Part of the pleasure of the current surge in reissues lies in a sort of archival fetishism, in hearing the crackles of the lost and forgotten – this, in a sense, is an EP rescued from the flames, and as such its crackles are particularly precious. There have been various ‘90s CD versions of this, and it has been circulating in one form or another for decades, but it’s still admirable that Dark Entries have the sense of occasion of returning to vinyl Clan of Xymox’s first EP Subsequent Pleasures, the unsold copies of which had been destroyed by the band in a fit of cosmic dissatisfaction circa 1984. The record is a sort of blueprint: though Clan of Xymox (then simply Xymox, the name they kept later for their easier side-project) evolved greatly from here, the seeds of their future as masters of dark-synth anthems are already audible in a rough, disorderly form; the record also holds a couple of insights into the band Xymox didn’t become, making it interesting for fans but also for wave lovers more generally.
Subsequent Pleasures is naive, it wears its influences on its sleeve; it’s full of youthful passion and demoish indecision. Injected with a love for old school British goth (especially for its guitars), it sounds refreshingly at home in what we could call a ‘minor canon’ of one-off Benelux-based synth bands – it conserves a bedroomy, experimental feel which places them nicely in amongst their contemporaries before their official debut on 4AD. On this EP Xymox are unashamedly tortured, and although they were never exactly emotionally neutral, there’s a lack of control here which adds a layer of fuzzy anguish which is innocent and beautiful. The writing on the record is also overall less personal than what followed: there’s a sort of societal angst here, less concerned with lost love affairs and more concentrated on the general dereliction of the everyday.
The relatively uncontrolled and slightly overcomplicated production is historically interesting and also quite thrilling in itself
The EP opens with Going Round, a glorious, completely neurotic driving proto-EBM track which indeed, like the world which Ronny Moorings laments, goes round and around as if on a loop, almost resolving and then starting again (it’s the drum machine as well, which sounds like it’s making its own decisions). Muscovite Mosquito, a hit that’s been beloved by the band’s fans at least since its inclusion in the 1987 4AD compilation Lonely is an Eyesore, is an equally neurotic, gloomy lo-fi ballad which actually, in retrospect, helped define the 4AD sound of the late 1980s: dark, mournful, but also soft somehow, private, bearing that typically Dutch/Belgian impressionistic colouring which also became the trademark of labels such as Les Disques du Crépuscule. Abysmal Thoughts, which closes the record, is the clearest embryo of a future song (we find its jagged, silvery riff in the 1985 No Words) and it insists, as does Strange 9 to 9, on a soon-to-become-classic palette. Both are dowsed in dark trilogy-era Cure mixed with Xymox’s own more worldly, more handsome existentialism, and with a not entirely expert but still very powerful use of a sparse instrumentation (a Yamaha synth, a rhythm box, a guitar, a bass and a Roland Space Echo). The relatively uncontrolled, probably even slightly overcomplicated production isn’t only historically interesting, it’s also quite thrilling in itself– it’s got a very rugged, sometimes even playful quality: the sound of the band is still suspended between the three-piece guitar band and the synth line-up; the form of the song is still open (they’re not, as yet, substituting choruses with naked synth-lines) and most of the tracks on the record, bizarrely, fade out – as if there were no possible resolution, no conclusion.
But as far as supplying glimpses of all the bands Xymox could have become, the real highlight is Call it Weird, in which we hear only Anke Wolbert’s voice belting out a repetitive lyric, overlaid in echoes, performing a sort of crazed fugue with a freezing synthesizer, exemplary of a sensibility which actually didn’t return very often in Xymox’s future work. It has a sort of offness which paired with the circular lyric and the serious female voice, is actually more reminiscent of certain much more recent Xeno & Oaklander releases than of anything Xymox did further along. Subsequent Pleasures sheds a sort of hazy torch-light on the subsequent pleasures Xymox would have introduced us to, but it’s also a rough gem in itself. Doing bursts of epic without the slightest hint of gloss, mixing blurry malaise with a quasi-New Beat sensibility, this isn’t only a vintage fragment saved from the fire, it’s a record we’ll keep listening to – and dancing to – for a long time.