Cosey Fanni Tutti – “Tutti” (2019)

I’ve been on a Cosey Fanni Tutti kick since reading her autobiography Art Sex Music back in 2017.  I’m primarily interested in her post-Throbbing Gristle material, which is more structured and less industrial in character, so I was quite excited to hear she planned a new release in 2019.  And now that I’ve listened to it at least a half dozen times I know one thing for sure – I have my first early contender for Top 5 Albums of 2019.

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The brief liner notes on the jacket reverse tell us that Tutti was initially conceived as the soundtrack to an autobiographical film about the artist, later updated and enhanced for release as an album.  Clearly that’s not a lot to go on without seeing the film, but it does offer some insight as to why the style morphs over the course of eight songs.  There’s a darker, more IDM feel to earlier tracks like “Drone” and “Moe”.  Do these correspond with the periods in Cosey’s life when she was involved with Throbbing Gristle and her time working in pornography (which, it should be noted, was also part of her art)?  I don’t know.  But I do get the sense of a story being told, something not easy to accomplish on a primarily instrumental/electronic album with minimal lyrics to point the way – it isn’t until the sixth track, “Heliy”, that we get some vocals, though these feel like they were added as much for their sonic qualities as for any kind of overt storytelling.

Reviewer Ben Beaumont-Thomas of The Guardian wasn’t a big fan, giving Tutti only two starts (out of five), noting it’s “moments of drudgery”.  Which just goes to show that different reviewers can come away with completely different perspectives.  As for me, Tutti has earned a spot on regular rotation at my house and I’ll definitely be putting it on my list of albums to come back to at the end of 2019.

The Best of 2017

Unlike many Life in the Vinyl Lane blogs, I’m writing this one on the same day I’m posting it.  It’s Christmas morning, and out my living room window I can see the rare Seattle white Christmas in effect as we got about three inches of snow last night, which is a nice touch (it’ll be even nicer if it’s all melted off the roads by time I have to leave for work on Wednesday morning…).  But since we don’t have kids and both of us have very small immediate families, this morning is much like any other winter-time weekend, only with different holiday-themed coffee cups.

Going into 2017 I decided to start keeping a log to help me with my year-end lists, and while I wasn’t as diligent as I’d have liked it still was a big help, especially in the area of new releases.  There was a lot of great new music this year!  In fact, there was so much that the choices weren’t all that easy to make.  Since Holly and I both have project management backgrounds, though, we were able to come up with a solution – we created a scrum board of our favorite 16 releases of 2017 and then used a random number generator to select which one we would play every night as we worked our way through them.  And I’m glad we did, because there were some albums from earlier in the year that had fallen off our radars a bit, and man they sounded great when we came back around to them.

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In preparation I also spent a few hours combing through the top albums lists of various major (and minor) publications and blogs.  Perhaps even more so in years past I was struck by two things.  The first is how few of the albums on other lists I’ve heard.  In fact, when it came to the major pubs (think Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME…) I literally had only heard ONE album on any of these lists – Songhoy Blues’ Résistance, which appeared at #31 on the Rolling Stone list, though nowhere else.  The only other one I found was in The Quietus‘ top metal albums list, having heard and reviewed Sólstafir’s Berdreyminn.    So at least there’s that.  Only Dr. Rok’s list of Top 20 Icelandic releases yielded any common ground – I’ve heard 14 of these, which probably is indicative of the real issue here, which is that I listen to a lot of Icelandic music, and that stuff doesn’t generally make the year-end lists with a few exceptions.  And that brings me to my second observation.  I’m surprised how many of the bands on these lists I have never even heard of.  In fact, on most lists I’m lucky to have heard of maybe a quarter of the artists, sometimes less.  For a guy who writes a music blog, I sure don’t seem to know much about what’s happening in music.

All that being said, the scrum board has been taken down and the votes tallied.  So without further ado…

Top 5 New Releases In 2017

  1. Neysluvara – Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Midnight Champion – Legend (Iceland)
  3. Suero – Farmacia (Argentina)
  4. Space Cadaver – Space Cadaver (US – New Orleans)
  5. Sports – Fufanu (Iceland)

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There were two albums I knew were going to be in my Top 5 even before the scrum board experiment – Neysluvara and Midnight Champion.  They were clearly head-and-shoulders above all comers in 2017.  While Legend held an edge over Hatari by virtue of the fact that they put out a full album while their island-mates only gave us a four-song EP (and one that was only on CD to boot!), we were both simply blown away by Hatari.  Neysluvara‘s brand of IDM has been pumping out of my iPod almost non-stop over the last two months and it doesn’t get old.  If I’m being honest Hatari probably gets a little extra lift by the fact that we saw them live this year and they blew us away.  I get that that shouldn’t impact a top album kind of thing, but as Holly pointed out, this is a blog and music is a personal experience, and it’s hard to separate out those personal experiences from the music itself.  So as much as I love Midnight Champion, both musically and lyrically, I’m giving the top spot by Hatari.

Suero had fallen off the radar for a while and revisiting it reminded me of just how good it is.  If there’s one thing that separates it from Space Cadaver and Sports, it’s the sonic experimentation the Argentinian’s do.  Sure, it’s all electronic music; but it’s all over the board, from pure dance numbers to crazy experiments.  And I’d be lying if the personal connection we made with the Sima brothers earlier this year on our visit to Buenos Aires didn’t have an impact on my feelings about this album.  Space Cadaver is unquestionably my favorite metal album of 2017, and while I think it’s only available on cassette you owe it to yourself to get a copy and go buy a cheap boom box at the pawn shop so you can listen to it (or, of course, simply buy a download, you know, if you’re lazy like that), and Fufanu hit it out of the post-punk park with Sports.  From a genre standpoint I’m very happy with this Top 5 list as there’s great stuff here for people of almost any musical taste.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Farmacia (Argentina)
  3. Kuldaboli (Iceland)
  4. Revenge of Calculon (UK)
  5. Egyptian Lover (US)

I’ve already touched on the top two bands on this list, so let me move on to the next three.  Kuldaboli’s Vafasamur Lífsstíll 2015-2016 came out at the very end of 2016, and if I’d heard it then instead of early this year it probably would have made my top five new releases list last year – it’s that good.  I got to see him perform live at Lucky Records during Airwaves this years as well as chat with him for a few minutes – good dude.  We caught Revenge of Calculon live in the cramped, damp confines of Dillon on the last day of Airwaves and they killed it with their brand of electro-movie-horror-funk and since then I’ve picked up all four of their 7″ records.  As for Egyptian Lover… how had I gone this long without ever having heard the Lover before??  I can thank our friend Ingvar for this one.  We were chatting about music over dinner when he visited Seattle and was dumbfounded by my lack of Egyptian experience.  The next day at Silver Platters he walked up to me with a box set, pressed it in my hands, and said “you need to buy this”.  And he was right. Takk, Ingvar!

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” – Connections
  2. Driving the Bats Thru Jerusalem – Bonemen of Barumba
  3. 20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle
  4. Special Offer – Sensational
  5. Suero – Farmacia

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Four of the five items on this list have some kind of personal connection, actually resulting in me becoming connected with the artists.  The totally random pick-up of the Connections 7″ led me to former member Nolan Anderson and his lovely wife Catherine, who today perform as the Mad Andersons.  I was able to provide a ripped copy of the songs to Nolan, which he hadn’t heard in decades, and that made me feel really good.

My post on Bonemen of Barumba somehow found its way to former founding member Mark Panick, who stunned me when he posted on Facebook that he liked the fact that I obviously “got it” in terms of what the band was doing.  We later connected online, only to come to find out that we have a friend in common – the one and only Ingvar of Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  Mark even sports a Lucky t-shirt in a video he was in earlier this year.  Ingvar struck again with Sensational, who I turned him onto during his trip to Seattle and who he then, against all logical odds, ran into randomly on the streets of NYC just days later.  That led to me Facebook messaging with Sensational a bit and buying some mail order from him.

Oddly enough Iceland also played a part in us connecting with Ariel and Diego Sima of Farmacia in Buenos Aires – their album Suero was put out on cassette by Reykjavik’s Lady Boy Records.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the brothers while in Argentina and picked up a bunch of their back catalog from them.  As for Throbbing Gristle… this one was purely about acquisition.  My local record haunt Vortex posted on FB that they’d just acquired a bunch of experimental stuff from a local DJ and I immediately wend down to the store where I scored a couple of great condition TG titles, a great opportunity to explore some of the early works of the pioneers of industrial music.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Hatari – Gamla Bíó, Reykjavik
  2. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Nectar Lounge, Seattle
  3. Metallica – CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  4. Revenge of Calculon – Dillon, Reykjavik
  5. GusGus – Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

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I thought I had this list wrapped up about a week ago.  And I did.  At least until we headed out to Nectar Lounge on Dec. 23 and caught Sir Mix-A-Lot live, which forced me into a last-minute revision.

I covered the Hatari, Revenge of Calculon, and Gusgus shows in my various posts from Iceland Airwaves this year, and actually did the same about Metallica when I wrote about the live CD of this actual show.  Each of these shows gave me something different.  Hatari was a brilliant performance, an integration of stage presence and music; Metallica was a chance to revisit my youth, the first time I’d seen the masters of thrash live since the late 1980s; Revenge of Calculon was one of those great unexpected surprises you sometimes get at live shows; and Gusgus… what more can I say about Gusgus?  They gave us a 90 minute set that had the crowd swaying and dancing the entire time and were musically brilliant as always.

As for Mix-A-Lot, he’s Seattle hip hop royalty and his 1986 debut LP Swass spent a lot of time in the cassette player of my ’84 Mustang when I was in high school.  He did shows on back-to-back nights at the intimate Nectar Lounge (max capacity 400) in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood last weekend and we had a blast at the Saturday night gig.  In addition to some new stuff, Mix gave us a ton of classics like “Testarossa”, “Beepers”, “My Hooptie”, “Swass”, and even a little “Buttermilk Biscuits”.  Of course he also played his mega-hit “Baby Got Back”, but as a Seattleite and long-time Sir Mix-A-Lot fan there was one song I HAD to hear, and he gave it to us – “Posse on Broadway”.  Rest assured Mix fans, he’s still got it.  Posse up!

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
2.  Daybreak Records, Seattle
3.  Disko Obscura, New Orleans
4.  Skully’z Recordz, New Orleans
5.  Extremem Noise Records, Minneapolis

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Smekkleysa, Reykjavik
4.  Tempo Musica, Buenos Aires
5.  Reykjavik Flea Market

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I swear, much of these lists don’t change don’t change from year to year.  It would be a weird for Easy Street not to be #1 for me in North America given how often we go there, though the relatively new Daybreak Records definitely gives Easy Street a run for its money in the area of used vinyl.  Our trip to New Orleans didn’t yield a ton of music, but Disko Obscura’s collection of great synth albums was well worth the visit and the guy over at Skully’z turned us on to Space Cadaver and some good punk and metal stuff, which was cool.  I’ve been to Minneapolis a bunch of times, but somehow never made it to Extreme Noise, an oversight I was glad to correct this year – tons of great punk and metal there.  We have a trips to Portland (OR) and Denver already on the books for the first half of 2018, so I definitely have some more good record shopping in my future.

We didn’t do as much international travel this year has we have in the recent past, only visiting two countries – Iceland and Argentina (hard to say we “only” got to take two international trips this year… we’re super-fortunate to be able to travel as much as we do). Unfortunately the one thing we found to be expensive in Argentina was vinyl, which was seemingly completely out of whack with reality.  I found some exciting early punk stuff, but at $150+ per record US I just couldn’t do it.  I broke down and picked up a couple of titles, but our best success was in the tiny Tempo Musica where we loaded up on local CDs thanks to a lot of help from the owner (and some recommendations from a couple of guys working at a food truck earlier in the day!).  The rest of the shops are all in Reykjavik and you’ve likely heard me prattle on about them endlessly in the past, but all are great places to check out should you find yourself in Iceland.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti
  2. Lou Reed:  A Life by Anthony DeCurtis
  3. Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 by Cyn Collins
  4. Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone
  5. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

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I didn’t do as much music reading this year as I have in years past – probably only 7-8 books total.  That being said, I’m comfortable in recommending all of these to you.  Art Sex Music is head and shoulders above the rest, giving us as it does a glimpse into the 1970s experimental scene in the UK by Throbbing Gristle member and artist Cosey Fanni Tutti.  Tutti isn’t afraid to let us know anything about her life and art, and her seemingly near-complete transparency makes for a powerful, if at times sad, read.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her work.  DeCurtis’ book on Lou Reed was deeply researched and I was primarily drawn to the more pure biographical aspects of the narrative, not so much the minutiae of Reed’s individual releases.  Complicated Fun is an entertaining and informative oral history of the Minneapolis scene, one that in many ways is reminiscent of Seattle’s, while the last two are entertaining first person tellings of hard punk rock lives.  It also features our very own Kevin Cole from Seattle’s KEXP radio, as Kevin was a noted DJ and record store owner in Minneapolis during the era.  it’s a small, small world.

 

Well, there you have it, my faithful readers.  Thank you, as always, for your support and comments.  While at times the pure need to write overwhelms me to the point where I feel like it’s something I have to do in order to not spontaneously combust, Life in the Vinyl Lane doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s put me in touch with some amazing people over the years, perhaps no year more so than 2017.  And it’s these connections that make it a truly special experience.  So no matter where you’re reading this, I say “thank you”, and I’ll see you in 2018!

Throbbing Gristle (1978-81)

I feel like I’ve read a lot about Throbbing Gristle (TG) over the last few years, but I’d never had the opportunity to pick up any of their music.  Now to be honest, it’s not like I looked real hard, because if I’d really wanted to hear them I could have certainly found a used CD somewhere or listened online.  But ANYWAY… a lot of books on punk and post-punk include references to these pioneers of industrial music (♠), most notably Simon Reynolds’ brilliant Rip It Up and Start Again:  Postpunk 1978-1984, which devotes an entire chapter to TG, so I felt like I had a basic understanding of their philosophy and sound.  Admittedly I gave up on my attempts to read TG founder Genesis P-Orridge’s Thee Psychick Bible because I never felt like it was going anywhere, so I was curious to see how I’d react to TG’s music.

Fortunately for me my friend and owner of Vortex Music & Movies, Daren, posted the other day on Facebook that he was headed back to the shop with a truck full of vinyl he bought from a local DJ who was way into jazz, avant-garde, and assorted electronic weirdness, so I dropped everything and headed over, and was probably the first person to get my grubby paws on them.  There wasn’t a lot there for me, but I did come away with a Grace Jones record and three, count ’em, three original TG pressings in great shape, which felt like hitting the motherlode.

Music writers and fans have covered the TG story extensively, so I’m not going to rehash the band’s story here because I don’t have any original insights or new facts to share.  So with that, let’s play some records!

D.o.A The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle

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Trying to order the TG discography is an exercise in futility given the sheer volume of live releases and the difficulty in categorizing some of their work.  That being said, 1978s D.o.A. The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle is generally considered to be either the band’s second or third album, arguably with TG at it’s artistic and innovative peak because iit was after this release that the fuse was lit on the collective’s ultimate dissolution when members P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti split up, with Tutti then entering a relationship with another band member, Chris Carter.  Not many bands are going to survive something like that (♦), and Throbbing Gristle certainly did not.

I have the “DJ Confusion” version of D.o.A., which was a limited re-press put out in 1979 and intentionally cut in a way to look like there are eight equal length tracks on side A, and 7 equal length tracks plus a short 8th track on side B… even though side A has six songs and side B seven.  It appears to be an uncommon variation, limited to 1,000 copies, so I lucked out that this is the one I stumbled upon (though the fact that it came from the collection of a disc jockey is probably not a coincidence).

Side A is flat out bizarre, opening with a “song” comprised of computer tape noises (“I.B.M.”, and yes kids, back in the day, computers used various types of tapes to store data in the pre-floppy disc era…) and including a sped-up 16-second version of TG’s popular four-minute single “United,” showing us that when something started to gain some traction (like “United”) in the musical world at large, that was the sign to TG to not give it to the people.  Since I have the DJ Confusion version of D.o.A. it’s difficult for me to tell you anything about specific tracks since I can’t tell where they start and stop, and frankly I’m feeling too lazy to go online and try to figure it out.  Rest assured that side A is an intentionally discordant piece of work, industrial in the truest sense of the word with combinations of jarring sounds and generally lacking much of anything that resembles structure, with the exception of what I believe to be “Dead on Arrival,” which does have an underlying consistency that can be construed as a beat.  The side ends with “Weeping,” the only song on the side that involves singing, a desperately sad and minimalist track in part about P-Orridge’s November 1978 suicide attempt.  It’s a raw way to pull the listener back into the album with something that sounds familiar by being way closer to a “normal” song than anything else up to this point.

Side B takes D.o.A. in a different direction – more traditionally avant-garde (if there is such a thing) and at least one downright approachable electronic song.  Sampling and tape loops still reign supreme, but this side feels like it’s coming from a completely different band that what I heard earlier.  It’s still weird, but less jarring than side A, feeling a bit more familiar in it’s industrialness.

I’m not going to lie – I doubt I’ll play D.o.A. a lot; it’s not that kind of record.  But it is a mind-expander and an important foundational piece of work for the industrial sound, and as such it certain retains status as a “classic.”

20 Jazz Funk Greats

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TG followed D.o.A. with 20 Jazz Funk Greats in 1979, and their “piss take” at the mainstream is visible right on the front jacket.  Not only is the title intentionally deceptive, so is the entire look of the jacket with the band dressed in the best easy listening fashions in a seemingly benign pastoral setting – the whole thing in fact exactly what you’d expect a jazz-funk album to look like.  But the cover also gives you your first hint as to what’s going on, as the photo was taken at Beachy Head, a notorious suicide spot in England.  In a 2012 interview Cosey noted, “We had this idea in mind that someone quite innocently would come along to a record store and see [the record] and think they would be getting 20 really good jazz/funk greats, and then they would put it on at home and they would just get decimated.”

To be fair, I think D.o.A. would have been much more decimating to an unsuspecting buyer, with it’s brutal, jarring, and at times completely non-musical sounds.  20 Jazz Funk Greats is an entirely different animal, very rhythmic, recognizably musical.  In fact, it’s both quite listenable and enjoyable, it’s spacey, liquidy compositions a far cry from TG’s previous work.  It has a sic-fi soundtrack quality to it, though probably for a more experimental or avant-garde movie, something like the original Russian version of Solaris.  This feels like a more musically competent version of TG, one more comfortable with how to use technology in more intricate ways.  “Hot On the Heels of Love” is a fantastically moody and synthy dance track, and even the more esoteric songs like “Persuasion” have their own type of beauty.

20 Jazz Funk Greats is widely considered to be TG’s most approachable album, and I’d certainly agree based on what I’ve heard from them.  It’s also often noted as their best.  That concept is a bit tricky with a band like TG, though, so while it’s the one I’ll be most likely to listen to repeatedly, that’s not necessarily the ultimate decider of an album’s quality or importance.  But I will say this – I like it.  I like it a lot.

Discipline

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TG released a lot of live material for a band of its era.  Most of it was put out on cassette, but some made it to vinyl as well, including Discipline, a two “song” 12″ drawn from a pair of 1980 shows and put out in 1981.

The music is throbbing, almost tribal in its percussion that drives the tracks relentlessly forward, the structure to an otherwise seemingly free-form trip-fest.  But that beat… you can’t escape it, consistent, constant, pounding, unstopping, while P-Orridege loses his mind on the microphone.  The B side is almost as intense, though I found the other musical elements made the percussion slightly less oppressive… though not by much.

Sonically the recordings are a bit flat, lacking some of the high end and feeling a bit sludgy.   These shows came from a period when TG was in a quasi-militaristic phase, and that comes through in the music, which has a totalitarian quality to it; side B in particular gives the emotional feel of some kind of 1930s National Socialist rally with he vocals coming across like a dictator’s impassioned speech.  Definitely the most industrial of the three records.

 

Overall I’m happy to get the opportunity to pick up some of these TG classics to experience them for myself.  I doubt I’ll be on the hunt for much more of their stuff, but I’ll certainly keep my eyes open should the right opportunity come my way.

(♠)  TG used the slogan “Industrial music for industrial people” on their 1977 release The Second Annual Report, which may be the first reference to industrial music as such. 

(♦)  Except Fleetwood Mac

Psychic TV – “Those Who Do Not”

And now for something completely different.

And no, it’s not a man with three buttocks.

But it may be just as strange.

Genesis P-Orridge may very well be the father (and mother, given his/her relationship to the concept of gender) of industrial music.  P-Orridge fronted the visual-musical group Throbbing Gristle in 1975, a group that broke down all kinds of boundaries, not the least of which was the exploration of pure noise as a musical form.  Music writer Simon Reynolds wrote that Throbbing Gristle’s “gigs were sadistic assaults on the audience.”  Many members of the collective could not even actually play their instruments, and much of their material was completely made up on the spot.  They were known for their interests in the darkest aspects of human society – fascism, murder, rape, mind control, psychopathology… and gruesome visual images in the forms of film or pictures were parts of their performances.  Though sometimes the entire “show” was someone placing a tape recorder in front of a microphone and playing whatever was on the tape.  You never knew what you were going to get from Throbbing Gristle.

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P-Orridge formed Psychic TV with Peter Christopherson in 1982 following the demise of Throbbing Gristle, and the band immediately raised eyebrows because, well, they actually played music.  They were prolific to say the least, once releasing 10 albums in a single year, and while they were much more musically inclined, they were still bizarre in a way that defies categorization.  I’d been looking for a copy of this locally for a while, and finally find one in the new arrivals section at Hi-Voltage Records in Tacoma the other day… and I didn’t buy it, mostly because the jacket had some water damage.  I stewed about it for a bit while Holly and I had lunch down the street before I reminded myself of my commitment to buying from local small businesses, especially record stores (don’t bitch about how there aren’t any good record stores if you don’t shop at them… that’s why they’re a dying breed), so I walked back up the street and bought it.

Those Who Do Not is a 2X12″ album released in 1984, and I have to admit I’m primarily interested in it because much of the material was recorded live in Reykjavik – it was released in the Icelandic Gramm label.  There’s even some chanted rímur on side A.  All I can say about this album is… wow.  Industrial is probably as good a word as any, but that doesn’t do it justice.  The first two sides are kind of like playing three or four different albums at the same time… some of them backwards… some of them on skipping records… and every now and then it sounds like there’s a fight or something going on.

Even the weird stuff is pretty musical.  Side C opens with “The Full Pack,” and although there are some hard to identify elements that almost sound like animal noises (pigs?), it’s a relatively quiet song that is carried along by bells, chimes, and strings, with P-Orridge talking over parts of it.  It’s actually quite stunning in its own way… though part way through P-Orridge all of a sudden sounds like a caged beast, like a man burdened with a deep, primal pain… until he brings it back under control in time for the song to end.  Side D starts of with “Meanwhile…”… is this a Velvet Underground song?  Because damn if it doesn’t hold together and have singing that sounds a lot like Lou Reed.  Wild.

It’s difficult if not impossible to write about an album like Those Who Do Not – it’s something you need to experience for yourself.  I will say I very much preferred the second record to the first… but that could just be because I’d gotten used to the band’s sound over the course of the first two sides.  I’m not sure.  But it is less industrial and more musical than the opening record, for whatever that’s worth.

There’s a good chance you’ll hate this record.  Hell, I might hate this record!  But I have to admit, the more I listened the more intrigued I became.  It will definitely survive to spin on the turntable again another day.