The Neo Boys were never comfortable with the label “punk rock”. They considered it a media cliché, and they studiously ignored throughout their career. The band’s 7” debut is probably the best proof they were right. Greg Sage turned in a deceptively simple-sounding mix that brought out the group’s underlying force and accurately captured the determined minimalism of that original line-up. Even the muted elegance of Randy Moe’s austere cover design emphasized that this EP definitely wasn’t a punk single. The vocals manage to be urgent and gentle simultaneously, while the guitar tones are so clean, and the chord patterns so classical, this isn’t even New Wave so much as Top 40 from a non-existent parallel pop universe.
The group still sounds elemental but the rhythm section is already one of the strongest in town. What jumps off the record is its sheer drive. Punk or not, this is biological rhythm at full throttle, a textbook example of what the human animal can accomplish when it cuts loose and throws itself head-first at a song. Rhythm is one of evolution’s most startling side effects. The phenomenon is endlessly fascinating even if it’s only an emergent property, an accidental by-product of our expanded neural complexity. (Do not start making up reasons why rhythm conferred a survival advantage, unless it’s got some indecipherable link to sexual selection.) Wherever it comes from, rhythm isn’t uniformly distributed across the species; some people have it and some people don’t. Some people have more of it than others, and K.T. and Pat Baum had plenty to spare. For years, straight musicians used to say the Neo Boys were really good, for beginners, but this rhythm section left those patronizing narcoleptics dozing in the shade. Mainstream ‘70s rock records may have been meticulously multi-tracked in precise metronomic time, but their grooves were dead on arrival. They feel lifeless and inert compared to any competent punk band on a good day, because punk rock knew from the start that playing with fire is more important than playing carefully. The Neo Boys had learned that lesson by heart before they left punk behind and struck off on their own.