In 1983, in my senior year in high school, my super hip musical friend started raving about an album he had purchased by a band from Athens, Georgia. We looked at the cover and tried to figure it out - but it was impenetrable, covered in kudzu - much like the music inside. The vocalist was mixed deep into the backing track, at the same volume as the rest of the instruments - plus he mumbled with no lyric sheets. We listened to the record over and over again - marveling at the chiming guitars, the atypical for the 80's thin drum sounds (remember "In The Air Tonight"?) and the overall unique production of the record. The band was R.E.M., and the album was Murmur.
We discovered that there were many more bands in the Athens, Georgia area and the surrounding college towns that we liked. In fact, they had given a name to this musical movement: "The New South". New South bands included Pylon, Guadalcanal Diary, The B-52s, Oh-OK, The dBs, and Fetchin Bones. Many of these artists recorded at a converted car garage in Winston-Salem, NC - Drive-In Studios - and were engineered and produced by the garage's owner, Mitch Easter.
Mitch was also the leader of a band called Let's Active. A power-pop trio, their first EP Afoot, and their first LP Cypress are considered landmarks in the New South genre (and are sadly out of print). However, lack of national success and interpersonal squabbles derailed them, and they disbanded, leaving Mitch the solo member. Working mostly by himself, with the help of a few close friends, he recorded Big Plans For Everybody.
You can hear it here: Big Plans For Everybody by Let's Active (Xbox Music)
This is an amazing album - especially if you're into guitar sounds. The lyrics are a little twisted - and nobody quite knows what all of them are, since Mitch hated the whole "Stevie Nicks" vibe of printing lyrics in records. I think there's a lot in there about the band breakup and his own difficulties in handling the situation.
NOTE: This album was sequenced for vinyl - there's a natural break that occurs between track 6 & 7. In addition, this version contains two worthy bonus tracks - 12 & 13.
Mitch would go on to make one more Let's Active album - Every Dog Has His Day - before giving up and moving on to concentrate on album production. His later work with the California band Game Theory is considered to be some of the finest in rock - but that's a story for another time.
So calibrate your music dials to "power pop with a slight jangle" and give this a listen. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Also if you want to find out more about other bands from that time period, the documentary Athens GA: Inside/Out covers the whole scene pretty well.