Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.

Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.

Tuesday

Somewhere



Formed from the ashes of Post-Punk outfits Y? and Lips-X, and briefly called Danse Crazy, The Danse Society officially came into being in 1980. Strongly influenced by Joy Division, The Danse Society's early records were the forerunners of what was to become the typical Goth sound: bleak sounding synthesizers, resonating basslines, and echoing deep male vocals. The Sisters of Mercy, most notably, had great success with this style that The Danse Society pioneered.
They attracted major label interest in the early 1980s, and signed to Arista Records, with whom they released the album Heaven Is Waiting in 1983. This release held a much cleaner sound than earlier works displayed, and brought them to the height of their popularity.  However, such success did not continue, despite extensive touring, the band's later releases were much weaker and poorly received by both fans and critics alike.
One last point of interest, their Say It Again single featured a remix from Stock Aitken Waterman, who just one year later would begin their domination of the UK charts with a track by another goth band, Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Round. Er Ummm…Yeah


Monday

Time Goes By



Although they formed in 1975, it took three years for The Distractions to shuffle nervously into position. While Buzzcocks jostled into the rush of chart success and Joy Division attained unprecedented cult status, The Distractions' sweet flow of songs gained them a dedicated local following. While less talented acts successfully courted the music press and, in years to come, would gain ludicrous appraisals in lofty journals and tomes, The Distraction would drift quietly into the shadows.
The band's biog might appear typical. After releasing one raw and glorious 12” EP (“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That” on Tony Davidson's TJM label) and arguably the most perfect single in Factory's chequered history (“Time Goes By So Slow”), they decamped for fame and fortune via a serious record deal with Island.
“Time Goes By So Slow” displayed a different side to 'skinny tie' pop than say "Girl of My Dreams" by Bram Tchaikovsky. This has more of a melancholic style, but not really the same kind as Joy Division, which was more desperate and emotionally damaged. A more wistful melancholia, as in seeing an established relationship slipping away on rain washed streets, as well as other forms of loss.
In regular Factory Records style “Time Goes By So Slow” came with the usual understated-yet-elegant sleeve, with both the spacious production (by Brandon Leon) and the music matching the same approach. Side 1 is a break-up song, the kind Greg Kihn said 'they don't write anymore' except with a bit more intelligence and sophistication. Basically a deep longing for a love that was lost and thinking of what could have been. "Oh I wonder why you had to go, the way you had to go; time goes by so slow..." Side 2’s "Pillow Fight", is a bit more 50's-ish, particularly due to the guitar and keyboards with that bright power-pop style of melodic panache.
Still, "Time Goes By So Slow" is the Distractions at their most memorable so far, although I need to find their debut album which I haven't heard to this day... 




Sunday

Dazed and Confused



Led Zeppelin had a fully formed, distinctive sound from the outset, as their eponymous debut illustrates. Taking the heavy, distorted electric blues of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Cream to an extreme, Zeppelin created a majestic, powerful brand of guitar rock constructed around simple, memorable riffs and lumbering rhythms. But the key to the group's attack was subtlety: it wasn't just an onslaught of guitar noise; it was shaded and textured, filled with alternating dynamics and tempos. As Led Zeppelin proves, the group was capable of such multi-layered music from the start. Although the extended psychedelic blues of "Dazed and Confused," "You Shook Me," and "I Can't Quit You Baby" often gather the most attention, the remainder of the album is a better indication of what would come later. "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" shifts from folky verses to pummelling choruses; "Good Times Bad Times" and "How Many More Times" have groovy, bluesy shuffles; "Your Time Is Gonna Come" is an anthemic hard rocker; "Black Mountain Side" is pure English folk; and "Communication Breakdown" is a frenzied rocker with a nearly punkish attack. Although the album isn't as varied as some of their later efforts, it nevertheless marked a significant turning point in the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal.


Saturday

Murmurs



Hula’s “Murmur” is a disorientating, dark, trippy, and simultaneously groovy masterpiece. Sadly Hula never received the recognition they were due, they are surely up there with Sheffield's finest noise merchants; and there's a helluva lot of fine music from that neck of the woods. Never as challenging as Cabaret Voltaire but very similar to them, Hula used the same 80's industrial bands clichés and ingredients like cut ups, dense metronome rhythms, dubbed and electronically processed vocals, talking about social paranoia. "Murmur" was their peak and it’s one of the forgotten albums from my very favourite post punk era. “Murmur” is an almost perfect blend, for the time, of progressive, industrial, music expressions. It's well past the time to see this album properly reissued on LP and CD.



Just for transparency and to see how much the journalists of the day waffled complete bullshit, I have transcribed two reviews from the UK’s leading music rags, Sounds and NME 




Hooping It Up
Hula have steered me toward all the obvious criticisms, not a thing I enjoy. But despite their sense of tension, the nag-nag-nagging noises, nasty voices, nervous murmurs, dark breaths and deep meanings, Hula do sound obvious, too easy to place. They wear their influences and ancestry like a coat of arms. Hula are capable, noble but predictable.
Pinned down like butterflies between early Cabaret Voltaire and recent DVA, taking in “Seven Songs” Skiddoo. The Box, Pop Group and early ACR, Hula are perhaps a step back towards the days of music that disrupts and excites and for that I don’t blame them.
They steal from all the right places but are a little exact about it. Amrik Rai’s sleeve note puts it thus: “crushed concrete, dense compression…cutting, wrought, fraught…a blare of sound, flare of feeling”, words slapped away by my editor as “absurd”. Anyway, Amrik’s got his finger firmly, neatly on Hula’s firm, neat pulses: they are too easily described, summed up: nothing here came as a surprise. Their dark discomfort behaves with control and tact, the voice is a blunt shout rather than a terrible bellow, a squawk not a scream, and the cut-up, buldging basses, sound fragments, the clenched emotions and the percussion rattling its bones, all come in precisely the right places.
That said, they’ve perfected the surface nervousness of Mallinder and Newton, sound proud, positive, alive. “Ghost Rattle” is an impressive jumble rumble; “Jump The Gun” and “Tear-Up” are easy but irresistible chants and even Hula’s disorganised, plainly uninteresting jams sound harder and sharper than Shriekback, Portion Control or New Skiddoo. So, the noises on this dark dance are nice but not new noises.
“Murmur” is presentable, tidy, consistently obvious Hula – but there will be a strikingly distinct, barbaric Hula and that Hula will hurt. I trust it will be soon.
-Jim Shelly 12th January 1985 New Musical Express
 






After the rock ‘n’ roll anarchy, the positive aggression of both “Black Pop Workout” and “Cut From Inside” (Hula’s earlier vinyl outings) it was difficult to see which turning the Sheffield trio would take next. Cast rather dismally on the darker, less predictable side of, say, fellow townspeople Cabaret Voltaire and Chakk, Hula had posed a lot of questions. But did they have the answers?
The pre album snatch, “Fever Car”, led you right up the wrong garden path, too. Likeable, moving stuff, it made me wonder after a dozen plays if there was much substance behind this dance-driven malice of its rhythm. No such questions with “Murmur”. This one has stood the test already.
Throttled in the miserable Sounds office through speakers that weren’t fit to grapple its grooves, blasted through cobwebs at home and screeched in the car, Hula are definitely from the new breed.
Jack Barron’s revelation that Swans are something important, something to stand up for, something to be awestruck by can only be dittoed for Hula. Here, too, is that damning aggression, that unkempt power, that burning desire. Hula chew fire and spit out brat-skat by the mouthful.
But whereas the whole Swans theory revolves around the roach-happy recesses of the US state of mind, Hula are very, very British. Hula are using their surroundings, their city lights and their greatest nightmares as bright vivid colours.
“Murmur” is a patchy, multi-layered canvas. Within the cracks and crevasses are a thousand stories grasping to escape. The “Murmur” is getting louder; soon it will be a scream.
-Dave Henderson 9th December 1984 Sounds

Friday

Fresh Fruit



For Rotting Vegetables

A hyper-speed blast of ultra-polemical, left-wing hardcore punk, and bitingly funny sarcasm, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables still stands today as the Dead Kennedys' signature statement. As one of the first hardcore albums, it was a galvanizing influence on the musical and attitudinal development of the genre, also helping to kick-start the fertile California scene. The record's tactics are not subtle in the least; Jello Biafra's odd warble and spat-out lyrics leave no doubt as to what he thinks, baiting his targets of conservatism, violence, overbearing authority, and capitalist greed with a viciously satirical sarcasm that keeps his unflinchingly political outlook from becoming too didactic. The thin production dilutes some of the music's power, but the ragged speed-blur still packs a wallop, and the hooks cribbed from surf and rockabilly give it a gonzo edge. The song writing isn't consistent all the way through the album, but classics like "Kill the Poor," "Let's Lynch the Landlord," "Chemical Warfare," "California Über Alles," and "Holiday In Cambodia" helped define the hardcore genre and, thus, must be heard.


Thursday

I’m In Love With A Girl…



For every one artist who scores a hit in the charts, there are at least 100 other artists who are just as good, if not better, than that lucky act. On the other hand, for every hit a particular artist has, there are likely a dozen more deserving songs in their catalogue that deserve equal chart success. The Freshies manage to fall into both categories: they should have been more popular and they have plenty of songs deserving of more success than their minor hit "I'm in Love with the Girl on a Certain Megastore Check-Out Desk" (originally titled "I'm in Love with a Girl on a Virgin Manchester Megastore Check-Out Desk"!) should be better known radio classics that bring back fond memories to more than just Freshies fanatics.
One of Manchester’s best kept secrets, The Freshies were integral to the late 70’s North West punk/new wave scene. However, this secrecy wasn’t through a lack of trying to gain success, main man Chris Sievey once said that he was responsible for 25 consecutive “flop” records. That’s an awful lot of self-belief. A true maverick, some would say Sievey was perhaps more famous for his publicity stunts to get his band noticed: Petitioning for a week outside Granada TV studios or stealing “Stiff Records” headed notepaper and then forging “internal” letters between executives expressing interest in The Freshies. Not forgetting publishing “The Complete Book of Rejection Slips” (200 Ways To Say “Thanks But No Thanks”). Sievey pre-empted the punk/DIY ethic by a couple of years when he formed his own label RAZZ RECORDS in 1974 and dutifully tried to put his band together. It took the advent of punk in 1976 to really get the bands wheels in motion. Renowned for doing their own thing, when asked if they went to see the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, he replied “Nah, we were rehearsing that night”.
Thirty five plus years later, listening back to the bands perfect pop-punk, it’s mindboggling that none of these releases had chart success. “I’m In Love With The Girl From The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Deskfaring the best and reaching the lower regions of the top forty.
The Freshies should fit nicely in your collection right in between the Records (for the power pop leanings) and Jona Lewie (for their eccentricities). But perhaps that's too obscure? Well, they would have made the perfect flagship band for Stiff Records.




Wednesday

Outlandos d’Amour



While their subsequent chart-topping albums would contain far more ambitious songwriting and musicianship, the Police's 1978 debut, Outlandos d'Amour (translation: Outlaws of Love) is by far their most direct and straightforward release. Although Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland were all superb instrumentalists with jazz backgrounds, it was much easier to get a record contract in late-'70s England if you were a punk/new wave artist, so the band decided to mask their instrumental prowess with a set of strong, adrenaline-charged rock, albeit with a reggae tinge. Some of it may have been simplistic ("Be My Girl-Sally," "Born in the '50s"), but Sting was already an ace songwriter, as evidenced by all-time classics like the good-girl-gone-bad tale of "Roxanne," and a pair of brokenhearted reggae-rock ditties, "Can't Stand Losing You" and "So Lonely." But like all other Police albums, the lesser-known album cuts are often highlights themselves -- the frenzied rockers "Next to You," "Peanuts," and "Truth Hits Everybody," as well as more exotic fare like the groovy album closer "Masoko Tanga" and the lonesome "Hole in My Life." Outlandos d'Amour is unquestionably one of the finest debuts to come out of the '70s punk/new wave movement.


Tuesday

Too Much Pressure



By 1979, Jerry Dammers had finished flailing through music fashion personas, ditching his Mod and flower child proclivities and turning into a toothless skinhead, one who would lay down the first songs that soon enough would give birth to checkered wonders The Specials. His subsequent start-up of 2-Tone Records would unexpectedly kick off an explosive revival of Ska in England, and on a lesser level, the world. Along with Madness and Bad Manners, The Selecter rounded off 2-tone’s second squadron, headed up by the genre’s vanguards, The Specials and The Beat.
Compared to The Beat’s Lionel Martin and his searing sax fireworks, or The Specials’ raw punk and dub slants, The Selecter were a leaner, simpler outfit, splicing guitars and horns into songs that were primarily carried by roiling organs and a driving bass. Though their music challenged decidedly less boundaries, lead singer Pauline Black was the ace up the band’s sleeve. Her trilling soprano and an undeniably sexy presence softened the edges of where skinhead and punk cultures could flock to, still fresh and reeling from the gaping vacuum left in the post-Sex Pistols age. The early 80’s also saw Black become the poster-girl for London’s street fashion. Decked out in Harrington jackets, pork pie hats, skinny ties and combat boots, 2-tone kids looked cleaner and less fucked-off than punks, and aside from lyrics that occasionally lost subtlety and tumbled into politico rants, their music stuck close to the original Caribbean Ska formula - uplifting protest songs.
Three Minute Hero, one of the band’s staples kicks off Too Much Pressure, and the album proceeds to sprint through one hooky rave-up after another, barely losing steam through its forty-minute run. Missing Words is a gem, and one of the best songs to have come out of that frenzied revival. Showing Black’s affectations of the new-wave scene, which was only in its budding stages at the time, the song sees her marry Ska’s harmonies with the kind of strong euphonies new-wave’s dancier material favoured. Danger is similarly dazzling, swaying effortlessly between a throbbing Hammond, cracking guitar-work and an infectious sing-along hook. They Make Me Mad’s sudden tempo shifts and the title tracks’ male-female dictum interplay all capture 2-tone emblematic angles. Underneath all the thrashing it was doing against early Thatcherisms, it was music to bop to.
A superfluous cover of Justin Hinds and The Dominoes’ old Ska standard Carry Go Bring Home, and an overtly kitschy take on James Bond sag the album’s second half somewhat, but never enough to trip up flow.
Too Much Pressure’s significance remains, an essential document of music that sieved fermenting social unrest through songs as agitated as they were captivating.




Monday

Do You Believe In The Westworld?



Led by the near-operatic, dramatic voice of Kirk Brandon (who'd just left another good band, the Pack, and would later lead the mediocre Spear of Destiny), Theatre of Hate were one of the first and best post-punk bands in Britain in the late '70s and early '80s, making big, powerful, thumping, brave, tribal-rhythm rock. Like the band's incredible contemporaries Killing Joke, UK Decay, Zounds, (early) Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Skids, and (early) the Slits, Theatre of Hate's intellectual edge and relevant sociopolitical lyrics are still amazing, now that many years have passed with few grabbing the torch (aside from a handful of U.K. acts, such as Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, the Wall, and Play Dead). Unfortunately, ToH's one true LP, 1982's Westworld, produced by the Clash's Mick Jones (Sandinista! era; he also plays guitar all over it), is not as consistently brilliant as the singles that preceded it. Westworld is worth hearing, if for no other reason than to encounter a few more jaw-droppers such as the high-holy "Judgement Hymn."


Sunday

Machine Age Voodoo



Australian first wave industrial group SPK's Machine Age Voodoo was a radical departure from their earlier music, enough to earn the pioneering noise group accusations of selling out from ardent fans. This much is fact, but if you look at industrial music in context in the middle to late 80's patterns start to emerge.
The thing is this is SPK's attempt at a commercial album. For anyone familiar with Information Overload Unit, and Leichenschrei, two defining industrial/noise albums if there ever were any, Machine Age Voodoo may come as a bit of a shock. Hiring a female vocalist in the form of Sinan Leong (who later went on to become Revell's wife), gone is the harsh sound frequencies, mechanical dark ambience and disturbing samples of old. In is 80's dance pop, and damn, is it upbeat and energetic. Hell, the opening title track may be one of the best New Wave songs I’ve ever heard with its tribal beats, horns and vocals. Machine Age Voodoo, the song, sets a high standard for industrialised synthpop. Flesh & Steel is what I would consider another essential cut on here. With its infectious bassline and percussion, and sensual vocals it rivals the title track on a whole different level.
Overall, Machine Age Voodoo is just kind of patchy. It's a refreshing listen for anyone who enjoys new wave and 80's dance pop, but may find itself at odds with anyone who is seeking more of the soul-crushing noise which was predominant on Information Overload Unit and Leichenschrei. This album is all about the hooks. Along with other seminal 80's releases by industrial artists who went synthpop (such as Cabaret Voltaire's Micro-Phonies and Chris & Cosey's Heartbeat), I find Machine Age Voodoo a slight, but worthwhile listen for gauging the direction of industrial music at the time. The title track and Flesh & Steel are essential, though.