Punk and New Wave

Eyeless in Gaza “ Pale Hands I Loved So Well” (1982)

Eyeless In Gaza created one of the best ambient albums of the time with “Pale Hands I Loved So Well”, though it wouldn’t do it justice to call it just an ambient album. Their instrumental vignettes were plunged in a spiritual fervor, and had the quality of fragile bitterwseet contemplations or of metaphysical longing.

“Tall And White Nettles” combines gentle guitar strumming, found sounds and eerie female vocals to great effect. The chamber music of “Blue Distance” is built around mysterious organ-drones, piano ripples, and imperceptible chanting. The mystical dance “Sheer Cliffs”, which is half-gypsy and half-Indian, is truly a magical moment. “Falling Leaf/ Fading Flower” is a concerto for brass wails and gentle tones, part free-jazz and part electronic-experiment. “Lies Of Love” is another numinous dance, eventually expanding in a mist of metallic percussion, longing voices and Middle-Eastern brass. Beautiful. “To Ellen” is possibly the most transcendental moment here; a spectral hymn of haunted organs and sublime vocals by a siren. “Pale Saints” is a fusion of free-jazz and musique concrete. “Letters To She” is an ecclesiastical chant combined with subsonic drones and unsettling electronic effects, culminating in hysterical celestial voices and orchestral ultrasonic frequencies, before finally settling for a pensive tone. This is the soundtrack to man’s reincarnation as pure energy in outer space. In comparison, “Light Sliding” sounds timid and shy, though still deployed like a philosophical reminiscence. Then “Big Clipper Ship” is yet another stunning eclectic moment, partly kosmische, partly European-folk, partly chamber, partly ethereal, partly exotica percussion, partly militant march, and played in their usual recondite way. A fantastic ending to a fantastic album. —Ily

Gary Numan “Dance” (1981, Beggars Banquet)

Dance is the first of Gary’s albums to divide his fanbase. Several other Numan LPs had a similar effect, including the jazz-inspired Warriors and the cinematic and over-the-top Berserker. Dance is an album that’s easy to hate on first listen due to its radical differences from earlier efforts Telekon and The Pleasure Principle; however, that is its biggest merit in my eyes. If an artist can consciously change their style and still produce an excellent album, that artist is good. And Gary Numan proved that to me with Dance.

The album immediately rejects typical album track sequence, kicking off with a nine-minute minimalist masterpiece that feels a fraction of its length, Slowcar to China. Japan’s Mick Karn features heavily on this track, his liquid-like fretless bass flowing free and easy over the drum machine backing and airy synths. The best is yet to come though, as a quiet drum machine signals the beginning of Cry, the Clock Said, a sublime minimalist ballad that clocks around at ten minutes long. I would even go so far as to call this masterpiece Gary Numan’s best ballad, perhaps matched only by The Pleasure Principle’s Complex. It builds up atmosphere at a leisurely pace, introducing airy, twinkly synths that whisper over the beat. Gary finally begins to sing five minutes in. The song is ambient, atmospheric and beautiful. The lyrics here are some of Gary’s best. They’re extremely different from the machine/sci-fi themes of loneliness and isolation seen in Gary’s earlier work, and it’s a welcome change. They’re by no means jollier though, Gary still sounds miserable. He creates an effective image of black-and-white streets, cafes, prostitutes, rustling newspapers and devious women. This provokes some of his most romantic lyrical moments (Cry, the Clock Said), along with his most cynical, tongue-in-cheek and misogynistic (She’s Got Claws).

Dance, simply put, is an essential purchase, a brilliant piece of avant-garde experimentation. It might not be conventional, it might not be immediate, it might have been commercially less successful due to its experimental style, but it’s possibly the most indispensable of all of Gary’s album, the one that proved that he was not just a one trick pony. Truly exquisite. —Dylan

Kate Bush “The Dreaming” (1982)

Here Kate Bush graduates from quirky teenage musical prodigy to full-fledged artiste. I think it speaks volumes about this strange and wonderful album that the lead-off single was the wonderfully un-commercial “Sat in Your Lap,” a heady stew of thundering Burundi drums, horn punctuations, and Kate wailing away like a madwoman on the nature of knowledge. EMI Records execs probably wet their pants when they heard it! In fact, I’m surprised this album got a major-label release at all, at least in this form!

Even the more “normal” songs on this release (“There Goes a Tenner,” the jaunty “Suspended in Gaffa,” the Celtic folk-lilting of “Night of the Swallow”) have a certain something that renders them deeply “odd.” Or perhaps its just the proximity of the other songs that’s colouring my perception: witness “Leave It Open” with its Chipmunk backing vocals or “Get Out of My House” with its angry ranting and donkey braying. This is almost Kate’s version of John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, her own personal primal-scream therapy swathed in digital electronics as a sort of purging of her early precocious piano-maiden persona. This is the next step beyond Nina Hagen’s West German albums, and is one of the most eye-popping musical statements [of all-time]. A vital release. —Progbear

Fugazi “Fugazi” (1988)

Including members of DC-hardcore originators Minor Threat and Rites of Spring, Fugazi achieve an inspired blend of punk fury, hard rock riffs, and deft instrumental interplay coupled to righteous lyrical content on this, their seven song debut EP. The songs’ big, chant-along choruses (see fan favorite “Waiting Room”) are infectious, the bobbing rhythms of bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty pointed and propulsive, while providing a fluid center around which guitarist Ian MacKaye unleashes razor sharp scrapes and howls from his SG. On this release, MacKaye swaps vocals with Guy Picciotto (not yet playing guitar), giving the band two distinctly different yet equally passionate frontmen. Favorites here include the aforementioned “Waiting Room,” reggae inspired “Suggestion,” and driving “Bulldog Front.” —Ben

Jerry Harrison “The Red and the Black” (1981)

This album provides irrefutable proof of Jerry Harrison’s contribution to arguably Talking Heads finest moment; ‘Remain in Light’ …1980-81 was a creatively productive time for ‘Head’s front-man David Byrne and his partner-in-experimentation, producer Brian Eno – the pair famously teamed up to make ground-breaking album ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ in 1980 (it wasn’t released until 1981 however) before enlisting the rest of the ‘Heads to enact their Afro-funk blueprint for the release of ‘Remain in Light’ later that year. As 1981 rolled around, Byrne went off to record his first solo effort, ‘the Catherine Wheel’, which mined similar ground covered on ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ and ‘Remain In Light’ with excellent results – both Eno and Harrison were recruited for assistance on some tracks for Byrne’s album.

The busy arrangements and psychedelic flourishes on Jerry Harrison’s first solo effort show that he was in-synch with this progressive-funk vibe, and spotlight the talents of the most overlooked member of the celebrated New York quartet. Jerry Harrison’s effort tends to adopt a more melodic sensibility than any of the other three Talking Heads-related releases from that ’80-’81 period mentioned earlier – the backing singers are given free reign and the results echo and equal the layered-vocal cleverness present on ‘Remain in Light’ – also, Harrison’s own keyboard talents are more obvious here than his often-subtle contributions with Talking Heads; ‘the New Adventure’ revolves around Harrison’s sinewy, convoluted synthesizer melody, ‘Worlds in Collision’ is soaked in dramatic, shimmering keyboard washes before breaking into a highly-funky clav riff which somehow manages to sound both progressive and retro. ‘the Red Nights’ is more ambient than anything Talking Heads ever attempted, a lush instrumental soundscape where Harrison’s own playing and melodic-leanings are once again brought to the fore.

Overall this is easily the most interesting of Jerry Harrison’s 3 albums. By virtue of it’s release date and his association with Talking Heads, it’s hard to avoid comparing the results of ‘The Red and the Black’ with those of ‘Remain in Light’, ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ or ‘the Catherine Wheel’. And whilst it never quite attains the transcendent power that those albums achieved, there are moments on ‘the Red and the Black’ every bit as compelling as anything on the aforementioned trinity. —Denny

Game Theory “Lolita Nation” (1987)

Power Pop Eden indeed. Being so extremely tough to come by and, since indeed it is sprawling as can get, Lolita Nation has been gaining a reputation of being a lost masterpiece of sorts, kinda in the same way that Big Star’s third record took forever to see the light of day. Well, it might not be as “where have you been all of my life” impactant as Alex Chilton’s notoriously damaged “Third/Sister Lovers” but across its 27 tracks there’s plenty for power pop fans to rejoice with. Relatively to their previous albums this one posesses a harder edge, with tunes like “Dripping with Looks” beginning to show a toughening process that clearly anticipates Scott’s future work with Loud Family. The two records Game Theory released leading up to “Lolita Nation” are surely much easier to approach but there’s an undeniable charm and an endearing quality to Miller’s craft, having a wispy voice at best he comes up trumps with immensely imaginative arrangements and oddly hummable tunes (The World’s Easiest Job, the fabulous Chardonnay) to form a colossal, irregular yet ultimately wholly appealing piece of music. —Johnny

Teardrop Explodes “Wilder” (1981)

Teardrop Explodes’ second and last album is a lovely descendancy on Syd Barrett with a post-punk energy. It gave a new domain to psychedelia, extending it to new boundaries at different levels: political, psychological and even eschatological. The tearful “Tiny Children” and the scary “The Great Dominions” give an aura of mysticism to a very joyful album (the amazing trio of openers and “Passionate Friend” belongs to the wittiest 80’s psychedelia), and thankfully everything aged quite well. Even “Like Leila Khaled Said”, the roughest of all tracks, stands agreeably like the bad boy of the family. “…And the Fighting Takes Over” is pure melancholy drenched by the most beautiful keyboard ever heard. With such remarkable collection of songs, “Wilder” is surely a masterpiece. —António

Stranglers “Dreamtime” (1986)

The last album with The Stranglers original line-up, Dreamtime is an excellent collection of smooth pop. Referring to an Australian aboriginal term for the drug-induced trance when the elders walk with the spirits, this is no studious examination of primitive cultural beliefs but rather an aural travelogue.

“Big In America”, “Mayan Skies” and “Nice In Nice” are written more for effect than any real interest in the subjects but it is the calibre of both music and overall sound which lifts the whole album above the norm. Each song is imbued with its own sense of place and perception as if written to create the perfect mood. In the main it works perfectly and is an excellent companion piece to their previous album Aural Sculpture. The Stranglers continue with their fondness for horns and Was It You? is particularly effective. Dreamtime was also good from a singles perspective for the band. Besides “Shakin’ Like A Leaf”, The Stranglers found differing shades of chart success with “Nice In Nice”, “Big In America” and “Always The Sun”. But, in truth, it would have been just as easy for the record company to choose the likes of “Ghost Train”, “Was It You?” or “Too Precious” as alternatives. —Ian

Hüsker Dü “New Day Rising” (1985)

Some say Zen Arcade, I say New Day Rising. Although fourteen songs long, it feels shorter due to these guys’ songwriting chops. There’s no fat on this disc. “Folk Lore” could’ve been a seven-minute spiel, but the Hüskers get in a couple impressionistic verses and they’re out. The second-longest track, the four-minute “Celebrated Summer,” is absolutely crucial. If God made a mix CD about nostalgia, etc. Other highlights include the epic opening track, which consists of the boys invoking the titular phrase over and over until you BELIEVE it, and “I Apologize,” perhaps the most moving song ever. One of my top ten all-time. Add to that the perfect love song “Books About UFOs” (its “watch out- wha- whooo!” break segueing into the brief solo still has the power to choke me up). Even the curtsies to hardcore (“Whatcha Drinkin'”, “Powerline”) end up catchier and more grand than most Midwest bands could ever dream about. To this day, slews of bands only get as far as the idea of Hüsker Dü – why would you shortchange the masters? This record is aching for you. — Silent Mike

The Comsat Angels “Sleep No More” (1981)

If Comsat Angel’s debut, Waiting For A Miracle, was a fractured summary of the British dark-punk, then Sleep No More featured a more unified, condensed and powerful sound, one based on tight performances, claustrophobic ambient atmosphere and acerbic grooves. The most successful numbers, the ones that focus in the atmospheric vortex of the keyboards (the short bursts of warping tension amidst a canvas of floating debris in “Sleep No More”, “Light Years”), the martial nightmare (“Dark Parade”, “Restless”), the rock punch of the post-punk band (“Eye Dance”, “Goat Of The West”), are enough to give you goosebumps. Theirs is a music that bridges post-punk, the Gregorian chant, a martial pace, psychedelia and sonic-layering. —ILY

Section 25 “Always Now” (1981)

Section 25’s Always Now is a post-punk, psychedelic masterpiece. Martin Hannet did one of his best jobs producing this album and putting various effects on the bass and Factory’s in-house designer Peter Saville made his most beautiful record cover. The music on it was very much misunderstood at the time of its release and written off as a Joy Division clone. But either that was bad journalism or else the music press must have been deaf. ‘Dirty Disco’ sounds very much like  Metal Box-era PiL and is the poppiest of the tracks on the album. With its tibetan bells intro and monotonous bass and drums, ‘Babies In The Bardo’ is a wonderful, dark trip. ‘Loose Talk’ and ‘Be Brave’ are classic cold wave cuts, as is the closing ‘New Horizons’. The CD-version adds compilation tracks and early singles, which aren’t that good as the original album tracks, but are really hard to find. And label manager James Nice’s extensive liner notes make the CD a perfect introduction to this criminally ignored band. —pygmydanny

The Fall “The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall” (1984)

There isn’t much from the Fall pre-1987 that isn’t essential, but few, if any, of those releases are as immediately likable as this one. “Lay of the Land”’s mutant surf-rock psychobilly with industrial twinges launches the theretofore most accessible Fall LP, which takes a lot of cues from recently initiated guitarist and Mark E.’s not-so-long-suffering wife Brix’s psych-tinged pop sensibilities, emphasizes the brilliant hookiness of Steve Hanley’s bass playing, and offers up nine solid tunes among which are such class-acts as the “I Wanna Be Your Dog”-riff-copping “Elves,” the oddly poignant “Stephen Song,” and the magnificently loopy dream-pop of “Disney’s Dream Debased.”

The curious could hardly do better than begin with the Wonderful and Frightening World of… before diving headlong into the wonderful and frightening world of the Fall. —Will