Laibach – Nova Akropola (Cherry Red album, 1985)


Recorded in London in 1985 with, among others, Mute regular Richard ‘Rico’ Conning, the 2002 reissue of Nova Akropola is an excellently-presented special edition gatefold digipak from Cherry Red Records, and captures Laibach just prior to their Mute releases.

The album begins with ‘Vier Personen’ (‘Four People’), a veritable shot to the head comprising barked, parade ground orders and militaristic drumming, over which an electro-industrial drum machine pattern is repeated, slowly developing as additional banged pipes and other sonic detritus is introduced. A grim and slightly sinister track, this opener adequately sets the tone for the remainder of the album.

‘Nova Akropola’ (‘The New Acropolis’) takes the dark tone of the opener, but deploys strings (keyboards, judging by the repeat points) as the main carrier of its emotion. Horn refrains and a slow, reverberating drum pattern create a filmic atmosphere, with the trademark ‘devil voice’ vocals making their first appearance; the track feels mournful, funereal, conveying plenty of rage and sadness in its minimal sonic palette. Pounding Nitzer Ebb-style drums introduce ‘Krava Gruda – Plodna Zemlja’ (‘Bloody Ground – Fertile Land’), a percussive electronic and machinery-driven vocal track conjuring up memories of Einstürzende Neubauten‘s earliest experiments with air cylinders and heavy construction equipment. Unlike the previous two pieces ‘Krava Gruda…’ has several different themes, rather than a central, developed refrain.

Beginning with some organ discord, ‘Vojna Poema’ (‘War Poem’) quickly develops into an operatic piano song extremely reminiscent of some of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s compositions. Baritone vocals are mixed with what sounds like a full orchestra towards the end of this 1920s-styled piece of avant-cabaret. If ‘Vojna Poema’ was a departure from the earlier tracks on this album, ‘Ti, Ki Izzivas (outro)’ quickly returns us there – layers of stark percussion stalk through this short piece, fading out into ‘Die Liebe’ (‘The Love’), perhaps the closest to some of Laibach’s later Mute output: faster-paced and more aggressive, with those sinister vocals casting a dark shadow on the repeated phrase of the title. The track also features a wider array of electronic sounds, with one of the central melodies recalling Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, once again reinforcing the ‘extreme soundtrack’ atmosphere of this album.

‘Drzava’ (‘The State’) sounds like a twisted take on the electro genre, wherein Mantronix-esque drum programming is mixed with horn flourishes and orchestral-style loops (sampled, I presume), and also features some vocal samples that appear to be of political speeches. The track is one of the liveliest on this album; certainly not euphoric, the track is just one or two shades lighter on the colour chart than the black of the previous material. The accompanying promotional video with dancer and some-time Wire collaborator Michael Clark is fantastically bleak, perfectly rendered in monochrome colours. ‘Vade Retro’ is positively terrifying, its rhythm recalling some sort of alternative version of the Terminator soundtrack as conceived by Throbbing Gristle. The ‘vocals’ here are otherworldly, alternately wheezing and ghostly and scratchy and insistent; the ‘melody’, on the other hand, appears to be church bells mangled and heavily-processed to near oblivion. Perhaps the most aggressive and extreme track here, ‘Vade Retro’ is an exciting collage of sounds that pushes Laibach into electroacoustic territory.

‘Panorama’ ushers in on kick drums that appear to have been borrowed from New Order’s seminal ‘Blue Monday’. Extensive use of synths and percussive samples make this one of the more accessible tracks on the album – the rhythm is tight and the sounds are less obviously harsh. At around three minutes, the track pares back to some percussion loops and spoken word English reportage, before quickly reassembling itself. The final track (‘Decree’) once again begins with some sampled marching band drums, over which another electro break is layered. With the exception of some fairly random atmospherics and the odd sample, the track seems to be nothing more than a stop-start percussive experiment or remix of a more complete work. Despite its absence of more concrete ideas, the track is strangely captivating, although you do feel that this represents something of a filler, a space that would have been better filled with a track more in keeping with the extreme sonic soundscapes elsewhere on the album.

Originally posted 2003; edited 2017

Notes: this was a pretty important review for me, as it represented one of the first times I’d been sent a free CD just to be able to review it. I was amazed at the time that Cherry Red responded to my email at all, let alone that they would part company with a batch of catalogue stuff just so that I could write about it for a website – my own – that was just launching and which was so niche it was never going to attract any readers. Whenever I take the notion of receiving music in my inbox every day via various PR firms for granted, I think back to how fortunate I was that Cherry Red sent me this and other CDs, even though this one has now been sold out of my collection.

(c) 20017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

2014: End of Year Wrap-up

First Aid Kit 'Stay Gold' album artwork

2014 was a year where I probably wrote more than any other year, but hardly any of it was for the Documentary Evidence site that began my journey into music writing over a decade ago. The year saw me start what turned out to be a slow and not exactly fun process of moving content from my original site to a new WordPress home, a process which will have to accelerate soon given that all of my archive writing for DocEv is now offline.

Most of my writing this year was for Clash, where I continue to contribute three of four short album reviews each month. This year I made a conscious effort to diversify who I write for, and lucked out when Electronic Sound gave me a last-minute opportunity to cover Jonteknik‘s debut Apt album for the innovative iPad magazine (I know Jon hates end of year round-ups, but Jon, I owe you a beer for that album and the door it opened for me with Electronic Sound – thanks.)

Since then I’ve delivered a number of pieces for the magazine, culminating in a major feature on Simian Mobile Disco in the summer. It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be working for Electronic Sound. The magazine’s team includes two people who undoubtedly shaped my interest in music writing back when I read Muzik as a teenager, back when I had no aspirations toward writing at all. Through their guidance I’ve become a better writer. I’ve also learned the value of full stops again.

I also started going to concerts and writing live reviews again this year. I reviewed Laibach, Nik Kershaw and Erasure for This is Not Retro (all with typically brilliant photos by Andy Sturmey), as well as a clutch of gigs at my closest music venue, The Stables, for a local Milton Keynes site (TotalMK) – Dylan Howe (my first jazz piece), Tom Baxter and Martha Wainwright.

2014 saw me write the least I ever have in the last five years about Mute releases. I covered the latest Cabaret Voltaire compilation, Erasure’s The Violet Flame and the Plastikman live album for Electronic Sound, Liars‘ Mess for Feeder and a couple of albums for my own Documentary Evidence site, but on the whole I’ve largely ignored Mute releases this year. Partly this is because I’ve been busy with other music writing, and partly it’s because I have struggled to keep up with the sheer volume of albums that the label have issued this year.

Critics are afforded the opportunity at the year end to come up with their favourite album of the year and so I feel justified in doing the same. Head and shoulders above everything else, for this writer it was Stay Gold by First Aid Kit. As is so often the case with the albums that capture your imagination the most, this was an album that I was hardly interested in when I read the press release.

I came back from a three and a half week vacation in New York and Florida in May and immediately found myself being asked to review a clutch of new albums by bands I’d mostly never really heard of before with hardly any time between them being commissioned and the print deadline. One of those records was Stay Gold. First Aid Kit are two sisters from Sweden and the press release seemed to lump them in with a folk scene that I am not always comfortable with, so I wasn’t exactly excited about covering this one.

Sitting on the train on a sunny, May morning, still feeling jet lagged and wondering why I ever signed up to write the reviews when I was so jaded and missing America, I decided to start with the First Aid Kit album and within seconds – the slide guitar sweep that quickly ushers in the opening track, ‘My Silver Lining’ – I was hooked and alert. Something about the music just talked to me in a way that lots of music never has before and I still can’t put my finger on precisely why; it’s possibly the combination of youthful innocence mixed with a sort of mature worldliness with which First Aid Kit approach their songs that got me, possibly the close harmonies of the two sisters, possibly the stirring quality of the title track ‘Stay Gold’ – I still don’t know, really.

What I do know is that a pair of lines on ‘Master Pretender’ – ‘Oh the streets of New York City / Look so pretty from way up here‘ – seemed to capture everything that I missed about New York and tapped into the way I was feeling as I closed the door on an incredible family holiday and went back into an uncertain work life.

Toward the end of the year I found myself listening to a lot more female singers – Martha Wainwright, Addie Brownlee and a singer called Natalie Prass, who I was introduced to by the same PR chap that sent me First Aid Kit (thanks Nathan), and whose debut album is really, really impressive; the sort of sound that might see this young singer scale the same heights as one Amy Winehouse did, all soulful sensuality of a style that has – criminally – more or less fallen out of favour. Check out ‘Why Don’t You Believe In Me’ below.

Oh, and in the last few days I’ve been playing a Canadian band called Viet Cong whose self-titled debut (out January) made me get all nostalgic for classic Interpol again, even if their debut knocks spots off my beloved New York band’s 2014 El Pintor effort.

Wishing all the readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Favourite sounds: First Aid Kit Stay Gold, Conor Oberst Upside-down Mountain, Ryan Adams Ryan Adams, Fats Waller, jazz, ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ by Gershwin, soundtracks to Woody Allen films, The Residents ‘Santa Dog’, Ghostly International, Front and Follow, my eldest daughter playing Latin guitar, my youngest daughter whistling or practicing her keyboard

Least favourite sounds: the announcer on X Factor, ‘What Does The Fox Say?’, arguments and shouting, alarm clocks

Record shops visited: Resident (Brighton), Rough Trade (New York)

Laibach, Village Underground 12/03/2014 – This Is Not Retro Live Review

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On Wednesday Laibach played a gig at London’s Village Underground.

I reviewed the concert for This Is Not Retro. The review, photos and complete setlist can be found here.

Words by me / photos by Andy Sturmey.

(c) 2014 This Is Not Retro

Laibach, Village Underground 12/03/2014

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Laibach, Village Underground 12/03/2014

Reviewing this for This Is Not Retro with photographs by Andy Sturmey.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence