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.
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.