27.12.12

SLOWDIVE : Beach Song / Take Me Down (Sunday Records flexi-disc, 1992)

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Only ever issued on sky blue polyurethane by petite Illinois indie Sunday Recordings, & puzzlingly omitted from Cherry Red's otherwise authoritative re-releases of their entire back catalogue, these 2 rather sketchy songs sound like the work of a much younger, noisier, & Isn't Anything-indebted Slowdive, rather than the ethereal procogniteurs of Shoegaze we're familiar with. According to bassist Nick Chaplin, both tracks derive from the same tape (recorded in glorious Weston Super Mare) that Creation Records pillaged for the band's eponymous debut E.P. - I was quietly hoping they might be stray Pumpkin Fairies demos but. alas, it appears my dreams have been cruelly dashed... Naturally, as flexidiscs are prone to rapid deterioration, sound quality is perfunctory at best, don't say I didn't warn you.

Slowdive parted company in 1995, following a lukewarm reaction to their ambient-hallucinogenic Pygmalion L.P. & their subsequent departure from Creation. Though they quickly settled at 4AD & found further success as Mojave 3, frontman Neil Halstead suggests that a Slowdive reunion remains a possibility, albeit not a particularly distinct one:  "It's crazy how in-vogue it is for bands to get back together these days. It's almost like you're not allowed to not get back together. So,, I'm sure that we will get back together - because we won't be allowed not to".

25.12.12

I WILL CRY AT CHRISTMAS

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Denim's venomous paean to Festive seclusion is, for me, the finest Christmas song of the last 30 years. Admittedly, The Fall have soared tantalisingly close to scoring a (hypothetical) seasonal #1 on several occasions - their mordant appropriation of Charles Wesley's (via Mendelssohn) solemn "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" springs immediately to mind. Intuition tells me that Fearne Cotton is unlikely to be introducing either artist on the BBC's seasonal Top of the Pops special this afternoon, however...

Originally secreted away on the b-side of 1996's "It Fell Off the Back of a Lorry" single, Lawrence's cruel epistle has been unavailable since EMI deleted Denim's Novelty Rock collection more than a decade ago - an unforgivable waste of an extraordinary song.

● Loneliness is a virtue

23.12.12

TRACEY THORN : Plain Sailing 7" (Cherry Red, 1983)

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Tracey's first solo 45, released in January 1983, was a re-recorded version of one of the highlights of her debut L.P., 1982's thoughtful A Distant Shore (total production costs = a piffling £138 allegedly!). Appearing shortly before her departure from the much-loved Marine Girls, both records were distributed by Cherry Red, & were raved about in - of all places - Smash Hits (who, in all fairness, had been enthusiastic supporters of the Marine Girls as well). By the time "Plain Sailing" emerged, Tracey had already begun collaborating with boyfriend Ben Watt as Everything But The Girl &, consequently, she wouldn't issue another single under her own name for a quarter of a century ("It's All True", in 2007 - an exercise in urbane '80s throwback electro-pop, co-written with Metro Area's Darshan Jesrani, & produced by Ewan Pearson - blimey!).

The b-side - otherwise unavailable as far as I'm aware - is a sweet, reflective cover of ex-labelmates The Monochrome Set's "Goodbye Joe", from their Strange Boutique album. And the choice of cover photograph - Robert Doisneau's emotive Kiss by the Hotel de Ville (1950) - is the icing on the cake.

● Ballads for Estate Agents

21.12.12

STITCHED-BACK FOOT AIRMAN : Seven Egg Timing Greats E.P. (Very Mouth, 1986)

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Proving that there's nothing like a eye-catching name to commandeer people's attention, I heard of (& read about) Stitched-Back Foot Airman several years before I found any of their records. Despite their polarising monicker (best or worst ever, you decide), there's perilously close to nowt about them anywhere online - their disarmingly uninformative Myspace page aside. All I've been able to surmise is that they were formed in Southampton in the early 1980s by Simon Vincent, & his younger brother Robin, with Mike Farmer & artist/film maker Crimp Beringer. I suspect they may have had connections with another Southampton outfit, kit-synth debasers Games To Avoid, but that could just as easily be bewildered wishful thinking on my part? Following a move to London, Stitched-Back Foot Airman began releasing records on their own Very Mouth label, including the skewed 9-song mini-album debut I'm posting here, & the almost-as-marvellous Wouldn't You Like To Know 7". Somewhat tenuously, the sleeve of Seven Egg Timing Greats has always reminded me of The Residents' debut - "Ringo Starfish", et al.

Presently, they signed to Marc Riley's In Tape label for a couple of 45s, before sauntering off into post-C86 abeyance, leaving only a handful of very odd self-made videos in their wake. Prime contenders for the "Where are they now (& who were they anyway)?" dossier.

Apologies for the uncharacteristic paucity of anything tangible - as always, any further info would be more than welcome.

● Eat Nine

n.b. New link (by request) - if the band or current copyright holder have any issues regarding my sharing this record please leave a message below & I'm delete it immediately (ta).

1.12.12

NICK LOWE : Keep It Out Of Sight 7" (Dynamite, 1976)

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"I think of myself as the anti-James Brown," Nick Lowe once declared, "I'm the least hard-working man in show business." Bollocks, frankly, but he's entitled to his opinion I suppose...

Nick's first solo 7", released in 1976 on Holland's Dynamite label, only appeared once his intentionally awful Disco Brothers single achieved it's intended purpose & flopped, securing his release from an unwanted United Artists contract. Mind you, the resounding failure of those Tartan Horde 45s probably helped him on his way as well? A timely reflection of London's emerging, booze-steeped pub rock scene, "Keep It Out of Sight" - a serviceable cover of a sleazy Wilko Johnson song (you'll find the superior original on Dr. Feelgood's topnotch Down By the Jetty L.P.) - was produced by Dave Edmunds, who'd shortly hook up with Nick in Rockpile. "(I've Been Taking the) Truth Drug" - for me, the better song of the two - was recorded by Stiff svengali Jake Riviera, & rather cheaply by the sound of it! A publishers' demo perhaps, providing a convenient testing of commercial waters, re: the imminent "So It Goes" single? Tightened up, it would've made a fitting addition to Nick's eventual debut elpee (both songs were overlooked in the end). Ultimately, though hardly the most auspicious of entrées, it's definitely worth a listen if you're a fan of Nick's gilt-edged Jesus of Cool / Labour of Lust era.

With hindsight, the choice of a cover version as his inaugural release seems curiously uncharacteristic as, by his own admission, Nick makes much of his living by deliberately "foregrounding" his own compositions nowadays: "I like other artists to think: 'That's a good song, I could do it better than him' That's another reason I 'undercook' my songs - why I present them like a demo. They think: "Oh, he's thrown that one away.' Then suddenly," (mimes fishing) "the rod bends, the line goes taut... & you've got one! Nice work if you can get it!" Wise words. After all, he made an "astonishing" amount of cash when Curtis Stigers covered one of his songs for The Bodyguard soundtrack - it went on to sell a staggering 15 million copies...

Both sides of the Dynamite 7" were included on Demon's long unavailable Wilderness Years compilation in 1991. The original 45 was also widely bootlegged in America in the late '70s but, as these copies have white labels, no picture sleeve, & markedly inferior sound, they're not too difficult to spot.

● For Modern Boys

25.11.12

THE MODERN LOVERS : Stonehenge, Massachusetts 1971 (Live recording)

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This frankly ancient tape (40 years old & counting) of Jonathan Richman & his original Modern Lovers, performing live at some thus far undetermined juncture in 1971, has been doing the 'rounds online for a couple of years now - I originally came across it c/o Aquarium Drunkard, I think? Most references to this show date it as 1970-71, but I'll stick my neck out & say it's the latter - Jerry Harrison didn't sign up as keyboard player until early 1971, & he's definitely audible hereon.

Though it's of typically desultory bootleg quality, it's no worse than Rounder Records' officially sanctioned Precise Modern Lovers Order live set. What makes this particular performance indispensable - other than the searing V.U.-infatuated guitar vs. organ duels Jonathan & Jerry frequently engage in (check that 10 minute version of "Old World") - is that it's complete (comprising 2 short sets in their entirety), & that it showcases several hitherto unrecorded numbers. "Such Loneliness", "I Grew Up in the Suburbs", & "Cambridge Clown" are all fine songs - it's a shame more of these embryonic Richman compositions weren't demoed during The Modern Lovers' pivotal 1972 Warner Brothers sessions with John Cale. Lyrically, the painful clarity of Jonathan's lonely ethos (an abstinent, nerdish disdain) is already well established - earnest, impassioned, heartbroken, phenomenal. Legendarily, Jonathan finds these erstwhile Modern Lovers recordings somewhat cringe-worthy - he's worried that the fearless conviction of his between-song banter makes him sound "obnoxious", I think? Mr. Richman, sir, with all due respect, you were 20 years old in 1971. We were all obnoxious when we were 20 years old, but not many of us were penning songs as breathtaking as these...

n.b. The Modern Lovers, at this point, were: Jonathan Richman (vocals, guitar), Ernie Brooks (bass), Jerry Harrison (organ), & David Robinson (drums). Stonehenge, incidentally, was a rock club (pub, actually) based in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Apologies if you were expecting to see Jonathan poised atop a Neolithic standing stone, or something.

Thought for the day: Did Jonathan Richamn inadvertently invent Straight Edge?

● Nobody ever called John Cale an asshole

21.11.12

ROBYN HITCHCOCK : Eaten By Her Own Dinner E.P. (Midnight Music 7", 1982)

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Slithering out of a mephitic crevice betwixt the marvelous Black Snake Diamond Röle (his solo debut following The Soft Boys' dissolution) & the dispiriting Groovy Decay (which he's since disowned), Mr. Hitchcock's stop-gap Eaten By Her Own Dinner E.P. heaved up three bristling hairballs of eccentric potting shed kerrang that transitorily harked back to the jagged psychedelic squall of 1979's unhinged A Can of Bees.

According to Robyn's type-written "technical notes", the E.P. represented "a random selection of songs from various sessions over the past year. "Eaten By Her Own Dinner" was recorded in November '81 & represents my most recent attempt to work in a recording studio - my ideal sound would be on a cassette machine in Green Park underground. "Listening to the Higsons" was taped on a porta-studio in a barn in Surrey, not far from where Dennis Healey lives, on a full moon. Your stereo may need a new needle but the vocal sound is intentional. At the beginning of the song I play a wok (Chinese cooking utensil) ⅓ full of water, tipped through an angle of 40° to vary the pitching. Using my left forearm to cradle it against my my chest, I struck it repeatedly with a wooden spoon. "Dr. Sticky" was spontaneously recorded at Smithsound & hasn't been tampered with before or since. The song is not a dig at anybody; it is a celebration of fact, much like the Falklands victory parades."

The EP's title track was recorded at Alaska Studios, beside Waterloo Bridge, with stopgap backing band Motor Boys Motor - supplemented by ex-Soft Boy (& future Egyptian) Andy Metcalfe on accordion. Motor Boys Motor - whose guitarist, "boggy toasting" Bill Carter, subsequently founded The Screaming Blue Messiahs - would go on to share "a yellow van" with Robyn & his band on a chaotic tour of Norway the following summer. June '82's darkly comic "Listening to The Higsons" is, on some days (usually Wednesdays), one of my favourite Hitchcock songs ever, though it's admittedly far from Robyn's finest moment. While most rational folk would consider Robyn's immortalising them in song to be no mean accolade, The Higsons (aka Norwich's pound-shop Talking Heads) allegedly weren't too impressed with it - which is as good a reason as any for not buying any of those dire zombies-for-kids books that Charlie "Switch" Higson has been churning out for Puffin lately, ain't it? "Dr. Sticky" was recorded on a beggarly Revox in December '81 & has always sounded as if it might collapse in on itself at any given second, though such foolhardy spontaneity has always been the measure of an entertaining b-side as far as I'm concerned! Robyn obviously remains rather fond of this one as he's revisited it on several occasions since. Both b-side tracks remind me of The Fall, circa Room To Live (Undilutable Slang Truth), which was released only a couple of months earlier, curiously enough.

Originally issued as a Midnight Music 7" in late 1982, Eaten By His Own Dinner was repackaged - again on Midnight Music - on 12" in 1986, with the original b-sides replaced by several new surreal oddities, notably the highly amusing Mescalin whimsy of "Happy the Golden Prince", & the eerily melancholy "The Abandoned Brain". Though most of these later additions are still available (on the Yep Roc editions of Robyn's early '80s albums), all 3 songs from the original 7" edition are currently out of print, unless you can find a copy of the long deleted CD edition of the Invisible Hitchcock compilation. Hence...

● I prefer East Grinstead

2.11.12

MEAT WHIPLASH : Live 1985

Typical. You wait 25 years for a decent Meat Whiplash live recording, then 5 turn up at once. Many thanks to The Laughing Yoga, whoever he/she/they might be.


27.10.12

THE INSTANT AUTOMATONS : Peter Paints His Fence EP (Deleted, 1980)

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I was in London earlier this month, primarily to see Mark Stewart perform live, but also to take a look at The Hayward Gallery's Someday All The Adults Will Die! exhibition.

Comprising of just 2 small rooms & - frankly - a corridor, it's mish-mash of punk, proto-punk & post-punk ephemera was nonetheless rather eye-opening - if only because, while perusing it's fastidiously annotated exhibits, the sobering realisation dawned on me that records & fanzines I revered as a gawky juve are now considered museum worthy, & have been preserved under glass accordingly. Grim news indeed!

Co-curated by Johan Kugelberg & Jon Savage, & sourced from their own private collections, Someday... presents an enjoyably lopsided selection of tenuously related messthetic artefacts, reflecting the energetic, scattershot aesthetic of an era that, by it's very nature, remains virtually impossible to classify. It's certainly the first time I've seen links traced between Jamie Reid's iconic Sex Pistols Situationalia, The Contortions' funk-informed No Wave skronk, & Cabaret Voltaire's formative Dada-esque experiments, for example. Though I'm still not convinced that an authentic connection necessarily exists, it's the dots stenciled betwixt those oft referenced "pivotal relics" that prove most entertaining - affably anarchic cut & paste handbills & cottage industry 7" one-shots by ludicrously named no-hoper ensembles, emerging from leafy backwaters & soot-blackened inner city fallout shelters alike, for whom even Letraset often appears to have been a prohibitive expense.

One of these records, The Instant Automatons' Peter Paints His Fence E.P., stood out by virtue of it's artlessly artistic sleeve - a refreshing appropriation of white space amidst the faded photocopied newsprint & splenetic felt tip scrawl. Self-released in 1980 on their own Deleted Records imprint, it was their first (& penultimate!) appearance on vinyl, following a series of home made cassette-only collections. In Mark Automaton's own words: "Take a lyricist with his head in the clouds & a bizarrely eclectic range of influences. Add a techie with an overactive soldering iron & a copy of Practical Electronics. Stir in a junk-store guitar, a bass made from floorboards, a D.I.Y. drum machine kit, & a cheap synthesiser. Filter through an echo machine, & a range of sub-standard recording equipment. Leave to simmer in a North Lincolnshire farmhouse for 2½ years. Throw in a well-seasoned rock 'n' roller with a Mick Ronson fixation & a nice line in crunchy guitar licks, & add a dash of saxophone. Bring to the boil & serve up on assorted vinyl platters." Alternatively, imagine The (early) Mekons without the Marxist art school posturing. If Daniel Treacy had been into Faust rather than The Creation, The Television Personalities might've sounded something like this.

In the egalitarian spirit of that not-quite-forgotten era, The Instant Automatons have made much of their manifold back catalogue available online for nowt. Their thoughts on becoming bona fide objet d'art are thus far unrecorded, however.

● When the pubs close


25.10.12

THE CURE : Let's Go To Bed (12" versions) (Fiction, 1982)

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Being old - but not that old - the first Cure record I ever bought was a double pack copy of "The Hanging Garden", 50p from Woolworth's ex-chart bin. The second was "Let's Go to Bed" - another cheap as chips purchase, but this time as a terribly exotic 12" single, replete with impossibly extended "disco" versions. Not that blotchy 15 year old moi was frequenting too many discos, of course. Though I quickly realised that it wasn't one of Robert Smith's finer moments, it nonetheless remains one of my personal Cure favourites &, though I'm not generally prone to rose-tinted reminiscence, it affords a pleasant reflection on slightly clueless, burgeoning goth days. I must've spent a small fortune on Boots' hairspray back then (urgh) - I think it was my mum who taught me to backcomb my hair properly in the end!

Smith wrote "Let's Go to Bed" - a sarcastically upbeat deliberation on pop music's propensity for crass sexual imagery - while detoxing in The Lake District, recovering from from Pornography's oppressive visions & exhausting chemical excesses. Bassist Simon Gallup had departed at the end of the Fourteen Explicit Moments tour &, with Smith moonlighting as guitarist for Siouxsie & The Banshees, rumours persisted that The Cure - effectively just Smith & drummer Lol Tolhurst - had quietly disbanded. Ironically, on it's eventual release (on Fiction) in November 1982, "Let's Go to Bed" was the first in a long run of chart hits that would stretch into the 1990s. The b-side, "Just One Kiss", is far darker but just as good, & Smith has often expressed regret that it wasn't released as a single in it's own right.

To my knowledge, & despite a surfeit of Cure-related singles & oddities collections, neither of these protracted mixes has been officially reissued - give me a nudge if I'm mistaken.

Horrifically, "Let's Go to Bed"'s hook has recently been pillaged by R&B floozy Rihanna for her prurient "S&M" single. Do yourself a favour & don't look for it on Youtube.

● I don't care if you don't


13.10.12

SURGEON : This Is For You Shits (Warp, 2007)

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This Is For You Shits is one of a scant handful of mix tapes that Anthony Childs - aka Surgeon - has officially sanctioned to date. Released on Warp Records in a "once only" edition of 1000 sombrely packaged copies, it's been a sought after collector's item for some time.

Childs' is renown - notorious, even - for his left field tastes in acerbic electronic sound &, it probably goes without saying, This Is For You Shits is not your bog standard techno set. Incorporating intransigent selections from Autechre, Throbbing Gristle, Aphex Twin, Whitehouse, Squarepusher, British Murder Boys, Monolake, & Surgeon himself, it's abrasive surfaces & serrated edges make for a rather caustic 62 minutes.

The title, incidentally, is a Suicide reference - Alan Vega legendarily addressing the crowd as such during a particularly fraught late '70s performance of "Dream Baby Dream".

● Shits

17.9.12

FACTORY STAR : The Black Veil of the New Sacral EP (2012)

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"When doubt has got his teeth in your bones - just moan that Salford moan - I greet the evening with a glad hand - 2 slate grey eyes - steeped in mystery - is it love that you feel, or is it fear? - remembering things that are making me cry - it's been a long, long time - longer than memory - run into the night - nothing left inside, feeling untied - don't laugh, don't cry - it's still a weird world."

I wasn't expecting to be writing about Factory Star again quite so soon. Most bands nowadays, in the wake of a "year's best" album of Enter Castle Perilous' singular quality, would slope off into contented obscurity for 2 years to piece together a worthy follow-up. Martin Bramah, however, chose to issue the shimmering "Lucybel" 45 before the dust had chance to settle, & is back again with this new mini-L.P., a further half dozen songs. In total, that's not far short of an entire other album. To suggest he's on a roll would be putting it lightly, I think?

The Black Veil of the New Sacral is split into 2 distinct halves. It's first act delivers a brusque call to arms, a rallying cry from a lurid vortex of snarling Orchidian Farfisa & quarry-deep Dragnet bass. Though lyrically minimal, the mood is unmistakably defiant, combative, & UP - optimistic, almost - in stark contrast to Enter Castle Perilous' disheveled parade of squalid Hogarthian miniatures. The highlight, the infectiously elated "Olympian", careens by in a vociferous blur, wielding an organ hook of such brazen simplicity - & raw transfixed electricity - that it might've been dragged howling from the grimy bed of the Manchester ship canal. In all, 3 blistering psychedelic cellar anthems for a dowdy, dilated flock. Somewhere, Lenny Kaye falls off his bar stool, backwards, in slow motion...

It's a fleeting high, of course. The second side's expressionistic Northern noir flickers with dignified melancholy as the band retreat into an eclipsed gloaming. Like an anxious descent from neon flooded, rain soaked streets into a murky Brutalist underpass, "Strangely Lucid" - thankfully liberated from The Blue Orchid's impossible-to-find Slum-Cavern-Jest! E.P. - radiates a vivid narcoleptic incandescence, an eerie 4 a.m. calm redolent of silent, twilit terraces & hedgerows. Bramah also attempted it on The Ballad of Twisted Heel, his elusive 2008 solo album, so he's obviously a song he's particularly fond of it. The closing "Weird World", arguably the finest song here, previously appeared in embryonic form way back in 1993 on The Sleeper, The Blue Orchids' unreleased 2nd album (since unearthed by Les Temp Modernes). It's a proud, burned out hymn to the dark horses & the destitute - the losers & the lost - heartsick soul music for the has-beens & also-rans. That said, having put his worm-riddled character studies to one side, Bramah seems to be addressing himself throughout this latest brace of songs. The withering sarcasm has subsided, supplanted by a palpable sense of weary regret, but also an acceptance that life - however ugly & unpleasant - nevertheless remains a liminal, fantastical mystery.

The Black Veil of the New Sacral offers a rare cause for celebration. And Factory Star endure. EPIC. Get it here.

n.b. Live photography by Guy Christie.

2.9.12

YAZOO : John Peel Session - July 1982 (BBC recording)

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Back in 1982, within the space of a scant 3 months, Vince Clarke & Alison Moyet's Yazoo debuted on Top of the Pops (in April, with the perennial "Only You"). appeared on the covers of the country's 2 most influential music magazines (Smash Hits in May & the New Musical Express in July), recorded the requisite John Peel session (June), & released a classic inaugural album (the timeless Upstairs At Eric's). They were, of course, a peculiar duo from the outset, their atypical juxtaposition of blues & soul-inspired songwriting with cutting edge synth technology appealing to pop-happy chart kids & jaded post-punkers alike (& my mum was a big fan too), culminating in phenomenal chart success. It's easy to forget, however, that Yazoo's Basildon-based inception, meteoric rise to international fame, & fraught break-up (on the eve of their 2nd album's release) all transpired within little more than 18 months: "One minute we were recording a demo on a 4-track, the next we were on Top of the Pops. It all happened so quickly, I don't think either of us had a chance to enjoy it" (Alison Moyet).

Their July 1982 Peel appearance was, by my estimation, one of the very first sessions that I stayed up to tape (& on a school night too!). A stripped back 4-song preview of the imminent Upstairs At Eric's album, debate continues to rage as to whether these radio versions are superior to the officially released ones or not. Personally, I'd profer that, yes, they're certainly quite different & leave it at that. Curiously, all trace of Yazoo's set has been wiped from the BBC's usually reliable Keeping It Peel database. Odder yet, EMI also overlooked it when compiling 2008's otherwise complete retrospective In My Room box set, despite the inclusion of an entire DVD's worth of period television appearances for the Beeb, so perhaps Alf & Vince would prefer it to remain tucked away in their archive?

It's long term unavailability means that all 4 songs have been sourced from a 30 year old, (& rather fragile, by the sounds of it) Scotch c90, so apologies if it sounds slightly shaky in places, or if the authentic 1980s Medium Wave interference is a little intrusive. Sadly, until Mute issue it as a deluxe 12" (hint) this is as good as it gets.

19.8.12

HOWARD SHORE : Videodrome - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Varése Sarabande, 1983)

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Quite unlike most soundtracks, Howard Shore's score for Videodrome - David Cronenberg's disquieting techno-surrealist masterpiece - stands up as a tenable recording in it's own right. Sullen & oppressive, Shore's arrangements skillfully integrate relatively traditional (i.e. "Hollywood"-ian) orchestration with dissonant electronic treatments - strings are manipulated to sound like ominous machinery drones or shattering glass, brass groans like crumpling metal (trés Ballardian!), & menacing voices chatter beneath a drifting tide of static - concocting an atmosphere of sick, desolate melancholy. The results, sounding not unlike Karlheinz Stockhauen's finest work (Gesang der Jünglinge, Mikrophonie, etc), occasionally echo the contemporaneous soundtrack work of late Throbbing Gristle & early Coil - both of whom collaborated on film with the late Derek Jarman, of course. Listening to in (aural) isolation, without recourse to it's intended visual cues, Shore's score could easily be mistaken for the work of one of the better known late 80s dark ambient ensembles, though - in all honesty - it's far better than any of them. Notably, Videodrome benefits from repeated listening - & how many (original) soundtracks can you that about?

While we're on the subject of Videodrome - is the original uncut edit of Cronenberg's benchmark film ever going to see the light of day, I wonder? Disappointingly, last year's Universal's Blu-ray reissue sourced the widely available R-rated edit, while Criterion's uncensored (& extras packed) edition remains increasingly difficult & expensive to locate. Aside from being the pinnacle of Cronenberg's antecedent "biological horror" celluloid cycle, Videodrome remains one of the most striking films of the 1980s &, with worrying rumours of a non-Cronenberg 21st century remake circulating once again (NOOOOO!!) , it's surely about time this frighteningly prescient, brilliantly insane film was afforded the veneration it deserves?

15.8.12

DEUTSCH AMERIKANISCHE FREUNDSCHAFT : Goldenes Spielzeug / El Que 12" (Virgin, 1981)

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Still riding the crest of the Neue Deutsch Welle... I've just picked up a vintage copy of the NME, dated 14th November 1981 (my 15th birthday, as it happens) c/o eBay &, lo & behold, the single of the week (courtesy of a fervent Lynn Hanna - whatever happened to her?) is Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft's "Goldenes Spielzeug"/"El Que".

The first 45 to be extracted from their second, claustrophobically intense Virgin album, Gold Und Liebe ("Sex Unter Wasser" was the other), it was released in both 7" & expanded 12" formats, as was customary back then. Neither of it's hard-to-find extended dancefloor mixes have ever been reissued, an unfortunate oversight on Virgin's part as D.A.F.'s pulsing sequencers & pummeling schlagzeug made commendable use of those crucial additional inches of alluring black vinyl. Needless to say, 30 years on, Conny Plank's stark, powerful production job still sounds literally awesome - an overused term admittedly, but entirely relevant in D.A.F.'s case.

29.7.12

CHBB (aka LIAISON DANGEREUSES) : 4 Cassettes (CHBB, 1980)

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CHBB was Chrislo Haas & Beate Bartel, 2 cornerstones of the original Neue Deutsch Welle. Chrislo's reputation was/is built on his pivotal role in Düsseldorf titans D.A.F.'s terrifying Mute-era recordings. Their uncompromising wall of discordant punk-informed proto-E.B.M. can be heard pummeling an unsuspecting London audience into submission on side 2 of their 1980 meisterwerk, Die Kleinen Und Die Bösen, recorded as support to Wire's polarising February '80 Electric Ballroom show (itself partially released on Document & Eyewitness). Beate, meanwhile, was a founder member of both Einstürzende Neubauten & the regrettably short lived Mania D (who, following her departure, evolved into the awe-inspiring Malaria!).

In the 3 decades since their original release, CHBB's recordings have justifiably attained near Holy Grail status, not only within the Cold Wave scene but to anybody with a serious interest in 70s/80s post-punk elektronische musik. Issued as 4 double-sided c-10 cassettes, each packaged with a paucity of information & distributed in a minuscule edition of 50 copies apiece, they're sufficiently sought after nowadays that somebody on the Minimal Wave forum recently promised $1000 to anyone who could provide them with a complete set. Slightly more realistically, a copy of the doppelspaltplatten I've sourced here - actually a 1998 bootleg - is currently on sale on Discogs for £250+! Fortunately, the music thereon still sounds absolutely incredible - a murky, nightmarish vista of urgent sequenced rhythms, distant disembodied voices, & rasping peals of sax, designed for the darkest of dance floors - & it hasn't dated in the slightest. Listening to them as I write, the CHBB cassettes sound like they might've been recorded, in a dingy Berlin basement studio, an hour ago. So, naturally, it baffles me as to why hitherto reliable critics are still queueing up to heap praise upon Factory Floor - whose superficial "metronomic synth-noir" (© The Guardian) offers little more than flagrant homage to the visionary work of Haas, Bartel & their peers - when pioneering outfits like CHBB were doing exactly the same thing, on scavenged &/or circuit bent equipment, & to far more startling ends, THIRTY YEARS AGO. Plans to remaster & reissue these (yes) seminal recordings were announced as far back as 2007, but have seemingly come to nothing. Frustrating.

Immediately after the CHBB tapes were released, the duo recruited French vocalist Krishna Goineau, renamed themselves Liaisons Dangereuses & decamped to Conny Plank's Köln studio to record their benchmark eponymous album, whose "Los Ninos Del Parque" has long been cited as a crucial influence by prominent Chicago & Detroit DJs alike. Briefly touted as another "next big thing" by the British & German music press, Liaisons Dangereuses only operated for a year or so, parting company in 1982 following a poorly attended U.K. tour (their July '82 performance at The Hacienda was issued as a now impossibly scarce Ikon video cassette), & leaving behind one final post-album recording, the so-so "Dancibar", on the NME's Mighty Reel compilation (available by mail order only).

Following the trio's premature dissolution, Chrislo slipped away into long-term hermitude, experimenting with sequencers & tape loops, moonlighting with Crime & The City Solution, & producing a handful of white knuckle techno 12"s for the legendary Berlin label, Tresor. Sadly, he died in 2004. Beate, meanwhile, formed the experimental pop ensemble Matador with Malaria!'s Gudrun Gut, & Manon Duursma, & has also collaborated with The Bad Seeds' drummer Thomas Wylder (previously of Die Haut).

n.b. More seminal Chrislo Haas experiments here.

16.7.12

THE JUNE BRIDES : Between The Moon & The Clouds (2012)

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Back in the mid-80s, when our paths first crossed, The June Brides already seemed peculiarly middle aged - certainly in comparison to the frenetic snakebite-fuelled angular-isms of Big Flame, A Witness, Bogshed & the other bands I was obsessed with at the time - & their predilection for Help The Aged attire & Angry Young Man hairdos suggested a particular type of small-town post-Smiths emotional decorum that I didn't have much use for back then. From my "born & bred" Nottingham perspective, The Brides' ramshackle sound & appearance brought to mind Alan Sillitoe's writing, & of the intelligent & aspirational working class youth of Arthur Seaton's ilk, growing up on the cusp of the 1960s, frustrated by the suffocating conventions of post-war 1950s Britain, quietly rebellious, & desperate to outreach the leaden experiences of their parents' drab ration book lives. A couple of friends owned The Brides' There Are Eight Million Stories... mini-LP, but it's affable provincial-isms, typified by the scratchy sleeve illustration, made only a marginal impact on me at the time. Money was inevitably tight &, personally, I was only really familiar with them c/o their 1st rate Peel session (which, like just about every other band's of the period, I obsessively taped & archived) &, somewhat ironically, Big Flame's jagged molestation of "Every Conversation", the Bride's 2nd single & eventual signature song, also recorded for Peel's show. On reflection, Big Flame's cheerfully anarchic cover provided ample indication of how adroit a songwriter Phil Wilson actually was - despite the doubling of tempo & the guitar's resemblance to a swarm of tetchy wasps, it's simple, contagious melody shone through, undaunted by the Hulmerists' trebly racket. Phil's writing, already as accomplished as that of better known contemporaries such as Lloyd Cole or Paul Heaton, was - I think - rather ill-served by the band's ragged production values, & the augmented fidelity that a visit to the BBC's Maida Vale studios guaranteed hinted further at the capacious scope of his talent. With hindsight, it's surprising that The Brides weren't snapped up by one of the smaller majors (Go! Discs were interested at one point, I believe?) for some flirtatious DAY! TIME! AIR! PLAY! & a top 40 knee-trembler or 2. From the outset, the band admirably refused to play to type - knocking back an appearance on the NME's C-86 compilation for worry of being steered into a "shambling" cul-de-sac &, despite an unexpected NME front cover & a support slot on the Irish leg of The Smiths' Queen Is Dead tour (at Morrissey's behest), they quietly bowed out in 1986.

So, stumbling across them by chance last weekend at Derybshire's compact & bijou Indietracks festival, amid a faintly apocalyptic landscape of abandoned signal boxes, land locked railway carriages, deconsecrated churches & pop-up owl sanctuaries (not unlike a scene from The Bed Sitting Room in fact!), it was genuinely heart warming to see how fondly regarded The Brides still are - by sanguine twee-pop fledglings & harrumphing old farts alike. Having had a couple of decades to really "get their shit together" - though the trumpet still sounded gloriously erratic, of course - their jubilant performance was surprisingly beefy at times* (*insert your own jokes about encroaching middle aged spread here please), though they're not quite the "funk-rock oldies" that certain other reviewers may have confusingly tagged them! Interestingly, the yearning "A January Moon" (from their just-released Between The Moon & The Clouds EP), was rolled out towards the climax of their set, alongside the inevitable "Every Conversation", & was a genuine highlight.

Ah yes, the new June Brides single... It's simple, it's charming, & it reminds me of Sundays (though not The Sundays). The mature nature of their earlier work (exhaustively collated here) means that, 25 years on, The Brides don't have to stomp 'n' grunt 'round the studio in an unsightly attempt to recapture the lean savagery of their disaffected youth (© New Musical Express, probably) - they've grown gracefully into musical middle age &, better still, it suits them. Nowadays, they're the musical equivalent of a well-read Penguin paperback - dog-eared, slightly foxed. shelf-cocked, et al... but still transforming the mundane into something ineffably poetic.

Though I remain a fully paid-up acolyte of the humble 7", the extended 10-song CD edition of Between The Moon & The Clouds is definitely the one to own, comprising 2 versions of the string-laden title track, an acoustic rearrangement of "Every Conversation" (Phil trading lines with Laura Turley), & previously unreleased odds 'n' ends aplenty from Phil's extensive archive (including outtakes from his neglected solo LP, God Bless Jim Kennedy, & collaborations Nick Halliwell's shockingly underrated The Granite Shore). Though, on occasion, it's difficult to ascertain where Phil Wilson ends & The June Brides begin, one hopes that with virtually all of the Brides' original line-up back on board, the band might FINALLY get 'round to recording their bona fide full length debut at last?

n.b. You can hear extracts from The Moon & The Clouds EP over at Occultation Records' site (they released The Granite Shore's stuff as well). Next stop: a couple of Manchester shows with fellow Occultationists Factory Star & The Distractions, to promote the latter's first album in (yikes!) 30 years.

21.6.12

TH' FAITH HEALERS : Pop Song EP (Too Pure, 1990)

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Also-rans, I suppose... but Th' Faith Healers put out some cracking records in their time - churning, dog-eared post-shoegaze aggro-indie that, along with Loop & Stereolab, anticipated the current, ongoing vogue for Krautrock-indebted kosmiche chug by several years. TFH grappled with Soundtracks' "Mother Sky" as far back as 1992 - pre-dating Julian Cope's benchmark Krautrocksampler tome - not bad for a bunch of crumpled itinerants in baggy jumble sale jumpers, eh? Loop, of course, covered Can's magnum opus even earlier, on 1988's Black Sun EP - though their attempt is. characteristically, a far more academic affair, a sleek 2nd hand DeLorean compared to TFH's junkyard Vauxhall Viva. That said, though the former is an obsessively detailed recreation of the original, TFH's discordant, breakneck reinterpretation is much more fun.

Practitioners of the sadly forgotten Camden Lurch, & regulars at The White Horse's legendarily rowdy Sausage Machine club night, Th' Faith Healers ever-changing line-up revolved around singing guitarist Tom Cullinan (who'd go on to form Quickspace Supersport following TFH's demise) &, scruffy queen of catharsis, vocalist Roxanne Stephen. Initially signed to London's Too Pure label, along with the aforementioned 'Lab & an emerging P.J. Harvey, all 3 bands - in an unprecedented instance of American good faith in the English independent scene - would eventually acquire major label deals in the U.S. (Polly with Island, the other 2 with Elektra). Incidentally, it's a little known fact that Too Pure almost didn't release Polly's auspicious debut, Dry - faced with a crippling cash flow crisis, the label turned to 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell, who stepped in & bailed them out at the last minute. When Too Pure ceased general trading in 2008, downsizing into a monthly subscription-only singles club, their roster was quietly assimilated into 4AD's.

The Pop Song 12", Th' Faith Healers unpolished 1990 debut, has always been my favourite of their many records, though none of them are clunkers (the band having had the common decency to split before things got predictable). In a stroke of non-fiscal lo-fi genius, they promoted the EP's release with a bespoke beermat. Beat that, hipsters.

4.6.12

THE BOMB PARTY : Ray Gun EP (Abstract Sounds, 1985)

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I saw The Bomb Party with alarming regularity back in the late '80s, often at Nottingham's semi-mythic Garage club - partly because, despite my tender age, I was already a vehement fan of scuzzy post-Stooges burlesque, but also (I suspect) because promoters here saw them as a "cheap date", due to their residing a mere 30 minutes away in neighbouring Leicester.

Absurd from the outset, The Bomb Party were always a highly amusing proposition, witty & self-parodic despite playing it entirely straight for the duration of their off-radar career in rock. Unperturbed, & possibly even exhilarated, by their shortage of obvious talent, their thunderous outbursts stood head, shoulders & stovepipe hat above anything else the dire "Grebo" scene - with which they were unfairly bracketed - threw up ("Threw up" being a rather fitting metaphor, of course). Crazyhead? Gaye Bykers On Acid? Gimme a break... Naming themselves after a little known Graham Greene novel, they debuted in 1985 with the gruff' 'n' ready Ray Gun EP, a 4-song 12" on Yorkshire's prolific Abstract Sounds (home also to The Three Johns, Janitors & the nascent New Model Army) - a minor masterpiece of licentious, tongue-in-cheek "gothabilly". John Peel pounced on the opening "Harry Was A Babysitter", & I fondly (if rather faintly) recall self-consciously tapping a winklepickered foot to it at any number of local "alternative" clubs, ensconced beneath the customary nest of jet black, violently backcombed hair. Zeitgeist, baby...

The band split in 1990, & God knows what became of them thereafter. Bleached bombshell bassist Sarah Corina joined (& still plays with) The Mekons, & has latterly moved into production (she recorded & engineered The Monochrome Set's current Platinum Coils LP), but the remaining members have all disappeared, even vocalist Andy "Jesus" Mosquera. It's slightly depressing to think of them, 25 years hence, as sober 50 year olds with careers, mortgages & families - if, of course, that's how things turned out? If your neighbourhood butcher, tobacconist or, indeed, drug dealer is an ex-member of this illustrious leather-clad combo, perhaps you could let me know?

21.5.12

DENIM : Summer Smash EP (EMI, 1997)

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It must be "a sign". The sun came out this afternoon - for the first time in weeks it seems - & then this prescient pop gem randomly popped up while I was shuffling through iTunes. So it's only natural that I should post it here, right?

I'm sure you're au fait with the whole agonising story by now. Back in August 1997, Denim were poised to unleash their surefire "top 10 with a bullet" masterstroke, the radiant "Summer Smash" 45. The band had recently completed a highly successful tour support with Pulp (themselves at the peak of the notoriety, Jarvis having wittily clambered onto the Brits' stage a few months earlier), & Radio 1 had added "Summer Smash" to their all-important daytime schedule. Thousands of coloured vinyl 7"s, CD & (I've been led to believe) cassette singles had been pressed & were stacked in EMI's warehouse, ready to be shipped out to the country's record shops (& there were still rather a lot of those back then remember). At which point... Diana, Princess of Wales' chauffeur driven limo slammed into the Pont de l'Alma underpass at high speed & EMI, in an incongruous display of "good taste", cancelled the record's release for fear of further upsetting the grieving nation. All copies of "Summer Smash" were recalled & swiftly incinerated, & the band's completed 3rd album - the elusive Denim Take Over - was subsequently aborted, while Lawrence unceremoniously dropped. Rumour suggests that - actually - EMI had been wanting to off load Denim for some time, & opportunistically used The Queen Of Hearts' untimely passing as a convenient excuse (surely not!). Having vanished overnight, "Summer Smash" became an instant collector's item (copies now fetch £50+ on eBay), while the Denim Take Over master tapes were spirited away to a maximum security vault, several miles beneath Abbey Road (though glitch-ridden mp3 are available online if you know where to dig). A handful of "Summer Smash" EPs fortuitously escaped the rout however, & Lawrence himself claims to have liberated a box of each format before they were junked, so perhaps he's allowed a few to leak out over the intervening years for posterity's sake, & to help perpetuate the myth?

It's strange to think that, if "Summer Smash" had made it onto Top Of The Pops, we might now fondly look upon Lawrence as an eccentric one hit wonder, a momentarily amusing 90s equivalent of 70s chart chancers Sailor or Chicory Tip, rather than the Lieutenant Pigeon-inspired Syd Barrett figure he's since been idly painted as? And it's chilling to consider that he may have become a staple of those ghastly "100 Hit Songs Of The 90s"-type compilation shows that have littered the nation's t.v. schedules for the last decade as a result - a narrow escape, sir! (It's a tragedy that Lawrence's proposed appearance on Ant & Dec's show, driving a dodgem in Mozart attire, never transpired though.)

So then, here's "Summer Smash" in all it's sunburnt splendour, backed with the "Sun's Out" (bed & breakfast weirdness in Paignton with Little & Large) & a wholly appropriate Moogie cover of Terry Dactyl & The Dinosaur's "Seaside Shuffle". As usual, I've tossed in a couple of interesting, contemporaneous extras: the instrumental edit of "Internet Curtains" (b-side of "It Fell Off The Back Of A Lorry" & employed throughout the current Lawrence Of Belgravia documentary), the promo-only "Glitter All Over Again" (recorded with The Glitter Band - Lawrence must've been in Glam Rock Heaven!), & the unreleased "Lorra Laughs Cilla". The latter is taken from the suppressed Denim Take Over tapes, but has since been rehashed as "At The DDU" for Go-Kart Mozart's Tearing Up The Album Charts LP. It took me a l-o-n-g time, but I warmed to the gloriously absurd Go-Kart Mozart ("the world's first b-side band") eventually, despite Lawrence's reckless attempts to sabotage the affecting pathos of his lyrics with teeth-grindingly garish & contradictory "novelty rock" accompaniment - "He made The Smurfs sounds like The Blue Nile", as the NME once put it. In case you haven't been taking notes, almost all of Denim Take Over has been plundered for the Tearing Up The Charts & the imminent On The Hotdog Streets albums, albeit with a careful few lyrical amendments ("Denim Take Over" becomes "Lawrence Takes Over", "City Of The Dead" becomes "Mickie Made The Most, etc). Lawrence's songwriting remains stunningly poignant on occasion, bleakly hilarious (or downright barmy) on others, further proof that he didn't senselessly scupper his muse after Back In Denim, it was merely downsizing & self-medicating. That said... I'll always prefer The Splendour Of Fear to Denim On Ice, OK?