Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny – Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (Mute album, 2012)

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Chances are if the weird naked-girl-with-animal-head sleeve doesn’t grab you then the anticipation would have already have got you: Beth Jeans Houghton is one of those artists, a bit like labelmate Josh T. Pearson, whose first LP was greeted with angsty expectation by the music press, that expectation cultivated over an extended period; in this case, that period is almost four years from when Houghton’s first music appeared in 2008.

It also helped that Mute kept the album under wraps far longer than reviewers would ordinarily tolerate; if this was a Hollywood movie, the critics would have already drawn the unassailable conclusion that the movie was a stinker, otherwise the studio would have readily let the journos in to watch. For some reason, not making this available to the press much earlier than its actual release seems to have just heightened the hype surrounding Houghton’s first album.

Produced by Ben Hillier, the inexplicably-named Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose finds Houghton, a talented lyricist and multi-instrumentalist judging by the sleeve, and her Hooves Of Destiny (Findlay MacAskill on violin, Dav Shiel on drums, Rory Gibson on bass, and Edward Blazey on trumpet and guitar) cutting a distinctive path through modern music’s more folksy places.

Houghton’s style appears to draw upon the weird mysticism of British folk groups from yesteryear blended with the downright unhinged kookiness of the likes of Tori Amos. A quick run through the lyric sheet provides few clues to what these songs are all about, almost as if Houghton was writing down particularly vivid and strange dreams, lots of strange imagery and oblique references. My favourite lines come during the spoken-word section of ‘Nightswimmer’, an early version of which first appeared on Houghton’s ‘Golden’ single in 2009, whereupon she mouths ‘And the cracks in the pavement sweat like the crust / Of a toffee pecan pie‘.

Hillier certainly wrings out an organic quality from the ten songs here, Houghton and The Hooves (and occasionally Hillier himself) laying down a multitude of instruments, giving the tracks a casual feel, almost as if everyone was content to grab whatever instruments were hanging about the studio and muck around while Hillier expertly captured the whole affair. A sense of warmth and often dark beauty seeps from every track, augmented on most tracks by a string quartet formed of Ian Budge on cello, Everton Nelson and Sally Herbert on violins and Bruce White on viola.

I said in the single review of ‘Liliputt’ (which I’m no closer to fathoming after reading the lyrics) that the song reminded me on some level of Dexy’s or their modern counterparts The Rumble Strips, and that same sense of joyful abandon colours all but the quietest tracks on Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose. I asked my music-loving, ukulele-playing daughter (then just five years old) what she thought; after the inevitable request to add the songs to her iPod, she described the songs as ‘jumpy’. I suspect if she knew what ‘jaunty’ meant, she’d probably have employed that adjective instead.

The track that was playing when I asked my eldest daughter for review input was ‘Atlas’, which is one of the strongest songs on the album, featuring pounded layers of intense drums, skinny funk guitar culled from Vampire Weekend or their antecedents Talking Heads. ‘Dissecting the atlas for places we’ve been / Your list is longer but you’ve got more years on me,‘ is one of the most evocative lines here, coincidentally echoing a conversation around our household dinner table a weekend or so before the album was released. Houghton’s voice here effortlessly shifts between the hyper-falsetto and warm, sweet tones that pervade many of the tracks here, while a spoken word section by Neesha Champaneria provides a dark counterpoint to the more joyously carefree sound elsewhere on the song.

Another big highlight is ‘Humble Digs’ with its rolling drums and plucked countrified ukulele, expressive strings and a chorus of Houghton and The Hooves that sounds like a miners’ choir or Annie Get Your Gun chorus line; ‘Humble Digs’ is upbeat and infectious. A couple of listens and it’ll feel like an old friend.

A sense of wry breeziness dominates tracks like ‘Franklin Benedict’ wherein Houghton offers up lines that evoke summery warmth (‘Roasting peppers in the back yard,‘) and the downright creepy (something about a unitard, singly the most unpleasant thing ever invented). This is in direct contrast to the album’s official closing track, ‘Carousel’, which is a short track with a weird, harpsichord and piano rhythm. There’s also gorgeous strings, scary cackling, crackling noises and bells. It should feel upbeat but feels unsettling on some level, as if it masks something dark and unpleasant; like a track from Poses by Rufus Wainwright. It also sounds like something from a fairground, and that’s always guaranteed to creep me out.

The new version of ‘Nightswimmer’ retains that track’s producer Adem’s spiralling synth curlicues, but Hillier polishes the track with a new depth compared to that tentative original, the enquiring bass in particular gaining a blissful prominence. While on face value it sounds as ethereal as anything else here, Houghton’s detached lyrics seem to indicate a metaphorical drowning. Of this track I have said previously that it reminds me of both Depeche Mode‘s ‘One Caress’ and ‘Trilby’s Couch’ from AC Marias‘s solitary Mute album, One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing, sharing a similar sense of dark Twin Peaks-style mysteriousness.

A sense of mysteriousness also dominates ‘The Barely Skinny Bone Tree’, which sounds vaguely like a traditional Russian or Greek dance song, all plucked violin and the sense that at any second it could accelerate into a manic and out-of-control fervency, only offset by Houghton’s floating, dark vocal. The chorus sees the plucking replaced by mournful strings and a sense of weariness and strained sadness. ‘The Barely Skinny Bone Tree’ has a deeply affecting quality, though it’s queasily unsettling at the same time.

As if to confound further still, once ‘Carousel’ winds down, an uncredited song suddenly snarls into view. This bonus track (I’ve been advised that it’s called ‘Prick AKA Sean’) sounds like Green Day’s take on grimy punk rock, Houghton’s voice barely audible underneath the Hooves’ ramshackle harmonies. Against all the odds, this song is angry, joyous, a little bit glam-rock and evidently a whole lot of fun after the more studied pieces elsewhere. It provides a fittingly baffling conclusion to a brave, adventurous and above all, well-realised debut album, and one that was truly worth waiting for.

First posted 2012; edited and re-posted 2019. This archive review was brought to you by the letter H, as chosen by Jorge Punaro.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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I’m From Barcelona – We’re From Barcelona (Interpop single, 2006)

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‘We’re From Barcelona’ by I’m From Barcelona received a physical release on Mute‘s Interpop imprint in September 2006. The track had been available on iTunes earlier in the year, first as part of the EMI Sweden Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams, Buddy! EP, and then again as a single track download. The sleeve photo captures all 25 of the members of the band, like some sort of yearbook photo; the sleeve helpfully lists out who all the members are, but doesn’t go so far as to tell you what they all actually do in the band.

Kitsch sleeve aside, ‘We’re From Barcelona’ is a highly original pop track. Taking its cues from grand, Phil Spector or Van Dyke Parkes-style productions, the song is multi-layered to the point where it is often difficult to identify individual instruments, something that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys did to much more commercially-successful effect on Pet Sounds.

As songs go, ‘We’re From Barcelona’ is one of the happiest, most upbeat and inoffensive track ever conceived, with pretty, tinkly, sincere melodies and a chorus that only the most depressed individual would fail to be moved by. The CD single version includes a different version of the song, minus the lead vocals.

B-side ‘Glasses’ also appeared on iTunes as part of EMI Sweden’s digitial release of ‘Collection Of Stamps’. Beginning with the sound of cicadas, the track evolves into a gentle, rousing folk ballad about not wanting to wear spectacles. Quite how the group’s founder Emanuel Lundgren manages to be able to write songs about the most mundane feelings and objects is well beyond me, but the delicate ‘Glasses’ – all simple percussion, big sweeping vocal harmonies and relaxed, bluesy guitars – is another example of a very individual talent.

First posted 2011; edited and re-posted 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Foil – Never Got Hip (13th Hour album, 2000)

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While all of the trademark Foil elements – heavy drums, rapidfire punk guitar riffs and tense and intelligent vocals – are present on Never Got Hip, their second album for Mute‘s 13th Hour sub-label reveals a more emotive quality to the Scottish fourpiece.

At times, Never Got Hip has an unexpected pop twist, and at others – on the string-soaked ‘Groundwork’, or ‘The Ghost Of Vernon Howell’ – a maudlin, almost weary tone. Like vintage whisky, it’s a perfect blend, a well-executed masterpiece that also now appears to be their swansong, since no new Foil releases have appeared since this album came out in 2000.

Melody is an integral, and unchanged aspect of the Foil sound, demonstrated on tracks such as ‘End Of The World’, which also features Hugh’s familiar half-spoken, half-sung narrative and a midsection reminiscent of many a tumbleweed and dustbowl scene in classic westerns.

At times, this is uncomfortable, depressing listening, reminiscent of the kind of bitter, bleak music favoured by Joy Division or Nirvana, despite the inclusion of the pop gem single ‘Superhero No 1’, or the supreme upbeat thrash of ‘Half Life Bunker’. When they do let rip with their particular brand of high-speed rock, it is with a controlled and clipped professionalism borrowed from their influences (e.g. Fugazi, Minor Threat). With Hugh Duggie‘s refreshingly restrained vocal rarely straying into shredded rage territory, the duelling guitar interplay and drum fills are reminiscent of both Pixies and Sonic Youth (check out the Thurston Moore-isms embedded into ‘Weird Kid’).

What’s frustrating about Never Got Hip, is that if this record was released – and better-marketed – just a couple of years later, it would possibly have garnered a degree of pop chart success. In the light of rock’s sudden resurgence in the mid-2000s, a single like ‘I’ll Take My Chances’ was miles better than some of the rubbish faux-punk that our ears had to contend with at that time. That track represents an emotional masterpiece with a punk rock core; it rocks out whilst tugging at the heartstrings. The chorus on the final track ‘Claremont Junction Optimist’ perfectly encapsulates the contrast : ‘You breathe new life into me / And I’ll do what’s necessary‘. It’s the sound of a reluctant coming of age.

Foil were Hugh Duggie (vocals, guitar), Colin McInally (vocals, guitar), Alan Findlay (drums) and Shug Anderson (bass). Never Got Hip was recorded at Edinburgh’s Chamber Studios.

First published 2004; edited and re-posted 2019. This post was brought to you by the letter F, chosen by Andy Sturmey.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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

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

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.

blumen

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