Friday, December 31, 2010

23 Skidoo - seven songs (1982)

The influence of Cabaret Voltaire and This Heat hangs heavily over this release by 23 Skidoo. But arguably, there's enough of their own personality to justify it's cult-status.

Check "Kundalini", with funk bass, industrial noise breaks, ethnic overtones and distorted vox. Or the more conventional funk-jazz "Vegas El Bandito". The anthemic "IY" sounds pretty conventional too, but is carried by orgiastic percussion.

Much more important was "Mary's Operation", an ambient piece with disorienting symphonic textures and dissonant jazzy brass. This is clearly illbient 15 years before it became a movement. Ditto for "New Testament", which also adds a threatening industrial clang to the recipe, and then finishes with a deformed ritualistic tribal chant. Also "Porno Base", where slow-motion bass engages in "dialogue" with vocal-samples. Then "Quiet Pillage" ends the album accordingly with a mutant exotica. Get it here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sophia - the infinite circle (1998)

Αfter the unassuming debut, Sophia's sadcore assumed formal perfection with The Infinite Circle, a set of depressed, philosophical, epic, stately ballads ("Directionless", "If Only", "I'd Rather", "Every Day", "Woman"). These songs displayed a rare magniloquence, which bridged romanticism, the requiem, the meditation, the poetry of Leonard Cohen, the transcendence of Tim Buckley, the bombast of Scott Walker. In fact, their epic nature overcomes the manic depression, thus becoming a metaphor for the human condition ("Bastards", "Within Without", "River Song"), and with the reprise of "Directionless" completing a perfect circle, which is a metaphor for life itself. Get it here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Christian Death - only theatre of pain (1982)

Better production values dampen the attack somewhat (their peak remains the "primitive" Deathwish EP), as evidenced by the new version of "Cavity", turning from a panorama of frenzied distortions into a more clean-cut form of morbid psychedelia. Nevertheless, "Figurative Theatre" shows they haven't lost "the edge", seeing as a tame dark-punk verse derails to an explosive chorus, while "Burnt Offerings" shows that despite the clearer sound, theirs is still a paralytic form of death-disco, a terror acid-rock if you like.

"Mysterium Iniquitatis" is a very important track; firstly it showcases a progressive complex structure, and secondly it displays an angular bouncing chorus, whereas their death-rock moves closer to agonizing spazz-rock and what will eventually be called math-rock. In the meantime, "Stairs" dwells on atmosphere (lush and middle-eastern), and the same goes for "Romeo's Distress" (lush, epic and romantic). "Resurrection" is also an important track, where they gradually freak-out along an unusual harmonic scale. The final track "Prayer" shows a desire to experiment on the electronic free-form sonic environment (which Rozz Williams explored more convincingly in Premature Ejaculation).

The unsung hero of the album is Rikk Agnew, whose guitar leads and distortions battle for attention with Rozz's vocals: vitriolic, morbid, demonic, hysterical, agonizing. Get it here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gun Club - fire of love (1981)

One of the best albums ever made.

The anthem "Sex Beat" sets the blues-punk train rolling. The dynamics gets even more precise and frantic in "Preaching The Blues" (a Robert Johnson cover), but things tone down a bit in the country-blues-punk "Promise Me", only to go berserk again in "She's Like Heroin To Me".

The way the Gun Club "expand" these songs to the point of delirium by adding extra layers of intensity is simply breathtaking. In just 2:30 minutes, "She's Like Heroin To Me" is like a piece of wood on fire, which then gets gasoline poured on top so that the fire gets even more wild, burning to it to the point of total consumption.

"For The Love Of Ivy" returns to the surgical manic precision of "Preaching The Blues", the band riding this roller-coaster ride with spectacular accuracy, while Jeffrey Lee Pierce screams his guts out like a madman. This dramatic side-one ends with "Fire Spirit", their most dramatic moment yet, but things don't let off in side-two, blasting straight away with "Ghost On The Highway", another emotional tour-de-force.

"Jack On Fire" displayed another dimension of their sound, still consumed by the infernal punk energy, but vibrating like a personal tragedy, and at the same time elegant like an epic. The coda to this amazing track is even more entrancing, with backing vocals adding a universal tone, while the lead guitar blazes through the sky like a comet.

With highlight after highlight, "Black Train" returns to a more feverish pace, displaying a devilish rhythm, with a less protagonist role for the guitar, showcasing instead the punctuality of Rob Ritter's bass and Terry Graham's drums.

"Cool Drink Of Water", a Tommy Johnson delta-blues cover, is the most traditional song here and as such the album's only misfire. However, the closer "Goodbye Johnny" returns to the more constrained narrator perspective of "Promise Me", though in a more universal manner. Get it here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cramps - songs the lord taught us (1980)

The Cramps invented voodoobilly, i.e. a deranged form of rockabilly, possessed with punk mania and exorcised by the shamanic vocals of Lux Interior. From the ritualistic tom-toms of Nick Knox, to the chainsaw guitars of Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory, and finally to Lux's werewolf-like Elvis imitation, the mood ranges from demonic freak-outs ("Rock On The Moon", "Sunglasses After Dark"), to zombified b-movie scores ("I Was A Teenage Werewolf", "Fever"), but behind the black-humour and kitsch lies some truly inspired mayhem. Get it here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sputniks Down - much was decided before you were born (2001)

Sputniks Down out-Mogwai-ed Mogwai in Much Was Decided Before You Were Born, in pulsating post-rock ballads such as "Ralph M" (partly elegant acoustic psychedelia, partly subtle chamber brush-stroking), "A Golden Era Of Respectability" (with a nice harmonic progression), the funereal slow-moving stream of "Atonement", and the glittery texturing of "Pixelated" (a bit more rough). The whole album felt akin to a dreamy reminiscence while under the influence of antidepressants, with things finally starting to awaken in "Mie Scattering". It wasn't enough. The closing "P.K." returned to a comatose bittersweet surrender. Get it here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Psychedelic Furs - (1980)

The Psychedelic Furs were an interesting case amidst the neo-psychedelic fraction of the new-wave. "India" begins with a brooding symphonic melody, shy guitar and electronic dissonances, but the proper song kicks-in halfway through as a storming post-punk number. Richard Butler's gruff vocals, the dual guitars of Roger Morris and John Ashton (usually the one provides the soaring melodic motifs, while the other fills the gaps with distorted noise) and Vince Ely's frenetic drums make for an impressive sonic formula.

"Sister Europe" is equally charming with it's whirlpool of downtempo guitars and saxophones. "Imitation Of Christ" is jingle-jangly enough to evoke impressions of a post-punk version of the Byrds. "Fall" adds a twist over the swinging-pop of the 60's, much darker than, say, the Teardrop Explodes. Ditto for "Pulse" which is even more supersonic and also features a punk-refrain and an energetic sax-solo (Sex Pistols crossed with Roxy Music). Side two doesn't stray much from the afore-mentioned formula, although they still have the capacity to surprise (the wall of noise in "Flowers" hides one of their most delicate melodies). Get it here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Simple Minds - empires and dance (1980)

Empires And Dance continued the trend towards a more austere electronic form of music. The lush textures of Real to Real Cacophony have turned frigid and glacial, depicting an endless travel in a pan-european metropolis, lost between past world-wars, an upcoming cyber age, and the paranoia of the cold-war era, a mosaic represented by the dance ritual "I Travel", the decadent hymns "Today I Died Again" and "This Fear Of Gods", the robotic deafening funk "Celebrate", the oriental techno "Capital City", and the nightmarish cyclones "Constantinople Line" and "Twist/Run/Repulsion".

Perhaps more original were "Kant-Kino" (a national anthem for a future empire in disarray) and "Room" (a feverish voodoo techno ceremony).

An expressionist record, second part in their European trilogy (along with Real to Real Cacophony and Sons and Fascination), torn between a vague past (the symphonic, cosmopolitan, exotic elements) and an uncertain future (the electronic arrangements, the cyber-age, the cold war threat); a chapter in the history of a civilization in crisis, which suffocates the individual. Get it here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Chameleons - what does anything mean? basically (1985)

The symphonic splendour of "Silence, Sea And Sky" opens this sophomore Chameleons effort in style: it's multi-layered orchestral wash "swimming" in reverberation and creating a feeling of celestial wonder. This symphonic tapestry permeates the background of "Perfume Garden", a more lyrical version of their pompous post-punk, articulate and melodically strong. With a less spectacular melody, "Intrigue In Tangiers" fares less well, despite the bombast involved in the orotund vocals of Mark Burgess, and the heavy-weight epic arrangements. In all honesty, the stilted nature of their music reflects what U2 were doing at the time in The Unforgettable Fire.

Incorporating this grandiloquent symphonic and mildly psychedelic ethereal framework in a more powerful post-punk track such as "Return Of The Roughnecks", the result is good, but not spectacular. In "Singing Rule Britannia", the bombast is effectively counteracted by a sad melody in the chorus. Alas, the recipe gets a bit same-y by "On The Beach". The more traditional "Looking Inwardly" feels much better. They return to the gloom-rock in "Home Is Where The Heart Is", the symphonic pomp this time backing a feeling of paranoia and working more efficiently, though no less declamatory. After all this bombast, the more straightforward lyricism of "P.S. Goodbye" comes as a breath of fresh air.

Overall, The Chameleons overstate their case a bit too much, which results in an uneven album, better balanced than the debut, but without majestic highlights such as "Monkeyland" and "Second Skin". Get it here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Doldrums - desk trickery (1999)

Desk Trickery displayed a jam-rock that was tribal, ethnic and almost industrial ("Sparkling Deadheadz"), flirting with the psychedelic ballad, but still chilling and unsettling ("Grill Out Time"), packing the odd pop melody before veering into noisy abstraction ("Free Festival Of The Stonebridge"), pale, ceremonial and almost delirious ("Who Shot J.R."), and also revisiting NEU's motorik beat and "Sister Ray's" soaring pandemonium. Get it here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Siouxsie & The Banshees - juju (1981)

Here the Banshees find the middle point between the litany and the epileptic fit. "Spellbound", "Into the Light" and "Arabian Nights" have an airy psychedelic vibe, while "Halloween", "Monitor", "Sin In My Heart" and "Head Cut" are feverish voodoo ceremonies, augmented by excellent guitar and percussive work, as well as Siouxsie's vocal acrobatics. Between these two approaches, "Night Shift" and "Voodoo Dolly" combine the nocturnal, subliminal threat, with the spasms of the exorcism. You could say that this a refinement of the Join Hands program, but this line-up is more convincing in it's execution. Get it here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Fall - grotesque (1980)

The Fall are at their most disjointed in Grotesque and it sounds great. Detuned guitars, instruments out of sync, clanging drums add even more mayhem to an already cacophonous recipe.

Also, new ways are found to express their hysteric ramblings, like the drone-folk "New Face In Hell", the intense martial plonking "C'n'C-S Mithering", the rockabilly/ country frenzy "Container Drivers", the almost industrial "Impression of J. Temperance", the sparse electric shocks of "In The Park", the anthemic "Gramme Friday" which is a masterpiece of elaborate metamorphoses (from dark-punk, to swing and dub basslines a la PiL, to folk guitars, to almost psych-rock, to freak-out vocals) etc. Get it here.