Scottish musician/vocalist Thomas Leer made some of the most interesting song-based electronic music of the original post-punk era, but he’s never achieved much more than cult status. In all honesty, though, he should be as well known as Soft Cell, if not as widely loved as New Order, to name only two contemporaneous UK acts. 4 Movements was the first Leer release I heard, and it remains my favorite to this day, although Private Plane EP and the Contradictions LP are also highly recommended. As another British group, Hot Chocolate put it, every 1’s a winner.
4 Movements‘ opener, “Don’t,” is a gleaming jewel of continental dance music overlaid with Leer’s elegantly pained vocals. It strikes you as accessible and danceable synth pop on one level, but there’s something deceptively complex happening under the surface: a sneakily wiggly bass line, frosty and fibrillating synth whorls, spectral backing vocals… or are they yet more synths? Whatever the case, you’re paying close attention and working up a sweat. “Letter From America” shimmies into earshot with a quasi-cha-cha rhythm and an exotic array of synth tones, which elevate this song into the vicinity of Haruomi Hosono’s all-time stunner, Cochin Moon. Perhaps the EP’s most poppy cut, “Letter From America” finds Leer singing with a seething, Howard Devoto-like suavity.
“Tight As A Drum”—which bears a vague resemblance to David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “The Carrier” from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts—is staunch, five-dimensional dub in a hall of illusory synth mirrors—very disorienting. I love to play this track at DJ gigs and watch people try to make sense of it. The final track, “West End,” slithers with a silvery, slick rhythm and bursts with tightly controlled, ecstatic synthetic horns. Again, there’s a lot of subliminal sonic sorcery going on: contrapuntal synth lines, bizarre burbles and ripples. It’s like a new kind of snake-charmer music, and it’s incredibly sensuous.
Thomas Leer was on fire creatively during this period, and you should seek out anything with his name on it from then—especially 4 Movements. (Oh, by the way: Someone should reissue this… perhaps Superior Viaduct or Dark Entries?) -Buckley Mayfield
If you can only own one Pussy Galore record, make it Sugarshit Sharp*. This six-track EP represents the most potent distillation of the New York City group’s raunchy, rambunctious rock moves. It also contains the greatest Einstürzende Neubauten cover ever; “Yü-Gung.” (Some versions of Sugarshit Sharp contain a bonus track, “Penetration In The Centerfold,” originally by Devo and rendered by Pussy Galore with teeth-gnashing ferocity.)
The entire A-side of my Caroline Records copy of Sugarshit Sharp is consumed by “Yü-Gung,” which in Neubauten’s Teutonic hands was a stark, industrial nail-biter that wanted to scare the shit out of you. In Pussy Galore’s grimy mitts, the song becomes a fiery noise-rock/quasi-disco fusion, with samples from Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe The Hype” and Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” humorously surfacing amid the chaos. Jon Spencer is at the end of his tether, screaming “Feed my ego!” as he, Julia Cafritz, and Kurt Wolf crank out rusty-toned, power-chord avalanches and Bob Bert gets wicked on the drums. This was some of the wildest party music of that great year of 1988, and it still sounds rowdier than anything current indie rock’s producing.
“Handshake” is a hell-raising soundtrack for violating the speed limit and flipping off cops on freeways. Again, Pussy Galore remind us how timid and tentative most current rock sounds by comparison. “Sweet Little Hi-Fi” is so menacing and sexy, it should receive a restraining order. The part where Spencer barks in muffled tones, “Indivisible! Outstanding! Eternal! One riff!” is aptly meta and descriptive. “Brick” gives trash rock a fistful of amphetamines and a hot foot, to boot, cohering into a perfect merger of Hasil Adkins and Motörhead. “Renegade!” is another raw grunt of primal rock, in case the preceding five tracks haven’t sated you. Mercifully, this EP’s only about 18 minutes long; anything more and you’d be a mere husk of a human afterward. -Buckley Mayfield
*Honestly, you really should own more than one Pussy Galore record. Also crucial: Right Now!, Dial ‘M’ For Motherfucker, Groovy Hate Fuck.
Has funk ever sounded so freezer-burned and so desolate as A Certain Ratio’s 1981 masterpiece, To Each…? It’s doubtful. ACR and Martin Hannett’s stark, ultra-grey production makes the vocals sound distant and ghoulish, as if they’re coming from a meat locker a block away, while the horns seem to petrify in the dank air before they reach their resolution. But Jez Kerr’s bass throbs with a robust vitality and drummer Donald Johnson keeps things kinetic and ridiculously lubricious. Would James Brown or George Clinton acknowledge To Each… as a specimen from their hard-forged genre? Maybe George would, because he’s an open-minded cat, but the eerie aura that haunts these nine tracks makes me think trad funk aficionados may give it the cold shoulder. I hope to persuade them—and you—to not do so.
All this being said, To Each… definitely has some party jams. “Choir” is an adrenalized surge of funk that carries a Contortions-esque urgency and scathing guitars à la the Pop Group. “Back To The Start” is one of the funkiest and most methodically relentless tunes of the ’80s. While the cavalcade of Latin percussion is muy festive, the female vocals and horn charts on it are literally ill. (Compliment!) “The Fox” is so manic and panicked, it should be used to reanimate heart-attack victims. “Loss” is so goddamn stealthy, so goddamn rubbery, so goddamn grunty… and funkier than Sly Stone’s goddamn silk scarf. To Each… ends on a strange note: the mesmerizing, nearly 13-minute “Winter Hill,” a platform for Johnson’s martial-funk stickwork, which is swathed in murky, ectoplasmic guitar feedback and scary zombie chants. It’s an ambitious anti-climax.
Clearly, To Each… is one of the crowning achievements in Factory Records’ esteemed catalog and paragon of outré, alienated funk. Get on the good (club)foot. -Buckley Mayfield
Right out the grinding gate, Neubauten sound slower paced, more deliberate and focused. While these derelicts still use any and all metallic material they can get their hands on for sounding, they get around to using some primitive samples, and sound bytes too, for a somewhat smoother experience…
With rhythms placed, there is no need to go white-hot in industrial noise. Still not synth-popping or going new wave, Neubauten just get a bit more spacious in their delivery, slowing to a plod or a throb. At this point Blixa and company were really getting out of native Germany, and instead of getting safer in recording they stretched songs out, panned everything to extreme ends and generally made themselves less approachable despite their new use of meter.
What’s the use of inept horn wafts, air conditioner rhythms and muffled vocals backed with skittering cutlery? I guess they were the first to pick it up and take it semi-seriously, before others got into it (industrial) wholesale or whole-sale. And it got less fun. Coil, Cabaret Voltaire, D.A.F. all soured. SPK or Nurse With Wound? Depends on how serious or how camp you want to take it. Still pretty solid with Throbbing Gristle. Einsturzende? They had quite a few good ones after this. -Wade
I think this best represents TG’s sound: improvised noise in a controlled studio environment. You get a real White Light / White Heat intensity from this set. Chris and Sleazy push the live tape manipulation / sequencing / synthesis envelope to the max.
Anyone who is into the early schematics of actual industrial should give this a listen — it’s a wonder what a couple modified tape decks and a few synths can do. Gen-P and Cosey add a rather unsettling, [physical] / animalistic feeling to the mix; …, Gen-p coming off as a dictator. You might also want to find out who was present in the studio during this recording; a who’s who of the post-punk / avant-industrial elite, with just their presence adding an air of mutual-ritual to the whole thing. -Phillipe
Akin maybe only to Guided By Voices for their non-ironic use of classic guitar rock fodder, Royal Trux came together out of noise dirges and suspended clangor when they pushed “Cats And Dogs,” making steps toward indie-rock stardom (yuck, gag) that would never really come (still gag).
What’s for real though is Neil Hagerty’s playing. Bluesy riffs, heavy riffs, nonsense noise interludes, all skewered or unwound… “incendiary” is the word and so is “unique.” Sure it’s only two people, guy-girl combo, plus a friend? Session drummer? Anyway, the stand-in holds the beat and can be driving or plodding. Just enough to support distorted spillage.
Not only do you get a three-piece on “Cats and Dogs,” the best possible line-up in a rock format, but you get referential hard rockin’ material mostly free of the tounge-in-cheek. And it makes the cut: more grit than crit. -Wade
The Flesh Eaters is the name behind one Chris D. Taking his stage name from a 1964 cult film, Chris D. wrote for legendary fanzine Slash in the late ’70s and assembled the first of many Flesh Eaters lineups from heavyweights in the burgeoning L.A. punk scene. After releasing a ravenous EP and heart-ripping debut album, The Flesh Eaters unleashed their era-defining statement…
Originally released in 1981, “A Minute To Pray…” brings together the greatest band in American rock history: Dave Alvin (Blasters) on guitar, John Doe (X) on bass, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) on sax, along with Bill Bateman (Blasters) and DJ Bonebrake (X) providing the album’s trademark percussive backbone. Chris D. leads the group like a man possessed. Through a series of grotesque vignettes, his lyrical prowess and indelible growl stand toe-to-toe with the music’s powerful shifts.
From opener “Digging My Grave” (resembling a diesel-charged Magic Band) to the gothic groove of “Divine Horsemen,” each song is its own hairy beast. Inspired by African tribal music, ’60s garage-rock churn and Funhouse-era Stooges swing, A Minute To Pray remains (according to author / archivist Byron Coley) “the best rock record ever recorded.” -Superior Viaduct
They’re back, though they never went away, really… Equal parts punk, noise performance and square-one rock racket, Blurt is a band that always has a pulse and it’s always pumping. For those that don’t know, Blurt is usually a trio run by sax player Ted Milton, and has been one of the most inventive groups to grace us from the late Seventies onward.
Normally this would be a capsule review of one record, but I have to touch on their self-titled LP and “Live In Berlin” because they are just so unique. In Manchester they were briefly on Factory and I dare say their records outshine the flashier groups like Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and the rest from that time pretty easily. Those records don’t sound the least bit dated. And as a live act, they were probably more rough and raucous than The Fall.
So here is the new one, with Ted as an old man, but he STILL sounds as inventive as ever. His playing is a unique spew and can’t be summed up as an Ayler/Ornette imitation. Lyrically he’s great and he always sounds wonderfully garbled. Longtime rhythm guitarist Steve Eagles is here. New drummer David Aylewood pumps along diligently. What more should I say? If you haven’t heard what some would call a post-punk gem, I’d give Blurt some attention. I’d also just call them a heck of a modern band. -Wade
The very first Mute release was of a group pushing exactly what the label set out to do; a break with rock tradition. Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft started as a five-piece before moving into a more total dance direction, and the collection of songs, sketches and soundscapes presented here might as well be from an alien planet.
Side one is a grouping of noisy dirges and surges such as opener “Osten Währt Am Längsten” and “Co Co Pino,” respectively, but what really sets D.A.F. apart from other industrial clangers of the day is their use of subtlety in tracks like the quiet and plaintive “Kinderfunk.” Despite it’s morose sound, the chirps and whistles and bells give the song a playful alone-in-my-room sort of feeling. This melancholy is revisited in tracks later released like “Der Räuber und der Prinz.”
Side two is another surprise, switching to choice live cuts. Here D.A.F. are much faster, harsher and generally raw. As a full band D.A.F. were tight and tough to approach, using rhythms seldom heard before and consistently surprising us with new form standards. Mute continues to build off this stuff to this very day. -Wade
After the release of “Dance Hall Days,” Wang Chung had the fortune of being discovered by director William Freidkin, a man known for his recruitment of bands to produce film scores. Wang Chung joined the ranks of Tangerine Dream and The Germs when they scored “To Live and Die in L.A.”
They prove to be an excellent and integral part of the film, a self-aware macho action flick with plenty of action tropes set to punchy drum machines and thick synth lines… though the film’s more subdued moments show Wang Chung’s interest in classical music (use of flutes, cellos, no drum machine accompaniment). “Lullaby” is a laidback pop number with plenty of great changes for a seemingly sleek and simple number, but “City of Angles” on side two is the real track that showcases Wang Chung’s musical knowledge and modern craft. At just more than nine minutes, they provide most of the score for the entire film, and the feeling is as immersive as L.A. is expansive.
Not just a film score but a stand alone album of experimental pop, “To Live and Die in L.A.” is an OST to own if you’re a fan of synth, classical or new wave sounds. -Wade
A change of attack was needed for Scritti Politti when pop form went back into vogue. Green Gartside ditched the first version of his group to work with session musicians, crafting perfect pop on top-of-the-line equipment. No longer presenting the jumble of styles heard on earlier singles, Scritti 2.0 would be crisp, clean, and pristine beyond recognition.
Green’s own living habits changed to reflect his new music as well. Originally a squat-dwelling punk with circles under his eyes, Green had kicked speed, started a workout routine and took much better care of his hair. He made the switch from ripped up blazers to sweaters and track suits. He still waxed lyrical of far-left ideals, but these statements are much more esoteric in this new pop format… It’s easier to focus on his vocal ability now, all saccharine-sweet in the mix next to sleek and dizzying sequencer beats.
All across the country, the U.S.A. played “Perfect Way” and “Wood Beez” on the air? It’s strange messages were pressed overseas by someone who once thought of himself as a Marxist, but the singles pressed beforehand with his first group were much harder for the average listener to swallow. Half listening, Scritti here sound like a rather innocuous pop act… but what were they subjecting us too beneath this shiny new surface? Hearing the contrast between the Rough Trade material and this monolith of a hit album is startling, but it’s similarities even more so. -Wade
From Simon Reynolds:
One of the strangest, fastest mutational odd-yseys taken by a single band, from the thrashadelic punk of the debut through the countrypunk furore and dewdrops-on-cobweb delicacy of Meat Puppets II to Up On the Sun ‘s brutal plangency and frenetic speedfunk (a manic, flashing secateur snip’n’clip, a dragon-fly shimmer like sunbeams chasing each other through your veins, a peyote-and-desert-sun crazed Talking Heads with Jerry Garcia and Tom Verlaine as dueling lead guitarists). Awesome.
Say no more? By “Up On The Sun” the Puppets had gone away from breakneck hardcore speed and cooled down, guitar work improving to the point of jam band virtuosity, still keeping tracks within relative rock brevity. I can’t help but mention that SST insider Joe Carducci saw a period between albums where they resembled Steppenwolf and he (we) have yet to hear that phase of their career on recording.
Until then, third effort “Up On The Sun” remains their strongest stud in their discography, before they started playing around with drum machines you know… Unswinging funk bass with perfectly meshed frantic-sounding guitarwork, and a drummer that keeps time because someone had to keep their feet on the ground. And oh yeah, they are earnest and joyful. -Wade