Clan of Xymox – “Medusa” (1986)

For most of my life I haven’t been a “label guy”.  I didn’t specialize in certain labels and with one notable exception (Sub Pop) I probably couldn’t have named any indie labels either.  But since I got back into vinyl that changed with my discovery of micro-labels like FALK and Lady Boy Records to some of the more interesting labels from back in the day, like On-U and, most recently 4AD.  I knew they released a Gusgus album a few decades back, but it wasn’t until my buddy Brendan recommended the book about the label, Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD, that I became fascinated with their aesthetic.  Since them I’ve been on the lookout for any 4AD stuff from the 1980s and 90s, and Clan of Xymox’s Medusa is the latest discovery.

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Compared to more contemporary dark gothiness, Medusa is a child of its age (1980s) and is limited by the technology available at the time.  This actually has the effect of being shoegaze-y at its core, the kind of the thing the moody teen in a John Hughes movie would be listening to during her second most importance scene.  The songs they use to make her seem both mysterious and more than a little dangerous.  Is post-post-punk a thing?  Brooding but with a pop sensibility.  Black lights and velvet curtains.  Wax-covered candlesticks with just the wick of the last burnt offering remaining.  Synthesizers.  Vocals that are not so much anguished as ambivalent, resigned to a fate of seeking beauty in the dark places like some kind of romantic vampire in the plush blackness of night.

So what I’m trying to say is, it’s pretty good.

Second Layer – “World Of Rubber” (1981 / 2015)

When doing some pre-work for this post one of the first things I found on World Of Rubber was, ironically, a review by my friend Bob Cluness.  I almost stopped right there and shelved this post, since Bob pretty much nailed it (you can read his take at The Quietus HERE), but you know, this is a blog about what I happen to be listening to at the moment, so I figured what the hell.

I have to confess ignorance about the musical career of Adrian Borland, one half of Second Layer (along with Graham Bailey) and perhaps better known as part of The Sound.  Maybe that destroys my musical cred, assuming I even have any.  I don’t know.  But there are two things I’ve learned on this musical journey over the last half decade.  First, this is a blog I do for fun.  It’s not journalism.  So write what you like.  And second, there’s a ton of music out there to be discovered, and the amount I don’t know will always far exceed that which I do know.  Better to just accept that and be transparent about it instead of pretending to be some kind of expert.

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I picked up World Of Rubber at Berlin’s Hard Wax, an essential stop if you’re into electronic music.  The 2015 version is a compilation of all of Second Layer’s published work, which isn’t much – 20 songs total.  And right from the beginning it’s evident that this is going to be the kind of morose post-punk that I enjoy.  The bass is key here, not simply falling into lock-step with the percussion but instead wandering about to create a layer of fog across the canvas of the songs (check out “Fixation”).  The guitar work is like an electric discharge, sometimes a humming buzz of overhead power lines (“Save Our Souls”), other times like a powerful shock from an electrical outlet (“Distortion”).  And the vocals.  Adrian’s vocals.  I’m not generally a big lyrics guy, but you can’t escape them on World Of Rubber.  Hopelessness and resignation with an undercurrent of bitterness, Borland is clearly not happy with what he sees when he looks around at what society has become.  Whereas punk threw a big middle finger at the world, post-punk is more like the heavy sigh that follows a tirade.

Borland’s struggles with mental illness are well-known, and while he wasn’t formally diagnosed until 1985 there are certainly elements of World Of Rubber that take on more urgency when viewed through that lens.  Was there something specific about this period that affected people, or is it perhaps always been like that and music simply became a more viable outlet in the early 1980s?  The seemingly constant acceleration of society has certainly left untold human wreckage in its wake, a cause of concern as far back as sociologist Émile Durkheim’s work in the 1890s (and Nietzsche before that).  Modern pharmaceuticals have provided tools the help many people achieve a balance, but as their use expands we find ourselves in jeopardy of a Brave New World-like existence (some would argue that is already upon us), soma being dispensed like Pez to an ever-more-numbed population.  It eventually became too much for Borland who took his own life in 1999 at the age of 41.

World Of Rubber isn’t exactly uplifting, but no one said great art has to be.

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.