Virginia Astley

From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (Rough Trade 1983)

http://www.mediafire.com/?2ja28xn7tmd

I’ve always been a sucker for the classical/ambient hybrids of Roger Eno, Kate St. John, Michael Nyman and Roedelius. Nyman definitely veers more towards the neo-classical end of the pool, but the others have devoted themselves to this utterly pleasant, bucolic music that challenges noone, but remains in your consciousness long after you turn the stereo off for the night. My obsession with these sounds stem from my college years listening to the Orb, Pete Namlook, the Fax label and Penguin Cafe Orchestra and discovering beauty in things that weren’t layered in reverb and psychedelic effects.

I always found From gardens Where we Feel Secure to be a bit of an oddity in the context of the Rough Trade label, but I guess it isn’t so surprising since they embraced all ends of the musical spectrum. However, Virginia Astley did play piano on some of Siouxsie and the Banshees early works and some of this wouldn’t sound out of place on an 80s 4ad album.  As a side note, she is Pete Townsend’s sister-in-law, but that lame tidbit provides little insight into these soothing sounds.

There is something subtly challenging lying beneath the surface of the rural ambience of the album. In fact, certain tracks gel due to the combo of uplifting bliss and dissonant undertones that veer into its happy-go-lucky path. Although I assume her aim was to assume the relaxed charm of the countryside, I always associated it with time spent stoned in Western Pa or driving along the Georgia coast. There is nothing particularily southern or Pennsyltuckian about it, but it reminds me of quiet moments far away from all who may vex you or drag you into drama not of your making. Ultimately, it is just goddamn pretty and soothing on those days when the heart rate needs to crawl and distractions need to slowly fade into the background of a hectic existence.

Disco Inferno

D.I. Go Pop (1994 Rough Trade)

http://www.divshare.com/download/4814230-e35

If I had to compile a list of my favorite albums of the 90s, D.I. Go Pop would be near the top. Their earlier eps and the Open Doors, Closed Windows lp were full of bleak, gothic post-punk that owed much to Joy Division, New Order’s Movement and the 4ad roster. It was derivative to be sure, but they experimented and expanded upon the work of their influences to create something entirely their own. However, none of this prepared me for the fucked up, sad and brilliant direction they took on D.I Go Pop.

D.I. Go Pop was released a year after Seefeel’s Quique and both share some parallels. Where Seefeel used My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and shoegaze as a launching pad for their love of electronics and dub, Disco Inferno’s discovery of the MIDI sampler enabled them to create a wholly unique and groundbreaking sound. Quique was a throbbing, sexual drone that is warm and inviting while D.I. Go Pop is a dark, alienating album that approximates the depression and loneliness of Ian Curtis’ suicidal worldview. The difference between the two bands is that Disco Inferno blew apart their love of Factory and 4ad into a million pieces and reassembled them in a way that still sounds new today.

Their usage of the MIDI sampler pervades the record and guitarist/vocalist Ian Crause even hooked up each individual string to its own sampler. This triggers a kaleidoscope of effects that are downright disorienting at times, but they complement Crause’s bitter songs of estrangement and loss. If you removed these electronic effects, D.I. Go Pop is just like the rest of their output. The fan in me wants to know what music, person or life event influenced them to incorporate electronics into their music because it made the difference between a good album and a classic. Anyway you slice it, D.I. Go Pop still sounds as alien as it did fourteen years ago.

The Delays

Faded Seaside Glamour

http://www.divshare.com/download/4710547-d03

I cannot begin to count the ways I hated this album at first listen. An esteemed colleague pulled me aside during a happy hour or a drunken visit to the nearby record store a few blocks from the selfsame happy hour. It doesn’t really matter other than to suggest that I was resistant to his statement that “You need to hear this Delays album, it sounds like Stevie Nicks except it’s a dude singing.” Bryan, I apologize if I muddled the mixture as usual. However, I distinctly remember my defiance to the idea of a fellow putting on the guise of the ultimate gypsy, Stevie Nicks.

I have been indoctrinated to the gypsy supremacy of Stevie Nicks by more than a few ex-girlfirends. However, those same ex-girlfriends also attempted to convince me that Annie Lennox’s solo albums were masterpieces. (Editors note: I only believe them to be enjoyable albums in the company of a lovely woman.) When they brought up Sarah McLachlan as a feminine icon, I felt dirty, but said no. Tori Amos was a coin-toss, but I picked heads and I find the coin landing on tails much too often. I am getting carried away with myself, let’s get to The Delays, whom I love in a conditional way.

Lead singer Greg Gilbert has perfected the throaty magic of Ms. Nicks and wields it effectively and does sound like a fellow who can imitate Stevie Nicks after a whiskey and a few cigs. There is no mockery in this statement. I love this about his vocal acrobatics. I don’t even wince when the slow numbers happen and I think I am listening to The Wild Heart on my headphones.

Honestly, Isome of this is sheer mimicry while other moments really knock my socks off. The opener, “Wanderlust” opens with some well-placed steel drum as Gilbert swoons over every note of lyrics like “Can You hear that knocking in your soul/No, you don’t listen.” It is the theatrical qualities of his voice that make such lines work, just like a chorus of “Stand Back, Stand Back” worked. My parallels are drawn too closely since this band also delves into folk and Brit-pop. The other albums blow. This one offers an intriguing glimpse of what might have been.

A.R. Kane – 69

June 10, 2008

AR Kane

69

http://www.mediafire.com/?yawzgiliydm

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.