Posts Tagged ‘New Wave’

Cleopatra Records – 29th December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Duran Duran without Simon le Bon? Yes, indeed. Their earliest iteration featured Stephen ‘Tintin’ Duffy. Andy Wickett, formerly of TV Eye subsequently stepped in on vocals, before Simon joined the band. And yes, however synonymous with slick veneer 80s style and pop music, Duran Duran very much always were a band. Real musicians playing real instruments. Le Bon’s vocal talents may have played second to his image, but his voice played an integral part in their overall sound.

This four-track demo, recorded in 1979, includes an early version of ‘Girls on Film’ and, ‘See Me Repeat Me’ would later be reworked to become arguably the band’s defining song, ‘Rio’.

These cuts showcase a more new wave orientated sound, accentuated by Wickett’s more ragged and less overtly melodic vocal style. While the busy funk-laced bass that would feature in their later work is clearly in evidence, especially on ‘See Me Repeat Me,’ the vibe is more reminiscent of Gang of Four. The middle-eight is a chaotic, jazz-noise workout, and there’s a sharp, dark edge to it. The production (the songs were recorded at UB40s home studio) is altogether more direct and more raw than that which came to define the band’s sound on signing to EMI, and it’s in keeping with the more attacking style of playing.

‘Reincarnation’ is positively gothy, with Wickett taking his cues from Bowie and sounding more like Peter Murphy as he snakes his way around some chilly synths and urgent tribal percussion.

There’s a real urgency to ‘Girls on Film,’ the chorus of which is immediately recognisable when it emerges from the furious flurry of nagging clean guitars and driving funk-infused bass. But the verses aren’t only different musically and lyrically, but convey a very different perspective, with Wickett, who co-wrote the song, explaining that “the lyrics were actually inspired by the lives of the stars of old black and white movies…. It is important for people to understand the true origins of the song ‘Girls on Film’ and to hear the edgy sound that Duran Duran had in the beginning,” he says. “This song was inspired by the dark side of the glitz and glamour, where these perfect idols suffered tragedy and addiction. The film Sunset Boulevard was also a big influence with its tale of a fading movie star.” Shiny pop, it is not.

The last track, ‘Working the Steel’, is again percussion-heavy, with hints of Adam and the Ants, and the vocal hook is a howl. Duran Duran would never sound this angry or intense again, and of course, had they continued in this vein, they’d have likely achieved minor cult status with a couple of EPs and that would have been that.

As 80s icons, however polished and on-trend, however deeply they seemed to revel in surface, Duran Duran have, throughout their career, had darker currents and certain depths beneath the gloss. This – maybe – or, one would like to think – has played a significant part in their enduring popularity. That, and their capacity for great pop songs, of course. This release is very much a sketching out of ideas, rough, incomplete, unevolved. But it captures an energy, and, with the elements which would subsequently become prominent in their sound in place, does sound like the beginning of something: rather than simply a piece of juvenilia, it’s a relevant and insight-giving piece of history.

AA

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Unknown Pleasures Records – 14th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Given the band’s name and that of the label they’re signed to, it’s only fitting that they’re exponents of bleak synth-driven post-punk. Sure enough, as the Italian five-piece’s biography notes, Stefano Bellerba (vocals, guitar), Leonardo Mori (synth), Matteo Luciani (bass), Saverio Paiella (guitar), and Daniele Cruccolini (drums) formed in 2010, and united over their love of Joy Division, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Depeche Mode. The bio adds that ‘their music is also strongly influenced by Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Japan, The Damned, Interpol, Suicide, CSI, CCCP, and Massimo Volume.’

One of my favourite poems of all time is Philip Larkin’s ‘This be the Verse’, and the fact they put it to music for single release in the summer of 2017 -and made a decent job of it – got me on-side ahead of the new album.

The album in question, Santa Sangre is a lot more guitar-orientated and edgier: while the synths are still very much in the mix, the sound is dominated by brittle, metallic-edged guitars drenched in reverb and flanged hard. It’s the sound of 1982-1985. I’d be hesitant to use the term ‘gothic’ or any variant, despite the snaking atmospherics of tracks like ‘Rejoice’, with its strolling bassline and vocals all but lost in an ocean of echo, which allude to the likes of The Danse Society and acts of similar vintage.

I make no apologies for being an old goth (although I’m not nearly old enough to be a proper old goth, having been born in 1975 and only discovered alternative music in any form in 1986/7). Similarly, I make no apologies for not being a purist, or for my knowledge of second-wave and beyond bands being limited. There’s so much else out there in the musical sphere. Yet, at the tail end of the year, feeling weary and wintery and withdrawn, I find myself here – as I did late last year, and the year before – with a crop of albums which betray gothier leanings which leap out as among the strongest and most compelling releases I’ve received all year.

Lead single, ‘Circle’ was a blast of buzzing bass and squalling guitars, with elements of The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers, pitched with chilly synths and vocals with a grippingly desperate edge. It’s placed up front in the track listing, and serves the purpose of demanding the attention with its urgency and serrated edges.

Snaking basslines, choppy guitars and tribal drumming abound, but there’s a pop edge to a number of the songs: ‘Blown Away’ melds fractal guitars to an insistent flanged bassline that’s as pure Cure as the synths which eddy at a respectful distance in the background. There’s a certain bounce – and even catchiness – to the richly-layered shoegaze-goth of ‘For Every Flaw’.

When they do lugubrious, it’s as sparse and bleak as anything on Faith, and when they do slow-build, they really go for delayed gratification, forging a dense atmosphere along the way.

Santa Sangre is taut, tense and crackles with dark energy.

AA

Japan Suicide - Santa Sangre (cover)

Japan Suicide are a dynamic post-punk alternative rock band from Italy. ‘Circle’ is the first single from their forthcoming album Santa Sangre, due in February. We’re digging very much indeed.

Enjoy!

ITN Corporation – 3rd November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

In the Nursery – or ITN as they’re sometimes referred – have been in existence for some thirty-five years but the Sheffield act centred around core duo of brothers Klive and Nigel Humberstone have existed well beneath the radar for the duration of their career. This hasn’t prevented their music being featured on Game of Thrones, Interview with a Vampire, The Aviator, and Beowulf, amongst others, and 1961, which follows over two dozen previous albums after some six years’ silence, showcases a set with a cinematic quality which is ideally suited to TV and movie soundtracks.

While the album’s title and overarching theme is significant on a number of levels, not least of all it being the year of the birth of the Humbertstone brothers – as well as landmark historical events including the construction of the Berlin Wall – its sound exists out of time, and if it does betray a link to any period, it’s the 1980s. Post punk collides with orchestral grandeur across the album’s nine tracks, which explore a broad array of atmospheres and spaces, with judiciously placed samples and – occasionally – vocals bringing variety and range.

A stocky bass enveloped in eddying synths, cool and spacious dominate the marching beat of ‘Until Before After’, the album’s opener, which hints at the kind of brooding, atmospheric post-rock of early iLiKETRiANS. If the comparison seems dissonant in terms of time-frame, it’s testament to ITN’s ever-shifting sonic form and their endless capacity for evolution.

If the idea of a choir of soaring operatic vocals reminiscent of Karl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ atop a sweep of dramatic strings by what sounds like a full orchestra sounds ostentatious, the execution of ‘Torschlusspanik’ elevates is miles above pretention to true art.

Rippling pianos, soaring, graceful strings, chiming guitars and murky percussion all form the fabric of an intriguing album: ‘Grand Corridor’ conjures a claustrophobic intensity worthy of Joy Division, while the acoustic guitar led ‘Pacify’ has echoes of Bauhaus on Burning from the Inside and ‘Solaris’, with its pounding percussion and a bassline that’s pure Peter Hook, is a major standout.

There’s a lot going on, and it’s all good: 1961 is a spectacularly articulate album that never ceases to reveal new layers, new corners, new depths.

AAA

1961

Burn Church Press – 26th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Just because I’ve spent the last decade whittling down my cassette collction from over 500 to fewer than 50 doesn’t mean that I don’t think the tape renaissance isn’t cool. It represents a return to the appreciation of tactile, physical media, as well as a format that has a certain fragility which adds to its appeal: the idea that the cassette was cheap, convenient but also potentially damageable and disposable means that it’s possible to enjoy something of an ambivalent or even conflicted relationship with cassettes, often on a tape-by-tape basis. The return of the cassette suggests bands are haring back to a bygone age when acts – before the advent of the CD-R – would sell tapes at their gigs. These were often bands too new or too skint or too unsigned to have any vinyl releases.

The title of the debut release by Newcastle post-punk band Lost on Me also reminds us of the pre-internet era when bands would cut a demo and send it around gig promoters and record labels the like in the hope of getting gigs and more exposure, or even a recording contract and the chance to record in a proper studio rather than on a beaten-up four-track borrowed from a mate.

‘Protection’ bursts from the speakers in a blizzard of fractal, interlooping guitars, a mass f chorus and delay, and one might be forgiven for an initial thought which incudes Editors by way of a reference point – I’m thinking forst album era, I’m thinking ‘Munich’ in particular. But then Martin Downing’s dense, dark baritone enters the mix, and its heavy timbre has far more ‘gothy’ connotations, calling to mind Chris Reed from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.

‘Landslide’ is a chiming pop tune at heart with a nagging guitar line, but the throbbing bass and deep, growling vocal casts heavy shade across its sunny surface. Third track ‘Balance’ brings a sinewy tension and a density that, again, is reminiscent of the Lorries.

The stuttering bursts of drums propel the wistful, emotive closer, ‘New Beginnings’ into territories which bring together contrasting dynamics to good effect, and once more indicate that these guys have studied the darker (and often more drum machine driven) side of the early 80s alternative scene. The production also contributes to the effect in a major way, with deep, deep reverb all over everything and a slightly hazy, murky analogue veil hanging over the guitars, in particular the thick bass tones. It’s all in the details, and they’re certainly not lost on me.

 

Lost on Me - Demonstration

1st December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

With Stranded on the Path, The Clouded Lights showcase a sound that’s very much rooted in the distinctly post-millennium revisioning of the post-punk sound, in the vein of early Interpol, Editors, et al, as well as contemporaries both regional (The Exhibition, for example) and international (New York’s New Politicians come to mind). So, there’s a real precedent, and a sense that The Clouded Lights are part of an expansive zeitgeist. Increasingly, it feels like that zeitgeist exists under the shadow of the apocalypse: the fear of the mushroom which loomed large over the 1980s is in many ways reborn in the 2010s (which still don’t sound like a real decade, but what can you do?) It’s an observation I’ve made previously, but the point is worth restating: the parallels between the early 1980s and the present are astounding – and depressing – and it’s small wonder that so much contemporary music echoes the sound of 30-odd years ago.

One of the key elements in the bands of the original new wave – Joy Division in particular, but listen to any of the darker, gothier bands, like Danse Society, Skeletal Family and you’ll find the same stylistic features – is strong, dominant drumming. The Clouded Lights have nailed the drumming, with a percussion style that’s urgent, tense, and, importantly, tight. The EP’s first track, ‘Borrowed Hearts’, is arguably the strongest and an obvious choice of lead, which balances bounce and bleakness, and is propelled by a busy, bluster-filled bassline that brings energy.

I’m a sucker for songs driven by rolling tom-led drumming, and the slower ‘Barter With the World’ ticks the box nicely. Chiming guitars and a vocal melody which casts melancholy shades define the song, and across the EP’s four tracks, there are some strong harmonies.

While shaded with heavy hints of darkness and defined by spindly, fractal guitars, Stranded on the Path is by no means a wholly bleak, pessimistic release, and the strong choruses and a leanings toward more uptempo material means it’s a release that’s inspiring, rather than a soundtrack to hang yourself to. It’s also a strong set, which suggests that, with live dates booked for the new year, The Clouded Lights could well be ones to watch in 2017.

 

The Clouded Lights - Stranded on the Path

Bearsuit Records – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It begins with an immense drumbeat and a warped guitar that calls to mind early Swans as it warps and distorts… but then, behind a piston-pumping mechanoid beat, it all goes a bit Stereolab. Within a minute, I’m feeling confused, disoriented, as chimes hang gracefully in the air above a demonic, guttural snarl and discordant synth chimes and eerily chirpy whistles. What the actual fuck is this? And how does the music relate to the title, or vice versa? Nothing about the album is remotely evocative of plump older women with their eyes down, smashing away with their dabbers in the bustling pursuit of the next line, and nor does it conjure any images of the 70s heyday of the bingo hall, the smoke-hazed babbling equivalent of the WMC. Annie & the Station Orchestra’s Bingo Halls is an entity unto itself.

Pitched by the label as ‘a little experimental and challenging in places’, it’s also sold as being ‘very melodic, playful and pretty accessible in its predominantly instrumental context.’ These things are all relative, of course and this is a Bearsuit Records release: these guys are all about the far-out, the whacky, the weird – something I salute them for. There is, most certainly, a degree of melody and accessibility about this release but don’t think it’s some kind of Justin Beiber / Lady Gaga / Little Mix bollocks.

‘King of the Idiots’ is a brilliantly-engineered electro-pop instrumental with a dark edge, minor chords played on analogue synths wend their way over a thumping programmed beat that says ‘1984’. It builds and swerves and builds some more until it’s ascended to the position of towering space-age electro-rock. The lilting melody of ‘The Return of Banjo Williamson’, which amalgamates elements of oriental chimes with a thrumming bass and juddering electronic beats, quite unexpectedly evokes the spirit of latter-day Cure before going all weirdy Muzak electro.

Doodling, noodling guitars and synths, drenched in echo, place the album somewhere between electronica, Tangerine Dream style ambient Krautrock and post-rock. Is there a term yet for electronic post-rock? If not, there bloody ought to be, and someone needs to let me know what it is, like, yesterday. It’s not as if worriedaboutsatan haven’t been straddling these very genre divides for around a decade. Still, Annie & the Station Orchestra offer something that’s distinctive and unique, and while elements of the various tracks lean towards a range of identifiable genre trappings, the overall effect is one of abstraction, of immediate distraction, and of stubborn non-conformity. This makes for an album that’s idiosyncratically innovative, and stands proudly in a field of its own.

 

Annie & the Station Orchestra – Bingo Halls