What much of 1980s nostalgia fails to acknowledge is that there was more to new wave than funny clothes and synthesizers. New wave was, in ways, a means of creating rock stars out of ourselves, a means for misfits to meet pop music and punk rock halfway. The Cold was New Orleans’ embodiment of that aesthetic with frontwoman Barbara Menendez a whirlwind of blond hair and lust for life. Three decades later, her new band the Help picks up that frayed thread on their debut Keep the Beat. The title track busts out of the speakers like a sudden swarm of skateboarders invading a mall food court, rebelliously playful, not wanting to seduce you but “knock you into my arms.”
Throughout the album, the Help mines the full spectrum the great music of the era had to offer. “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” is a dead ringer for the (English) Beat’s intricate post-calypso hormonal framework. “I’m Not Listening” could be an outtake from Blondie’s first record before Debbie Harry realized her vision of becoming a pop ingénue, when she came off as the cool girl in the gang. “I’ve Fallen” is an organ-infused vamp where Menendez regales the small-scale drama of a bar scrap: “You slam that drinking glass / You said I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Menendez and crew have all the new wave strategies down, rocking up a reggae tune (the Slickers’ “Johnny Too Bad” from The Harder They Come with DC Harbold taking the vocals) or, like on “Carnivore’s Kiss” (the album’s most idiosyncratic track and its finest moment), filling the corners of a song with washes of spindly noise, maintaining that tension that gives a new wave song its strength. “True Love” raves up like X or the Buzzcocks and the closing number “Not Enough” is positively pogo-ready. Like the rest of the songs on Keep the Beat, they’re less a rehash of nostalgia clichés than a rallying cry for those that were there the first time around and new converts, synthesizers and popped collars at the ready.