Teen wayback machine 

Portland's Prids ride a new wave back to the future

The Prids are the kind of band who, if this was 1985 all over again, would have a little corner of Ferris Bueller’s room all to themselves.

You remember Ferris Bueller—amusing chap, funny jacket, girlfriend named Sloane, sang a couple songs in a big parade. Doesn’t really look like the kind of guy who’d listen to Cabaret Voltaire records, but there’s the poster, big as life, taking up most of a wall in his suburban Chicago teenage masturbodrome. I used to just think that all the teenagers in John Hughes movies were way cooler than the ones I went to high school with because they liked Cabaret Voltaire and defaced school property with Bob Geldof lyrics instead of the usual homophobic meathead garbage. Billings was not a very New Wave place to grow up. Writers at my school paper used to get harassed for reviewing REM albums, for crying out loud.

I’ve since decided that what seemed like visionary teen cool in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and—yes, I dare say it—Uncle Buck is all in the set design: Midwestern Upper Middle Class Shabby Teen Chic with some tantalizing New Wave touches courtesy some angsty interns probably dragooned from a local art institute. Same with the spoiled rich kids in Less Than Zero (not a John Hughes movie, but of a piece). What’s that Hüsker Dü Land Speed Record poster doing on Robert Downey, Jr.’s wall? It has to be an inside joke.

The mid ’80s, remember, was a time when there was very little “alternative” presence on album-oriented FM radio. Before MTV’s “120 Minutes,” it took some doing to find bands like Tones on Tail and Steve Strange’s Visage. In many places, even getting caught with a Smiths record in one’s collection was tantamount to catching unscheduled wood in a wrestling singlet. You fag! Musically, John Hughes movies were like messages written across the teenage misfit sky: Another World Is Possible!

Even for the folks who had never heard of the Psychedelic Furs until Pretty in Pink came out (having left before the music credits rolled at the end of Valley Girl), there’s a certain nostalgia to those old John Hughes movies—a soft-focus Anglophile pop mystique that seemed daring to embrace at the time, and is now as comforting as some of those sounds are mildly embarrassing. (I know, I know—I can’t believe I ever bought a Rave-Ups record, either!)

And that sound is basically Portland’s Prids, transplants from the city of Omaha in a state that appears, judging from movies like Election and About Schmidt, to be a popular stand-in for Anywhere Whitebread, Bland and Stifling, U.S.A. A place remarkable for its ordinariness. In other words, exactly the kind of suburbia where some of the proto-goth teachings of the John Hughes package are going to find purchase among kids who like to pretend they’re elsewhere anyway. Also that they’re vampires. In the Prids, those tantalizing seeds that wafted in from a world beyond the stifling FM norm through John Hughes movies seem to have sprouted early and taken root firmly.

The foursome’s debut full-length release, Love Zero, could be the template for a Breakfast Club prequel. It’s a little bit Joy Division and a little bit New Order, with a touch of Bauhaus and a pinch of solo Peter Murphy, circa “Cuts You Up.” Up-tempo songs, downbeat emotions. Drums that smack cold and flat, like pills hitting a bathroom floor, with beats that could be borrowed right off Unknown Pleasures. Guitars that clank and drum away like rain beating at the window. Love Zero is a long rainy day of the soul, with synth-drenched melodies and layers of chilly, echoic one-note guitar solos that spin their own sheets of shoe-gazing gossamer. Vintage Peter Hook basslines and theatrically breathy vocals with nods to the Furs’ Richard Butler and latter-day soundscape wallflowers like Debbie Googe and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. Even the recording sounds vintage and English—Factory Records, Manchester, circa 1979, recalling the crystalline production of Martin Hannett. The influence of fellow Mancunians (in spirit, at least) Joy Division and New Order is simply too strong to ignore for more than two songs. Love Zero just sounds like a Factory record that time forgot.

For all the Prids’ retro-New Wave trappings, though, this sound—which once epitomized what a writer for The Trouser Press called “the angst of the great wrong place in which we live”—sounds very nostalgic now. Reassuring, even. You don’t often hear bands attempting this kind of sparse, windblown production these days, for one thing, and that underwater guitar sound—it’s like a combination of time machine and security blanket for recovering Cure addicts. This might be a place some people would prefer not to go back to. Once you’ve heard the Prids, there’s no telling what shunned pleasures you’ll feel like hauling out of the record collection.

Yes, I’m getting a vision now…cloudy…cloudy…ah, I can see it. It’s that Breakfast Club prequel, starring the guy from The New Guy as Anthony Michael Hall’s Brain and Jena Malone as Molly Ringwald’s Claire, and she’s written “Prids” on the brown paper cover of her history textbook.

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