“Das Ist Schönheit” Compilation (1980)

There are certain things I’m a sucker for.  Late 1970s/early 1980s electronica.  Compilations.  Limited editions.  Albums with one-of-a-kind jacket artwork.  When all of these things align on one release, as the do on Das Ist Schönheit, I end up throwing my money at the person working the register like I’m a lobbyist talking to a politician.  It wasn’t cheap, mind you, but the price was fair based on the Discogs sales history, and the  condition was top notch (which seems to be the case for so much of the experimental electronica from this period…), so I couldn’t resist.

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Sonically Das Ist Schönheit is a bit all over the place.  The first two tracks set up the listener.  First is the spacey “Untitled” by Peter Reitberger, all sci-fi bleeps and bloops, which is immediately followed by Rima Lucia Mardoyan’s classical-based yet still highly experimental “Symphonie Nr. I”, a sample-filled aural collage of orchestral music.  Mind.  Blown.  As near as I can tell there are 17 performers who contribute to Das Ist Schönheit‘s 30 tracks, over half of which are untitled and the shortest (also called “Untitled) only 14 seconds long.  While I think it’s fair to hang the “experimental” tag on this collection, the compositions, for the most part, have coherent musical structures.  Certainly they’re far from traditional, but they are recognizable as music, as opposed to some more avant-garde fare that can come across as simply a random collection of sounds (OK, Oliver Hirschbiegel pushes it pretty far with the random horns on “Billy Sagte…”).  The high point for me is Claus Böhmler’s “Falckenstein”, which uses Devo’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as its source material.

I’m hard-pressed to full “recommend” Das Ist Schönheit, mostly due to the price.  You have to be into the weirdness for this to be worth it to you, unless you’re more attracted to it due to it’s collectibility.  That being said, I do like the randomness of it and I’m glad I picked it up.

Grav Spee – “Grav Spee” Cassette (2019)

gravspeeThe latest from new Reykjavik-based label Eyewitness Records is a three-song thumper of a self-titled tape from Grav Spee.  The cassette opens with “Eating Out”, an electro pounder that includes some industrial-metallic-like top end flourishes to give the entire thing a very “otherness” quality, something you can’t quite put your finger on, something both familiar and yet… just slightly off in a way that connects with your most primal fight-or-flight neurons.  Do you like it?  Do you hate it?  Are you afraid of it?  To me it bypasses both the fight and flight options and freezes me solid like a deer in the headlights, unable to look or turn away as a ton of steel and plastic bears down on me doing 60 mph.

“Carpull 55” does away with any pretense and hits like a wrecking ball driven by a mechanical beat, a beat that at times takes on an edge of distortion, running hot and destructive.  “Mongo” is like being submerged underwater, sealed inside a steel drum that someone keeps banging on from outside, metallic and with the sound waves distorted by their travel through the fluid.

Give Grav Spee a listen on Bandcamp HERE.  As of this point it appears there are still cassettes available as well, though it’s limited to only 25 copies so it probably won’t be around for long.

Robotiko Rejecto – “The Cyper Space” (1990)

There were four big boxes of awesome electro-ness at Easy Street Records when I stopped by the other day.  It looked like they bought a collection, because it’s not normally the kind of stuff I’d see at the shop.  There was so much stuff in there I’d never heard of before… I spent as much time searching artist names on my phone to try to get a sense of what they were about as I did actually flipping through the records themselves.  But in the end I came away with about a dozen selections, a combination of comps, albums, and 12″ singles, and so far everything we’ve played has been very cool.

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Robotiko Rejecto emerged from Frankfurt in the late 1980s comprised of producers Ra/Hen and Talla 2XLC (who is also at times credited as Ramona Ader and whose real name is Andreas Tomalla), and their first full length album, The Cyper Space, came out in 1990.  It was their only album together under that name and included tracks from their first three singles.  Ra/Hen later resurrected the moniker and released Corporate Power in 2012.

Stylistically The Cyper Space is EBM with a somewhat spacey and at times a bit dark.  It’s not industrial though there are elements that fit that mold, especially some of the brief pieces like the 40 second “Interpolation”.  When vocals are present they have a sort of sci-fi robotic flavor (“Moonbase 18”) about them.  What particularly struck me is the retro feel I got from these songs, a sensation driven by the fact that contemporary artists like TZMP and Mitch Murder have a similar vibe; I had to keep reminding myself that this is the original stuff.

Rational Youth – “Future Past Tense” 10″ (2016)

rationalyouthfutureRational Youth were formed in 1981 by a pair of Kraftwerk-loving Canadians, Tracy Howe and Bill Vorn.  They were active during the first half of the 1980s, then again in the second half of the 1990s, and yet again in the late 2000s.  The six-song 10″ from 2016, Future Past Tense, is their most recent release.

Rational Youth have retained their synth-driven sound, and while the feel it a bit retro it’s also updated – at the very least the equipment seems more modern, even if the overall feel of songs like “In The Future” puts it firmly the 1980s, right down to how the samples are used.

Deli Girls – “I Don’t Know How To Be Happy” (2019)

I can’t stop listening to I Don’t Know How To Be Happy.

I got turned onto Deli Girls via one of those “The Best Albums So Far This Year That You Haven’t Heard” kind of articles, and even though I rarely buy digital-only releases it was clear after just a few song snipits that I wanted more of this.  I NEEDED more of this.

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Deli Girls are New Yorkers Danny Orlowski (vocals and pure, raw emotion) and Tommi Kelly (all things electronic), and they’re tired of the shit the world throws at them.  Their first label release was the chaotic Evidence in 2017 (they self-released their six-song debut in 2016), an album that captured their live power in a way contained by the barest of structure.  The songs straddled the line between control and the loss of it, often careening off into sheer cathartic anguish.  It’s jarring and completely lacking in any kind of pretense or subtlety.  The pain of objectification?  Just listen to “Little Man, Little Camera”.  Of being ignored by the authorities after being raped? “Evidence”.  It’s not just rebelling against the powerlessness that society tries to impose on those who fall outside the mainstream.  It’s about owning those experiences and drawing on that rage to push back against it.

Let’s be clear for a minute – I’m probably not in the Deli Girls’ target demographic.  I’m a middle aged white guy who lives in the suburbs and has a very typical white collar job.  As far as Society (capital S) is concerned I’m “normal”, at least outwardly so.  And that generally makes it easier for me to navigate the day-to-day world.  I hope that my cranking Deli Girls up to 11 on my car stereo while on my seemingly endless afternoon commute doesn’t make me look like the Michael Bolton character in Office Space.  Maybe it does, at least on the outside.  But I don’t care.  Because even though I don’t share many of the same experiences that have shaped Danny and Tommi’s music and words, their power and honesty compel me to listen, and in so doing challenges and re-shapes my perceptions of the world around me, as well as the experiences of others.  And that, my friends, is never a bad thing.

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Which brings us to the duo’s latest release, I Don’t Know How To Be Happy, which finds Deli Girls in a more confident place.  Certainly Kelly’s electro wizardry still makes unexpected jump cuts in the middle of tracks, maintaining a level of spontaneity, but the tracks feel more intentional.  They’re not constructed from a detailed blueprint, but there’s still a high-level sense of overall design and flow that contains each composition.  If the song is a box, then its sides aren’t made of stone, but more like rubber – something that vibrates like a speaker cone on your fingertip, giving it the flexibility to go where it needs to.  And Orlowski?  The power is still here, the rawness of the emotion right on the surface, but with a bit more emphasis.  This is a structured rage, articulate and confident and maintaining a precise level of control, walking the razor’s edge.  Orlowski doesn’t need a complex lyrical story to convey a message – that’s done by pounding repetition of just a handful of words or phrases colored by changes to tone and projection.  I Don’t Know How To Be Happy also sees Deli Girls effectively using the studio’s tools to sometimes layer the vocals, providing additional nuance without detracting from the charged nature of the message.

I Don’t Know How To Be Happy is, frankly, outstanding, and it will definitely be a contender in a number of categories in my annual year-end lists.  You can give it a listen HERE as well as purchase a digital copy.  Recommended tracks are “Officer” and “Shut Up”, but you can’t go wrong regardless of where you click play.