Album: It’s A Condition
. . .
Like a lot of the bands that came out on San Francisco’s 415 Records in the very very early 1980s, Romeo Void seemed to spring out of nowhere with a sound very much their own, which featured the danceable rhythms of bassist Frank Zincavage & drummer John Haines; the everything-in-its-right-place guitar of Peter Woods, the avant-garde-adjacent sax of Benjamin Bossi, and of course, the ice queen vocals of Deborah Iyall, who at some point I discovered grew up in Fresno.
I’m not sure if I knew that in 1981, but what I did know was that It’s A Condition had a few songs that I really loved, most of all the final song on the first side, “White Sweater,” which brings it all together.
“White Sweater” opens with a goth-like flurry guitar notes over a rumbling bass and an echoing sax riff, dropping to the bass and Iyall, who airily sings the first verse, occasionally punctuated by Woods guitar.
In my dream
I always test myself
I race through swamps
Snakes wrapped around my legs
A hot towel of muscle
As Iyall continues, it gets even darker, as she starts singing about what some sources say is her sister’s suicide, as the band slowly fills in space behind her.
In my dream
I watch my sister fall down
An elevator shaft
She was even wearing her new
Shag haircut and a limp white sweater
That I, I, I, I gave her
As Iyall holds out the long “I-ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye / I-ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye” notes, Woods starts circling arpeggios underneath as Haines and Zincavage build and build and build until finally the whole band explodes in “gave herrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” It’s stunning, and probably my favorite part of the song, especially since the chord progression they land on can only be described as a great lost Byrds riff.
Which contextually is weird, but that’s always how I’ve heard it. And once it’s up to full speed, it never slows down, but it does get darker, as they go from the dark Byrdsy riff to something that always reminds me of “You Really Got Me” — at least on the bass — while Iyall sings a bit more about her sister.
Moving as if someone was pulling a pink
Sliver out of her cold body
After that, she goes on a bad date where she fends off a date rapist with a knee to the crotch after which they got back to the first verse one more time. In the end, Woods and Bossi do perhaps the lowest-key raveup in rock history, taking “White Sweater” to its end.
“White Sweater” wasn’t a single or anything — that would be “Myself to Myself,” which had some pretty good New Order vibes going — and I don’t recall if Romeo Void played it that time we saw them at the Star Palace, though I assume so, but it’s absolutely one of the great lost doomy dancey new wave tunes of the early 80s.
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