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.

Savage Republic – “Tragic Figures” (1984)

Somehow I missed the Savage Republic train all these years.  Mind you, I doubt I’d have been ready for Tragic Figures when it came out in 1984 since I was more focused on Van Halen, Ratt, and Huey Lewis and the News, but still, somewhere over the course of the subsequent 30+ years I feel like they should have come into my orbit.

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Tragic Figures was Savage Republic’s debut album, one that interestingly came out in multiple small batches in 1984/85, presumably due to its growing popularity.  I believe each of the five vinyl editions that released during this period were sequentially numbered, with a total of just over 5,000 copies pressed.  My copy is mid-4th edition, for whatever that’s worth from a sound quality standpoint.

Reviewers usually comment on Savage Republic’s tribal drum style, and it’s definitely a core feature of their sound.  In fact it reminds me a bit of the early Bonemen of Barumba stuff, though the rest of Savage Republic’s feel definitely leans post-punk with the gloomy, alienated vocals.  There’s an incessant intensity to their songs, a prime example of which is “Next to Nothing” which bores its way right into your brain.  It’s almost like a tribal version of industrial, particularly on the B side, if that makes any sense at all (♠).  I’ll definitely be giving this some more spins.

(♠)  Note to self – it doesn’t.

Bitch Boys – “Continental” (1981)

bitchboyscontinentalBy 1981 Sweden’s Bitch Boys had moved away from punk and towards new wave, with Continental falling somewhere between new wave and post-punk.  I found this copy at Stockholm’s Trash Palace, and it was one of the records on my short list having become familiar with the band during our last visit to Sweden when I picked up a copy of H:son Produktion.

The Bitch Boys moved in a more synth-heavy direction with Continental, and it serves them well.  There are some Talking Heads elements here on songs like “Krieg,” while “Tango for Two” has some strong Iggy Pop vibes.  Joy Division; The Call; The Jam.  All the influences are here.  There wasn’t a ton that caught my attention, but there was still enough uniqueness to keep Continental interesting.

The Rapture – “Mirror” (1999)

The Rapture are among the groups that brought the lo-fi and garage sound to the mainstream at the turn of the millennium.  Stylistically I’ve seen this referred to as “post-punk revival” and “garage revival,” though I think that sells them a bit short.  After all, garage never really goes away – there are always bands playing that style somewhere; it’s just a matter of whether or not that aesthetic happens to be popular at the time, with garage often serving as an “anti” to whatever musical trend is currently dominant.  It’s roots; it’s back-to-basics; it’s a big middle finger to the world.

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The Rapture’s 1999 album Mirror doesn’t seem to fit into these revivalists packages, at least not to my ears.  Yes, they bring a lo-fi, unpolished feel to their music, and yes it has certain general rock characteristics, but there’s a lot more happening here.  “Mirror” has a post-punk / noise / no wave quality to it, along with some very 1960s psych organs and an almost Dead Kennedys-esque vocal style, while the dark “AlieNation” puts a sparse keyboard on top of a slow reggae-ish riddim and tops it of with Ian Curtis-like vocals, so this pair certainly fits the original post-punk mode to some extent.  But those are followed by the piano instrumental of “Dusk at Maureen’s” and the straight-up dance beats that drive “In Love with the Underground,” a track that veers off into sort of IDM territory.

Mirror is stylistically a bit all over the place, with the general lo-fi-ness loosely holding it all together.  All in all I think they pulled it off, giving us a thoughtful album that certainly captured my attention enough to add them to my mental rolodex so I can keep my eyes open for other releases by the band.

Stickers – “Swollen” (2014)

I first discovered Seattle’s Stickers a few weeks back as part of the Triple Six 7-Inch set and liked them enough that I immediately ordered their 2014 LP Swollen.  I was bummed to learn that the band broke up, but glad that they left us behind some recordings.

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In a Seattle Weekly interview around the time of Swollen‘s release the band’s style was described as no wave, and their riffs post punk.  I definitely get the post punk part, which is what drew me to Stickers in the first place.  And certainly they can go cacophonously off the rails in a no wave fashion, like they do on portions of “Outlet.”  But there’s a whole metric ton of post punk all over this thing, smeared on nice and thick.  The side A closer “Sacajawea” is the high point, a song with some stylistic variety that even in the transitions maintains a feeling of emotional intensity.

Swollen isn’t the easiest album to listen to – the music is a bit on the darker side and it can be lyrically intense.  But it’s real, and that’s what’s important.  Stickers may be gone, but they won’t be forgotten, at least not by me.