Essential New Music: A Certain Ratio’s “The Graveyard And The Ballroom,” “To Each…” And “Force”

This reissue campaign for Manchester’s adventurous post-punk funkateers is probably more than a decade late for maximum impact. The kids would’ve lapped this stuff up during the mid-’00s dance-punk boom, when A Certain Ratio was an obvious influence on the early DFA Records stable. But it’s a treat nonetheless, and perhaps even more of a historical curiosity at this stage. This initial batch includes the band’s earliest document: 1979’s live, four-track The Graveyard And The Ballroom, a raw, scrappy set wherein Simon Topping’s dour enunciations are mere adornments for the nervy, forceful grooves. (Think Ian Curtis fronting a scared-stiff J.B.s.) 1981 studio debut To Each… ropes in some artier arrangement ideas, Latin-tinged percussion workouts and truly frightening trumpet manipulations, delivering a somewhat murkier effect despite the increased fidelity. We then leapfrog to 1986’s Force, a decidedly different and (in 2017) weirder affair: audibly time-stamped video-age art pop, complete with slathers of sax, but still, in its way, no less overpowered by funk.

—K. Ross Hoffman