Electronic Sound 53 – including my Mute STUMM433 feature

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The latest issue of Electronic Sound is now available in the usual high street retailers and as a bundle with an exclusive 7″ from their website. This issue has a primary focus on Berlin, featuring conversations with Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubaten, Mick Harvey, Simon Bonney and others who recall the vibrant creative melting pot that the divided city represented in the late 70s and early 80s. The accompany 7″ features Berlin legends Malaria! while Gudrun Gut from band offers her take on sometime Berlin resident David Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ on the B-side.

My major contribution to issue 53 was a feature on John Cage’s seminal composition 4’33” and the incoming Mute STUMM433 project. For this feature I interviewed K Á R Y Y N, Daniel Miller, Simon Fisher Turner, Irmin Schmidt, Laibach, Pink Grease and Maps, each of whom explained how they approached their performance of Cage’s distinctive piece – where they recorded it, and what instrument they didn’t play. Each of the 58 versions on STUMM433 is wildly different from the next, each one includes its own individual story and accompanying visual, and only one of the inclusions is actually silent – just as Cage would have wanted.

This feature involved me diving back into Cage’s Silence book – something I’d first tackled in my late teens when I found a copy in my local library and studying the score. One took much longer than the other. It also awoke in me an interest in Zen after reading about Cage’s following of these ascetic Buddhist principles.

Elsewhere in this issue I reviewed Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. by Maps; the score to Marnie by Bernard Herrmann; David Tibbet and Andrew Lisle’s debut Nodding God album; the latest Blow collaboration on Front & Follow by Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer; and a fantastic new Buchla-based concept album by Simon James.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

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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

ANBB – Ret Marut Handshake (Raster-Noton EP, 2010)

ANBB 'Ret Marut Handshake' artwork

raster-noton | r-n 120 | 21/06/2010

ANBB is a collaboration between Alva Noto (electronic musician and artist Carsten Nicolai, head of the Raster-Noton imprint and one half of Diamond Version) and Blixa Bargeld. Bargeld is the stimmung of cult Berlin noise-merchants Einstürzende Neubauten who has recently developed processed spoken-word performances (‘rede‘) into his repertoire alongside his day job fashioning unexpected sounds from guitars and detritus in Neubaten. Nicolai on the other hand is the poster boy for glitch-based electronics, notable for works based on ‘forced error’. Before Diamond Version, Nicolai’s collaboration with Byetone, Mute and Raster-Noton collaborated on the Short Circuit festival in 2011; back in 2010 though, ANBB could perhaps be seen as an early precursor to greater engagement between the two labels, even though Bargeld has all but severed ties with his former label home.

The combination of two mavericks on the Ret Marut Handshake EP finds Bargeld’s voice surprisingly suited to Nicolai’s cracked electronics, serving as a tantalising taster of the full-length album which this ultimately supported, Mimikry. This mini-album / EP is named after Ret Marut, a shady, chameleon figure (actor, writer, activist and a pseudonym of the author B. Traven) that Bargeld found intriguing from his childhood years onward.

Neubauten releases over the years have made it their business to explore found sounds and sounds conjured from industrial equipment; Bargeld’s guitar was never played so much as abused on early releases and drum kits were constructed from nothing quite so pedestrian as actual drums. Later releases added strings and sensitivity, finding beauty in detritus. But generally, electronics didn’t feature, were almost eschewed, making Neubauten releases all the more appealing for their relatively ‘organic’ development. Imagining Bargeld intoning his wonderfully expressive words over a bed of electronic sounds wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but I was nevertheless intrigued by this collaboration.

In an interview with The Wire, Bargeld explained how Nicolai’s approach initially baffled him. The fifth track on the release ‘I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground’ (a cover of the traditional American folk song) found Bargeld needing to explain the chords to the piece which Nicolai then had to translate into frequencies for them to make sense in his idiosyncratic soundworld. That track is playful, and possibly just a bit of fun, finding Blixa getting all shaky and rock ‘n’ roll while a muted palette of bassy tones and scratchy beats occupies the background. Something about this screams that Bargeld possibly wasn’t even aware of being recorded, as it has the feel of him musing away to himself throughout. The EP also includes a version of Harry Nilsson’s tender ‘One’. ‘One is the loneliest number that you ever know,‘ sings Bargeld on this fragile ballad, his voice taking on a warmth and mournful quality while a gentle web of echoing tones, speaking clock pulses and sketchy non-beats heighten the muted atmosphere. Rarely has a clash between two collaborators from different oeuvres been so stark, and the results so good.

Anyone remotely familiar with Nicolai’s soundworld will be familiar with the fractured, detuned beats, clicks and hisses that characterise his rhythms, those off-centre beats being combined with minimal synth tones, melodic clusters and drones. The sonic tapestry provides the backdrop to Bargeld’s distorted vocal, which veers from half-sung intonations to semi-rapped stream-of-conscious slews of words, everyone single sibilant utterance and word pronounced with a consideration every bit as calculated as Nicolai’s soundworld. At times Bargeld’s words are chopped, spliced and layered, as on the opening title track of the EP. ‘Electricity Is Fiction’ is like a more or less conventional electro track just with a more skittish beat, Bargeld delivering a lecture on what electricity is; a bit like Kraftwerk‘s ‘Radioactivity’ subjected to a high voltage current, whereupon their considered, clean electronics become wildly out of control. The darkest piece here, ‘Bernsteinzimmer’ is a dark, noirish soundtrack-style piece. Buzzing drones, violin sounds and thudding bass drum, give this a bleak cinematic feel; clipped, whispered sibilant vocals in the background and Blixa delivering a stately, towering vocal performance.

First published 2012; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – The Tyranny Of The Beat (The Grey Area Of Mute album, 1991)

Various Artists 'The Tyranny Of The Beat - Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area' CD artwork

the grey area of mute | cd agrey1 | 1991

The Tyranny Of The Beat – Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area was a 1991 compilation issued by Mute to showcase releases from its Grey Area sub-label. The Grey Area specialised in reissuing the back catalogues of Cabaret Voltaire (their Rough Trade releases), Can, Throbbing Gristle (plus various Industrial Records acolytes), Graeme Revell‘s SPK and many others. The label also became home to early albums by artists that had been signed to Mute, such as Nick Cave‘s pre-Birthday Party band The Boys Next Door, D.A.F., Wire and Einstürzende Neubauten.

The reissue programme conducted by Mute through The Grey Area inevitably produced a varied counterpoint to the releases issued through the main Mute imprint, through Paul Smith‘s hugely diverse Blast First (which itself, at times, also reissued plenty of older material) and NovaMute. Alongside The Fine Line, specialising predominantly in soundtracks for TV, film and theatre, The Grey Area represented a hugely interesting opportunity to hear some out-of-print releases on CD for the first time.

There days, at least nominally, The Grey Area no longer exists. Can reissues have never officially carried the logo, and whilst Mute remains the custodian of the seminal Cologne unit’s back catalogue, it is done in partnership with Can’s own Spoon imprint; Cabaret Voltaire’s latest reissue programme through Mute is done through the main label and consequently all releases now carry stumm catalogue codes, and Throbbing Gristle effectively bought back their work to reopen the doors of Industrial Records. The opportunity to reinvigorate The Grey Area upon securing the opportunity to reissue the Swans back catalogue in 2014, alongside the Cabs programme, feels like something of a missed opportunity.

The Tyranny Of The Beat then serves as a useful overview of what The Grey Area were up to at this point in the early Nineties. A small four-page flyer inside the sleeve highlighted just how comprehensive the reissue programme undertaken by Mute was through the sub-label – after all, they were effectively re-releasing whole or sizeable elements of back catalogues, not sporadic releases. The flyer also included some items that were planned for releases but which have never materialised – chief among these was the Robert Rental / The Normal live album recorded at West Runton, which Rough Trade had released in 1980 as a one-sided LP.

The sleeve also features liner notes from Biba Kopf, famed NME journalist and currently (under his real name Chris Bohn) the editor of The Wire. Kopf also wrote the copy for the Documentary Evidence brochure which inspired this site.

The breadth of music included in sampler form on The Tyranny Of The Beat is impressive, taking in the grubby pulse of TG’s live track ‘See You Are’, their Industrial signees Monte Cazazza with the truly horrible ‘Candyman’, a bit of early electro from the Cabs, the detached punk of Swell Maps‘ brilliant ‘Midget Submarines’, the similarly aquatic ‘Our Swimmer’ by Wire (still one of their best Seventies pieces), a truly ethereal piece by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert / Graham Lewis as Dome with A.C. Marias and the still-devastating Rowland S. Howard-penned ‘Shivers’ by The Boys Next Door. Can’s ‘Oh Yeah’ – one of Daniel Miller‘s personal favourite tracks – provides a rhythmic counterweight to the urgent mechanical production-line beats of Neubauten’s ‘Tanz Debil’ and Die Krupps‘s ‘Wahre Arbeit, Whare Lohn’. Dark relief comes in the form of SPK’s ‘In Flagrante Delicto’, a track which suggests Graeme Revell was always destined to compose the scores for spooky, suspense-filled films like The Craft.

Like a lot of sampler albums, The Tyranny Of The Beat can sound a little uneven, and whilst a lot of these bands were part of common scenes – industrial, punk, the terribly-named Krautrock – it would have been a pretty weird festival if this was the line-up.

Kopf’s liner notes deserve a mention, if only for the way that he positions the concept of a grey area as a place that people run to for escape or as a means of consciously assaulting musical norms, a place that both acted as a reaction against the regimentation of beats and simultaneously gave birth to the repetitive rhythms of techno. ‘In The Grey Area you get the sense of limits being pushed up against and breached,’ he says, and even now, listening to Genesis P. Orridge deliver a maniacal vocal over corruscating waves of sinister noise from a distance of thirty-five years, or Monte Cazazza’s detached multi-channel reportage of a serial killer’s victims and the nauseatingly vivid listing of the savagery he put those victims through, you can see exactly where Kopf was coming from.

Track listing:

cd:
1. SPK ‘In Flagrante Delicto’
2. Throbbing Gristle ‘See You Are (Live, The Factory July 1979)’
3. Cabaret Voltaire ‘Automotivation’
4. Chris Carter ‘Solidit (Edit)’
5. Die Krupps ‘Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn’
6. D.A.F. ‘Co Co Pina’
7. Einstürzende Neubauten ‘Tanz Debil’
8. NON ‘Cruenta Voluptas’
9. Can ‘Oh Yeah’
10. Wire ‘Our Swimmer (Live, Notre Dame Hall July 1979)’
11. Swell Maps ‘Midget Submarines’
12. The Boys Next Door ‘Shivers’
13. Dome ‘Cruel When Complete’
14. Monte Cazazza ‘Candyman’
15. The Hafler Trio ‘A Thirsty Fish / The Dirty Fire’

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Ministry Of Wolves – Music From Republik Der Wölfe (Mute Records album, 2014)

The Ministry Of Wolves 'Music From Republik Der Wölfe' LP artwork

mute artists | lp/cd/i stumm360 | 10/03/2014

Republik der Wölfe is a theatre production commissioned by Theatre Dortmund’s artistic director Kay Voges and directed by Claudia Bauer which premiered on 15 February 2014. The music for the production comprised collaborations between Mick Harvey, Alexander Hacke, his girlfriend Danielle di Picciotto and Paul Wallfisch. Harvey is a veritable Mute stalwart given his tenure with bands like The Bad Seeds, and as a multi-instrumentalist and producer he has a reputation as being a highly skilled and versatile addition to any line-up. Hacke is a veritable Goliath – in both stature and reputation – who formed a crucial component of the noise onslaught of Einstürzende Neubauten and found himself offering a more nuanced role in Simon Bonney‘s Crime & The City Solution. Di Picciotto is an accomplished artist who formed part of the new Crime lineup that released American Twilight in 2012, and whose live visuals accompanied that album’s tour. Keyboard player and singer Wallfisch is founder of the New York group Botanica, a group whose music is variously described as ‘gypsy and punk-cabaret infused chamber rock’ and who have collaborated with Kid Congo Powers, another Bad Seeds alumnus.

The music takes its principal inspiration from the fairytales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the stories of whom will be familiar to more or less any child albeit viewed through a distinctly Disneyfied lens. The original stories by Grimm were a mix of the ethereal and macabre, drawing inspiration as much from folklore as the frighteningly original imagination of the two brothers. (By way of a recent anecdotal footnote, I was in a shop in the Germany pavilion at Disney’s EPCOT last month where they had copies of the collected Grimm tales for sale. Two Americans next to me were dumbfounded as to why these fairytales were in the Germany pavilion, so co-opted have they been by Hollywood over the past century that they are regarded as quintessentially American in origin.) Just like the original fairytales on which they are based, the music written by this group has an authentic air of dark mystery, sorcery and otherworldliness, making for an original body of work that exists happily – if strangely – without the visuals for which they were intended.

First, let us deal with the songwriting. My only real awareness of the original Grimm fairytales come from a combination of the sanitised Ladybird books and Disney movies of my youth, and my two daughters’ enduring fascination with fantastical princesses and mythical creatures. Consequently I have no real understanding of what the band are going on about here, though it’s clear from titles and some of the subject matter as to which particular story they are dealing with. Whether in the ethereal spoken word tracks from di Picciotto, the fragile double-tracked musings of Mick Harvey or Alex Hacke’s ominous intonation on ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ the guts of the story are evident, even to an ignorant like me. Only, the tone here is fundamentally dark, linking the songs to the original stories albeit through a thoroughly contemporary lens – the mischievous dwarf Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t, as far as I can tell, ever exhibited at a Coney Island funfair, for example. The whole thing is shrouded in a sinister, almost violent mysteriousness, knocking for six most versions of these tales.

Next, consider the music. Neither Harvey nor Hacke are strangers to composing music for theatre, and both Neubauten and Harvey (with Nick Cave) have albums in the Mute back catalogue that were commissioned for plays. Between the two of them their sense of space and detail is second to none, and when combined with Wallfisch’s piano – somewhere between bar-room blues and jazz – the whole thing swings with a depth and inventiveness that is in many ways more interesting than making sense of the vocals. An obvious reference point would be The Bad Seeds between Tender Prey and Let Love In (‘The Little Peasant’ even has ‘Red Right Hand’-esque organ vamps), but there’s also a relaxed, jazz-inflected dimension here too, cutting gently through the gloom. The start of ‘Cinderella’, with di Picciotto on vocals even sounds a lot like ‘The Carny’ from Cave’s The Firstborn Is Dead. For this reviewer the highlight is ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, a edgy stew of droning guitars, grungy vibes and a storyline delivered in German and English by Wallfisch that seems to relocate Little Red to a New York gangland scene.

Above all, this is an inventive album based on an interesting concept, produced by four individuals who, in their own right, are incredibly talented but who together can create something very special indeed. My only gripe is that it feels like this music really needs its visual dimension to completely make complete sense of this theatrical offering.

Listen to ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ and watch di Picciotto’s making-of documentary below.

Track listing:

lp/cd/i:
1. The Gold Key
A1. / 2. Rumpelstiltskin
A2. / 3. The Frog Prince
A3. / 4. Cinderella
A4. / 5. Rapunzel… (As Isdora Duncan)
B1. / 6. Hansel And Gretel
B2. / 7. Snow White (Heptagon)
B4. / 8. The Little Peasant
B3. / 9. Sleeping Beauty
A5. / 10. Iron Hans
11. Little Red Riding Hood
B5. / 12. White Snake Waltz

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Anita Lane – Dirty Pearl (Mute Records album, 1993)

Anita Lane 'Dirty Pearl' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd stumm81 | 10/1993

Dirty Pearl is a rag-bag collection of newly-recorded Anita Lane tracks produced by Mick Harvey as well as older material, the entire Dirty Sings EP and collaborations with Die Haut, Einstürzende Neubauten, Barry Adamson and The Birthday Party. The album is as much a collection of Lane’s work as it is a showcase for the seemingly unlikely cross-pollination of scenes that emerged when The Birthday Party moved from Australia to the UK, followed by a brief and fortuitous sojourn in Berlin; that productive Kreuzberg stop-over was responsible for Nick Cave‘s Bad Seeds being swelled by the likes of Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld and Die Haut’s Thomas Wydler, as well as some of Cave’s most inventive and inspired early musical work.

The collection covers the period 1982 to 1993 and presents the tracks in reverse chronological order. Overall, the compilation shows just how integral Lane was to the whole scene that formed between London and Berlin in the mid-Eighties, with characters such as Chrislo Haas and Adamson appearing on various tracks. As Nick Cave’s girlfriend and muse, Lane co-wrote a number of The Birthday Party’s songs, including the likes of ‘Dead Joe’, and was credited as a founding member of Cave’s subsequent Bad Seeds though her participation in the group was never exactly clear. What’s also immediately apparent from this collection is just how little music Lane has herself released – over half of Dirty Pearl was already released by the time this compilation was released, and Lane would only come to release her first (and to date only) ‘proper’ LP in 2002 with Sex O’Clock. Whilst Dirty Pearl provides a comprehensive overview of Lane’s music, one notable omission is 1991’s collaboration with Adamson on the excellent cover of Lee Hazlewood’s ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ which Adamson crafted for his Delusion soundtrack.

Opening track (and therefore most recent) ‘Jesus Almost Got Me’ is a countrified, Triffids-esque song of drunkenness, cruel love and regret, beautifully carried forward on Harvey’s sensitive drumming and ‘Evil’ Graham Lee’s genteel slide guitar. Immersed in the background are spirals of grainy feedback and some lovely vocal harmonies from Harvey. ‘Jesus Almost Got Me’ has a tired, resigned quality to it. In contrast, ‘The Groovy Guru’ is a funky, psychedelic trip, filled with wild face-melting guitar and wayward organ creating a vibe that felt about twenty-five years old too late, the lyrics describing a sort of pervy Cassanova character with a number of Satanic traits.

The cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ was produced by Mick Harvey with artist Johannes Beck and Sven Röhrig, finding Lane cooing girlishly over a sick, phasing breakbeat, shimmering vibes from Barry Adamson and some leaden (and less-than-romantic) backing vocals from Beck and Moritz Wolpert. At times Lane sings with a strained needfulness that can feel quite uncomfortable at times, but it’s quite hard to think of this as being too serious. Both ‘Blume’ (from Neubauten’s Tabula Rasa LP) and ‘Subterranean World (How Long…?)’ (from Die Haut’s Head On) highlight how well Lane’s voice matches Blixa Bargeld’s distinctive own. Bargeld’s transition from the howling, shredded vocal style displayed on Neubaten’s earliest material to the sensitive, half-spoken, almost Scott Walker-esque voice of their later material is continually surprising, and that softer side shines through on these two songs. ‘Subterranean World’, with its duet chorus of ‘How long have we known each other now?‘ brings to mind those clips in romantic films where couples explain to camera how long they have been together, except that by the end of this darkly humorous song Lane and Bargeld decide that they’ve never actually met before.

‘Picture Of Mary’ is an atmospheric piece written with Bargeld, dominated by Lane’s ghostly singing and a backdrop of dramatic piano, mournful violin and jangly Latin guitars (from Blixa) which threaten to swell up in the mix but never quite do. The only thing that lets this track down is Lane’s vaguely tuneless musings which bring to mind some of Nico’s material, but that is more than made up for by the intricate backdrop. Latin guitars and strings also colour the maudlin ‘Stories Of Your Dreams’, which possesses a strong narrative and theatrical mood. The song was co-written with Neubuaten’s Alexander Hacke, who also plays guitars on the song, while Crime And The City Solution founding member Bronwyn Adams plays violin.

The CD release of Dirty Pearl also includes ‘A Prison In The Desert’ by Nick Cave, Mick Harvey and Bargeld, taken from their soundtrack to Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead. The piece sees Lane mostly wordlessly singing over a backdrop of droning strings, industrial sounds and high-pitched noises, her voice providing a gentle counterpoint to what is otherwise a reasonably harrowing piece of music, a bit like a Graeme Revell soundtrack.

Eschewing all the released tracks from The Birthday Party canon that Lane contributed to, Dirty Pearl instead offers ‘The Fullness Of His Coming’, an unreleased track which features Lane on lead vocals, serving as strong reminder of why The Birthday Party were a musical force to be reckoned with at the start of the Eighties. The song is dominated by grinding guitar riffs from Rowland S. Howard that sounds like they might have been fed through an organ, Tracy Pew‘s ludicrously prominent bass and insistent and quickening drums from Mick Harvey. Lane murmurs and squirms provocatively through the track, particularly as the pace begins to quicken, the assembled Party members providing a nasty mantra of the track’s title while Lane writhes rapturously in the foreground.

Track listing:

lp/cd:
A1. / 1. Jesus Almost Got Me
A2. / 2. The Groovy Guru
A3. / 3. Sexual Healing
A4. / 4. Blume (Einstürzende Neubauten feat. Anita Lane)
B1. / 5. Subterranean World (How Long…?) (Die Haut feat. Anita Lane)
B2 / 6. Picture Of Mary
B3. / 7. The World’s A Girl
B4. / 8. Stories Of Your Dreams
9. A Prison In The Desert (Nick Cave / Mick Harvey / Blixa Bargeld feat. Anita Lane) – CD bonus track
10. If I Should Die – CD bonus track
11. I’m A Believer – CD bonus track
12. Lost In Music – CD bonus track
13. Sugar In A Hurricane – CD bonus track
B5. / 14. The Fullness Of His Coming (The Birthday Party feat. Anita Lane)

First published 2012; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Birthday Party – Mutiny / The Bad Seed EP (4AD EP, 1983)

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4ad | cd cad301cd | 1983

I’ve always been of the opinion that if an artist or band is going to make a final statement, then it should be well-executed and tightly-delivered. This holds true for The Birthday Party’s final two EPs, which are collected together onto this single CD by 4AD. The Bad Seed (originally released as a 12″ on the band’s UK home of many years, 4AD) and Mutiny (originally released on Mute) were both recorded at the famous Hansa Studios in Berlin and produced by the band themselves, with uncredited assistance from Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld.

By now the erstwhile drummer Phil Calvert was long disposed with in favour of Mick Harvey; Rowland S. Howard became the sole guitarist and the creative dynamic had shifted toward the writing partnership of Nick Cave and Harvey (with the exception of the opener, ‘Sonny’s Burning’, the last track written by all four members of the group). The sound is raw and urgent, but well-honed and less prone to excess, while still retaining enough of the rough edge that set The Birthday Party apart from their contemporaries.

‘Wild World’ stands out as a highlight, blessed by its sludgy blues ethic and restrained vocal performance from Cave, whose vocal has become more direct and confident throughout this awesome collection. Tracy Pew’s bass is close-mic’d to allow the resonant twang of the strings to be heard. Elsewhere, Howard’s guitar is fed through numerous effects boxes, in particular deploying his famous ‘infinite reverb’ on several tracks, which allowed cycles of feedback to spiral, ebb and flow. While recorded no doubt at the height if the band’s drug abuse, the collection is markedly more controlled than Junkyard, as if recorded in a brief moment of lucidity. Nothing is more true of this approach than the final track, ‘Mutiny In Heaven’ (featuring Bargeld on guitar), which sees the band playing with studio effects with Cave’s vocal lines overlapping and multi-tracked, while the guitars are processed into ringing bells of sound. ‘If this is heaven I’m bailing out,‘ sings Cave. The Party was nearly over, and Cave thus signalled that the last guest should leave. ‘Mutiny In Heaven’ deals with the concept of euphoric God-like feelings following a hit of smack, but I’m not clear on whether it glorifies or condemns it. More extreme than the Velvet Underground’s opium hymn, ‘Heroin’, ‘Mutiny In Heaven’ has an edge that is as marvellous as it is malevolent.

Two previously-unreleased demos from the Mutiny sessions are included on the CD – ‘The Six Strings That Drew Blood’ (a totally different track from that which later appeared on Cave’s The Firstborn Is Dead) and ‘Avalanche Of Sound’, both of which are stripped and raw and perfect even as unfinished works.

Although a year away, Bargeld’s appearance on the final track heralded the approach of The Bad Seeds, the band Cave formed around Bargeld and Harvey. As final statements go, this stacks up very higly indeed, leaving you unsure as to whether it’s enough as it is or whether you’re in need of more.

Track listing:

cd:
1. Sonny’s Burning
2. Wildworld
3. Fears Of Gun
4. Deep In The Woods
5. Jennifer’s Veil
6. Six Strings That Drew Blood
7. Say A Spell
8. Swampland
9. Pleasure Avalanche
10. Mutiny In Heaven

First published 2004; edited 2012; re-edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence