About 429harrowroad

Music journalist for Electronic Sound and occasional press release writer for VeryRecords. Father, husband, vegan.

Yann Tiersen – Skyline (Mute album, 2011)

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Yann Tiersen ‘Skyline’ LP artwork.

I’m almost ashamed to say that Skyline was my first exposure to the work of Yann Tiersen; for reasons that I barely understand, I’d managed to avoid buying Dust Lane, the 2010 album that preceded this one and which brought Tiersen to the Mute family. Prior to the ‘Monuments’ and ‘I’m Gonna Live Anyhow’ singles, the only Tiersen song I’d ever heard was ‘The Gutter’, included here, which featured on Mute’s Record Store Day compilation, Vorwärts. If my comments on ‘The Gutter’ were tentative, that was because I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to describe a track which seemed to contain so many inherent contradictions – was this low-key industrial soundscaping? The soundtrack to a particularly strange movie? Indicative of Tiersen’s work generally or some tiny experimental vignette filled with unexpected drama? All I knew was that I liked what I heard.

The album is packaged in beautifully oblique artwork from Frank Loriou which sees blocks of heavy black, monolithic colour pasted over more quotidian imagery, creating a visual contradiction which is the perfect expression of the nine very complex pieces – I refuse to call these songs, or even tracks – contained on Skyline; each of the pieces is laced with some sort of unexpected, unanticipated sonic event – a drum beat coming out of nowhere, harsh synth sounds, ear-pummelling guitar distortion, layers of chattering voices – which totally destroys your perceptions of the song up to that point. ‘My plan,’ says Tiersen, in Skyline‘s press release, ‘was to play with [the] contrast between electric and quite dense parts and more sober and minimal quiet parts including piano and strings.’

Skyline, his seventh album, was recorded by Tiersen in places as diverse as San Francisco and the tiny island of Ouessant / Ushant before additional contributions from an array of adept collaborators was added, including Dave Collingwood on drums and various vocalists including Efterklang on the closing track ‘Vanishing Point’, while Tiersen is credited with – deep breath – toy piano, bass, guitar, various synthesizers, vocals, drums, Mellotron, accordion, piano, strings, glockenspiel, vibraphone, bouzouki, mandolin and marimba. The album was then mixed in Leeds by legendary producer Ken Thomas, who also worked on S.C.U.M‘s Again Into Eyes for Mute.

That contrast between the noisy and the pastoral is showcased brilliantly in the opener, ‘Another Shore’, wherein tinkling bells, pretty acoustic guitar and a distant hip-hop style beat usher the track gently forth; only just as you’re getting comfortable with the chilled-out atmospheres, angry guitar and aggressively beautiful chord changes suddenly rip right through the mood, creating soaring waves of melodies. The track suddenly breaks down into quietude again, with rasping bass clarinets (played by Stéphane Bouvier) emerging from the background like they’ve come straight from the Screamadelica rehearsal tapes. ‘Another Shore’ is a busy, densely-layered track fraught with conflicting emotions, arranged around that midpoint between the harrowing and the rapturous. At its conclusion, the track just falls away, leaving nothing more than dirty drones before the seamless drop into the second single ‘I’m Gonna Live Anyhow’; that change of pace is somehow a welcome respite as ‘Another Shore’ could take your emotions too far.

Similar effects happen on ‘The Trial’, which begins with shimmering, pretty sounds, and almost cutesy textures, subtle horns, and tender vocal harmonies. It feels like the component parts of a raging Philip Glass sequence only taken apart with only the slightest essence of the original work presented for the listener. Halfway through, sharp noises prick the silence, euphoric guitars and droning synths arrive and a plaintive vocal drifts in over a distant beat, all of which reminds me of Neu! for some inexplicable reason.

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Yann Tiersen ‘Skyline’ – some of Frank Loriou’s original artwork

The album’s closer, ‘Vanishing Point’, displays a similar approach: the vaguest of motorik pulses, an essence of a much more obvious Krautrocking rhythm, over which nervous synths and tribal vocal sounds coalesce into a feisty, but not unpleasant affair. Rapturous, almost wordless voices loop over the top as typically clattering, disjointed percussion sounds drive a wedge through the very heart of the track. ‘The Gutter’ contains haunting, creeping evolutions, filled with delicate if ambiguous singing from Gaëlle Kerrien and a sweet organic quality which is only marginally offset by the grainy spoken word samples muttering away in the background. Crashing drums and mournful violin back the implied futility ingrained into the chorus – ‘try to reach the sea‘ – while Nineties techno synth sounds rise out of nowhere above plaintive piano echoes to take the track to an unexpected conclusion.

Elsewhere things get sonically threatening. ‘Exit 25 Block 20’ contains distorted shouting, yelps and very unfriendly industrial noise rising above music box sounds, folksy guitars, whining synths, chattering voices (including swearing from Third Eye Foundation / This Mortal Coil’s Matt Elliott) and a beat that spends the entire track fighting its way through the layers of sonic sludge and layers of sound just to reach some sort of crashing closure. Yet despite its howling, dark depths, pleasant melodies somehow find their way to the surface.

‘Hesitation Wound’ consists of echoing Spanish guitar, buzzing bass synths, and stuttering, disembodied vocals. It feels like an early wax cylinder recording picking up voices from the afterlife and recorded in a particularly cavernous cathedral. ‘Hesitation Wound’ is spooky, maudlin and unpleasant, and if it wasn’t for the layers of reverb and general air of strangeness, it would probably sound quite operatic.

A similar sense of feeling disturbed or uncomfortable comes through on ‘Forgive Me’ which rides in on grungy guitar strumming while plucked notes from what sounds to me like the neck end of the guitar ping away to themselves. Whining guitar textures cruise in over the jangly rhythm, and for a brief moment I can’t help myself and, despite not wanting to labour any sort of cheap point about Tiersen’s music being ‘filmic’, this feels like a soundtrack to some sort of epic moment in a Western they haven’t made yet. At that very point, the nucleus of the track is revealed, with a repeated request for forgiveness from a massed choir of voices, almost as if this whole longform, chaotic, hyperactive, shambling piece was just created to say the simple words ‘I’m sorry‘. There is a towering grandeur to this, one of the album’s longer pieces, and as the song progresses toward its conclusion that need for forgiveness feels ever-more desperate and insistent.

In addition to LP+CD, CD and digital formats, Skyline was released as a luxury 500-copies-only boxset available from Tiersen’s own website. The boxset includes a signed Skyline LP+CD, an exclusive T-Shirt featuring a Skyline ‘Monolith’ print in bright orange on white, a Skyline ‘Monolith’ stencil, a hardback photo book featuring an exclusive collection of personal behind the scenes photographs and Skyline artwork by Frank Loriou, and an A4 poster, all housed in a numbered box.

First published 2011; edited and re-posted on the occasion of reaching 444 likes for the Documentary Evidence Facebook page, 2019 (Skyline is stummm444).

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Depeche Mode – The Singles 81 – 85 (Mute compilation, 1985)

Depeche Mode ‘The Singles 81 – 85’ original artwork.

The Singles 81 – 85 was Depeche Mode‘s first UK compilation album, gathering together all their singles up to that point in sequential order, tacking on the new tracks ‘It’s Called A Heart’ and ‘Shake The Disease’, the latter of which has become something of a live staple for the band and a firm favourite among fans. Both tracks were released as singles to support the compilation.

The Singles 81 – 85 was also the first of a sporadic series of artist compilations issued by Mute, the catalogue codes for these albums ditching the familiar STUMM tag in favour of MUTEL. The idea was to cheekily reference the K-Tel budget collections of yesteryear but most people didn’t get Mute’s in-joke. The track list on the reverse reflected each track’s success in the singles charts rather than being in the order they were released in, a strategy Mute used again on the first Inspiral Carpets collection ten years later.

Even if you’re familiar with the Depeche Mode journey from Basildon synth-pop boyband to the stadium-conquering electronic rock act they became toward the end of the Eighties, listening to the singles in order, the band’s rapid progression still feels remarkable. There are just two years between the trio of Vince Clarke-penned singles and the ambitious recording techniques and early sample experiments that birthed songs like ‘Love In Itself’.

While you could argue that the band simply benefited from having access to some seriously cutting-edge technology and talented, forward-looking producers in Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller, that would fully ignore the huge leaps forward in terms of arrangements and Martin Gore‘s songwriting.

Gore’s lyrical development from ‘See You’ (a cutesy, endearing single penned as a teenager) to the harrowing introspection of ‘Shake The Disease’ showed a dizzying level of maturity in the briefest of timeframes. ‘Somebody’ (excluded from the LP edition, presumably because of space) remains Gore’s most powerful, fragile ballad, his tender lyrics interspersed with darker considerations and ruminations; elsewhere, tracks like ‘Everything Counts’, ‘People Are People’ and ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ were casually and effortlessly cynical, the latter getting the band into hot water with the Church of England given its pondering about the existence of a cruel God.

The Singles 81 – 85 was re-released in 1998 with a different sleeve to tie in with the the branding of the follow-up singles collection, the LP edition restoring ‘The Meaning Of Love’ and ‘Somebody’ to the collection and making it a double, rather than single, album. That new version tacked on the extended Schizo Mix of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ and the version of ‘Photographic’ from the Some Bizarre compilation. The newer version might look more modern, but for me I still prefer the slightly garish and simplistic T+CP sleeve from the 1985 edition. Mute also released a three CD boxset containing both compilations in 2001.

Depeche Mode ‘The Singles 81 – 85’ reissue artwork.

Over in the US, Sire had released a compilation of Depeche Mode tracks the year before called People Are People, while a compilation using more or less the same sleeve as the UK Singles 81 – 85 album was issued in 1985 as Catching Up With Depeche Mode, featuring a totally different tracklisting. That edition also included the old photos of the band from the gatefold sleeve of the UK LP (something the UK CD didn’t include) and in among those are some lovely, candid – but too small – photos from the formative years the original band members spent at Southend Tech.

Personal recollections

The Singles 81 – 85 has a special place in my memory for a couple of reasons.

I first came upon the CD in my local library in Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer of 1992, right at the start of my exploration of the Mute back catalogue. Up to this point my only interest in Depeche Mode was with the early Vince Clarke years. I hated Depeche Mode at that point, detested ‘Personal Jesus’ and the band’s image, resplendent on the folder of a girl in my English class called Sarah.

If it wasn’t for the Documentary Evidence brochure that fell out of my 12″ copy of Erasure‘s ‘Chorus’ the year before, I may never have bothered borrowing The Singles 81 – 85 from the library. Given how much I detested the band, finding out through that pamphlet that Vince had been a member of Depeche Mode in their early years made me groan, as all of a sudden I felt obliged to listen to a band that I had decided I didn’t like. Looking back, it’s no surprise to me that I started my collecting of Vince’s other music with a copy of Yazoo‘s Upstairs At Eric’s, bought on cassette from my local Woolworths, instead.

So The Singles 81 – 85 represented my first real exposure to the music of Depeche Mode and for a while I’d deliberately only play the Vince Clarke singles; I couldn’t bring myself to put on the other tracks. When I eventually did, I wanted to be cynical (I initially sneered in agreement with the self-deprecating display of journo quotes included in the sleeve against each song), but I more or less instantly fell in love with those songs and kickstarting the process of building up a collection of Depeche Mode albums that meant, by the time of Songs Of Faith And Devotion the following year, I considered myself a fan. My bedroom walls were quickly adorned with posters bought from Athena of the band circa the Violator era – something of an irony given how much I’d loathed the similar images on Sarah’s folder.

The other reason I have fond memories of this compilation is because of a girl. In 1992 I was a shy, unconfident 15-year old besotted with a girl called Katie that I couldn’t even talk to, let alone ask out.

I was listening to The Singles 81 – 85 in my dad’s favourite armchair one evening during the two week hire of the CD and Katie walked past my lounge window with another girl I knew from school. Katie lived way out of town, so her appearance outside my window was sort of strange. I don’t think it was intentional, as I don’t think she knew where I lived, but that didn’t stop me thinking that it was. For days after, I resented myself for not rushing outside as she walked past to say hello and talk to her.

From that moment, I began to latch onto Martin Gore’s lyrics to help me understand myself to some degree. Through his introspective words I was able to accept that it was perfectly okay to be the quiet kid at school, and from then on I found inspiration in his lyrics whenever it felt like events or people (or just my own thoughts) were conspiring against me.

First published 2013; edited and re-posted 2019.

With thanks to David McElroy.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Rowland S. Howard – Pop Crimes (Liberation Music album, 2009)

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Listening, belatedly, to Pop Crimes, Rowland S. Howard‘s second solo album is hard to contemplate without considering that Howard was suffering with what would prove to be terminal liver cancer during its recording, passing away while promoting the LP. Nevertheless, that feeling of listening to a ghost aside, Pop Crimes stands as a strong final chapter in the musical career of an uncompromising musician whose work in The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party and beyond marked him out as an inventive guitarist and songwriter.

Pop Crimes contains six new Howard compositions, as well as covers of Talk Talk’s ‘Life’s What You Make It’ and Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Nothin”. The album saw Howard working with JP Shilo (credited with guitar, violin and other general strangeness), bassist Brian Hooper (who also co-wrote the title track and appears on ‘Wayward Man’ and ‘The Golden Age Of Bloodshed’) and saw Howard reunited with former Boys Next Door / Birthday Party colleague Mick Harvey (here on drums and organ). Pop Crimes was produced by Lindsay Gravina.

In spite of his ailing health, Howard’s voice had rarely sounded so interesting, containing a gruff tenderness and the barest trace of a sneer at the very edge of his delivery, while his guitar playing drew on the same style of layered anti-playing – skeletal notes that descend into howling static – that made The Birthday Party’s axeman such a thrilling proposition. The two covers are cases in point. Covering Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene’s epic Eighties hit ‘Life’s What You Make It’ was always going to be a brave move, but Howard / Harvey / Shilo give it an added edge of grungy nihilism, stalking bass and droning organs augmenting a defiant, reflective but bitter Howard, the spaces in his vocal allowing his distinctive, subtle guitar riffs to feed through. As with all the best covers, Howard takes ‘Life’s What You Make It’ into new, uncharted territory, taking Talk Talk’s optimistic original and turning it into a darker, somewhat sinister paean to individualism. Meanwhile the cover of Van Zandt’s ‘Nothin” showcases Howard’s strangled vocal style, a world-weary but mysterious quality with doomed blues backing from Howard / Harvey / Shilo that sounds like a nag sluggishly bearing its rider back from unspeakable horrors.

Occasionally there are small moments of levity which leaves you with the impression that this LP isn’t uniformly misanthropic, even though it really is. Opener ‘(I Know) A Girl Called Jonny’ is one. A duet with Jonnine Standish of Australian Blast First Petite band HTRK, ‘A Girl Called Jonny’ is an occasionally joyous, mostly dark Phil Spector-esque ballad with simple organ and drums, and gentle bass from HTRK’s Sean Stewart (who was found dead in the spring of 2010). Howard’s vocal weaves alongside Standish’s detached own while whining guitar drifts alongside. ‘Pop Crimes’ is another. The album’s title track consists of ponderous bass, guitarwork that straddles Howard’s punk-blues licks from ‘Nick The Stripper’ and the searing feedback / noise of ‘The Friendcatcher’ while Harvey’s drums contain a jazzy swing which has that effect of lightening the mood ever so slightly. I have no idea what the lyrics are on about, but it’s delivered with a sense of muted anger by Howard and so I guess he’s railing at the pop music industry somehow.

Elsewhere there is a sense of the personal drifting into the songwriting. ‘Wayward Man’, with its great wedges of metronomic bass and carefully-wrought feedback, has lyrics that find Howard resignedly accepting that he can’t be the wayward man whoever he’s singing to wants him to be. The whole thing hints at rage, at darkness, like an updating of Leonard Cohen’s sinister ‘I’m Your Man’. Likewise, ‘Ave Maria’, which is an introverted, quiet and sorrowful piece, all fragile percussion and gentle layers of guitar, organ and plucked bass. The piece has a filmic, emotional quality, marking it out as a low-key but tear-jerkingly moving highlight of Pop Crimes. As the music fades away, Howard closes the track with the words ‘we didn’t dance upon our wedding day’, singly the most regretful thing I’ve yet heard in a song. Then again, this is the man that wrote ‘Shivers’, perhaps the most beautifully depressing song ever written.

The album was supported posthumously by ‘The Golden Age Of Bloodshed’, which is a wry, apocalyptic piece that is strangely cynical at times; white hot feedback is draped laconically across and through an bleak, sparse backdrop. It’s hardly the most optimistic way to close out an album, but if you had terminal cancer, with no liver transplant on offer, I wonder how cheerful you would be.

First published 2012; edited and re-posted 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Plastikman – Sheet One (NovaMute album, 1993)

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Plastikman ‘Sheet One’ 2xLP NovaMute sleeve.

Released in October 1993 on NovaMute, Sheet One brought Windsor, Ontario’s Richie Hawtin‘s Plastikman onto the label’s roster, Daniel Miller‘s imprint effectively licencing the album for the UK and Europe from Hawtin’s own Plus 8 label.

While Sheet One became notorious for all the wrong (or right) reasons by the CD sleeve’s recreation of a perforated sheet of LSD tabs, with the requisite and implausible rumours that the sleeve really did have acid on it, what’s most surprising is that electronic music designed to be listened to at home or in a club, as opposed to merely in a club, was still a relatively unusual thing twenty years ago. Warp’s Artificial Intelligence compilations (the first volume of which had included Hawtin in his UP! guise) and the series of clever electronica releases clustered around them – such as Polygon Window’s Surfing On Sinewaves and Black Dog Productions’ Bytes, as well as early releases from sometime NovaMute signee Speedy J and Autechre – had paved the way for a new strain of dance music that didn’t require any form of dancing at all.

If Sheet One found itself dropped neatly into that whole Artificial Intelligence genre, it set itself apart by eschewing the notion that these tracks couldn’t be played in clubs. Throughout the album’s eleven tracks, Hawtin maintained a focus on pared-back rhythms more usually found on acid house tracks, perhaps slowed down a fraction compared to the then-popular number of BPMs but not inconsistent with the original tracks by the likes of Phuture from the decade before. Added to that was Hawtin’s love of the key ingredient of acid house tracks – the Roland TB303 – which gave these tracks an energy and vibrancy that most armchair techno seemed to forget to include. Okay, so the 303s weren’t tweaked as hard as Hawtin would do on, say, his astonishing remix of System 7’s ‘Alpha Wave’, but they nevertheless contained enough of a squelchy urgency to get most acid heads excited and if would only take a modicum of pitch-shifting to get these tracks into a more adventurous DJ set.

The other distinctive element on Sheet One, and the element that meant it was able to align itself with the Artificial Intelligence crowd, was the use of reverb. Everything on Sheet One is swathed in rich levels of treacly echo, giving the textures here a languid, atmospheric and vaguely chilling quality. That echoing aspect always reminded me of the eerie static hum that wrapped itself around Kraftwerk‘s Radio-Activity album, and for some reason also made me think of some of the haunting passages on the soundtrack to Teen Wolf. I used to study and revise to Sheet One and its equally-enthralling follow-up Musik, which perhaps credentialises the atmospheric quotient.

In many ways the central track on Sheet One is ‘Plasticine’, an eleven minute epic consisting of a minimal pulse, nervous bass tones and a 303 line that rises up seemingly out of nowhere, bringing with it a more rigid beat and a degree of dark energy. Hearing a 303 like this, where it is presented more or less nakedly, shows just how weirdly versatile Roland’s instrument was – even if it’s being deployed in a way that the manufacturer never intended. A breathy voice that seems to be saying ‘it’s you’ adds to the overall vibe of a haunted, alien dancefloor. ‘Plasticine’ has all the requisite rises and falls associated with most dance music, only here it’s elongated, extended and somehow much more emotionally affecting. The track’s final moments are comprised of deep bass resonances and a thudding remnant of what used to be the beat.

The similarly-timed ‘Plasticity’ is the other stand-out track here, with the sounds of aircraft rumble ushering in a echo-soaked rhythm and ruminative 303 melody. There’s a floating, shapeless quality to some of the other sounds deployed on ‘Plasticity’ – brief melodic pads, clicking, noisy interventions, what might be a euphoric yelp or an anguished scream – giving this a psychotic vibe that would have suited a desperate chase scene in a movie. ‘Smak’ goes even further – a dense web of heavy beats and brooding synths underpinned by strings that evoke comparisons with Laibach and samples of screaming angst.

Any uplifting quality is there offset by a far darker energy, ebbing away into ‘Ovokx’, which reveals the stark message to the world’s population sampled from The Day The Earth Stood Still.

‘Gak’ departs from the regimentation of the 4/4 rhythm and instead opts for a clattering, bass-heavy electro beat draped in layers of cavernous reverb, and double-time percussion that leans close to the skeletal bone-rattling that would come on ‘Spastik’, an effect which is also deployed on the urgent ‘Helikopter’. ‘Helikopter’ really does sound like the rapidly rotating blades of a chopper, layers of hard-spun sound rotating around your ears with an infinite swirl. In complete contrast, ‘Vokx’ is a quiet, stirring cinematic symphony for the scene that surveys the scarred landscape, the second half dominated by sirens, screams and panicked sections of dialogue.

Sheet One is an unsettlingly unique album, and one that knocked its peers out of the park, retaining enough of techno’s key energy rather than disposing with it altogether. Twenty-five years on, it sounds as sharply arresting as it did at the time, while other albums from the time sound positively dull. The follow-up album, 1994’s Musik, was just as attention-grabbing but leaned harder into a more scientifically-assembled experimentalism, highlighting Hawtin’s restless dexterity.

Sheet One was released as a CD and vinyl edition in the UK. There were two versions of the vinyl album, the 2000 copy limited edition picturedisc version of which is now something of a collectors’ item. In 2012 Mute released a remastered Sheet One in the wake of Hawtin’s expansive Arkives 1993 – 2010 boxset, ditching the original NovaMute catalogue reference (nomu22) and replacing it with a Mute one (stumm347).

First published 2013; edited 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Die Doraus Und Die Marinas – Fred Vom Jupiter (Mute single, 1982)

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Die Doraus Und Die Marinas ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ single artwork.

Sometime in 2009, Steve Lamacq interviewed Mute‘s Daniel Miller on 6Music. I missed it and forgot to listen again via the website, but Mrs Smith happened to listen. She told me that Lamacq had discussed his favourite early Mute release, and so I asked her what it was. She couldn’t remember who it was by, what it was called, only that it had kids singing on it and – and I thought this was genius to have remembered this – it had a catalogue number of MUTE19.

And so I rushed upstairs, grabbed the CD-sized Mute catalogue in which I mark the releases I own, and scoured for a record with this number. I was disappointed to find that it was ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ by Die Doraus Und Die Marinas, a record I’d tried many times to track down up to that point but which never, ever seemed to come up on eBay, and I’d given up. That day, however, it was on eBay amazingly, and for a paltry fiver filled in a major gap in my collection.

Worth it? Absolutely.

Die Doraus was Andreas Doraus and a bunch of session musicians, while Die Marinas were a revolving group of kids who, on this track were Dagmar Petersen, Claudia Flohr, Michelle Milewski, Christine Süßmilch and Isabelle Spelly. A friend of Palais Schaumberg member and future Mute artist Holger Hiller, Dorau was barely eighteen when he recorded the sessions for Blumen Und Narzissen in 1981 in Düsseldorf for Kurt ‘Pyrolator’ Dahlke from Der Plan’s Ata Tak imprint. The album was produced with Dahlke and Ata Tak co-founder Frank Fenstermacher. The album’s packaging presented Dorau as a clean, good-looking pop heart-throb, potentially surprising anyone buying the LP given its amalgam of angular post-punk and adventurous synthwork.

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Die Doraus Und Die Marinas ‘Blumen Und Narzissen’ LP artwork.

The lead track from the album was ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’, written by Dorau and Olaf Maureschat. The track would became a massive hit amid West Germany’s homegrown post-punk Neue Deutsche Welle movement. The single was originally released by Ata Tak in 1981, while Mute licensed it for release in the UK the following year. In hindsight, that move looks relatively opportunistic to catch some of the momentum of the single’s success in Germany for UK listeners, as Mute didn’t option either the album or any of Dorau’s copious other output with Die Marinas or as a solo artist.

‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ is, at face value, a novelty electronic pop track, perhaps in the style of Miller’s own Silicon Teens project – the sleeve certainly supports this. However, that would ignore the harsher synths and noises evident behind the innocent German accents of Die Marinas’ ramshackle choir. If you do ignore these, what you do have is a blissfully original slice of early electronic pop which fully deserves its cult status as a collector’s item. It’s incredibly catchy like all good pop should be, although my knowledge of German is so weak now that all I can understand is the title which is sung and repeated at the end of the chorus; but its infectiously hummable if nothing else. The sleeve helpfully explains what the song is about: ‘From Jupiter comes Fred, the marvelous Kosmonaut. All the girls feel enthusiastic about him and want to keep him here forever.’

The darker sounds are explored more wholeheartedly in the pulsing, electro-industrial instrumental on the flip, ‘Even Home Is Not Nice Anymore’ which was co-written with Fenstermacher. The sleeve explains that ‘Fred has come home to his planet after his “excursion” to earth. But there he feels very lonely and realises…’ – realises what, we are not told. Whereas ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ is a cute pop track with a bit of edge, the B-side is claustrophobic and edgy and anything but twee. Its beats speed up as the track progresses over its short duration, rising like pulsing jackhammers inside your head, a huge throbbing bass synth anchoring the entire track into a sense of panicked urgency.

First published 2009; updated and re-posted 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

F.M. Einheit / Caspar Brötzmann – Merry Christmas (Blast First album, 1994)

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You can forget your sleigh bells, your innocent choirs of cherubic children and your saccharine-sweet Christmas tunes; your Ertha Kitts, Noddy Holders and definitely your Cliff Richards; your Michael Bublé and Rod Stewart festive cash-ins. You can forget all of these, because I want my Christmas music to be dominated by distorted guitar manipulations and clanging metallic percussion. Nothing says Christmas like an album of ugly sonic experimentations that straddle the noise and free improvisation worlds, right?

Einstürzende Neubauten‘s F.M. Einheit and Caspar Brötzmann collaborated on this album, which was released in Germany by Rough Trade and in the UK by Paul Smith‘s Blast First imprint (the UK edition is essentially the Rough Trade edition with a Blast First catalogue reference on a sticker). The pair would also work together on Brötzmann’s Home, released on Blast First the same year.

Featuring a painted tank on the sleeve, and with its title, I can’t help but think of the front line at Christmas during World War I, where opposing troops would temporarily put aside their own national interests in the far more humane gesture of playing football instead. I’m not a fan of football at all, but I’m a fan of conflict even less, and so it struck me as a beautiful notion to do that.

The concept of violence is clearly closely associated, either deliberately or inadvertently, with Caspar Brötzmann. Not just in the way he tortures his guitar and bass into anguished shapes and textures but also in the name of his group with Eduardo Delgado Lopez and Danny Arnold Lommen, Massaker. If ever the name of a band perfectly captured the dense racket they recorded, Massaker would be it.

There’s also the small detail of Brötzmann’s father, Peter, a giant figure in the realms of jazz, whose 1968 Machine Gun octet recording cemented the saxophonist / clarinetist’s reputation as a fearsome collaborator and threw down a new gauntlet for free jazz expressiveness. And as for Einheit, or Mufti as he was frequently known – any man who regards himself as a ‘street percussionist’ is no stranger to the brutal timbre of non-standard instrumentation, which is why his contribution to both Neubauten and Massaker was so aggressively essential. Oh, and Mufti is military slang for civilian clothes, so there’s another conflict connection. And that’s before we get to track titles like ‘Panzerkette’ (‘Tank Tracks’).

So, without even needing to listen to it, Merry Christmas was always going to have an aggressive sound. Even a tracks ‘Headhunter Song’ and ‘Stück Frau Das Uhr Spiel’, with their nods toward traditional blues riffs, find themselves punctured and infiltrated by clattering sounds and general noisy detritus. Elsewhere, any concession toward what naïve listeners might describe as ‘music’ is over-ridden instead by vague rhythms bashed out on goodness-knows-what piece of junk, guitars subjected to intense distress and duress occasionally at volumes that cause your teeth to vibrate in your skull, at others producing fuzzy scratches and squeals that start to make you itch all over after a while.

There are also moments, like those on ‘Panzerketten’, that sound almost ambient, almost muted, in comparison to other pieces, the effect on that piece being a restrained, reverberating soundfield littered with casual aural notions, until a loud guitar tone at about the five minute thirty second mark ushers in squalls of noise to close out the track. Other favourite subtleties of the noise guitarist are in abundant evidence here, including plucking strings just above the neck, the effect being crystalline structures that evoke icy textures.

Merry Christmas is presented as a single long piece, including three additional untitled pieces on the CD edition. The collaboration was recorded at Conny Plank’s legendary studio on the outskirts of Cologne in January 1993 and was mixed and released the following year.

First published 2012; edited and re-posted 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Carter Tutti Void – Transverse (Mute album, 2012)

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The tracks that make up Carter Tutti Void‘s Transverse collaboration were recorded live at Mute‘s Short Circuit festival at London’s Roundhouse on May 13th 2011, and according to the sleeve (more on that in a moment) the trio of Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Nik Void prepared the pieces together in the studio and then played them live on the day. No-one else had apparently heard the four tracks that made up their performance, but the prospect of witnessing a collaboration between one half of Throbbing Gristle teaming up with Factory Floor‘s Void had people being turned away at the door. Transverse, according to the Mute spiel, is one of a number of concert recordings from Short Circuit being prepared for release.

The first thing that grabs you about Transverse is the sleeve, a simple Bridget Riley-esque repeated monochrome pattern which appears to move as you tilt your head, and which really hurts your eyes if you stare at it too long. Simple is not a word you could use to describe the music contained on Transverse, however. Aiming for the complex end of the sonic spectrum, Transverse consists of four tracks of thudding, heavy, hypnotic ambience loaded with edgy sounds, dark tones and industrial style noise infiltration.

The central point of reference in each case is a deep, pulsing beat, not dissimilar from some of Orb’s most dub-esque soundscapes, that beat providing a consistent backdrop for the more challenging drones, squalls, yelps and clattering percussion that litter these tracks. At times barely-controlled bowed guitar feedback from Void drifts into view; at others Cosey Fanni Tutti moans wordlessly as though experiencing some sort of dark religious euphoria; at others snatches of words swing into view; at others, thick bass drones dominate; at others it feels like each track might just be a tweak of a dial away from complete overload and ear-shredding noise collapse.

Overall, the effect is exactly what you’d expect from this trio. Factory Floor have been heralded as taking Throbbing Gristle’s legacy and bringing that band’s name to a whole new audience, while Chris and Cosey have been toying with industrial clamour for decades. The four long pieces included here are detailed, intricate and confrontational all at the same time, particularly suited to those who need more angst and unpredictability in their deep listening soundscapes. Unlike most work of this nature, the fractured sounds and feedback bursts suggest that this should be listened to really loud, allowing the bass passages to have a similar, punishing effect on your body as that monochrome sleeve has on your eyes.

The LP + CD edition of Transverse includes an alternate version of the CD release, the four tracks being augmented by an additional track in the shape of ‘V4 Studio (Slap 1)’, a studio version of the final track played as part of the trio’s Short Circuit set. The studio version feels more playful than the version played live, reducing the prominence of the bass and eliminating a lot of the reverb and resonance inevitably presented on the Roundhouse performance version. Pre-ordering the album from Carter Tutti Void’s own Sandbag web store also meant you could get hold of an exclusive recording, ‘cruX’ which was delivered as a download on the day of release.

First posted 2012; edited 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence.