A new reissue marks the 35th anniversary of an essential dance music blueprint.
For a while it seemed like that might happen. Their first single came out on Manchester's Factory Records, and they were welcomed into New York's post-punk and no wave scene, even if they bore little resemblance to clangorous acts like Mars or Teenage Jesus And The Jerks. In the end they'd prove more influential than most of their peers. Their style—funky and minimalist with a punkish sense of urgency—would become a key influence on house and the dancey side of indie rock (think LCD Soundsystem and DFA). Their early records, which were finished in a handful of sessions in the early '80s, would make them one of the most sampled bands of all time.
One of those records was Come Away With ESG, the band's first full-length, which combined tracks from their first EPs with new recordings. Come Away With ESG was a stylistically groundbreaking record, presenting minimalist hybrids of funk, punk and disco with a bit of avant-garde flair—a backwards guitar lick here, a trippy synth there, a general sense of mystery in its stark, hollowed-out arrangements. But you imagine the young Scroggins sisters would have laughed at a description like that. The real strength of Come Away With ESG is that, as artistically accomplished as it may be, it purports to be nothing more than 30 minutes of fun, unfussy party music.
As with most of ESG's music, the tracks on Come Away consist of little more than percussion, bass guitar and sassy lead vocals, most of which are party chants that prefigure house music's sampled hooks ("the beat / what moves your feet yeah / the beat"). Some are instrumentals that, despite being played by a band, could be described as beat tools—for any DJ slick enough to fit them in, "Tiny Sticks," "Parking Lot Blues" and "Chistelle" would do just fine in a club. Others have richer arrangements, like the untouchable "Moody (Spaced Out)," which, with its gloomy reverb, cosmic synths and haunting bass hook, sounds like a funky cousin to something on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, which, in a way, it is—both were produced by Factory Records' studio mastermind, Martin Hannett.
For such an influential and widely loved LP, Come Away did very little for its creators. Its label, 99 Records, shut down shortly after it came out, prompting a hiatus from ESG. As sampling took off throughout the '80s, their recordings appeared in more and more big records, with no payoff to the Scroggins sisters—they still had day jobs in 1992, when they released an EP called Sample Credits Don't Pay Our Bills!
Needless to say, those gold records never came. Instead, ESG have received more niched appreciation. Pitchfork helped bring Come Away into the indie music canon by naming it one of the best albums of the '80s, and in the past few years the band have played at festivals like Bloc., Glastonbury and Dekmantel. Joining this quiet procession are lovingly packaged reissues like this one on Fire Records, which marks the album's 35th anniversary. It may be an understatement to say ESG never got their due. But listening to Come Away in 2018, you realize they won in another, much rarer way: a generation later, their music still sounds fresh.