Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Mute, 1980; available
19 tracks, 38:40
Wow, this certainly took me long enough! DAF's debut album, PRODUKT DER..., was the very first album to be reviewed here. Now, almost 100 entries (the next review gets THAT honor) and three years into it, I'm finally getting around to their sophomore release! Kurt Dahlke and bassist Michael Kemner had departed (Dahlke for Der Plan and the solo project Pyrolator), while singer Gabi Delgado-Lopez was back in. Along with drummer Robert Görl and guitarist Wolfgang Spelmanns, the lineup featured synth whiz Chrislo Haas, who was on Der Plan's debut single and later co-founded Liaisons Dangereuses. Legendary producer Conny Plank was behind the controls for this release, which is ironic since he produced many krautrock classics; the slight krautrock elements of PRODUKT had completely dissipated by this point. The seven songss on the A-side were produced in the studio, while the B-side featured a brief studio piece and eleven tracks from an absolutely unhinged live show. The latter was supposedly recorded by accident; the technician wanted to record Wire, who DAF was opening for. What a fortunate mistake! These chaotic bursts of noisy synthpunk are an absolute treat. Delgado-Lopez is at his most aggressive, very rarely singing in the deep voice he became known for. Most of the time he's screaming, howling, or blasting out the words at a rapid pace. The band is at the top of its game, with Görl providing furious punk drumming while Spelmanns and Haas create a frenzied mass of guitar noise and early synth squelching. For variety, the title track is a brief synth solo by Görl, while the closing "Y La Gracia" is performed by Haas and Delgado-Lopez alone. These two tracks, along with the brief and goofy "Volkstanz", provide some relief from the onslaught of the remaining live gems. A particular B-side standout is "Die Lustigen Stiefel", which has Delgado-Lopez singing about how "the funny little boots are marching over Poland" to the tune of "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" while the others provide a NY No Wave-style herky-jerky groove. The studio track, "Gewalt", is a nice bit of noise that's far too brief; a track of the same name appeared as the B-side to "Kebabträume", but they're different songs. The A-side of DIE KLEINEN is rather good as well; "Essen Denn Schlafen", "Co Co Pino", and "Nacht Arbeit" are early synthpunk bliss, and the lengthy atmospheric "Osten Währt Am Längsten" is both a great introduction and a nice bit of calm on what is otherwise one hell of a ride. After this, DAF would release two more punky singles (both with EXCELLENT B-sides as well!) before Spelmanns and Haas departed. Görl and Delgado-Lopez continued as a duo, releasing a couple albums of decent early EBM. They've reunited and had side projects and whatnot many times since, but PRODUKT and DIE KLEINEN are their most experimental and daring works. As a nifty bonus, the lyrics are provided in German, Spanish, and English!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Folkways, 1961; reissued by Locust; available
8 untitled tracks (of course!), 36:45
With this album, Tod Dockstader's unique brand of electronics was introduced to the world. Using both purely electronic and concrete sources, Dockstader brought his expertise at editing (picked up while working for cartoon companies!) to his music. It's impossible to tell what sounds are what. Different elements weave in and out, always giving way to fresh noises. It's not as random as this sounds; these are definitely electronic PIECES with a set structure and detectable progression. "Organized Sound" (the title of a later Dockstader LP) sums it up nicely. The lengthy seventh and eighth pieces are definite highlights, but there's not a single wasted moment on this whole collection. Even the monophonic recording doesn't blunt the impact of this disc! Folkways sure was bold to release this, but kudos to them. Dockstader would make more records, retiring for a long time after the stressful sessions for OMNIPHONY 1 (a story to be told in later reviews*). He's recently been active again and creative as ever. This is a pretty brief review, but know this: If you like early electronic music and you're unfamiliar with Dockstader, GET THIS NOW! For that matter, anything by Dockstader is guaranteed to please, so pick it up on sight.
*I have yet to acquire OMNIPHONY 1 or the compilations QUATERMASS and APOCALYPSE, but once I do they'll receive reviews as well.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Island, 1969; available
7 tracks, 36:22
What do you get when you combine an expat American double bassist (with an interest in electronics) and two audio wizards from the BBC? Answer: This gem of an album! While future White Noise albums were mostly David Vorhaus (the expat) alone, this album also featured the legendary Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. Derbyshire is most famous for her electronic DOCTOR WHO theme, while Hodgson created the enduring sound effects associated with the Daleks and the TARDIS. Those sci-fi credentials give you a hint of what this album is about, but nothing more. Painstakingly assembled the old-fashioned way from tape snippets, this is a masterpiece of pop concrete. For the first five tracks (the A-side, or "Phase-In" as they put it), the group delivers grade-A psychedelic pop. Maybe "pop" isn't quite right; there's no way they could have expected the cheeky "My Game Of Loving" to get any airplay with its combination of densely arranged blips and bleeps, Beach Boy-esque vocals, and apparently authentic orgy sounds! That lapse of taste aside*, the other tracks are just catchy enough to be better known while being just too bizarre for the mainstream. The vocals (courtesy John Whitman, Annie Bird, and Val Shaw) aren't always great, but they serve their purpose well enough. "Love Without Sound" predicts future trends like illbient and trip-hop with its slow smoky atmosphere and rolling drum track, while "Here Come The Fleas" is a short novelty track that thankfully stops just before it gets irritating (even if it does have a nifty distorted guitar in the mix). Side two ("Phase-Out"), on the other hand, is another story! The obvious highlight is the eleven-plus minute "The Visitation", a goofy-but-eerie epic with plenty of creepy whirring noises and a gloomy plot involving a deceased biker trying to talk to his grieving girlfriend.... and failing. It's somewhat like listening to an EC comic story as performed by Kraftwerk! It just so happened that this track took a while to make, and Island started to get impatient. After a year, the label demanded the finished album; under threat of a lawsuit, the band produced the final track in one night, with assistance from jazz drummer Paul Lytton (you might remember that name from my review of Area's EVENT '76). The resulting jam was called "Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell", a fitting title if there ever was one! It begins with ominous (though hokey) group chanting, leading right into Lytton's furious and free drumming. Lytton is accompanied by a droning tape loop, punctuated with random screams and bursts of noise. "Black Mass" is VERY out of place, but surprisingly it's one of the highlights and a worthy conclusion. The whole collection is an early electronic masterpiece that still sounds remarkably fresh. Derbyshire and Hodgson left White Noise after AN ELECTRIC STORM, while Vorhaus sporadically revives the name. Subeqent White Noise albums have their moments, but AN ELECTRIC STORM will always be the crowning achievement under that name. All other works by Derbyshire** and Hodgson are absolutely recommended, but unfortunately their works aren't easy to find outside of DOCTOR WHO-related compilations.
*While I'm not a prude by any stretch, this is one of THE goofiest attempts at sexiness I have ever heard. No kidding!
**The extremely rare ELECTRO-SONIC is one of Derbyshire's best works; if you can find it, it makes a great companion to AN ELECTRIC STORM.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Thermidor, 1982; reissued by Mute; available
14 tracks, 43:18
While I'm not the first to review it (see http://thetintinnabularium.blogspot.com/2009/02/spk-leichenschrei-1984.html , for example), I feel the need to assure everyone that this is indeed one of the finest early industrial releases.
Australia's SPK* were one of the first industrial bands. For this nightmare of an LP, SPK were Oblivion (a.k.a. main instigator Graeme Revell; various instruments), NE/H/IL (Neil Hill; electronics), and (James) Pinker (percussion). LEICHENSCHREI was their second LP, following some intense singles** and the primitive INFORMATION OVERLOAD UNIT album. Members allegedly worked in the mental health field, a theme that carries over to the music. A heavily percussive mass of sound is the result, with disturbing soundbites and samples weaving in and out of the mix. It's all very structured and rhythmic compared to most contemporaries, but that's the ONLY concession to accessibility. This is every bit as disturbing and grotesque as Throbbing Gristle, with the prominent rhythms doing little to blunt the impact of the other sounds and noises. Well, pehaps it's not COMPLETELY devastating; things calm down slghtly towards the end of the album. Highlights are hard to pick out, and the initial LP release was divided into two sides with no distinct tracks (one side ended in a lock groove). With that in mind, while it's harrowing, this is best experienced from start to finish. Be warned it's still every bit as paranoia-inducing as it ever was, and definitely be sure you're in the right frame of mind before playing this. I'd hate to see what could happen otherwise.
It's worth mentioning SPK's DESPAIR video here. This is essentially concert footage mixed with some truly nightmarish imagery. The parts with Revell tearing chunks off a skinned horse's head and chewing them onstage is one of the less disturbing images on DESPAIR, and while it's not grosser than many FACES OF DEATH-type collections, the atmosphere is absolutely nerve wracking and I've never been able to stomach the whole thing. If you think you can handle it, watch it, but be absolutely sure you know what you're getting into.
Revell would continue SPK with a revolving cast (plus his wife Sinan), eventually lapsing into fairly unexciting synthpop*** before disbanding. He currently does soundtrack works for major motion pictures, which isn't as surprising as it might seem. Hill took his own life two years later. Pinker appeared with a few other bands (most notably Dead Can Dance) and is apparently still active in music.
*For what it's worth, SPK stood for Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv for this album; the "Socialistiches" on the reissue is a misspelling. On other releases it's spelled out as Surgical Penis Klinik, SoliPsiK, SePpuKu, and System Planning Korporation.
**The compilation AUTO DA FE collects most of these tracks (including the particularly vicious "Slogun") along with some of the better synthpop-era tunes.
***With the exception of the excellent ZAMIA LEHMANNI: SONGS OF BYZANTINE FLOWERS, which shows Revell and company succeeding at ambient music.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Virgin, 1973; available, and the 2007 remaster comes with a bonus disc (see review)
Disc 1 (or the album itself): 7 tracks, 44:19. Disc 2: 9 tracks, 57:04.
Faust surely need no introduction here, so let's get to the facts! For this reissue, Virgin have put FAUST IV proper on the first disc while loading the second with outtakes, alternate versions, and a Peel session. FAUST IV never really got the same degree of admiration that FAUST, SO FAR, and THE FAUST TAPES received; hopefully this set will change that! Containing such grade-A pieces as the noisy epic "Krautrock" and the moody VU-esque "Jennifer", this isn't Faust selling out or going for mainstream acceptance, no matter what reviews at the time claimed. Certainly "It's A Bit Of Pain" (which is a perfectly sweet folky tune interrupted by loud atonal synth buzzing), the folky "Läuft... Heisst Das Es Läuft Oder Es Kommt Bald... Läuft", and the bizarre proto-new wave/ska hybrid "The Sad Skinhead" are more listenable than anything off the first album or THE FAUST TAPES, but that's overlooking the fairly accessible SO FAR. In fact, not a single one of these seven tracks is unremarkable, and any of them COULD have been on an earlier album. That alone makes FAUST IV worth revisting, but the bonus disc REALLY seals the deal. The first three tracks are a Peel session from 1973, featuring a version of "Krautrock" along with the jazzy "The Lurcher" and a delightful piece of avant-pop called "Do So". While this IS available elsewhere, it's nice to have it with other period rarities. Those rarities include a previously unreleased "Piano Piece" which by itself would have made a truly lovely bonus with its swirling percussions and abstract vocal touches (plus the gorgeous piano, of course!). The rest of the disc consists of alternate versions, some of which are radically different from the released versions. For example, the extended version of "Just A Second (Starts Like That!)" stretches the two-minute original to ten and a half minutes of burning psychedelia. The other really notable alternate is "Jennifer:, with emphasis on the guitar instead of the bass and the ending trimmed. It's arguably better than the version that ended up on FAUST IV. If you already have the first three and weren't sure about this one, trust me, it's every bit as essential. If you're new to Faust, this might even be a good place to start. Oh, and once again: DEFINITELY go for the double-disc edition and not the single-disc!