Bandcamp | UKR | DL | 2016

Bandcamp | UKR | DL | 2016


[Dying Quadrille: To Burn Brightly]

  1. Гореть красиво [To Burn Beautifully]
  2. Мертвые смотрят вверх [Dead Look Upward]
  3. Не так [Not Thus]
  4. Пустоты [Voids]
  5. Странные танцы [Strange Dances]
  6. Я выпускаю людей [I Let Out The People]

Today’s posting is well timed in following one on Killing Joke. A few weeks ago, I received an email informing me about the new release from a Ukrainian Post-Punk band and maybe I would like to review it? At the time I was traveling and since then I’ve been working on some REVO goodness that will be soon forthcoming, but I’m certainly game to investigate. Last night I finally had some time to spend doing so. I did not have to listen for more than half a song before I was hitting the “buy” button.

The band had formed late last year and have already released their debut EP and they’re proffering extremely zesty goods of a slightly gothic Post-Punk variety. The band list their influences as The Cure, Joy Division, Cold Cave, and Russian band Xyro-Yro. Most of us know the first three [I hope] but when I played “Гореть красиво” what came to mind as a potential influence for me were The Chameleons. This music had that same glorious, dark, intense sound. If the band arrived at that with no foreknowledge of The Chameleons, then they must really be on fire creatively! The drumming, from Andrej, favored fluid tempos that mutated throughout the duration of the song; beginning as a shuffle and then ramping up with intensity and tempo into a furious pace as the guitars of vocalist Alex and lead guitarist Igor corralled the song’s initially languid energy into a tightly focused torrent of intensity before the song plateaued into oblivion.

“Мертвые смотрят вверх” next offered a faster paced energy than the opener had begun with. Igor’s guitar tone was gorgeous and lyrical as the rhythm section once again began to concentrate the song’s energies into tighter focus. In particular, the bass of Dasha was throbbing and pulling the song forward. The music here was dark, but energetic with a mordant yet defiant edge that, now that I know it, perfectly reflects the band’s manifesto as included on their Bandcamp page.

“Split in society, a splash of oppressive injustice and inequality, human indifference, cynicism prompted us to create a band. To confront consumerism, materialism and other negative isms into the abyss, to drown the pain and despair in the rhythm of strange dances.” – ПРЕДСМЕРТНАЯ КАДРИЛЬ

Works for me! The dark beauty of “Не так” was deceptive in its initial peacefulness, As vocalist Alex entered the song, it began to build up in intensity until the guitars were slashing like scalpels, only for the energy level to plateau at the song’s mid-point. Then it began its inexorable climb to the summit once again. “Пустоты” was more content to slink in the shadows, sounding like a Banshees B-side rather than the earlier punk anthems on offer. “Странные танцы” struck out from a left-field position as Igor’s guitar veered tantalizingly close to surf-twang territory while the song’s tempo swung malevolently as opposed to the thrashier tempos that began this EP.

dying quadrille


The EP concluded with “Я выпускаю людей” where the guitar probed pensively amid occasional stabs of drum before the song coalesced into dreamlike form. Igor’s guitars in the triumphant climax sounded gorgeously defiant. Even though I don’t know a word of Russian, it’s not necessary to feel the hope that the music strives for here. Sure, it’s got more shadow than light, but it just reflects its surroundings honestly, and never wallows in despair. The tone of the music really managed to capture the power and disposition of The Chameleons for these ears. It also bears mentioning that the actual recording sounds magnificent. It delivers great songs, well performed and expertly recorded. It sounds like it might have been made in 1983. I can give no higher praise. Listen [and buy] below.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

Record Review: Killing Joke – Brighter Than A Thousand Suns

EG | US | CD | 1986 | EGCD 66

EG | US | CD | 1986 | EGCD 66

Killing Joke: Brighter Than A Thousand Suns US CD [1986]

  1. Adorations
  2. Sanity
  3. Chessboards
  4. Twilight Of The Mortal
  5. Love Of The Masses
  6. A Southern Sky
  7. Victory
  8. Wintergardens
  9. Rubicon
  10. Goodbye To The Village
  11. Exile

I first encountered Killing Joke in print, in the pages of Trouser Press. They were described as “punk funk” which I could only guess what that meant as I never heard the band playing in any case. It remained until 1984, when, somehow, the video for the single “Eighties” managed to sneak on MTV in the margins. Wow! This was just the kind of aggressive, yet intelligent, guitar-driven rock that I was needing in my musical diet with the passing of Bauhaus from the scene the year earlier. Though I was smitten, to this day have never seen the single in the bins. Ever.

<flash forward two years>

By 1986, MTV had established the 120 Minutes ghetto for music I liked now that the dinosaurs like Bruce Springsteen had taken over MTV proper [at great cost]. I once again met up with Killing Joke when their video for “Sanity” got substantial airplay on 120 Minutes. It was a grower; more subtle. Nowhere as immediate as “Eighties” had been, but after a few plays, it began to work its way under my skin. By that time, I had also made the transition to the CD format the year earlier, so I saw import CDs by Killing Joke though this new album had been domestically released, so I picked it up to see what the story was.

“Adorations” was the opener, and a single that I had seen in the import bins. It had a minor key chord progression hook, but the song flipped polarity to have a major key chorus. Jaz Coleman’s vocals were dignified and melodic here. More accommodating than the snarling “Eighties” had been. The song was carried on the backs of a thunderous rhythm section that was the high end of the mid-80s “big music” brigade. This could, sonically, sit cheek by jowel with a group like Big Country.

The difference here was that while the music had a low-level bombast and was built upon a foundation of European classicism, the emotional tone of Killing Joke was steeped in the kind of European melancholy that spoke to me. The overall tone of the music seemed to be lamentation and disappointment with society. “Sanity” could almost have been a song from U2’s “War” album by the way it sounded, but it reflected a pessimism foreign to the Irish band.

It was when the third song began playing that I knew I had gotten in on the right side of a good thing. “Chessboards” is to this day one of my favorite Killing Joke tracks. Built on a fevered motorik drumbeat, built with widescreen guitars and throbbing bass to gallop over the still smoking ruins of civilization. “Love Of The Masses” was constructed on a foundation of  the sort of bass lines that I had depended on Derek Forbes to provide me, but he was gone by 1986. Paul Raven would do more than adequately in that regard.

Amid all of this bluster, “A Southern Sky” gave the album a breather to indulge in some quieter, keyboard-led moments of crystalline beauty. Next came the first of the bonus tracks on the CD version of the album. “Victory” played like a dubfunk buildup that took its sweet time to coalesce into a monster groove of a song. Guitarist Geordie building up repetitive funk riffs until I began to see the “punk funk” discussed years earlier. That a song of this strength was left off of the album proper astounded me then as now.

“Wintergardens” began with almost abstractly bluesy guitar probing alone in the dark before the loping drumbeats and bassfunk brought it back into the familiar fold of the album. Then the coup de grace was delivered. “Rubicon” once again built on motorik drum patterns that built up, and  up, and up without release until the song’s cold, albeit, reverberant climax. Then two more bonus tracks added the denouement that capped the album at a healthy 61 minutes.

Killing Joke certainly sounded at their best when they were not rushed. The better songs here were all over the five minute mark, possibly an indication of the role of Krautrock in their influence and development. Clues to the emotional tone of the band were found in the CD booklet, where an Aleister Crowley quote was helpfully reprinted, though the lyrics, referring to “golden dawns” and matters of mortality needed no such embellishment. But this was far less the hippy affectations of early Bowie or the simple decadence of Jimmy Page. This was a band who had a lead singer who freaked out a few years earlier and abandoned Killing Joke for a stint in Iceland, awaiting the apocalypse. What make Killing Joke interesting to me is that they seem to be built on the premise that the ultimate breakdown of civilization may have irrevocably begun and the death throes of society are now already occurring. They posit questions as to how we can possibly survive this with our dignity intact, if nevertheless battered. And you can dance to it.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Case For “Paths + Angles”

Chrysalis | UK | clear 7" | 1981 | CHS 2559

Chrysalis | UK | clear 7″ | 1981 | CHS 2559

Ultravox: The Voice UK  7″ [1981]

  1. The Voice [7″ edit]
  2. Paths + Angles

I was sort of late to the game on collecting Ultravox B-sides. It was not until late 1982 when I ran across the Japanese compilation LP of largely non-LP material “New Europeans” for sale at a Record City store that I finally jumped into the B-side pool for that band. The LP had almost every non-LP track from the “Vienna” and “Rage In Eden” albums and was a big step up for me when I bought it. It was great hearing all of the B-sides that I would see listed in those tiny print ads that ran in Trouser Press. Having material from the sessions for those albums that I had not yet heard was electrifying.

None more so than “Paths + Angles,” the B-side for “The Voice.” When I think of my favorite B-sides, this one is always at the front of the list. I’ll go as far as saying that I don’t think the band ever made a track as great as this one going forward. The song is a fascinating blend of drummer Warren Cann’s stentorian oratory, slathered in reverb on the verses, with Midge Ure singing the chorus over a D-E-B, D-E-E chord sequence that never quite resolves itself.

The rhythm was a unique, loping motorik beat with kick bass drum machine accented by a rapid four beat tattoo at the beginning of every measure. There was something jagged, yet regimented about it. That spilled over to the minimal guitar atmospherics that Ure laid down on the track, often mixed to hard left. Synths were minimal; primarily treated piano,  with little of the usual Billy Currie flash and pitch bending, though he did sneak in a viola solo; the hallmark of Imperial Period Ultravox. Bassist Chris Cross stuck to sequenced synth bass on this track. Yet it all coalesces thanks to the song’s killer melodic hooks which were joined with the typically compulsive Krautrock rhythms that Ultravox were always wont to use.

The emotional tone of the song also gave it an added cache with my ears. I enjoyed the clinically dispassionate feel to it all. A feeling that was only cranked up several notches by having Warren Cann deliver the verses in his usual  low register sprechtgesang delivery. This vibe, coupled with the rolling, rhythmic feel conspired to make this one a perfect storm of Ultravox sonic DNA on this B-side. I thought that there was a willingness not to pander here and it suited the band particularly well.

The story of how the “Rage In Eden” sessions were made is already the stuff of legend. The band decamped to Köln, Germany to spend three tense months locked up in Conny Plank’s studio without a single note written before hand. The stresses stretched the band to the breaking point, but it played out nicely in the introverted paranoia of the album itself. There was a slightly better sense of  “breathing room” on this B-side, which I suppose explained why this somewhat expansive cut was taken out of the running order for the most claustrophobic of Ultravox’s albums. It made sense, even though I found this to be a superior song to anything else on the “Rage In Eden” album.

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, New Romantic, The Great B-Sides | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Record Review: November Group – Work That Dream

A&M Records ‎| SP-12512 | US | EP | 1985

A&M Records ‎| US | EP | 1985 | SP-12512

November Group: Work That Dream US EP [1985]

  1. Volker
  2. Work That Dream
  3. Put Your Back To It [2]
  4. No Promise
  5. Arrows Up To Heaven
  6. Careful [Life Is A Fragile Thing]

Now we’ll discuss the third and final November Group EP, “Work That Dream.” I recall seeing the mail order ads for the first November Group EP, but this one, where by 1985 they had signed with A+M Records, was the first one I ever saw in a store to buy. So I bit. This one is a fully fledged, big money production. Like Rush said, “big money goes around the world,” so this was duly recorded in Germany with Peter Hauke [Nektar and hundreds of German bands] manning the boards.

It’s a different beast from the first blush of the PPG Wave synth, programmed by Volker Barber whose first name was lent to the brief instrumental that opened the EP. A brief waltz snipped of sampled strings. The title track starts immediately after that and the music is still synth-funk with the important addition of a percussionist Perter Koch who adds a human pulse to all of this digital synth explosion. The song’s middle eight is little more than synth player Kearney Kirby trying out new samples every half bar. Pretty typical mid-80s stuff, though usually this never occurred with a quica making those distinctive simian noises during the synth-bleating.

“Put Your Back To It” was revisited here in a new, more concise version. The succinct changes to the arrangement give it more zip than it had in its five minute version on the preceding “Persistent Memories” EP. The startling blasts of PPG guitar strangling give it an edge that few other bands tried to achieve. I can thing of the Fairlight guitar solos on ABC’s “How To Be A Zillionaire” but none other come to mind. The biggest change to the song after this was the slightly less steely vocal performance from guitarist Ann Prim. She sounded more strident on the earlier version and here she reigns her predilection for stentorian projection that’s second to Tony Hadley.

Synth player Kirby got her one moment on the vocal sun on “The Promise” the only November Group song where carried the verses of the lead vocals. The galloping slap bass of hired hand Jack Lambert fully make this song reflective of its times, reminding me why iI traded this in during the Great Vinyl Purge II. I had been led to expect a little more out of November Group, but by this time, they were making the similar moves that many others [let’s say, Toyah Wilcox ca. “Minx”] were also making in this German-centric digital synth world.

“Arrows Up To Heaven” was a little better, and the subtler vocal approach of Ms. Prim delivered the goods here in a more successful way. I tend to prefer her earlier, more strident approach, but I didi not get a chance to hear that material until last year! Her solo on this track was fairly tasty. It’s easy to forget that her guitar is an important counterpoint to the buckets of synths typically on a November Group track.

The last number has an arrangement with synth stabs that remind me of the intro to Madonna’s “Lucky Star” but it clearly steps forward into a more sophisticated world. Even after I had traded this record in, the title “Careful [Life Is A Fragile Thing]” would stick in my mind as being a fantastic title, and hearing this track again after a 30 year layoff, shows that my memories were not leading me astray. This somewhat softer track was a great way to end the EP as it had all of the conclusive marks of a great “last song on album” track. It’s danceable without being bludgeoning about it. It manages to make a valuable statement while offering some level of hope at the end of the show.

I have to say that I like this EP more than I did at the time that I originally purchase it. Having all three November Group EPs is very fascinating to me in 2016 and this EP, while not as strong as the two that preceded it, makes for an intriguing developmental arc for this femme-led synth duo. They have an inherent funkiness that rubs shoulder pads with their penchant for brusque stridency. Alas, this was their last EP, though there was that demo tape several years later…

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review, Records I Used To Own | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

CD-3 Files: Fuzzbox – International Rescue

WEA | UK | CD-3 | 1989 | YZ347CD

WEA | UK | CD-3 | 1989 | YZ347CD

Fuzzbox: International Rescue UK CD-3 [1989]

  1. International Rescue
  2. Raining Champagne
  3. Barbarella
  4. Love Is The Slug

When We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It manifested for “difficult” album #2 [so difficult, that there was no album #3!] it was with a radically stripped-down name [formerly, they were We’ve Got A Fuzzbox, And We’re Gonna Use It] and a dramatically overblown style. The leadoff single “International Rescue” showed that the quartet of Brummie “punk” girls signed to WEA’s Vindaloo subsidiary were now fully fledged WEA Product. I had immediately bought the UK 12″ of this title and was shocked to hear the band release what sounded for all the world like a Frankie Goes To Hollywood 12″ opus on ZTT… a good three years after such efforts were rendered  unfashionable by the inexorable march of time.

If Fuzzbox had to have their name on a FGTH knockoff, at least this one came by its sound honestly. Producer Andy Richards came straight from Trevor Horn’s Theam [or before that, The Strawbs] so if any keyboardist knew how to craft a larger than life explosion of Fairlight keyboards and session musicians, it was he. Richards was not the only technician roped in to make this record. The song shared writing credits between the three writing members of the band and Liam Sternberg; the Stiff house writer who had aided and abetted Rachel Sweet and had thus gotten branded with a “girl writer” stamp that saw a long stream of XX types paired up with him.

“International Rescue” was a pastiche of the Barry Gray theme song to the Brit sci-fi puppet show The Thunderbirds. I’ve never seen it, and wouldn’t care to, but the theme is beloved by generations of UK pop music types and the countdown theme intro is undeniably stirring. I’ve long missed its use on the CD of the live Rezillos album after it had been lopped off of the CD to avoid playing Gray royalties for a 12 second recording they used before they came onstage. For some reason, the sleeve of the 12″ version was a mashup of  60’s kitsch sci-fi “Barbarella” while this CD-3 made up drummer Tina O’Neill to look like one of Gerry Anderson’s marionettes.

Since I had the 12″ and ordered this CD-3 from a music catalog in the late 80s, I was disappointed when the CD arrived and I found out that it only had the 7″ version of the A-side on it, in spite of the fact that the long 12″ mix could have still fit on the disc. Good thing that the two non-LP B-sides here were top quality. “Raining Champagne” was another Sternberg song co-written with lead singer Vickie Perks that easily trumped most of the material on the later to come “Big Bang” album. That “Champagne” was produced by the producer of their earlier material [Robert Lloyd] probably had something to do with it. It’s still more polished than the early singles, but the arrangement sounds crisp and clear with less ZTT “sonic cholesterol” injected in to the final product. It remained a refreshing, catchy pop song that the band may have actually played instruments on.

The second B-side evoked the 12″ packaging with a spot-on fantastic rendition of the trippy-yet-MOR “Barbarella” theme song that did not stray very far from the Bob Crewe original production. It helped immensely not having a smarmy man [Mike Gayle of never-were psychpop combo The Glitterhouse] singing the vocals as on the original. I much prefer Ms. Perks efforts here to the original, thought the music bed seeks to faithfully re-create the song to the best of its budget.

Finally, the last song here was the impeccable “Love Is The Slug” to make and WGAFAWGUI* fan pop for this if they ever wanted to hear that amazing first album material on CD. It shamefully remained until 2013 [!] before their debut album, “Bostin Steve Austin” made it to the shiny, silver disc. There would be a further three CD-3 singles released from the sophomore Fuzzbox effort. I’ve previously discussed “Pink Sunshine,” but this was qualitatively the best of the lot.  Notably, all four of the CD-3 singles were salted with earlier singles [and even B-sides] to rope in those not convinced by the glammed up makeover the ladies had submitted to.

– 30 –

* We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It, of course!

Posted in CD-3 Files | Tagged , | 6 Comments