Secession – “A Dark Enchantment”

Secession, a mid-1980s Scottish synthpop band, may in an odd way be best known for the work two of its non-original members did after the band broke up.  You see, bassist J.L. Seenan and drummer Charlie Kelly joined Secession in time to be part of the lineup for the band’s only LP, 1987s A Dark Enchantment, and following Secession’s demise the pair joined a duo that Charlie’s brother played in.  That duo later benefitted from having a very famous fan, one who covered their songs and mentioned them in interviews.  That fan was a guy named Kurt Cobain, and the band was The Vaselines.

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So what about A Dark Enchantment?  Well, one would expect the overall mood was being set by the slightly gloomy synth-goth of the instrumental intro “Eventide”, but that’s followed by a classic 1980s hopeful struggle-song, the synth and bass line driven “Promise” (I’ve worked so hard to get this far / Don’t try to take it from me), a number that would be right at home in any one of a few dozen classic 1980s flicks.  But then… then “Sneakyville”.  What is happening here?  The deep male vocals offset by the distant female harmony take everything in a completely different direction, more of a dark dancefloor banger.  That was unexpected.  And then… horns?  “Winifred”, what are you doing to me??  It’s almost like A Dark Enchantment is a label comp, but there’s just enough of a thread to hold it all together as part of one cohesive work.  “Ocean Blue”?  Female vocal dream pop.  The brief instrumental “Reprise (Love Lies Bleeding)”?  A fleeting moment of emotion, 61 seconds of soft interlude.  You just never know what’s waiting for you on the next song.

Terror Bird – “Human Culture” (2011)

terrorbirdTerror Bird is the project of Vancouver’s Nikki Nevver.  Sonically Terror Bird are a bit retro, the synths harkening back to the 1980s, with a sort of dark romantic vibe.  The music is a soft dreamy foundation that helps suspend Nevver’s vocals, an effect that comes together most fully in the ethereal “Cemeteries”.

I didn’t find Human Culture available anywhere for listening online, but you can check out some of Terror Bird’s other releases at Nikki’s Bandcamp page HERE.  If Human Culture is any indication, there’s some great stuff to be heard there.

A-Ha – “Hunting High And Low – The Early Alternate Mixes” (2019)

ahahuntingrsdA-Ha was Mrs. Life In The Vinyl Lane’s first favorite band and is still probably in her Top 3 (and maybe still #1), and we all know what an impact your first favorite band has on your musical life – you never ever forget them.  So when I saw there would be a Record Store Day release of early alternate mixes of their seminal album Hunting High And Low I knew I needed to be on the lookout for a copy.  Frankly I didn’t expect it to be that hard to find, even though the edition size was fairly small (2,450 copies… not 2,500 mind you, 2,450…) for such an iconic band, but we struck out locally.  Fortunately, however, Al Gore invented the internets I and was able to secure a copy for pretty much the retail price online via Discogs.  Thanks Al!

I’m not an expert on the A-Ha catalog.  Certainly I know the mega-hits from Hunting High And Low (“Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV”) because, well, if you watched MTV at all in 1985-86 you couldn’t miss these videos – “Take On Me” in particular seemed to be played about once an hour for six months straight.  I also don’t have nearly enough experience with this record to hear the differences between the studio version and these alternate takes, though Holly certainly could.  What I can tell you is that this thing sounds perfect – no cracking, no hissing, pure sonic clarity.  In fact I’d say it’s probably one of the 10 best sounding records I own.  So if you’re interested, have no fear – these “early” takes are fully produced and sound tremendous.

Vök – “In The Dark” (2019)

I’m not sure how many times we’ve seen Vök live over the years.  Four?  Five?  It’s something like that.  The first time was in April 2013 right after they’d won Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual Battle Of The Bands.  They seemed so young and shy on stage at Faktorý, but even then you could tell their sound was special.  It’s been fun watching them evolve into confident performers, particularly vocalist Margrét Rán who is able to walk that magical fine line between self-assurance and vulnerability.

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In The Dark is Vök’s second full-length release, coming on the heels of 2017s Figure and a pair of earlier EPs, Circles and Tension.  It finds the band very polished, every song near-perfect in composition and production.  Rán’s voice tends to stay in a lower register, husky and breathless, injecting a human element onto the primarily electronic musical canvas.  If anything In The Dark feels like a more toward a more adult contemporary space.  While that genre is oft-maligned and usually reserved to imply something less-than-favorable, those criticisms miss the point, the point that there is plenty of room for enjoyable music in that space.  These songs can find a home on the dance floor, but also in your car stereo when you’re out and about making life happen.  “No Direction” is my favorite track, one that breaks free a bit from the overall sound of In The Dark, its wave-like synths and Rán extending herself into a higher range making it a refreshing mid-point to the album.

Planet P Project – “Planet P Project” (1983)

planetpThis was more or less a solo project of Tony Carey.  Following a few years playing keyboards for Rainbow, Carey found himself adrift when the label putting out his solo work, Rocshire, was shut down by the feds due to some shady money-handling practices.  Carey signed two separate deals with Geffen, one for his third solo album Some Tough City and the other for his new concept, Planet P Project.  Ironically Some Tough City came out a year after Planet P Project.  He put out two albums in the early 1980s under the Planet P Project monicker, later returning to it for the Go Out Dancing trilogy in the mid-to-late 2000s.  Planet P is said to be a reference to a planet in Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, a forward base of the nemesis Arachnids.

Musically Planet P Project is synth-pop tinged with just a dash of prog.  “Why Me?” popped up for air, making it to #64 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a small splash on MTV with it’s “Major Tom”-esque theme, sounding like the soundtrack to the training sequence in some kind of 1980s movie about space exploration.  A bit dated, to be sure, but with 80s-style synths making a comeback it has a retro-contemporary vibe.  Interesting, probably most appealing to fans of the era.