Pale Saints

The Comforts of Madness (4ad 1990)

From the first moment I heard the angelic choirboy voice of Ian Masters, I was hooked. I’ve followed his circuitous career and always was surprised that more folks haven’t come to appreciate his more spartan, ethereal work as Spoonfed Hybrid and ESP Summer. However, none of these projects ever compared to the brilliance of his work on The Comforts of Madness. His influence on the band is made even more clear by the blandness of Slow Buildings, the album they recorded without him. In fact, the followup to The Comforts of Madness, In Ribbons, is a lesser work because Masters was disenchanted with the poppy direction of the band and pressures to tour outside of England. However, their debut was entirely Masters’ platform and it resulted in one of 4ad’s best albums.

The Comforts of Madness is definitely influenced by Galaxie 500, Jesus and Mary Chain, AR Kane and My Bloody Valentine, but Masters’ songs are much more delicate and fragile despite the swells of feedback that propel some songs. They also set themselves apart from their peers in the shoegaze scene with their sudden shifts in tempo and mood within each song. Plus, it kind of sounds like a member of the Vienna Boys Choir tinkering with twee and shoegaze by writing complex, but odd pop songs with tape loops and almost subliminal samples. They even cover Opal’s “Fell From the Sun” and improve on the original by lending it a graceful quality lacking from the original. It’s a thoroughly 4ad take on an American gem. I could listen to Masters coo the alphabet and be a happy man, so I may be biased in my praise of this vastly underrated album.

A.R. Kane – 69

June 10, 2008

AR Kane


Totally out of step with anything else in the late 80s, England’s A.R. Kane consisted of a duo, Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala. The duo got their start with the One Little Indian and 4ad labels that released two visionary eps, When You’re Sad and Lolita, that laid out a blueprint for the shoegaze movement that followed a few years later. These eps were influenced by ethereal vibes of the 4ad roster, but the sound was also influenced by dub and hinted at the queasy, almost oceanic sound which followed on 69.

In a somewhat unlikely twist they were the A and R in M/A/R/R/S which released the now familiar “Pump Up the Volume” dance track which became a big hit in England and the United States. Instead of cozying up to accessibility, the duo signed to Rough Trade and recorded one of the darkest, idiosyncratic albums for that seminal label. There aren’t many rays of light on this claustrophobic effort as their music echoes the most depressing sounds of the Cure’s Pornography, Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom as well as an appreciation of Krautrock’s most kosmiche moments. In addition, the bass playing on this album is akin to dub after a spoonful of codeine. This music shimmers and each woozy song sort of stumbles into the next. This all makes it sound inaccessible and strange, but somehow it is addictive and catchy in a bizarre way. The lyrics complement the hallucinogenic sounds with lyrics like:

here in my LSdream
things are always what they seem
here in my LSdream, in my LSdreaming

and all the shifting shapes
all changing to grapes
never making mistakes
in my LSdream

and all the peoples, and all the fingers
and all the peoples, and all the fingers
in my LSdream

and circles buzzing with life
tip toe, tip toe, tip toe, tip toe

Now that reads like a bunch of gobbledygook, but when all the elements collide, it is musical manna from the heavens. Enough already, I’m starting to sound like a big hippie.