a good piece of satire about overbuilding and anti-environmentalism, told in aggressive punky blasts.

Relapse includes some covers that seem worth researching. “The Gooseneck” is one I know, from Amy X. Neuburg, here turned into a buzzing and raw fast-forward dance. I’m not familiar with the spiky no-wave sound of Diagram Brothers (“Aggravation”) or the almost ska-sounding Bogshed (“Excellent Girl”).

As far as the music writing goes, the pinnacle might be “The Mechanics of Mathematical Courtings,” a madcap clockwork with lots of interlocking parts. Strings and horns pop up in tiny blips  among the guitar, the percussion, and yes, those drums (maybe less so than on other tracks).  I also liked a middle segment of “Ed Saad” where thick pulsing bass (Vicky Grossi) becomes the backdrop for some cool guitar effects from Ava Mendoza. It’s a nice little departure.

The album appears to be buyable through Moe! at, and you can hear many of the tracks on Soundcloud.

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