Rational 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.
I picked this up at Berlin’s Bis Auf Messer Records on our recent visit to Germany. I can’t find a lot of info about Schwund online, and almost nothing at all in English. I’ve seen them described as punk, post-punk, and experimental… based on what I hear on Technik Und Gefühl it’s more toward the experimental side of the spectrum, perhaps even going as far as to use the dreaded term avant-garde. The songs have structure, but also tend to wander around, sometimes into unexpected territory. The constant is the use of synths in retro and unusual ways – “Binär-Indianer” makes you feel like some kind of demented circus just pulled into town, while I wouldn’t be surprised if the underlying rhythm on “Gut Gefunden” was actually one of the presets that was on the old cheap Casio keyboard I owned in the 80s.
It appears the vinyl version of Technik Und Gefühl clocks in around 49 minutes and is limited to 200 copies. However, there is also an even more limited cassette version (100 copies) that contains an additional 32 minutes of music. Copies of each are available on the band’s Bandcamp page HERE. If you only have time to check out a few tracks I recommend starting with “Taxi”, which is perhaps a bit less avant-garde than the rest of the album while also being its most fully realized song.
Kælan Mikla has been stacking up the accolades as of late. There was a lot of great press about their performances at Iceland Airwaves 2018, they made the cover of Distorted Sound Magazine, and their latest album, the recently released Nótt Eftir Nótt, came in at #14 on Revolver‘s “30 Best Albums of 2018”. And the praise is well-deserved. The trio have developed from being a band that caught your attention because of their raw emotional power to very talented musicians, all the while still maintaining that air of mystery tinged with an undercurrent of anxiety. Over the last 10 years of following the Icelandic scene we’ve seen lots of bands start up and develop over time, and Kælan Mikla are right up there with Fufanuin starting strong and then just continuing to improve release after release.
Initially the most defining characteristic of Kælan Mikla’s sound, what truly separated them from the pack, was Laufey Soffía’s vocals, the insistence of her delivery and her soul-piercing screams. But as the band matured and their musicianship evolved they no longer needed to rely on that vocal power, giving all of them more room to explore and maneuver – not only is the music denser and more layered, but the vocals don’t have to be so reliant on making that icicle-like stab into your amygdala. That’s not to say that songs like “Skuggadans” won’t trigger your fight-or-flight responses, because they certainly will; but there’s plenty of dark beauty to be found on Nótt Eftir Nótt too. The hauntingly beautiful “Næturblóm” could just as easily find a home on the club dance floor, and if you’re more of an old-school Kælan Mikla fan “Andvaka” will take you back to the very first time you heard them, sitting alone in the dark, afraid of what was lurking outside your bedroom window.
You can preview the album on Bandcamp HERE, as well as purchase physical copies. If you haven’t heard Kælan Mikla before, you owe it to yourself to give them a listen; and if you think you know them from their prior albums, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much they continue to grow and improve as artists.
I listened to this the other day and thought to myself, “this is some weird early 80s Canadian synth stuff. I don’t want to write about this.”
It took me about eight hours to then realize, “duh, that’s exactly why I should write about this.”
Who are Magic Dragon? I don’t really know. The Royal BC Museum dedicates a web page to this record, but they only thing they tell us is “This was the only release from this Vancouver synthesizer band.” That and they get the speed wrong. Unless it’s in metric or something. Is 33 1/3 rpm actually 45 rpm in metric? I don’t know.
The first song, “Objet du Desire,” sounds like a proto-Vasalines song. And things get weirder from there. The disconnected male and female vocals on side A give it a certain quaintness, though the trippy synths put it firmly in its release year of 1981. In fact the three songs on side A sound like they could just as well come from 1971, the end of the hippy era after it all sort of fell apart and got taken over by arena rock. The side closes with the downer of “Egyptian Radio” about some guy named Johnny who The Man is trying to keep down.
The B side is where the magic happens. “Once Upon a Time” is oddly intensive and leads into the bizarre, ahead-of-it’s-time “(White Monkey) Under the Volcano,” a gloomy seven minutes of mouthing but gothicness and sampling. Sort of smooth industrial, if that was a thing. Moog it up!