With the likes of Deutsche Wertarbeit, Der Plan and Christof Glowalla in their catalogue, Seattle’s Medical Records clearly has a way with the Neue Deutsch Welle archive, and notably with those artists whose connections to prog are particularly audible, and who make a mission out of digging out novel routes around synth-pop. Tse Tse’s Land in Sicht has been sitting in the vaults since 1983, when it came out on the small but rather interesting Neuland Tonträger. This reissue from Medical opens up yet another path in the dark green plaines of NDW (and the record’s dark green, too).
Cheaply and instinctively home-made by Claas Mehlhop and Clement Hülse (one a classically trained flutist, one had recently been kicked out of a punk band), Land in Sicht manages to juxtapose a nervous, brash, youthful sentimentality with a masterful control of gloomy cinematic atmospheres, the whole thing peppered with reoccurring folky – and in fact even churchy – melodies. As a condiment to all of this, Tse Tse mastered the art of extracting the ghost out of very cheap equipment (Casios!) and Land in Sicht seems to revel in its ability to do things with ten-a-penny sounds. There is a bleakness tinged with a tongue-in-cheekness here, but less cynical than a lot of NDW, almost teenage. Rewarding and surprising little record.
The Italo archive isn’t only made of mega-producers, but also of millions of records made without Miami-induced dreams or starry-eyed fantasies. Originally released in 1985, and written and produced by a team of relative unknowns, Alex Valentini’s Beautiful Life is one such charming example of a record that really shaped Italo Disco’s identity as a genre, in its most realistic incarnations. The record comes from the passionate underworld of private radios and summer parties in provincial Tuscany, where Valentini worked as a DJ before and after this magnificent fluke of a track.
Stark and tormented but boyishly awkward, “Beautiful Life” is a melancholy Italo piece where everything sounds right: just the right dose of minimal angularity, the right brush of tropical suggestions, the right cheapness, the right sadness, and the right emotion, to use an Italo word. The utterly mysterious lyric is stated almost matter-of-factly by Valentini, accompanied by a powdery, unpretentious female voice that sentimentally utters words we will never really understand. After recent beauties such as Decadance’s “On and On (Fears Keep On)” and B.W.H.’s “Livin’ Up”, this is another blessing from Archivio Fonografico Moderno, made all the more special by re-edits from Italoconnection and Flemming Dalum. This is one for the arrival of summer, and there’s enough of it to keep you dancing until September.
Released a few days before April, Galop was undoubtedly the reissue that threw the longest shadow over the month, and about time too. Lena Platonos’s contribution to electronic music has been acknowledged by the Greek underground for a long time, so it’s good for us all to finally bite into it, above and beyond the hit “Bloody Shadows From Afar”. Platonos has a true sense of pop and a strong experimental instinct, her finger absolutely on the pulse of her time.
The album oscillates effortlessly between dark, pulsating analogue landscapes and tense storytelling, as she crafts a world which is knowing, smart and ironic, and also very warm. Rigid drum patterns, metallic vocoders, frozen basslines and crazed synths are led imperiously by Platonos’s languid voice, which seems to come from a time suspended between the never and the now. To listen to Galop is to enter a world of slow pulses, phone bleeps, threatening supernovas, and language taking pleasure in itself.
Made by Platonos single-handedly in 1985, Galop was described by its maker as “a study in the mythology of urban population of the contemporary metropolis and also a gaze into the future life of it.” An extremely accomplished study no less, which deserves attention, and this elegant record is essential to the story of Mediterranean post-modernity.
With work from Beatriz Ferreyra, André Stordeur, the epic Pierre Henry boxset and more, April saw a wealth of reissues in early electronics. Michel Redolfi’s debut opus, Pacific Tubular Waves / Immersion, which dates back to 1980, is a welcome re-edition of a somewhat neglected piece made between Marseille and San Diego as a reflection in two parts of Redolfi’s encounters with the Pacific Ocean. Freezing and crystalline, full of circuitous sonic events, it’s a good introduction to the Frenchman’s later works, which continued (and continues) to research an idea of subaquatic music and underwater listening.
The A-side is a synthetic interpretation and ‘imitation’ of the rhythmic and textural dynamics of tubular waves, composed for and executed on an early, mesmerising digital synthesiser. The B-side, “Immersion”, consists of those same recordings remodelled by the sea itself, as Redolfi experiments with underwater transmissions of sound with the partial and full immersion of his equipment.
Overall though, the music doesn’t sound like an experiment. It glistens like a calm sea as repetitive tones are interspersed by rough, watery field recordings and moments of threatening drone, with white crisp atmospheres punctuating the sound here and there with a sort of science-fictional menace that suggestively drags you in underneath an imaginary abyss. Indeed, it’s a small ‘utopia of the senses’, which is what Redolfi said he wanted from his electroacoustic music. Pacific Tubular Waves / Immersion makes present a complex sonic world which you can somehow feel, and engages not only your ears but your body, your skin.
Andy Votel’s label has been on a roll since the off, reissuing fascinating music by the likes of Italian-American pianist Suzanne Ciani, Belgian composer Louis De Meester and that fine Industrial album by Alessandroni. Keeping the momentum going, Dead Cert provided one of April’s most surprising reissues in Electronic Music, Tar and Sehtar, a record that comes from Iran, or rather from an Iranian at Columbia University. Despite the unassuming title, this first album of only two from Dariush Dolat-Shahi contains much more than what it describes itself as: it’s a sort of visionary combination not only of different instruments, but also of differing sonic languages and sensibilities.
Inheriting the Iranian folk sceptre and passing it expertly through his academic research in electronic music, Dolat-Shahi creates a totally alien world of sound while maintaining a sonic equilibrium where rumbles of modular synths echo in and out of traditional folk melodies, while synthetic pulses open onto samples of pouring rain and sweet birdsong. Between the paces and the influences of the music a whole range of sonic textures merge, and the resulting album is mysterious and dense without falling victim to over-intellectualism, and while the work is complex, it remains anchored by simplicity.
Will by Hunting Lodge is many things: an invitation to explore the edgier shores of the American underground and a pitch-black, pull-me-apart-and-feed-me-to-the-dogs listen that contains the first seed of what went on to become the label, concept and hub known as S/M Operations. Most of all this reissue through Dais is the first chance we’ve been given to hear the record as it was meant to be. The original Will is awash with white noise and skew-whiff levels of mixing as Hunting Lodge’s young Lon C. Diehl and Richard Skott naively, but uncompromisingly, took to the mastering process themselves in 1983.
But refusals to compromise always pay back, sooner or later. Hunting Lodge’s third opus is a threatening, ice-cold masterpiece of radical industrial music which still has a few lessons to teach and a lot of pleasure to give. A tidal wave of impossibly jagged rhythms, metallic throaty drones, bangs and clangs in abandoned factories and distorted voices from afar, Will is a perfect synthesis of the various veins that run through Diehl and Skott’s brief but industrious musical career. Some three decades on, Will sounds like an accomplished monument to the brutal yet melancholy side of American industrial. The album is noisy in a haunting way, rabid and unrelentlessly bleak, but it is also thoughtful. Listening to this loud and not in the company of others has been one of the best evenings May has granted us.
San Francisco’s Dark Entries is undoubtedly going through a period of bright-eyed and bushy-tailedness, and the reissue of Max Guld’s For Enden Af Corridoren is no exception. The record is a solitary enterprise, recorded between 1984 and ’85 in a flat on the outskirts of Copenhagen, which, as you can imagine, was at the end of a corridor. And what a corridor it must have been. Guld’s record is an illustrious example of concentrated home-synth, and joins the ranks of what’s almost a genre of serious and passionate and Scandinavian solo male works, up there with Lars Falk’s Through, Glenn Winter’s Bruna Hundars Död or Daily Fauli’s Fauli Til Dauli.
Released on tape in only 100 copies and relatively under-celebrated since its release, the record is 40-odd minutes of sparse synthesiser pieces that are both unpretentious and clever; each is a little world of its own, punctuated here and there by mechanic voices, luscious guitars and delicate rhythmic patterns. The tone is most nobly ‘minimal’, winking equally to a certain soft post-punk mal de vivre and quasi-muzaky atmospheres of a cold Kosmische. There are plenty of childish melodies and folk progressions here, treated with interesting sounds, delicate when you expect hard, harsh when you’ve let down your guard. For Enden af Corridoren will enter that golden hall of intimate, quiet, cheap and inventive synthwave which makes for the best kind of private listening.
Similarly to the Fridge Trax Plus reissue featured above, Minimal Wave’s New Mexico celebrates another birthday, and also marks the anniversary of a renaissance. In 2005, the label’s brilliant Oppenheimer Analysis 12’’ was one of the scintillas that sparked the cold wave resurgence, to the point that Oppenheimer themselves went from obscure tape band to underground superstars, and a load of new bands seemed to be inspired by the English duo’s work. Since that release, Veronica Vasicka has become a household name and the words ‘minimal wave’ now denote a genre. This complete collection is a fitting way to fete the event: the label, its work and followers have changed and grown enormously over the past ten years. It’s appropriate to return to the roots, and to also raise a glass to the sorely missed Martin Lloyd, who passed away in 2013.
The Complete Collection contains “New Mexico” as it was in 1982 when it was self-released on tape, minus the less inspired “Security Risk” but plus the lean “You Won’t Forget Me”. The tracks, though presented in glorious ‘deluxe nuclear-style black and white vinyl’, sound just as they did some 30 years ago: crisp, playful, icy, performative, smart, ironic. While most aficionados of 1980s synth will know this material off by heart, many will also feel a particular kind of shiver that accompanies the experience of giving these songs a deep listen. A kind of amazement arises at the pop perfection of the music and crystalline clairvoyance of the lyrics, at the serrated, cutting rhythms carried by round melodies and deeply paranoid lyrics. Glacial dance par excellence, Oppenheimer Analysis sound more political and prophetic every time they return. Troubadours for the age of surveillance.
One of the most interesting things the current archival bent is managing to achieve is getting us to pay attention to records which in their own time might have been overlooked, might have sounded banal, might have been one amongst many, and letting them finally carve out their own discographic space. You could raise an eyebrow: if a record was deemed forgettable the first time why should we return to it? But in fact the gush of moments of great creativity often eclipses records which end up shining quite brightly over time. It happens with Italo, it happens with early techno, it happens with house – and it happened with the third of Vincent Floyd’s reissues on Rush Hour, which seems to be carefully picking through the enormous output of Chicago-based Dance Mania to single out some of its hardest diamonds.
The tracks on the I Dream You 12’’ are made of a mellow sexiness. A kind of ultra-sentimental Chicago house – bright, crystalline, and almost childish in its melodic simplicity – has a sort of melancholia hanging over it, a dreamy adult depth, lending the pieces classic ‘90s freshness a strangely pensive edge. The highlights here are the title track and the full-length version of “Get Up”, both evocative, absorbed little pieces, awash with subdued, cooly soulful rhythms and peppered with theatrical tricks – melodies zooming in and out of view, moments of suspension, the track stopping and opening up onto a different panorama. This is a fresh, glittery record in the key of poolside sadness, good for a particularly hedonistic June gloom.
Mannequin’s high summer offering is the reissue of two special collaborations between Mexican industrial-IDM masters Ford Proco and Coil, recorded in 1999 and previously only available on CD on Ford Proco’s own Vertigo de Lodo y de Miel. Apart from the archival interest the tracks will obviously garner from Coil fans, what we have here is two colourful pieces in their own right, an inspired combination of Coil’s nocturnal ways with the muscular, noisier shores of Ford Proco’s rich breed of harsh but considered industrial.
“Expansión Naranja” is fast, angular, tormented – rusty, noisy washes give way like butter to Peter Christopherson’s languid saxophone, surrounded by ghostly, complex drum patterns, which constantly mess with the listener. The second piece, “Ecuación de las Estrellas”, proceeds through echoed loops and sharp beats, as if walking heavy-footed through a lunar landscape. In spite of clocking up under 15 minutes, the two tracks are a journey – through planets, through forests, through throbbing empty warehouses. John Balance mumbles something in the background every now and again, like some sort of guide: he tells us to do drugs, he tells us that it’s not true that experience is the only thing that counts… considerations. Just enough to remind us that we’re in the depth of a Coil record looking at the stars.