11 November 2010

Messengers - Complete Singles

Messengers should have had it all. They had the gear, the talent, and the songs. They were a synth pop duo at the very height of the music-buying public's fascination with guys in buttoned-up shirts and monophonic synthesizers. And they had the unstinting support of the prime mover of all things New Romantic, Midge Ure. Ure signed them to his label, produced their records, and even invited them to tour the world with Ultravox. But not everything works out as it should.

Messengers were formed out of the ashes of Modern Man, a Glaswegian post-punk outfit that Ure discovered playing in a bar on Sauchiehall Street. Ure took an instant liking to the band, and offered to produce their first and only lp, Concrete Scheme (1980). Though it featured some strong songs (Ure would later cover "Wastelands" on his solo debut), the band broke up soon after its release. Drummer Colin King and guitarist Danny Mitchell decided to carry on as a duo, with King taking on the lead vocal duties and Mitchell turning his attention to the synthesizer. Calling themselves The Furious Monkeys, they recorded some demos on a four track tape deck and sent them to their former mentor.

More than a year passed when, out of the blue, Ure asked them if they'd like to support Ultravox on their upcoming Monument tour. Ure also suggested that they should have something to hock while they were getting the chance to play in front of such large audiences. Mitchell and King happily agreed: they signed with Ure's Musicfest label, a subsidiary of Chrysalis, and set about recording their first single. The Furious Monkeys had suddenly become Messengers.

"I Turn In (To You)" (1982) has the full and lush sound that Ure and his compatriots had been developing on albums such as Quartet (1981), and on Ure's own solo single from the period, "No Regrets" (1982). In a recent interview, Mitchell suggests that the similarity was the result of circumstances rather than any effort to consciously emulate Ure:

"I think the similarity of the sounds would be down to sound engineer extraordinaire John Hudson who was Midge’s first choice in those days and Warren Cann’s Linndrum and, of course, Midge’s guiding hand. The other ingredients were a heavily compressed vintage Steinway, a trusty Yamaha string machine and my duophonic Yamaha synth. As for the vocals, they were painstakingly put together almost word by word, much to Colin’s frustration, in a technique that Midge favoured."

"I Turn In (To You)" may indeed sound rather like paint-by-numbers Ultravox, but, to its credit, it is a much more successful attempt to recreate that sound than many bands were able to manage during this period. The vocals, in particular, have that Olympian quality of yearning that few singers can achieve convincingly. And it has a positively sublime middle eight.

Messengers toured the world with Ultravox, taking their place on a towering gantry to the left of the impressive, monochromatic stage set each night. Mitchell added additional keyboard parts, while both he and King sang backing vocals, allowing the band to reproduce the increasingly dense wall of sound that Ultravox had become known for on their albums. On one occasion, while playing in France, King accidentally toppled from their crow's nest and broke his arm. Mitchell picks up the story:

"At the end of the show Midge called out, whilst turning to face our perch, ‘Our special guests Messengers’. With a combined look of confusion, puzzlement and anger he mouthed to me, ‘Where the f**k is Colin?’ Meanwhile, Colin was having his wedding ring surgically removed by bemused French medical staff, who, due to language difficulties, had concluded that he had fallen from a trapeze."

The duo's contribution to Ultravox's live sound during this period is abundantly evident on Monument (1982), the audio record of this tour, and one which has been recently remastered and expanded.

Messengers went on to release two more singles, both produced by Ure. "Great Institutions" (1983) featured a gorgeous Bronzino nude on its Peter Saville-designed cover, and a pair of impressive b sides, including a live track, "Strawboy." "Frontiers" (1984) added a wash of feedback guitar as texture and showed the duo continuing to grow as song writers and arrangers. The b sides offered a tip of the hat to Bowie's influence with a cover of "Andy Warhol."

And that was that. Though the band had enough material for an album, and Ure continued to stand by his Glaswegian mates, Chrysalis wasn't willing to put the money up to record a long player and the duo went their separate ways. Mitchell continued his collaboration with Ure, co-writing one of his best-known singles, "If I Was," but there was little else to be said of Messengers until 2004 when King and Mitchell reunited to record the songs that they had imagined forming their first long player all those years ago, and then releasing it directly through Extreme Voice, the Ultravox fan site. You can purchase a copy here.

Messengers have been unfairly overlooked, even in this remaster and reissue age of ours. Despite their close association with one of the best-known bands of the eighties, there's no Wikipedia page, and the entries at All Music Guide and Discogs are threadbare at best. Listened back to back, however, the three singles and the accompanying b sides gathered here make a persuasive case for the duo's claim to being something more than a footnote in the Ultravox story.

--Crash the Driver


"I Turn In (To You)"

01 I Turn In (To You)
02 The Semi-Professionals (Theme One)

UK 7" Chrysalis [CHS 2663] 1982

"Great Institutions"

03 Great Institutions (MF Mix)
04 Here Come The Heroes
05 Strawboys (Live)

UK 12" Chrysalis [MUST X1] 1983


06 Frontiers (Extended Version)
07 The Plains of Siberia
08 Andy Warhol

UK 12" Chrysalis [MUST X2] 1984

30 September 2010

The Fallout Club - Complete Singles

It would be easy to assume that The Fallout Club was Thomas Dolby's band, the answer to the question, what was the "She Blinded Me With Science" guy doing before he embarked on a solo career? This is certainly how the band is best remembered, but The Fallout Club began as Trevior Herion's effort to break into synth pop.

TSM has already blogged about Herion's early career here. Following a spell with power pop combo The Civilians, Herion and drummer Paul Simon formed The Fallout Club as a duo, securing a one-off release through Secret Records, the label that had released The Civilians' first release. "Falling Years" b/w "The Beat Boys" cast a restrained Herion vocal against a cracking, drum machine-like backbeat and little else, save the faintest hint of a bass line. Stark and minimal, the effect owes a notable debt to The Normal's groundbreaking "Warm Leatherette" and "T.V.O.D.," but fails to make suitable use of Herion's greatest asset, his talent for gorgeous melodies.

That would change the following year, as Herion and Simon hooked up with Dolby and Matthew Seligman. The keyboardist and guitarist were on the run from Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club, Wooley's failed effort to capitalize on his writing credit for The Buggle's "Video Killed The Radio Star," a breakout hit in 1979. Herion and Dolby were a match made in heaven. Dolby brought not only his battery of synthesizers, but his burgeoning talent for lush, dramatic arrangements, and Herion dug down deep and found a voice to match, towering and romantic. They cut a deal with fledgling indie label Happy Birthday Records, and released the second Fallout Club single in May, 1981.

"Dream Soldiers" b/w "Pedestrian Walkway" is one of the most perfect synth pop singles of the period. The b-side was a Dolby composition, the repeated refrain of the title offering a cheeky variation on the New Romantic affinity with vehicular traffic scenes, from underpasses to autobahns. It was sharp and clever, a clear indication of the the playful but somehow still heartfelt songs to come on The Golden Age of Wireless. The a-side, one of Herion's own compositions, was a more serious affair, a swirling, pulsing, synth ballad, with the vocalist's plaintive cries rising up over the keyboardist's fluttering arpeggiators, drawing favourable comparisons with the dreamier, darker moments of OMD, Numan, or John Foxx.

The best was yet to come, however. "Wonderlust" b/w "Desert Song" was released five months later, in October of 1981. A clear step forward from "Pedestrian Walkway," the Dolby-penned a-side opens with a bold, "Bolero"-like trumpet before the synths and drum machines come shuddering to the fore, Herion's mighty vocals trading off with Dolby's theremin-like counterpoint, and the verses building to one of the most achingly poignant choruses in synth pop. And the b-side, written by Herion, was scarcely less impressive, with a grand T.E. Lawrence vibe summoning up images of riders sweeping across the desert dunes. Dolby adds the muscular backing vocals, while Simon and Seligman get to showcase their skills on drums and lead guitar. The single may not have disturbed the charts, but in retrospect it is one of the great achievements of the period.

By late 1981, however, Dolby's evident talents were starting to take him away from his collaboration with Herion. Lene Lovich asked him to write and produce her next single, the brilliant "New Toy." And then top forty hit machine Foreigner asked him to sprinkle some of his fairy dust on their IV album. A solo career beckoned, and Herion too thought it was time to strike out on his own, but one cannot help but wonder what might have been had they stuck it out as The Fallout Club. An album's worth of tracks like "Wonderlust" would have been very welcome indeed.

Gathered here are all three Fallout Club singles, newly ripped from our own vinyl copies. As a bonus we've included the instrumental version of "Kiss of No Return," the b-side of Herion's debut solo single, and his last collaboration with Dolby, who arranged the track.

--Crash the Driver


"Falling Years"

01 Falling Years
02 The Beat Boys

UK 7" Secret [SSH 104] 1980

"Dream Soldiers"

03 Dream Soldiers
04 Pedestrian Walkaway

UK 7" Happy Birthday [UR 3] 1981


05 Desert Song
06 Wonderlust

UK 12" Happy Birthday [UR 127] 1981

"Kiss of No Return"

07 Kiss of No Return (Instrumental)

UK 7" Imperial [MPE 1] 1982

12 September 2010

Algebra Suicide: The Secret Like Crazy

Algebra SuicideAfter 1982's stunning True Romance At The Worlds Fair, the wife and husband duo of Lydia Tomkiw (words and music) and Don Hedeker (music and vice) bided their time. Tomkiw frequently booked friends with bands or poetry into clubs, and even co-owned one (Lower Links) for a period. She was not just a poet and band-member, then, but a tireless promoter of the local Chicago scene.

It took three years for the second four-track Algebra Suicide EP to be issued. An Explanation for That Flock of Crows ploughs the same rich furrow of declaimed poetry, muted buzz-saw guitar and clanking drum box. No track reaches three minutes and two of them are half that. Brevity helps make these itchy songs compulsive, but one has to admit they are not a patch on the debut.

Two more releases followed. In 1986 Cause & Effect issued 13 tracks on cassette in a limited edition of 200 copies. This album, Big Skin, was re-issued in 1988 on Buzzerama. A good Samaritan has recently made a dub available. Three of these same tracks were selected for a Buzzerama single. This included the track that was to become the emblematic Algebra Suicide song.

I've heard that somebody is born every eight seconds,
So I presume that someone dies every eight seconds,
Just to keep things even.
It makes me feel short-changed when I read the obituary page --
Someone's holding back information.

Originally titled "Little Dead Body Poem" for its publication in Columbia Poetry Review and appearance on Big Skin, then retitled as "Little Dead Bodies", this track approaches five minutes in length -- almost as long as the entire EPs that preceded it! Not only does it have a guitar solo, it has a music video, which I urge you to watch immediately. In every way, then, this is Algebra Suicide's epic, the tune for which they are best known. And why not? It's incredibly funny and perceptive, even without factoring in the bitter-sweet foreshadowing of the poet's end.

Incidentally, this video illustrates their stage presentation: dressed all in white Lydia would project slides over the band, a quick and easy home-spun multimedia event.

The Secret Like Crazy includes three of the four tracks from True Romance At The Worlds Fair, three of four from An Explanation for That Flock of Crows and six of thirteen from Big Skin. Seven previously unreleased tracks fill out the count, and conclude what can be seen as the first arc of the band's trajectory. After this the drum machine would be upgraded, new synths added and bargain basement recording ditched in favour of something a bit more mainstream. Algebra Suicide would never again be as essential. Which is not to say that fans won't want to hear their subsequent releases: Alpha Cue, Swoon and Tongue Wrestling.

The Secret Like Crazy has been previously blogged on Mutant Sounds and Systems of Romance, but this is our own superior vinyl rip. The album was issued simultaneously in 1987 on RRRecords in the USA and Dom Elchklang in Germany. Oddly, two different covers were used.

Listening to it as an entity it's apparent that synth and bass have been added more for sonic variety than to enrich the tracks musically. There are experiments in mood and tempo, even some "singing". But it all hinges on the words, and when these are perceptive, humorous or striking the songs work.

Me, I love it, and am so glad I bought a copy "back in the day".

When I go, I want to go clean, convenient, leaving no mess
As if I vaporized while taking a shower,
As if I moved to Antarctica
Leaving no forwarding address.

-- Second Chameleon

The Secret Like Crazy


Algebra Suicide: The Secret Like Crazy

A01 Little Dead Bodies
A02 Somewhat Bleeker Street
A03 Gist
A04 (A Proverbial Explanation For) Why No Action Is Taken
A05 Father's By The Door
A06 Tractor Pull
A07 Tuesday Tastes Good
A08 In Bed With Boys
A09 Sinister
B01 True Romance At The Worlds Fair
B02 Tonight
B03 Please Respect Our Decadence
B04 Heat Wave
B05 No War Bride
B06 Let's Transact
B07 Lethargy
B08 Amusing One's Self
B09 Recalling The Last Encounter
B10 Seasonal Zombies
B11 Agitation

lp RRRecords [RRR 022] 1987
lp Dom Elchklang [DOM EK 001] 1987
cd RRRecords [RRR 022] 1987 (1000 copies)

Algebra Suicide: True Romance At The Worlds Fair

LydiaIt's one of those decisive musical moments. You pick up a record with scarred cover that you found hidden in the back of a large disused collection. It looks completely generic, uninteresting, bland. When you pull out the vinyl it's gouged and barely wants to sit still in the record player. Nervous vinyl. You cue up the first selection with no special anticipation. You've listened to thousands of records like this one, issued from bedrooms and garages all over the North American continent. It's 1982; everyone is doing it.

When the sound trickles out of the grey speakers, it is smeared with distortion and cut with scratches.

A whispered remark changed a girl's life.

How appropriate that first line, delivered clearly, with just a hint of sarcasm. The pithy remarks on the debut EP from Algebra Suicide might indeed change a girl's life. They changed my life, I am sure.

Make no mistake, there was a difference.
She had a war job and mother-in-law trouble,
A jitterbug wedding,
And an itch that started quick.

One day I was in a different library, this one filled with books instead of records. Wandering through the stacks I found a section dedicated to historical periodicals. There I discovered Woman's Day and similar magazines from the fifties. I scanned the intriguing advertisements and articles that spoke of post-war America. "Too many blondes spoil the crowd" advised one. "The invisible bones of the face" said another. My skin went all tingly, like it does when someone holds a very sharp knife millimetres away from incision.

After a few moments I realised why these phrases seemed to issue from inside me. Lydia Tomkiw had found them too, some rainy day in Chicago. She'd compiled them, assigned scansion and recited them at poetry slams, maybe at some little bar on Belmont St. Later, Don Hedeker set a Multivox rhythm box clattering and churned out muffled guitar chords as accompaniment. Algebra Suicide transferred these words to vinyl in a seminal moment, never to be repeated.

Sometimes four tracks is exactly the right amount. Sometimes seven words is all you need. It is debatable whether the group ever reached these heights of expression again, though certainly there were a lot of other words waiting in the wings. Lydia Tomkiw made it as far as Columbia Poetry Review and The Best American Poetry anthology (1988), but passed away in obscurity in 2007.

Chances are you have never heard True Romance At The Worlds Fair. The way the chords uncoil slowly at the beginning of "Recalling The Last Encounter". The way the band's name is dropped into the lyrics with only apparent ease. The desire to become hydraulic. The reason children look like copies of their parents. The cheerful irony.

So this is your lucky day. I do hope it's raining.

-- Second Chameleon

We have obtained and restored a rare version of this record with as much care as possible. Apologies for the inevitable pops and gurgles. They are all there for a reason.


Algebra Suicide: True Romance At The Worlds Fair

A01 True Romance At The Worlds Fair
A02 Recalling The Last Encounter
B01 Praxis
B02 In Bed With Boys

7" EP: Buzzerama [AA-500] 1982

25 July 2010

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- A Catalogue Of Obsessions

This is the fourth and final vinyl disk included in Trial By Intimacy. What is there left to say after hearing many dozen similar Bill Nelson instrumentals? Only, perhaps, that if you enjoyed the previous volumes you will enjoy this as well. It is certainly not the weakest offering, even if it treads the familiar path of clockwork rhythm boxes, languid synth melodies, vaguely oriental sonorities and mysterious titles.

I particularly enjoy the sequencer interplay of "Happily Addicted To You" and "Initiation Of The Heart's Desire". The melody winding through "Birds In Two Hemispheres" is lovely. But if you are looking for more of those tracks that cleverly integrate film and radio samples, there are only two. "Love's First Kiss" is by far the most listenable. Nelson would revisit this style in two albums under the name Orchestra Arcana. Check out Iconography (1986) and Optimism (1988). These were compiled on the collection The Hermetic Jukebox, which thoughtfully includes all five non-album selections as well.

-- Second Chameleon


Bill Nelson: A Catalogue Of Obsessions
A01 Sex Party Six
A02 Wider Windows For The Walls Of The World
A03 Time In Tokyo
A04 Happily Addicted To You
A05 Snakes With Wings
A06 The Boy Pilots Of Bangkok
A07 Erotikon
A08 Birds In Two Hemispheres
A09 Windmills In A World Without Wind
A10 Love's First Kiss
B01 Initiation Of The Heart's Desire
B02 Edge Of Tears
B03 Test Of Affection
B04 Words Across Tables
B05 A Promise Of Perfume
B06 This Dangerous Age
B07 The Glass Breakfast
B08 Talk Technique
B09 The Last Summer For Dancing
B10 View From A Balcony

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

A Catalogue Of Obsessions
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 9] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 9] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73379-2] 1989

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul

Pavilions of the Heart and Soul is the third album in Bill Belson's luscious box set Trial By Intimacy. With its photo-montage cover, recalling the avian preoccupations of Max Ernst, and elliptical song titles, such as "Meshes of the Afternoon", a nod in the direction of Maya Deren's spellbinding film, the album offers itself as kind of alchemical mystery. Everything here seems to have meaning, but only for those who are already initiated into its occult practices, or are willing to follow the trail of clues toward those artists, writers, and filmmakers who might better help us to understand this arcane world.

Nelson was not alone in prompting his listeners toward a greater appreciation of twentieth-century modern art from Europe, the Vorticists, Futurists, Dadaists, and Surrealists who explored the world of chance processes and unconscious motivations. John Foxx used the title of Ernst's "Europe After the Rain" for one of his finest solo singles. David Sylvian paid homage to Jean Cocteau in "The Blood of the Poet." And Richard Jobson, formerly of The Skids, gave up his pursuit of pop stardom to read from the works of Maguerite Duras. Eighties music is often caricatured as the height of the banal and superficial, but much of it not only encouraged but expected a level of cultural literacy that is rare today.

One can certainly enjoy Pavilions of Heart and Soul without having taken a course in avant garde film. The instrumental music here is among the most thoughtful and fully developed that Nelson composed during this period, perhaps most especially the spirited "Four Pieces for Imaginary Strings," that encompass tracks 11 through 22. But what makes this music distinctive is that it invites you to know more, to read more, to listen more. There is a kind of syllabus embedded in this album, and, indeed, in all the albums in this box set, one that seems half forgotten today, but which was an almost necessary part of being a serious music fan in this period. Google Max Ernst. Borrow a copy of Breton's The Surrealist Manifesto. Go to YouTube and watch Meshes in the Afternoon. It's all out there, waiting to be discovered. Again.

-- Crash The Driver


Bill Nelson: Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul
A01 Gift Of The August Tide
A02 Loving Tongues
A03 Blue Nude
A04 In The Realm Of Bells
A05 Your Nebulous Smile
A06 The Glance Of A Glittering Stranger
A07 Another Kiss For Your Slender Neck
A08 The Warmth Of Women's Eyes
A09 Seduction (Ritual With Roses)
A10 Dreamed Embraces
B01 Four Pieces For Imaginary Strings: Herself With Her Shadow
B02 Four Pieces With Imaginary Strings: The Exquisite Corpse
B03 Four Pieces With Imaginary Strings: Ardent Hands
B04 Four Pieces With Imaginary Strings: Her Laughing Torso
B05 Migrating Angels
B06 Les Amoureux
B07 Meshes Of The Afternoon
B08 Mountains Of The Heart
B09 Willow Silk
B10 Tender Encounters (States Of Grace)
B11 Melancholia
B12 The Eternal Female

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 8] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 8] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73378-2] 1989

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- Chamber Of Dreams

Our series of posts from Bill Nelson's instrumental box set, Trial By Intimacy (The Book of Splendours) continues with the second of four albums, Chamber of Dreams. Nelson writes in the liner notes:
In 1981 and 1983, I organized a series of live performances under the general title of The Invisibility Exhibition. This event toured throughout Great Britain and included contributions from the Yorkshire Actors Company, Richard Jobson, Frank Chickens and David Claridge as well as myself and Ian Nelson.

Besides theatre, poetry, mime, and musical performances, there were eight TV screens and one large movie screen on which were shown films by Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. My own musical contribution included improvisation of guitar, percussion and synthesizer over pre-recorded tapes from the archives of the Echo Observatory. Chamber of Dreams presents two facets of this event.

Side One is a selection of the 'backing tapes' which were used as the basis for my own performance. They are presented here in their virgin state without any live improvisation. Musicians owning this album, might enjoy sketching their own ideas over these tracks in the privacy of their own home.

Side Two presents a selection of the interval music which was played between the various performances during the Exhibition itself. These are complete and were not intended as part of the improvisational work.

For those who attended these performances, this record is intended as a souvenir for the ear. For those who missed the Invisibility Exhibition perhaps Chamber of Dreams will make you just curious enough to attend the next one.
For those of you who enjoyed the montage of voices from instructional films, surrealist poets, and television programs on the first album in this set, there's much to enjoy on side one of this long payer. Though meant only as "backing tapes" to accompany improvised guitar and other instruments, these tracks feel more complete than some of the interlude music on the second side. Indeed, some of the most notable tracks from Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours) are here, including the opening track, "The Blazing Memory of Innuendo," and the aptly-titled, "A Dip in the Swimming Pool Reactor."

Special thanks to the Second Chameleon for doing the audio processing of the original vinyl while suffering from a back injury. Service above and beyond the call of duty!

--Crash the Driver


Bill Nelson: Chamber Of Dreams (Music From The Invisibility Exhibition)
A01 The Blazing Memory Of Innuendo
A02 Into The Luminous Future
A03 A Dip In The Swimming Pool Reactor
A04 Tomorrowland (The Threshold Of 1947)
A05 Listening To Lizards
A06 Endless Torsion
A07 My Sublime Perversion
A08 Eros In Autumn
A09 Sleeplessness
B01 The Latest Skyline
B02 Train Of Thought
B03 Parks And Fountains, Clouds And Trees
B04 The Golden Bough
B05 Forever Orpheus
B06 In Arcadia
B07 Sentimental
B08 Autumn Fires
B09 Wild Blue Yonder

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

Chamber Of Dreams (Music From The Invisibility Exhibition)
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 7] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 7] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73377-2] 1989

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- The Summer Of God's Piano

Best known as the front man for Be Bop Deluxe, and for his production work with numerous bands, Bill Nelson established himself as a notable composer of instrumental music in the eighties. Though not his first such effort, Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours) is perhaps his most significant statement of a certain fondness for spontaneity and ephemera. This boxed set, released in 1984, consists of no fewer than four albums. That's over 80 tracks, issued from his private studio like so many falling petals from a cherry tree past its bloom.

The set, which we are lucky enough to number among our possessions, was released in an edition of 5000, some of which included a postcard set and "The Arcane Eye", a surprisingly impressive book of photography. All of this added up to a very nice package, which Nelson describes as a "musical sketchbook of instrumental moods captured during many private moments over the last few years."

The vinyl was never issued independently, though Cocteau in the UK and Enigma in the USA did release each album on CD in 1989. Those must be as rare as hen's teeth. By some oversight this music is unavailable today, and the various versions floating around the internet are of poor quality. In the next few weeks we will present rips from the original vinyl to fill this gaping hole in the Nelson catalogue.

We start with The Summer Of God's Piano, an eminently listenable work. This is best appreciated in light of The Love That Whirls, Nelson's stand-out pop album from the same year. That lovely and mysterious record manages to combine his penchant for drum machine clockworks, liquid guitar figures, ambience and over-the-top lyrics. But take away the vocals and you might have a hard time distinguishing the music on the two records. A song like "Hope For the Heartbeat" sounds exactly as though Nelson took a track destined for Trial By Intimacy and added vocals. And if you can tell which record "Waiting For Voices", "Orient Pearl" and "The Bride of Christ in Autumn" are from, it's not due to any intrinsic difference in musicality or quality.

But the real gems here are those tracks that create a different mood, through the simple expedient of adding samples from radio broadcasts and cinema. The French intonations in "The Celestial Bridegroom" mark it out as part of this new style, while "The Charm of Transit" and "Transmission (N.B.C. 97293)" rise to the top of the pile due entirely to the skill with which Nelson weaves the samples into the music.

Though the absolute best tracks in the boxed set are still to come, we are sure you'll enjoy this trip back to the gardens of Europe, circa 1984.

-- Second Chameleon


Bill Nelson: The Summer Of God's Piano
A01 Antennae Two
A02 Transmission (N.B.C. 97293)
A03 The Sleep Of Hollywood
A04 The Celestial Bridegroom
A05 Under The Red Arch
A06 Orient Pearl
A07 Sacrament
A08 Falling Blossoms
A09 The Difficulty Of Being
A10 Zanoni
A11 The Chinese Nightingale
B01 Tantra
B02 Soon September (Another Enchantment)
B03 Rural Shires
B04 Perfidio Incanto
B05 The Lost Years
B06 The Charm Of Transit
B07 Night Thoughts (Twilight Radio)
B08 Wysteria
B09 Swing
B10 Snowfall
B11 Realm Of Dusk
B12 Over Ocean

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

The Summer Of God's Piano
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 6] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 6] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73376-2] 1989

13 June 2010

John Foxx - Burning Car Mini-LP

Armed with stacks of vintage electronic gear, from Boss Flangers and Dr. Rhythm drum machines to Arp Odyssey synthesizers, John Foxx played an all-analogue set at The Roundhouse, London, on June 5th, 2010. Gary Numan and Ade Fenton worked the turn tables and the evening began with a panel discussion featuring author Iain Sinclair, and the leading lights of the Ghost Box label, Jim Jupp and Julian House. The Second Chameleon and I were there on behalf of TSM to report.

If you don't know Ghost Box, you should. They're responsible for what has become known as "hauntology," a concept associated with artists such as The Focus Group, The Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly, and The Moon Wiring Club who mix seventies instructional films and the sounds of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to imagine an alternate past, one where parish churches sang hymns to oscillators and school children learned the gospel of video tape. The panel discussion, called Moving Through Old Daylight, was a thoughtful exchange on the ways in which mass media shapes our conception of the past, and featured some especially fascinating short films by both Sinclair and Jupp. Check out their new web site here.

Following a quick dinner in Camden Town, we made our way into the fabled space of The Roundhouse. Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine launched The International Times here, The Doors played their only UK show, and of course Hawkwind recorded the legendary "Silver Machine." A former railway shed, its circular structure was used to house the massive turntable on which Victorian locomotives were turned around. Today it fully lives up to its reputation, its dome ceiling billowing like a canopy above the punters gathered below. Jori Hulkkonnen played a tasteful opening DJ set, but his follow up, Gary Numan, got stuck in traffic, leaving us in the hands of some preening jester in a leopard print coat who saw fit to play minimal synth standards, from The Normal to Fad Gadget. Oh, and plenty of bass feedback from the over worked sound system.

A short break, and the screen behind the stage flickered with Steve D'Agostino's brilliant remix of "Film One", an early Foxx b-side. As the strangely animated images of Alex Proyas's video sputtered and jerked in the night, Foxx's band assembled on stage, coaxing the ancient circuitry gathered on the stage into life. The twin tape reels of a Revox began to slowly revolve and the opening beats of "Plaza" boomed into the vaulted space of The Roundhouse. Expectations were running high on such a strong opening, and as Foxx himself came to centre stage a huge cheer went up from the crowd. He looks great for a man in his fifties, still a compelling figure behind the microphone. Too bad, then, that the mix was so murky, as if the sound system was not really up to the task of meeting the challenges of the cavernous venue. Foxx's vocals, bathed in a variety of harmonizers and filters, didn't really help matters, simply contributing to the indistinct and hazy sound.

The gig was billed as a celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Metamatic, Foxx's groundbreaking debut, but the set list was more wide ranging then this would suggest. After five tracks from the Metamatic era, we were treated, if that's the right word, to three songs featuring Louis Gordon, with whom Foxx has recorded several albums since his return to music in the late 1990s. With his fist pumping in the air as he twisted the beleaguered VCF knob on his CS1X, Gordon's risible antics stood in marked contrast to the aloofness and diffidence of Foxx's sense of modernity. As The Second Chameleon noted above the din, "He just doesn't get it, does he?"

More promising was the clutch of songs from Foxx's forthcoming collaboration with a young group of analogue fetishists called The Maths. Where the techno-tinged beats of Louis Gordon seemed well past their best before date, the new material had both a freshness and edginess that has been largely missing from Foxx's most recent work. The album, which is due in October, will be worth seeking out.

The crowning glory of the evening, however, was the appearance of Robin Simon, whose psychedelic fretwork helped lift Ultravox's third lp, Systems of Romance, to such empyrean heights. As a ticking synth set the stage for "Dislocation," Simon appeared to rapturous applause. Foxx too seemed well pleased to have his erstwhile guitarist at his side again, and we were treated to several Ultravox-era faves, including a rare outing of "The Man Who Dies Everyday," a track dating back to the band's second lp, Ha! Ha! Ha! Simon leaned into the proto-punk riff with gusto, Foxx ditched the harmonizers, the crowd went mad, and, for a moment, the great dome of The Roundhouse seemed to levitate into the air.

To commemorate this one-off gig, we are including here one of the rarest items in the Foxx canon (the sole copy for sale on discogs is listed at $229). The "Burning Car Mini-LP" was a Japanese-only release, gathering together two post-Metamatic singles: "Burning Car" b/w "20th Century" and "Miles Away" b/w "A Long Time." Two older b-sides filled out the release: "This City" and "Mr. No." These tracks have all been reissued as bonus tracks on the various cd reissues and compilations in recent years, but never sequenced together again in this way. And they never sounded so good as on this sublime slab of Japanese vinyl, with its over-sized picture label and superb mastering at the disc cutting stage. Here's to thirty years of the Quiet Man!

-- Crash the Driver


John Foxx - Burning Car Mini-LP

01 Burning Car
02 20th Century
03 This City
04 Miles Away
05 A Long Time
06 Mr. No

Japan Mini-LP: Victor Musical Industries [VIP 5903] 1981

24 May 2010

Trevor Herion - Beauty Life

The pop charts of the mid-eighties were crowded with electro crooners, their unabashedly romantic yearning standing in stark contrast to the icy and distant synthesizers and white boy funk grooves that filled out the sound. David Sylvian hoped for visions of China. Peter Godwin wished for images of heaven. And Midge Ure longed for Vienna. But no electro crooner could touch the heart strings better than Trevor Herion.

Born in Cork, Ireland, Herion moved to London in the late seventies, and was living in a squat with members of The Psychedelic Furs when he hooked up with drummer Paul Simon, brother of Robin Simon, the guitar player who would would later have notable stints with both Ultravox and Magazine. Together with Mark Scholfield on guitar and Michael French on bass, Herion and Simon formed The Civilians, and released a single for Arista entitled "Made For Television" (1980). The singer and his drummer friend left the band before its sophomore single had appeared, and joined with Matthew Seligman and Thomas Dolby to form The Fallout Club. Here Herion's powerful voice, every note seemingly touched with some irrepressible sadness, came most fully to the fore, offering a powerful embellishment to Dolby's rapidly maturing song writing and arranging abilities. The analogue joys of "Pedestrian Walkway" have been recently rediscovered by a generation of Dolby fans thanks to its inclusion on the remastered, 2 cd version of The Golden Age of Wireless, while its majestically over-the-top follow up, "Wanderlust," has graced several minimal synth compilations in recent years.

Herion's solitary solo album has been less well remembered, however. Released in 1983 on Interdisc Records, Beauty Life is a highly polished slice of electro pop. Graced with a Peter Saville cover, it featured a stellar cast of backing musicians, including another Dolby alum, Kevin Armstrong, and Martin Young of Colourbox. Moreover, the label brought in one of the most in-demand pop producers of the day, Steve Levine, who had previously worked with Culture Club and China Crisis among others. But the album is still very much Herion's, his powerful voice surging up as from some unknown depths of world weary despair, gliding effortlessly over the thick slab of eighties beats, and ascending to its own lonely orbit.

Among its many highlights, the album included "Kiss of No Return," a pre-album single released by Imperial Recordings and distributed by Island in 1982. Arranged by Thomas Dolby (the drum program has a distinct resemblance to some of the beats heard on "Europa and the Pirate Twins"), and produced by Mike Howlett (who also lent his talents to Martha Ladly's sublime solo debut), the song somehow manages to transcend its faux Parisian instrumentation (accordians and violins), and become something almost otherworldly, a loving lament to a more elegant age.

Three further singles were released from the album: "Dreamtime" and "Love Chains" are cast very much in the ABC - Heaven 17 mould, replete with gated snare drums, funky guitars, and towering backing vocals, while the dreamy chord progressions and slap bass of "Love Chains" are strikingly reminiscent of Levine's work with China Crisis. Gathered as the first three tracks on side one, these singles make a muscular statement of purpose, but in some ways it's the album tracks on the second side, full of European longueur and jazzy interludes, that more fully capture the essence of Herion's sound. "Big City," "Betrayed," "The Jazz Age," the titles alone evoke the elongated shadows and dimly lit alleys in which Herion's imagination preferred to walk.

Amid the welter of electro crooners, however, Beauty Life seems to have gone unnoticed, its failure to dent the charts not helped by a feud with Levine that resulted in his name being removed from the album's credits. In the aftermath of its failure, Herion slipped into a prolonged period of depression. He took his own life on October 1, 1988. A retrospective anthology of his best work, including both his solo recordings and contributions to The Civilians and The Fallout Club, is long overdue.

-- Crash The Driver


Trevor Herion - Beauty Life

01 Dreamtime
02 Love Chains
03 Fallen Angel
04 Success, and the Decline of the Western Man
05 Big City
06 Betrayed
07 The Jazz Age
08 Legends
09 Kiss of No Return

UK LP: Interdisc [INTO 3] 1983

07 April 2010

Bruce Gilbert - The Shivering Man

Bruce Gilbert was always an odd fish, even in Wire, the oddest punk band of them all. Already 30 when they formed, he seemed more like a college professor than a band member. When he later began to release music under his own name it was apparent that he was more at home in electroacoustic and noise music territory than in anything resembling pop.

Gilbert released a flood of material, starting in 1980. Together with co-conspirator Graham Lewis, he recorded four albums as Dome, their lo-fi music sounding like tape scrapings from Wire sessions, odd vocal exercises, frustration devices, aversion therapies.

A 12" as Cupol combined an almost pop rant on one side with an extended ethnic forgery noise field on the other. Credited to BC Gilbert & G Lewis, the album 3R4 contains two excellent noise ambient soundscapes with shorter tracks. Together with the single "Ends With The Sea", these formed the CD compilation 8 Time.

After seven releases in two years Gilbert showed no signs of slacking. The random noises that formed gallery installation MZUI stormed the charts (not!) in 1982. Gilbert then teamed with Lewis and Mute label boss Daniel Miller for Duet Emmo, who issued the excellent Or So It Seems and companion 12" in 1983. That same year he was in the band P'o, featured on this blog last June.

The two albums Gilbert released on Mute following this unorthodox period of music-making are likely more palatable. Commissioned by choreographer Michael Clark, "Do You Me? I Did", filled 30 minutes of the album "This Way", issued on Mute in August 1984. This is currently available on Austrian label Editions Mego, remastered and with new artwork. This piece is one of the absolute highlights of the Gilbert canon.

Conceived by Angela Conway, whose own musical career we have profiled, the dance "The Shivering Man" provided the title for the follow-up album. Released on vinyl by Mute in April 1987, the record is full of insistent pulses and fragmented instruments. One can hear guitar, bass, drums and vocals but their spectra are not used in conventional ways, nor in conventional structures. The album begins with "Angelfood", which goes through several distinct musical stages, as though replicating Gilbert's oeuvre in toto. It is one of his best pieces.

Following this, the title track sounds like cartoon characters slowly getting dragged under the earth to be buried alive. "Net in the Feather" welds bagpipes to a skipping CD, later to be jeered and whooped. "There Are" starts with something like Frippertronics until Gilbert's toneless voice begins a recitation. Then, unexpectedly, the machinic enters this organic realm. "Hommage" [sic] might be Throbbing Gristle while "Eline Cout II" sets the template for the solo AC Marias record: girl-next-door ambient vocals over insistent pulsing loop. Finally, "Epitaph For Henran Brenlar" evolves out of a dark shambles into something resembling a pop song. Graham Lewis appears half-way through and sounds great.

The Shivering Man has only been issued on CD as part of a limited three disk set in Japan. In the UK four of the seven tracks found their way to the compilation This Way To The Shivering Man. As that is also out of print, we are bringing you the record in full, restored to its original running order.

P.S. A video excerpt of "The Shivering Man", danced by Michael Clark, Julie Hood and Ian Longmuir, may be found on YouTube. Hood is also the dancer in the brilliant A.C. Marias video "One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing".

-- Second Chameleon


The Shivering Man

A1 Angel Food
A2 The Shivering Man
A3 Net In The Feather
B1 There Are
B2 Hommage
B3 Eline Cout II
B4 Epitaph For Henran Brenlar

LP UK: Mute [STUMM 39] April 1987

24 February 2010

Thomas Leer - Singles 1983-85

The electronic scene of the late seventies and early eighties was led by a new kind of man. Sure there were some notable synth bands, The Human League, OMD, Depeche Mode, but the quiet man, labouring alone with his battery of monophonic synths and drum machines, was somehow closer to the alienated spirit of the age. Gary Numan, John Foxx, Thomas Dolby, Fad Gadget, these were the names that captured the popular imagination of the day.

Thomas Leer looked set to join the upper echelons of electro auteurs following the success of his debut single, "Private Plane." Recorded in his bedsit apartment, he had to nearly whisper the vocals so as not to wake his girlfriend sleeping in the next room. But the NME named it single of the week, and soon Cherry Red, the much respected indie label, offered him a deal. "4 Movements" and "Contradictions" saw him leaving behind the proto-industrial experiments of his earlier collaborations with Robert Rental, in favour of an angular, funk-inspired sound that seemed to mix a love of Sly and the Family Stone with a more poppy take on Cabaret Voltaire's Red Mecca. It was a brave experiment, especially given the primitive nature of the drum machines with which he was trying to approximate funk grooves, but they failed to translate into serious sales. As 1982 wound down, Thomas Leer seemed to have lost his way.

Then, suddenly, he reappeared two years later, having reinvented himself as a computer-savvy, sampler-wielding sophisticate, more Trevor Horn than Richard H. Kirk. Major label Arista was so taken with Leer's new worldly traveller image that they bank-rolled a series of glossy twelve inch singles to be released on a reactivated version of the Oblique label, which had last seen service for "Private Plane." Recorded with the latest in synthesizer technology, the Fairlight CMI digital sampling keyboard, these three singles offered a master class in mid-eighties pop elegance, the equal in many respects to the finest efforts of ABC, Propaganda, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The future must have seemed bright indeed for the former Thomas Wishart, but Arista appears to have lost confidence in Leer by the time these singles were compiled into an album. The Scale Of Ten was slipped into record stores without much fanfare in 1985, and then, just as quickly, disappeared.

Collected here are the singles that Leer released between his major releases from these two periods, Contradictions and The Scale of Ten. They not only offer a glimpse of his musical development in these, his missing years, but represent some of his most signficant achievements as a solo artist.

"All About You," his last release for Cherry Red, is the real standout, a plaintive synth ballad that is as understated as it is unforgettable. But the three singles from the reactivated Oblique label are no less striking, full of inventive arrangements, strong melodies and exquisite productions. The extended versions are especially notable, forgoing the more obvious tricks of the remix trade in favour of intriguing dub experiments and rhythmic work outs. As a bonus, we are including "Who's Fooling Who," a song released only as a flexi-disc that acccompanied a Dutch music magazine in 1983. Though not as polished as the other songs here, it offers something of a missing link between his Cherry Red and Arista incarnations.

After many years out of the music biz, Leer is back now, and recording again. Check out his web site here.

-- Crash The Driver


"All About You"

01 All About You
02 Saving Grace

UK 12" Cherry Red [12 Cherry 52] 1983


03 International (Global Mix)
04 Easy Way

UK 12" Arista/Oblique [LEER 121] 1984

"Heart Beat"

05 Heart Beat (Extended Mix)
06 Control Yourself

UK 12" Arista/Oblique [LEER 122] 1985

"No. 1"

07 No. 1 (Extended Version)
08 Trust Me
09 Chasing The Dragon

UK 12" Arista/Oblique [LEER 123] 1985

"Who's Fooling Who"

10 Who's Fooling Who

Netherlands Flexi Vinyl Magazine 1983

08 February 2010

The Changing Tableaux of Martha and the Muffins

The great thing about art school is not that it produces great artists. The great thing about art school is that it produces so many wonderful bands. Being in an environment of intense study, exposed to the entire scope of twentieth-century thought, expands the horizons of the participants. Support for quirky works of strong subjectivity, from an institution no less, validates the individual. No longer circumscribed by petit bourgeois concerns, art students then believe they have the freedom to do anything.

And what that often meant, in the heady years of the late seventies, was getting together with a bunch of friends and trying out a few tunes.

So it was at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, now a landmark building of great vivacity, then a dour series of brick barracks. Guitarist David Millar asked his friend Mark Gane, sometimes to be found splicing tape in the college Sound Lab, to start a band. Gane grabbed high-school friend Martha Johnson, then a student at York University in the north of the city. Once in the band Oh! Those Pants, she settled into keyboards and vocals -- because no-one else dared sing. She in turn pulled in her friend Carl Finkle as bassist as Mark's brother Tim Gane filled out the band on drums.

Rehearsals took place in an unheated stable. Named as a joke from a list of equally impossible monikers, they made an anti-punk statement by going for the softest label possible. Their debut was at the college Halloween party... yes, I remember the days when people did stuff like that.

This line-up expanded by two more bodies, likely because the parties were more fun that way. Martha Ladly, another friend from high school, joined on keyboards and additional vocals. And so the name Martha & the Muffins now took on extra resonance. Which Martha? Ah, a political question and a potential time-bomb perhaps.

Andy Haas, saxophonist extraordinaire, completed the line-up. At the time several live bands in the area had permanent sax players, a by-product of the strong Ontario jazz-blues scene. Chicago hipsters would regularly sally on up to Toronto, stopping at London, Guelph or Kitchener-Waterloo on the way. But not many sax-fueled bands made it to record; Andy's exploratory jazz leanings gave the band a distinct sound.

Insect LoveInsect Love 7"
A1 Insect Love [original version] (3:54)
B1 Suburban Dream [original version] (2:56)
7" Canada [MM001] 1978

This extended line-up trimmed somewhat when Millar switched to an off-stage role as sound man. It was this band that recorded and self-released a single with a punky black & white cover. "Insect Love" b/w "Suburban Dream" laid things on the line in 1978. The a-side is quirky and impossible, a deviant fantasy, but a naive and coy one. "I took a chance / on interspecies romance" declares the (male) narrator, though the song is sung by Martha Johnson. It's too silly to be kinky. Martha and the Muffins are, after all, a pretty nice bunch of people.

The b-side is where the action is: a new wave (by way of pub rock) dagger in the heart of all they had escaped from when leaving high school. The scenario is portrayed with razor-sharp lyrics:

Strolling through the plaza in the cool twilight
Sucking on a synthi-shake
Hidden in the ambient florescent night
High school boys are on the make

The topical references to the CN Tower and Hockey Night In Canada demonstrate that the Muffins are one of us, not some faceless band from anywheresville. And then there is the priceless couplet "thinking 'bout evolution puts me in a sweat / the price a city dweller pays". This was the Canadian version of XTC: acerbic lyrics sneered out of pursed lips, odd keyboard runs and pounding energy. Even if recorded fairly poorly this single makes a statement.

Insect LoveInsect Love 7"
A1 Insect Love (4:10)
B1 Cheesies And Gum (3:05)
7" UK Dindisc [DIN 4] 1979.10

A demo made its way to Robert Fripp and this secured them a date at Hurrah's in NYC. Then everything moved at light speed. Their gig in March of 1979 was witnessed by an A&R rep from Virgin, who snapped them up immediately, whisked them off to England and got an album in the can. Engineered by Richard Manwaring and produced by Mike Howlett, this did a reasonable job of capturing the songs, even if the energy of their live performances was muted

The first single was a re-recording of that hexapodous love song. It's available on a Virgin compilation, so we do not include it here. The b-side, "Cheesies And Gum", is a reference so Canadian that no-one in the UK actually knew what it meant when it showed up on the debut album Metro Music. After three songs by Mark Gane, this tune is co-credited to Martha Ladly.

Echo BeachEcho Beach 7"
A1 Echo Beach (3:38)
B1 Teddy the Dink [early version] (3:29)
7" UK Dindisc [DIN 9] 1980.01

And then it happened. "Echo Beach", that perfect snatch of summer longing, was issued in the dead of winter 1980 when everyone was sick of the holidays and the rain and wanted nothing more than to get away from it all. It comes in like a breeze through an open window and kick starts any heart. "Aaaaah, she's a romantic fool -- so am I but nobody knows it yet!"

Covered many times, first by Fripp's wife Toyah Wilcox in an execrable version, this remains the pinnacle of new wave pop. That little catch in the voice when the Martha's sing "clerk". The soaring sax solo. The close harmonies on the chorus. The chiming guitar. Yep, you could base a career on that sound.

Or it could be your albatross, as many one-hits are for the wonders who produce them. A huge hit creates expectations, creates pressures. Record bosses want more, more, more. They're not happy with a single vacation in the sun, they want a churning solar ball of hits all the time. So you go on tour, you go on TV, you go back into the studio. As the label issues single after single in the hopes of topping the charts a second time.

"Teddy the Dink" is not a response to that, but it might have been. Co-written with a certain "B. Harvey", it is literally the underside of that nice beach. It's about a nasty person stuck in a nasty life, but this time with no way out. It reminds me of some of those perfect bedsit dramas Squeeze were so good at writing. Later re-recorded to fill out the second album, this version hits harder and has a more chilling laugh.

SaigonSaigon 7"
A1 Saigon [single version] (3:51)
B1 Copacabana (1:22)
7" UK Dindisc [DIN 17] 1980.05

Personally, if I worked for Virgin, I would have tried "Paint By Number Heart" as a single. Instead we have the lovely, "Saigon", another travelogue, hinting at exotic possibilities in foreign lands. The single version has some great horn squawks in the second verse and I prefer it to the less flavoursome mix on the album.

The b-side is not the only double-tracked single I own, but it is the only one where one drop of the needle gets you "Copacabana" and another drop will get you the same song... backwards! Intriguingly, both sides were written by David Millar, the latter with Martha Johnson.

About InsomniaAbout Insomnia 7"
A1 About Insomnia [single version] (3:09)
B1 1 4 6 (4:45)
7" UK Dindisc [DIN 19] 1980.07

Issued on green vinyl with a lovely cover, "About Insomnia" is a perfect pop tune, with a loping beat and elliptical lyrics. And once again "the chimes of foreign places call for a changing tableau... do you suppose?" This single version has a surprisingly brash sax break which really should have been reigned in. But it acts as a great taster for the second album, Trance and Dance, issued quickly to keep the pressure on the market.

The b-side, "1 4 6" is a jam session, punctuated by odd vocal samples and noises. It could just as readily be found on a Flying Lizards album. But the Muffins were always an art school band. If they wanted to make noise for five minutes then they would make noise for five minutes. It is regrettable that the need to produce "Echo Beach Part Two" saw them increasingly trapped in a certain new wave production formula that was at odds with the more experimental content.

Suburban DreamSuburban Dream 7"
A1 Suburban Dream [single version] (2:56)
B1 Girl Fat (4:00)
7" UK Dindisc [DIN 21] 1980.08

This single follows the same formula. The a-side is a compact would-be hit by Mark Gane and the b-side is a more sprawling jam, credited to the entire band, but with bass prominent. Here the need to come up with material quickly led to the re-recording of a song at least two years old. Though this version is the definitive take.

Was EzoWas Ezo 7"
A1 Was Ezo [single mix] (3:22)
B1 Trance and Dance [edit]
7" UK Dindisc [DIN 27] 1980.10.30

The last single from the band's "English period" is as good as they get. The b-side is Martha Johnson's title track from the album cut down to fit (so we don't include it in our compilation). The a-side is Martha Ladly's tale of Hokkaido -- which once was called Ezo, hence the cryptic title. The version here, with bountiful reverb drenching the vocals, provides the template for Ladly's first solo single.

In 1981, as their second album was being released, the band ran away from increasing pressures and returned to Canada, less Ladly. There was a change of bassists and the group jumped right back into the studio with then-unknown producer Daniel Lanois. The result is one of the most astounding albums ever laid to vinyl, This Is The Ice Age. You should drop everything RIGHT NOW and buy the impeccable re-issue.

In the meantime, relish these eleven tales of changing tableaux.

-- Second Chameleon


Martha and the Muffins: Changing Tableaux
01 Insect Love [original version]
02 Suburban Dream [original version]
03 Teddy The Dink [early version]
04 Saigon [single version]
05 Copacabana [forwards]
06 Copacabana [backwards]
07 About Insomnia [single version]
08 1 4 6
09 Suburban Dream [single version]
10 Girl Fat
11 Was Ezo [single version]

These rarities, uncollected on any official release, have been ripped from our own collection. The copy of "Insect Love" used has a glitch that we've repaired as well as might. If you want to own a slice of history, go on over to the band's official site, where you can still buy this vinyl.

You will also find there details of Martha and the Muffins' brand new album, the first in eighteen years.

27 January 2010

Robert Rental - Collected Solo Works

Proto-industrial pioneer, and one of the architects of the DIY revolution in UK synth music, Robert Rental is perhaps best known for his pair of collaborations with other artists. With Thomas Leer, whose electro funk mash ups figure pominently in any collection of minimal synth classics, he released the brooding, epochal album, The Bridge, for Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records in 1979. And with Daniel Miller, the man who signed everyone from Fad Gadget to Depeche Mode to his fledgling Mute label, he recorded a shambolic but strangely inspired live set at the West Runton Pavilion on March 6, 1980.

These collaborations have secured Rental a place in the annals of post punk, but his small but important body of solo work remains little known. Born Robert Donnachie in Port Glasgow, Rental and his friend, Thomas Leer, left their native Scotland in the late seventies to check out the burgeoning punk scene in London. Taking their cue from bands like The Desperate Bicycles, who had shown the world that it was possible to be successful in the music business on your own terms, Rental and Leer decided to each record and release a single on labels of their own. Leer would call his Oblique, perhaps in reference to Eno's Oblique Strategies cards, and Rental named his Regular Records.

They pooled their meagre resources to rent a four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, which they set up first in Leer's flat in Finsbury Park before carting it across the Thames to where Rental lived in Battersea. Leer recorded the exquisite pop paean to reclusive millionaires, "Private Plane," using Rental's "stylophone," a pen-like instrument that produced a vaguely theremin-like sound, to give the record its lo-fi futuristic sheen. Rental's "Paralysis," by contrast, layered splintered guitars, swampy basses, and sheets of discordant noise over an elliptical vocal that suggested nothing so much as a man allowing himself to be swept away by the river's under tow. The flip side offered more coherent fare, with the drum machine up front, and Rental's lyrical refrain ("We're vampires / Definitely") evoking the more gothic side of Suicide. "Private Plane" made single of the week in NME, while Rental's record went largely unnoticed, save by a handful of more progressive artists, like Cabaret Voltaire and Genesis P. Orridge, who felt they had found a soul mate.

Following their gig at the West Runton Pavilion, Daniel Miller offered to produce Rental's next single, and release it through Mute. "Double Heart" b/w "On Location" was recorded at Blackwing Studios in August 1980, with Rental joined once again by Leer on piano (for the a-side only) and Robert Gorl of D.A.F. on drums and backing vocals. The result is pure post punk bliss from start to finish. "Double Heart" is underpinned by Rental's moody-almost-dubby bass playing, with floating synth lines and piano weaving in out of a plaintive melody. "On Location" is a more dissonant affair, with Gorl's drums way up front in the mix, and Rental making excellent use of the fractured tape loops of his earlier releases.

"Double Heart" gave ample evidence that Rental could bridge the gap between synth pop and post punk, aligning the pastoral prettiness of Eno's Another Green World with the scenes of urban decay and despair that characterised PIL or Joy Division. A solo album seemed the next obvious step, and in the months that followed Rental turned his attention to creating some astounding soundscapes with his Wasp synthesizer, a British-made instrument that had a warmer yet more aggresive sound than the Japanese-made Korgs and Yamahas favoured by Depeche Mode and The Human League. In an article for Sound On Sound magazine, TG's Chris Carter recalls: "The first time I heard the Wasp was in 1978 while I was with Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records, and happened to hear some demos by Robert Rental and Thomas Leer. They were writing very individualistic 'electronic' songs using just voices, guitars and two Wasps. The Wasps supplied all the keyboard and percussion parts, and we were amazed at the sound they were producing with these, especially as they were using no drum machines (I think they may have used a Spider sequencer)."

Circulated as a cassette tape entitled, "Mental Detention," Rental's home-made demos are dark, introspective, and never less than fascinating glimpses into an album that was never to be. Simply titled A1, A2, A3, and B1, B2, B3, and so on, these eight long instrumentals are less songs than architectural forms, ranging from the huge twisted heaps of a crashed airliner, to vacant office building concourses, and underground parking lots. Rental makes the most of his primitive gear, building his music out of the limitations of his resources rather than letting it be defined by them. The latter tracks are especially fascinating, with bits of seventies tv shows haunting the edges of the distant droning synths. Little wonder, then, that the A&R men of the day didn't snap it up.

Rental left the music business in the early 1980s, turning his attention to his family. He died following a bout with lung cancer in 2000. He was 48 years old.

Gathered together here are Robert Rental's two single releases, and the "Mental Detention" tape, each sourced from the very best copies available. Taken together they make a powerful argument for the man's talents, and our loss.

-- Crash The Driver



01 Paralysis
02 A.C.C.

UK 7" Regular [RECO 002] 1978

"Double Heart"

03 Double Heart
04 On Location

UK 7" Mute [MUTE 010] 1980

"Mental Detention"

05 A1
06 A2
07 A3
08 B1
09 B2
10 B3
11 B4
12 B5

UK Cassette Self-Released 1980

03 January 2010

World Shut Your Mouth by Julian Cope

Happy New Year to all our TSM readers! We trust that 2010 finds you all well and looking forward to the next twelve months of rare post-punk, new wave, and minimal synth postings.

To celebrate our second year here at TSM, we kick things off with Julian Cope's criminally underrated, and unjustly out of print, debut solo album following the demise of The Teardrop Explodes. Released in 1984, World Shut Your Mouth (not to be confused with the later single of the same name) finds Cope eschewing the day-glo psychedelic pop of "Reward" and "Treason" for a more contemplative and personal tone. Oh, sure, there are a pair of truly glorious singles here in "The Greatness and Perfection of Love" and "Sunshine Playroom," each full of inventive arrangements and heroic vocals. But, by and large, the mood of this album is more introspective, with Cope crafting poignant tales from the darkside of fame to the accompaniment of plaintive organs and lonesome woodwinds. The result is, to my mind, the most memorable of Cope's solo albums, with melodies that linger like a half forgotten dream, and lyrics that offer some plain and honest truths. My favourite has to be this verse from "Elegant Chaos:"

People I see
Just remind me of moo-ing like a cow in the grass
But that's not to say
There's anything wrong with
Being a cow anyway

It's brilliant stuff from start to finish and a perfect way to welcome in the New Year!

-- Crash The Driver


World Shut Your Mouth - Julian Cope

01 Bandy's First Jump
02 Metranil Vavin
03 Strasbourg
04 Elegant Chaos
05 Quizmaster
06 Kolly Kibber's Birthday
07 Sunshine Playroom
08 Head Hang Low
09 Pussyface
10 Greatness And Perfection
11 Lunatic And Fire-Pistol

UK LP Mercury [MERL 37] 1984