Nitzer Ebb – “1982-2010 The Box Set” (2018)

I have a few Nitzer Ebb 12″ singles and a CD or two.  They’ve felt like one of those bands I needed to explore more deeply, but for whatever reason I never seemed to get around to picking up more of their stuff.  That changed last week, however, when my copy of 1982-2010 The Box Set arrived.  Released in October 2018 by Pylon, I ran across a mention of it online and realized this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for, even before I knew it existed.

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There are two versions of the set.  The first includes the band’s five albums between That Total Age (1987) and Big Hit (1994), each re-packaged as a 2XLP and chock full of remixes and bonus tracks, all on black vinyl.  It also contains a 28 page gloss book about the band, all of it packaged into a sturdy slipcase.  The slightly more expensive version ($20 more) includes all of the above plus Nitzer Ebb’s 1983 Basic Pain Procedure, all on colored vinyl and limited to only 500 copies.  I went with the latter, not so much because of the colored vinyl or limited nature, but because for $20 extra I wanted to have Basic Pain Procedure.  I’m glad I made that decision, because Basic Pain Procedure kicks ass, with synths straight out of the Terminator soundtrack and cymbal crashes that remind me more than a bit of Peaches (and of course pre-dating both).  Throw in elements of Dead Kennedys and Warsaw and you have something truly astounding.

At $210, 1982-2010 The Box Set isn’t cheap.  But compared to many box sets I’ve seen, and even a few I’ve bought, the value is clearly here.  With eleven records worth of music, including plenty of remixes and extras, you’re getting a lot of great stuff and all of it in a nice package to boot.  My only complaint, such as it is, is the lack of digital downloads, which would have made a nice addition.  Definitely worth the money, though, especially if you’re like me and don’t already have a bunch of these albums.

“Kreaturen Der Nacht (Deutsche Post-Punk Subkultur 1980-1984)” Compilation (2018)

kreaturendernachtI love me a good comp, and I’m a big fan of 1980s post-punk, so the decision to buy Kreaturen Der Nacht (Deutsche Post-Punk Subkultur 1980-1984) was not a difficult one.  What I didn’t know at that moment, however, was how awesome this 2 X LP collection of German artists was.  Not only because all 16 tracks are edgy and dark, but also because of the liner notes.  Wow!  This thing is annotated like like a 1960s jazz record.  Both the inner sleeves are slick glossy stock and covered front and back with photos and text, five columns worth on each side.  Every track includes first-person accounts of the band and song by one or more of the members.  A few are relatively short at a single paragraph but others, such as that by ZickZack’s Alfred Hilsberg, run a whopping eight.  No matter how much you know about this scene (which in my case is next to nothing), you’re going to learn something new here.  Throw in a download card and you’ve got something that is worth every penny.

The term post-punk is, of course, one of convenience.  All 16 tracks do have some very basic common ground, a combination of place, time, and a certain gloominess.  But there’s a lot of room within that bucket, and these artists explore many of it’s outer edges. Die Haut’s five-and-a-half-minute “Der Karibisch Western” is a surf-and-western inspired piece, opening with an extended instrumental jam of almost four minutes before some female vocals sneak in for just a single verse.  And that’s immediately followed by the bizarrely experimental “Pingelig” by Aus Lauter Liebe.  You want electro-funk?  ExKurs’ “Fakten” has you covered.  You have no idea what to expect as one track ends and the next one starts, which is always half the fun with a compilation.

“Live At Maldoror: Volume One” Compilation Cassette (2015)

liveatmaldororAmoeba Music has a cool YouTube! series called “What’s In My Bag?”, where they take musicians and other assorted interesting people into the back room to show us what they just bought at Amoeba.  Some of these episodes are pretty fantastic, and they serve the dual purpose of both being entertaining while also sometimes turning you onto stuff you’d never heard of before.  And it was while watching the Henry Rollins video a few weeks back that I first came to hear of the label Chondritic Sound.  That led me to its Bandcamp page, which in turn led me to the PayPal login page as I threw a bunch of money at them for some of the crazy sounds I heard on Bandcamp.  And the other day a box of vinyl and cassettes arrived at my door, making me as giddy as a kid who just got a package in the mail for their birthday, anticipating something awesome but also secretly hoping it doesn’t contain a sweater.

The Maldoror is a club/bar in Los Angeles that, once a month, does a showcase of dark electronica, and Live At Maldoror: Volume One collects nine of those artists on one tape.  Stylistically there’s a thread of bleakness running through all the performances, but there’s a lot of variety here as well.  Inhalt’s “Vehicle” is reminiscent of Warsaw, a sort of electronic post-punk, while Burial Hex’s “Fire Sign” is dark-goth-industrial, a bit more Bela Lugosi’s Dracula than Freddie Krueger, but still plenty frightening.  As for Victor Portsmouth’s “March 27, 1895”, well, this is purely distilled nightmare juice.  This tape is like a black hole, sucking all light from the room and leaving you with only uncertainty and dread as your companions.

Live At Maldoror: Volume One is available for listening on Bandcamp HERE, and you can also still pick up copies of the cassette (edition of 250) for just eight bucks – and the tape comes with a download card, so it’s definitely worthwhile.

Gut Bank – “The Dark Ages” (1986)

Recently a bunch of people who went to school for a really, really long time and have fancy initials after their names declared that the year 536 A.D. was officially the worst year to be alive.  Ever.  There were a few years in the early 1940s that could probably give old 536 A.D. a run for its money, but given that we didn’t have the internet then, or photography, or mail service, we’re probably going to have to take the scientists’ words for it.  Turns out some volcanos were to blame.  Doesn’t it seem like volcanoes and asteroid impacts get blamed for a lot of the truly awful stuff?  This puts it toward the beginning of the so-called Dark Ages, which is apropos since the volcanos messed with the sunlight and such, making it generally gray and crappy for a while.  Sounds like a sucky time to have been alive, though in reality most of human existence has been marginal at best, rotten at worst, for the vast majority of people who have ever lived.  So to be officially the worst year ever… basically it’s the “We Built This City” (♠) of years.

You know what else the Dark Ages and Starship have in common, besides being all knee deep in the hoopla?  Well, the two come together on Gut Bank’s only album.  It’s entitled The Dark Ages, and it was recorded in 1985, the same year “We Built This City” topped the charts (♣).  Coincidence?  Of course not.  I choose to believe that Gut Bank looked around at the musical vapidity of the time and thought, “you know, this is sort of the Dark Ages of music”, which given their style of sort of goth-y death rock probably seemed pretty true.  And based on that, they named their debut.

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So what about The Dark Ages?  Well, for one thing, it’s surprisingly good.  I’m a sucker for female-fronted bands, and three of Gut Bank’s members were ladies, so I figured I’d be off to a good start.  Not quite goth, not quite post punk, not quite death rock, but more an amalgamation of all three stirred up and poured into my ears like a cold and somewhat murky cocktail, the kind that masks the flavors of the individual components to arrive at something uniquely its own.  It’s gloomy, but more in a gray, foggy way than a dark nighttime way.  “Lost Again” captures this vibe fully, a song that literally makes you feel as lost as the person in the lyrics.

My cutout copy of The Dark Ages has “Store Copy” scrawled across the front of it.  I wonder what store had a store copy of this?  Was it a record shop?  I’m not sure.  Feels like it more likely was some kind of outsider clothing store, or maybe a coffee shop, the kind where everyone working there exhibits complete disinterest in the customers but still manages to make outstanding lattes.  And while I lack any sense of clothing fashion, I do like a good latte, and I also like The Dark Ages.

(♠)  Is this song truly as bad as its reputation?  I mean, it made it to #1 in the US charts.  It’s easy to listen to it today, particularly if you watch the video and see the hair and clothing styles, and see it as something camp.  And awful.  But it wasn’t at the time.  That was 1986, for real.

(♣) I’m kind of stretching things a bit here since this record, while recorded in 1985, was released in 1986.  But don’t let the details get in the way of a good story.

Zounds – “The Curse of Zounds” (1982)

For about the first four years of Life in the Vinyl Lane I pretty much wrote about every single record and cassette I acquired.  Unless I thought it totally sucked, I wrote about it.  Over the last year or so that compulsion has relaxed a little, though if I’m being completely honest I sometimes feel guilty when I can’t find the inspiration to write about a release.  Because I’m a little crazy that way.

Zounds’ The Curse of Zounds was one of those records I picked up and for whatever reason figured probably wouldn’t make the cut. (♠)  And then I played it for the first time.  And went to the computer to find out more about Zounds.  And immediately ordered a copy of Zounds founding member Steve Lake’s 2013 book about the band, Zounds Demystified.  That’s how hard this record hit me on the first listen.

Zounds lyrics contain a lot of politics.  They also include satire, absurdism, surrealism, gut feeling, comedy, emotion, contradiction (♣), confession, love, hate, celebration, comment, disgust, and a million other things.  Zounds is not a political rock band, it’s a cry for help.
— Steve Lake, Zounds Demystified (p. 6)

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Sounds was part of Europe’s anarcho-punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Their sound on The Curse of Zounds varies a bit, incorporating elements of first generation punk, post-punk, English folk, and prog.  The idea of prog existing alongside punk seems like a massive contradiction, but songs like “Little Bit More” have a prog-like structure sung with punk attitude.  Pieces of The Clash and Dead Kennedys somehow peacefully co-exist alongside Can.  It’s weird, and it works brilliantly.  There are familiar elements interwoven throughout The Curse of Zounds, with Zounds in many cases pre-dating the bands that later took these musical elements and became famous for them (I’m thinking specifically here of the very The Cult-like “This Land”).

As near as I can tell The Curse of Zounds was never released on CD, which is a shame in that it would be approachable to more people.  But that’s one of the reasons I have a record play, because so much of this stuff never made it onto a silver disc.  If you find a copy, buy it.  You can thank me later.

(♠)  Holly and I sometimes use the term “blog fodder” to describe oddball stuff I buy… stuff I might not have bought otherwise but figured it might be interesting enough to write about.  

(♣)  One of these contradictions is the album cover itself.  On the front you have a group of firemen putting out some kind of fire.  But if you flip it over and look at the continuation of the photo on the reverse you’ll see that their hoses are hooked up to a petrol truck.  They’re spraying gasoline on the fire.