Boys meet girls

The four most crucial post-punk boy-girl duos of the '80s
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  March 24, 2010

Dead Can Dance

Not teens, not dreams: Beach House avoid the literal. By Daniel Brockman.
Much of the press tumult over Beach House has focused on how the duo’s idiosyncratic musical style folds into a surging wave of like-minded indie artists eschewing rock histrionics for a gentler path to the hearts of music listeners — especially as it relates to their long-time association with gravelly indie-rock soothsters Grizzly Bear. But often overlooked is the band’s relationship to a specifically ’80s underground trend: the boy-girl duo. In the ’70s, such duos dominated the smooth seas of soft rock, whether it was the Captain & Tennille, Ashford & Simpson, Peaches & Herb, or the Carpenters. In the ’00s, we saw boy-girl rock duos like the White Stripes and the Raveonettes. Yet Beach House is more ’80s, where oddball duos made music that reflected their own inscrutable relationships, mapping the crags and crevices of their interpersonal dynamic onto the grooves of trend-bucking LPs that in many ways defined the weirdness of their time. Herewith, the four most crucial ’80s post-punk boy-girl duos.

YAZOO | Known to us Yanks as Yaz for legal reasons, the ’Zoo were the stop-gap project for synth-pop pioneer Vince Clarke, his weigh station between Depeche Mode and Erasure. And yet it can be argued that his partnership with Alison Moyet was the most forward-thinking and influential thing he ever did. Upstairs at Eric’s, Yazoo’s classic debut, arrived the same year as the Mode’s Speak and Spell (on which Clarke also worked) but far outpaces it in both dance-floor whump and after-party comedown intimacy. At once paranoid and bittersweet, the music of Yazoo continues to sound more presciently satisfying with each passing year.

DEAD CAN DANCE | An early 4AD signing, DCD took the better part of a decade to morph from the baroque mope pop of Australian transplants slumming it in blighty into world-music magpies. Lead vocalist Lisa Gerrard is perhaps the most sampled vocalist in history, her deep contralto sounding less like vibrations within a human throat than like an unmediated force of nature. Her working relationship with co-founder Brendan Perry has always been rocky, even in DCD’s best of times, but the band’s musical restlessness and self-seriousness drove them to create some of the most gorgeously uncategorizable music ever made.

EURYTHMICS | If it weren’t for MTV, we would probably never have noticed the fascinating chemistry of Scottish frontwoman Annie Lennox and her English producer/collaborator, Dave Stewart. But Lennox’s post-punk confrontational sense of style was given a medium whereby she could use her shock-orange-hair androgyny to ply the band’s mournful weirdness on the proverbial innocent rube in Peoria. Seventy-five million records later, the band’s legacy is secure, with Lennox as a vocal and style icon, and Stewart as an influential producer and musician.

TIMBUK3 | The quirky fluke hit of 1986’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” briefly brought the husband-wife team of Pat and Barbara MacDonald into the limelight. Like John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” it became popular in part because its US pop-music audience was unfamiliar with irony. But the millions who bought the band’s debut, Greetings from Timbuk3, expecting more of the same were greeted with pointed political cynicism and socio-political commentary set to a cheap beatbox and a grim country-folk bedrock.

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