Electronic System – “Time Trip” (1977)
Speaking of usually sharing things a few of you might not have heard–let’s follow up Kraftwerk with one of their very first disciples you might not know. No, this isn’t an pseudonymous outtake from Moroder–this is the sound of the influence of Kraftwerk spreading just west to Belgium, rather than south to Italy, and merging similarly with the spread of disco. It’s by Dan Lacksman, who should be just as well-known and revered as Moroder, at least for his work with his partners as part of Telex. Amazingly, the album from which “Time Trip” comes is easily found on reissued CD, while Telex’ admittedly more brilliant work is completely out of print–probably the most glaringly crazy O.O.P. I can think of at present. The album is not perfect–Lacksman was only a couple of years removed from pretty cheesy but promising sound library-esque synth-jingle-pop work–but it’s a lot of fun and sure to go down easy at your personal discotheque. [Electronic System are beatmatched at Musicophilia with the other disciples and children of Kraftwerk, and Kraftwerk themselves, on the “four LP set” ‘Le Meilleur de Les Rythmes du Monde‘.]
Phantom Band (Jaki Liebezeit with Rosko Gee) – “You Inspired Me” (1980)
Phantom Band, Jaki Liebezeit’s post-Can band and the most sustained project of any Can member, morphed considerably over four years and three albums (see this post for a track from their next album) but maintained a very high quality throughout. The second and third LPs have a distinct arty post-punk feel to them. But their self-titled LP from 1980 picks up largely where Can’s ‘Saw Delight’ and ‘Out of Reach’ left off, bringing in strong elements of African pop music and polyrhythmic percussion (as well as the underrated Can vocalist Rosko Gee). But in my opinion, it improves on these albums with greater focus and musical clarity, stripping things down a bit, and bathing everything in a gentle warmth combined with a feeling of mystery that reminds me of the best of Hamilton Bohannon‘s late 70s work (the echoed guitar at 3:20 is a virtual homage) and a touch of fusion-era Miles Davis. “You Inspired Me” is especially Bonannon-esque, combining major-chord joy (matched by Gee’s lyrics) and minor-chord ambiguity (in the instrumental sections) deftly. [For more Can and post-Can music like this, be sure to check out two recent Can-centric mixes at Musicophilia.]
Fela Kuti – “Unknown Soldier” (1979)
Make the time for this track, I promise you won’t regret it. “The personal is political/the political is personal” doesn’t even come close to getting it for Fela Kuti. This track has everything that’s great about Fela’s music and Afrobeat–all participants serving the groove in the best JB’s-like way, some playing a repeating, individually tiny sound figure repeatedly for the duration of this 30-minute track in order to create something much larger than the individual, something hypnotic and transcendent.
But this is one instance where I’d insist on paying attention to the lyrics, too: the story Fela tells here is astonishing, and the way he tells it keeps my hair standing on end for the duration. I can think of few moments in music more wrenching, heart-breaking, and astonishing than Fela’s description of the murder of his mother peaking at the pure sound of loss at 22:55-23:05. But the whole thing is the most effective contrast of humanity versus the dehumanising effect of military-minded “order” I’ve ever known, in any medium. This is one of the high achievements of popular music.
Death Comet Crew – “Exterior Street” (1984)
Rammellzee posesses a rhythmic fluidity and a full-force speed that made his MCing pretty damned advanced for the early days of hip-hop. And it fits the post-punk-ish artiness and darkness of this Electro/hip-hop track. The combination adds up to a manic, tense, sharp, and fiery concoction. Certainly it doesn’t feel like party music, unless it were a celebration of an apocolypse.
Neon Judgement – “TV Treated” (1982)
I try to avoid the “if you like [contemporary band x], you should check out [influence x]” formula. But the Neon Judgement were so prescient and so good, and so clearly foreshadow one of the musical developments of the last half decade I tend to enjoy–the entire DFA/LCD Soundsystem/Hercules & Love Affair/”dance-punk” sound (not to mention Goldfrapp, Out-Hud, Les Attaques, et al)–that it’s hard to avoid. The Neon Judgement were from Belgium, clearly loved Suicide and a fantasy-world NYC, and could be called DNW-related or proto-Electro, but their sound is more fully-formed and fully-fledged than those labels can often suggest. There’s the hard, long-lasting dance beats; the saw-tooth sine wave synthetics; the “punk” vocals; and the New Wave guitar jangle, and it’s intoxicating stuff–so much so that I’ve got to share two tracks. They deserve more attention.
Neon Judgement – “Concrete (NY Stoney Wall Doll)” (1984)
The Del-Byzanteens – “Girl’s Imagination” (1981)
From the final ‘1981’ mix up today over at Musicophilia, “Girl’s Imagination” is further proof of just how cool New York was in the world of ‘Downtown ’81,’ or at least in the minds of its art-participants. (One participant here of note is director Jim Jarmusch, on vocals and keyboards.) The EP earns its hieroglyphic cover with a beguiling, snake-charmer sound and a fascinating storyteller approach. The sound of the coolest mental breakdown ever, a nightmare you want to hang out in for a while.
Phantom Band – “Experiments” (1981)
Carrying on with the accidental theme of side projects/lesser-known work, Phantom Band has a central sonic element you’ll probably recognise: it’s that drum sound, so metronomically perfect yet humane, courtesy of Can’s Jaki Liebezeit (the guitar line sounds not unlike late-era Karoli, the keys have some Schmidt to them, and the bouncing bass wouldn’t have shamed Holger Czukay, for that matter). A dubbed-out minimal funk with fabulously altered vocals and squelching bits of electronic noise, this stuff deserves to be much better known. Call it post-punk, call it proto-punk funk, call it no-disco, it’s good stuff.
The Embarrassment – “After the Disco” (Original) (1979)
This is one of those long-lost, unreleased-for-years gems that really makes you scratch your head and wonder, “who shelved this and what were they thinking?” It’s got all the manic frenzy and nerdy humor of Kansas’ best band The Embarrassment‘s early singles (and comes from the same sessions). It’s wonderfully wrong and catchy, the rhythms of the instruments and the vocals never seeming quite aligned but made all the more compelling for it. This is the sort of joy that post-punk is all about. The ‘Heyday‘ compendium seems to go in and out of print, but if you find it, buy it quickly. [The Embarrassment are featured on the ‘Amplifier‘ mix from the ‘1981‘ box set at Musicophilia.]
Hot Gossip – “I Don’t Depend On You” (1981)
Hot Gossip were a “sexually suggestive” and “risque” dance troupe who for whatever reason also became a minor but enjoyable little sidepiece to the Human League/B.E.F./Heaven 17 post-punk story with their album of covers in 1981. This track is a cover of a track by the Human League originally released under the name The Men, a bouncy little dance-funk synth-pop confection in the post-punk to New Pop transitional style.
Charlie Chaplin – “DJ A Dance” (1985)
This is early “digital” reggae, dancehall, as roots music absorbed solid-state technology and began that process of creating an odd hybrid of the Rastafarian and the Babylonian. When compared to average U.S. hip-hop of the day, the flow of these DJs (the MC-equivalent) seems considerably advanced.
The Beat – “Mirror In the Bathroom” (1980)
This is UK Ska Revival at its best, in my opinion–borrowing heavily from 60s ska but not slavishly imitating it, pushing the artform (without breaking from it, as with Specials AKA or Fun Boy Three). There’s an itchy urgency to this track, with its perfect beat and double-time rhythm guitar, with that booming echo-drenched guitar line doubling up the careening bassline. It all adds up to the coolest take on paranoid (drug-fueled?) narcissism/obsession I can imagine. Catchy doesn’t do it justice–this is infectious. [The Beat are featured in a ‘1981’ mix and a ‘Post-Punk Miniatures‘ mix at Musicophilia.]
Jaylib (J Dilla & Madlib) – “Raw Shit” (2003)
Nothing touches ‘Donuts‘ for me. But even though I’m not a huge Madlib fan, I’ve come around to the “Jaylib” collaborations between he and Dilla. This track has a little of the feeling of both, succinctly capturing the chopped playfulness of J Dilla, and bounces along confidently with a catchy vocal hook (featuring Talib Kweli sounding as good as I’ve heard him) and a great organ sample. [J Dilla is featured here and here in very different contexts at Musicophilia.]
Jean-Jacques Perrey – E.V.A. (1970)
I love Pierre Henry, but I prefer his “serious” work to his most famous track, “Psyche Rock”. “E.V.A.” is sort of an alternative to “Psyche,” blending similar early sci-fi pop electronics with a funky backbeat and even the large bell accompaniment–but I’d have to say, I like Perrey’s take better, since this sort of electronics-popularising was his main thing. Sampled regularly and with good reason, “E.V.A.” is as cool today as forty years ago.
Zapp – “More Bounce to the Ounce” (1980)
This is the sound of the West Coast 90s to those of us in our late 20s and 30s, even though it was made in 1980 in the Rust Belt. The ultimate in minimal parts, maximum results, you could walk for hours without noticing, if this were your soundtrack on repeat. A truly perfect track.
Rail Band – “Konowale” (1985)
I doubt any other government-sponsored music has ever been half as groovy as this made in Mali by the Rail Band (also known as the Super Rail Band of the Hotel Buffet de la Gare, Bamako). This was one of the first African pop albums I ever owned as a teenager, and I still love it. Gliding along on a fretless bassline Magazine and would swoon for, my closest points of reference for this track are High-Life with its celebratory feel and sunny brass arrangements and percussion; and 70s funk-soundtracks and early disco during the bridge. Hopefully this will send you into the weekend feeling right.
Funkadelic – “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks” (1971)
Much as I love later-70s P-Funk, the rocking psychedelic-funk of early Funkadelic records really sticks with me, too. This is one of the best, with a nice piano/vocal groove and Sly-influenced socio-political lyrics; but what ultimately makes it a killer is that fantastic beat with the future-baiting tiny-room-reverbed drums sounding almost electro. You can certainly bet Andre Benjamin has been around this record a couple hundred times.
Les Attaques – “Deth” (2005)
Since 2000, Les Attaques have been drawing from the scuzzier side of the well from which Portland/NYC’s Italians Do It Better collective draw today, and with equal success. They pull together ice-queen vocals, DNW/Italo synths, Factory Records bass, earlier motorik German sensibilities, and bones-exposed disco-house beats with aplomb, crafting something that is definitely homage, not facsimile, imbued with a ghost of the past but not aping it. This track is the definition of a slow burn, sonically strip-teasing you with one slowly revealed element after another, achieving a dirty-beautiful ecstasy.
Bukka White – “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing” (1940)
Bukka White has, to me, the most unique, identifiable sound I’ve heard in pre-War blues besides Skip James, both vocally and instrumentally. Go buy the most complete collection you can find, and dig in. He can convey anguish, joy, aggravation and friendship not just in the same 3-minute song (ostensibly about doing a particular dance) but seemingly in a single word or chord.
Telex – “En Route vers de Nouvelles Aventures” (1980)
It’s criminal that basically none of Telex’ work is currently in print–a state that surely can’t continue for long. They’re better (and for my money “more important”) than just about every post-Kraftwerk/Moroder synth-pop band that existed during the post-punk era; their first three albums have the timeless quality we all love from Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World’. This track is a good introduction: warm, bouncing, graceful, sophisticated, fun. Thank goodness for the always-thorough (though currently moribund) Music Blog of Saltyka & His Friends, in the meantime till someone realises they could make bank getting Telex-awareness to a just level in the USA. [Telex are featured along with tons of other fuzzy synth-disco goodness in a four-part megamix at Musicophilia.]
Wire – “Our Swimmer” (1981)
Wire’s “final” single (until the late-80s reformation) carries on Colin Newman’s catchy qualities (think “Outdoor Miner”) but, if I’m not mistaken, taking on a little Factory/99 Records dance/funk influence. It grooves along with a one-note bassline, one chord (with that inimitable Wire guitar sound), double-tracked vocals, punchy drums, and bits of warm synth wash, slowly becoming more and more mutant-disco. There’s a weirdly zen-like quality to the whole thing, surprisingly. It would’ve been a proud way to move on, if they’d stuck with the break-up. [Wire is featured here in a mix of post-punk miniatures at Musicophilia]
Cyber People – “Polaris (Club Mix)” (1984)
A pretty perfect encapsulation of the electro end of Italo Disco, Cyber People’s “Polaris” has everything you could want–bouncing fuzzy bass line, cowbell intro, accentuating e-hand claps, a wah-wahed faux-guitar hook, clean chorded synth accents, a Depeche Mode-worthy melodic line, a couple mid-track break-down, and robotic vocals, 120 BPM, all wrapped up in an earworm-worthy, danceable confection. With a perfect cover in that key hot pink, green, purple and yellow color combo. It should put a smile on your face.