TRS-80, Shake Hands With Danger

Part One

TRS-80 is a band, not a computer!

Part Two

Actually, it used to be a computer, and it looked like this. Prior to hearing this album, my primary experience with anything at all called ‘TRS-80’ was pretty bad. It was at computer camp one summer sometime in the early- to mid-’80s. We had an Apple II+ at home, so I was already pretty comfortable with computers. But there I was anyway, getting my summer bored way out of me at computer camp. I’d never used a TRS-80 before, but I knew that they were made by Radio Shack and therefore must suck, and I had the proof right in front of me: a tape recorder instead of a disk drive. At the end of each day’s lesson we’d record (literally) our work to a cassette tape (that we had to provide, can you believe it?). It was the longest two weeks of my life, and I spent every day of it wishing I’d gone ahead and done the microwave-cooking course like my mom asked.

‘Did you have fun?’ my parents asked after the last day of class.

‘Sure,’ and then I went back to playing Defender until September.

Part Three

But now TRS-80 is a band. And an exceptionally good one, at that. It’s electronic music, akin mainly to DJ Shadow. That’s right, it’s like that hip-hop, lots of samples, groove-oriented, beat-driven, you know: that stuff. It’s great, but it’s also recognized so very much as being ‘That DJ Shadow’ sound, that it’s an impossible connection to not make. Which is not to say that it’s derivative in its direction, either. DJ Shadow and TRS-80 are merely neighbors on the same musical block, but they’re sporting very different house plans, and I’d be willing to bet that TRS-80 had to have its place soundproofed, what with all the digi-funk and and hard techno they fit into their mix. Consider a comparison here of the contents of their respective pantries (TRS: extra-spicy beef jerky; Shadow: BBQ-flavored) as both further elucidation of their differences and the end of this metaphor.

Part Four

What’s truly astounding about Shake Hands With Danger is that it’s a band playing all of this. That is, this album be played live? You betcha. Can the old TRS-80 do that? With the old-school scratchy-real sounds and everything? Yes, it probably could. But there would’ve been a tape error when it did. And all those natural errors wouldn’t have sounded as real and good as they do here.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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