Crash Course In Science – “Flying Turns” (1981)
Crash Course In Science made homemade music from a basement in the distant future, in 1981. And it still sounds like the future in 2009. The ingredients are not dissimilar from much that we recognise as DNW, but what often feels amateurish and even cute from Germany is, perhaps counter-intuitively, more menacing, hard-edged, and cool-as-hell from a boy-girl-vocals group from Philadelphia. I can’t think of a single post-punk act more desperately in need of a full-on reissue treatment (outside of the full works as originally created of Family Fodder).
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)
This Heat – “Repeat” (1979)
Few one-off experiments are more exciting than This Heat’s “24-Track Loop”. This Heat were an expansive band, but at some level were generally identifiable as a “post-punk” or “rock” act; “24-Track Loop” defied genre at its time, sounding little like any established repetition-based dance or electronic music of the time, though drawing from dub and musique concrete methodology. “Repeat” is an extended mix of the seminal track, allowing each phrase to burrow into the listener’s consciousness before new qualities are slowly introduced; it’s no less stunning than its briefer counterpart.
Leda – “White Clouds” (1978)
“White Clouds” caps off a mini-them this week on Musicophilia Daily of less-heard music by well-known artists. The album attributed to Leda is perhaps the least likely offshoot of Tangerine Dream, apparently created by Peter Baumann. Even on the dancier/disco tracks there’s a definite touch of the cosmic TD sensibility, and it’s apparent on “White Clouds”. Floating female vocals are doubled by a sanguine synth line, above double-time arpeggiated synths and “epic” drums. It’s a lot of fun, and you should grab it from the Synopsis Elektronika blog. [And if you get going on the electro-space-disco trip, you can hear more Leda on the ‘Les Rythmes du Monde‘ “box set” at Musicophilia.]
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.
Front 242 – “Black White Blue” (1982)
I can’t speak for later Front 242, but in the early 80s these Belgians were really onto something, making a spooky style of electronic music that is akin to Throbbing Gristle or fellow Liaisons Dangereuses and presages later Electro, but which remains unique. This track, with its periodic hyper-32nd-note 808-hi-hat breaks and bouncing rhythmic emphasis remains strikingly contemporary.
Emmanuelle Parrenin – “Topaze” (1977)
I can guarantee you’d never match this track to its cover. Parrenin’s ‘Maison Rose‘ is an odd one, but fascinating: mostly pastoral in the Drake/Bunyan vein, but with bits of an edge that remind me a little of Laurie Anderson or Brigitte Fontaine or Linda Thompson; quite lovely and worthwhile. And then there’s this track, that seems like it’s from another album; but also from another time and place: abstract wailings ostensibly derived from a hurdy gurdy (the link with the rest of the album) are wrapped around a booming, single-note bass tone and then. . . holy shit, that beat: all echoed, sliced up, turned around, and utterly cool. Where this came from out of this artist, I don’t at all understand; Like a cousin to This Heat’s ’24 Track Loop, it’s simply out of nowhere. I’ll leave it for you to supply what genres it anticipated and by how many decades. All I know is, I can get completely lost in this beat, on repeat.
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.
Hajime Tachibana – “Rock” (1984)
I dig “Japan’s Devo” The Plastics, but guitarist/vocalist Hajime Tachibana’s post-Plastics solo work is generally more interesting and certainly more diverse. This track is among the more Plastics-like of his solo work, a quirky vocal pop with some of that B-52s 60s-spy-movie feeling but a little heavier and leaner. Other work (which I’ll feature later on down the road) is less like one would expect from the Plastics sound–often consisting of carefully arranged reed instruments, percussion and electronics, with wide-ranging melodic sensibilities that remind me a little of work by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Magazine’s Mick Karn, Penguin Cafe Orchestra or Terry Riley. This album and other early records can be found on spendy import reissue, but you can try these beautiful records out from the fantastic Mutant Sounds first.
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.
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.
Steinski & Double Dee – “Lesson No. 1: The Payoff Mix” (1983)
This track is embedded in the trajectory of contemporary culture, just as much as it (and its sequels) drew from mass culture through ’83. But besides all that “importance” bit–it’s just a great listen for those who dig electro, early hip-hop, and cultural sampling in general. Reissued in 2008 on the compendium ‘What Does It All Mean? 1983-2008 Retrospective,’ it’s a good thing this stuff is now quasi-legitimately available. UPDATE: New stream link.