Zola Jesus @ The Mothlight 9-29-17

I really apologize for this cruddy photo. There are three musicians onstage. I think it’s time for a new iPod Touch…Yes, I bumped up the exposure in Photoshop…

I’m so focused in my music buying. Often, I am building up a collection of this or that artist in preparation of a REVO CD or BSOG, that I forget to broaden my horizons. When an act that I’ve read about who sounds interesting makes their way to my sleepy little town (which is still the cultural center of the western third of my state) my impetus is to attend. Shows can be few and far between in my near-rural locale, though in these days of a completely moribund music industry, it’s true that live performance is how the vast majority earn their crusts these days. As such, the concert calendar seems to be getting more active each year even as there have been many long, concert-free dry spells during my time in Western North Carolina.

The concert calendar is very much heating up this year. I am spending lots of scratch on concerts because you should partake while the partaking is good; that’s my motto. There’s nothing like the balm of live music, and when I spy an artist like Zola Jesus, whom I’ve not heard a note from, the thought is: just go! After all, it’s not as if The Quietus hasn’t been beating the drum for Ms. Danilova for what seems like years now. In fact, on the very day of this concert, they published another rave review of her latest album, “Okovi.” So  once again on the 29th of September, I found myself in The Mothlight, which is turning into my number one gig destination this year.

I arrived at the club around 9:00 to see a merch table full of Zola Jesus tees and LPs for $15/per and CDs for…$10.00?! There was even a long sleeved T-shirt with sleeve printing… my personal ultimate tour shirt fetish… and all for just $15.00! Well now that’s more like it!! If this show was half as good as I thought it woud be, the latest album, “Okovi,” was probably coming home with me; low budget or not. I actually did sample a few seconds from it on iTunes to make the quick judgement to attend, so I was tilting in that direction.

An Index Of Mentals

The opener was a chap called John Wiese whom I’ve never heard of and I wondered how much longer I would have to wait to find out if he would be our friend. Not very. At 9:30 the show began. And I didn’t think Wiese was a friend as he proffered biological leaning noise loops of animal sounds and booming subsonics. Interesting? Not very.

Every so often the sound of a violin being torn apart took the sound in a different direction. This was the sort of stuff I really hated in the 90s. Sampler collage. Completely unmusical.

After about 20 minutes it began to sound like a beehive between my ears before it abruptly shifted to something equally unmusical, albeit shot through with chopped media sound bites. Tedium. I wonder how this was intended to make me feel. Was I supposed to be cowed? Frightened by the inhuman drone of it all? Next to the demon who inhabits the White House this was a masturbatory wank off of cosmic proportions. Hell, 45 makes early Cab Volt seem like bubblegum pop comparatively speaking. This is less than nothing and a minor irritant in the current zeitgeist.

After 25 minutes recognizable chords occurred to two or three shouts of recognition from the audience. Notes were being played and there seemed to be a recognizable tempo under it all. But was it too late to make me care? Yes. It ended 30 minutes later to a guy in the audience who said “is that it?”

Zola Jesus Saves The Evening

10:20. Salvation. Zola Jesus hit the stage with an unknown violinist at stage right and Alex DeGroot at stage left on guitar. The mix was fine with the violin and guitar providing melodic texture. Most of the synth and all of the drums were relegated to machine for a tight, three-piece stage unit. Ms. Danilova took center stage in the intimate club environs. The staging was dark, with shadowy projections keeping the performers visually subdued. Her vocals were strong and treated with plenty of reverb so when she spoke to the audience, it had the same impressive qualities.

Now that I was hearing Zola Jesus in depth, the first thing I was reminded of was the band Heavenly Bodies, with Caroline Seaman on the old C’est La Mort label from 1990. It was that sort of impressive widescreen sound. Cinematic, yet capable of intimacy as many of the songs that night demanded. Ms. Danilova had a better singing voice than Ms. Seaman. She had a strong timbre to match the emotional impact of her songs better. I had read about the new album and how it had songs of a very personal nature in matters of  life and death for the artist, and I must say she transformed this dark stimulus into some beautiful songs.

When she spoke to the audience half way through the show, and she apologized for cutting the show short because she had just gotten over a bout of laryngitis and had to cancel the early dates of this tour, you could have knocked me over with a feather. She sounded quite strong this evening, but the last thing you want is a singer to strain their voice, so I was fine with that. We got a great hour long set that didn’t hurt for it, from my point of view.

One thing I appreciated was how the guitar of Mr. De Groot was playing through effects to render it almost entirely textural for the evening’s sound. Only once or twice did it seem like guitar tone reaching our ears. And speaking of ears, the club sound was excellent and clear. Not always a given as we see. As the show ended, I hit the merch table and bought a copy of “Okivi” and headed out into the night, not waiting to pop the CD into my car’s player. A lovely evening thanks to Zola Jesus venturing into our hamlet once again. They hd played at the Mountain Oasis Festival in ’13 but I had sat that one out.

– 30 –

Posted in Concert Review, Live Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Church @ The Grey Eagle 9-25-17

Second time unlucky with The Church [photo Ms. Monk]

I like The Church. I first heard them back around the era of “Remote Luxury.” When they had some success around the time of “Starfish” [a fine album that I own on CD] it was two thumbs up. I saw them on the “Starfish” tour as they were on a bill with Tom Verlaine [acoustic] and Peter Murphy. I can’t remember which act was headlining without having the ticket stub at hand. It seems to me that The Church were since they had the top 40 hit at the time. It was a fantastic show. Their subsequent “Gold Afternoon Fix” album also troubled the charts [“Metropolis”] but after that I had not heard a note from these talented Aussies. That didn’t mean that they had stood still for 29 years, though. They have averaged an album every two years or so! They were playing my city and it was the only date in NC so it was a “let’s go” moment.

My friend Tom had liked The Church from day one, and he had even bought the LPs in the pre-CD era. I told him about the show and he and his wife zipped into town for the show. They got in town on Sunday night and the show Monday was duly attended. We managed to find seats in the SRO club [Tom’s wife had foot injuries that made standing all night a no-go] and there was a friendly lady seated adjacent to us who used to live in the Tampa Bay area chatted amiably. Like me, she had last seen The Church on their 1987 tour and she asked us if we had been to old school Tampa clubs once she heard we were also ex-Floridians. Tom’s wife had also live in Tampa and I had attended lots of shows there when Orlando didn’t deliver. A small world moment.

The opening act was Helio Sequence and I kind of liked the Seattle duo. They sort of had a “two man Ocean Blue” vibe. Poppy, and with a geeky drummer who was moving around a lot as he played. Almost to his detriment as the best drummers are stone cold and don’t waste the energy, but let the kid have fun. So it was just drums and guitar but it was getting loud, and the bass frequencies [even thought there was no bass there on stage] was starting to make our esophagus vibrate. In other words, the dreaded bass fracking.

I don’t know about you, but when my esophagus was vibrating due to the bass being too loud at a show, it fells an awful lot like I was about to be nauseous. Usually that’s the only time I feel what seems to be reverse peristalsis. Do kids today find this pleasurable? Because it seems to be happening an awful lot. Helio Sequence seemed to win me, Tom, and his wife over, but my wife remained unconvinced. After their 40 minutes, the road crew got busy and The Church started their set not too much after 9:00 o’clock, as I recall. They opened with “Priest = Aura,” the title track of an album that followed “Gold Afternoon Fix” and as it began on an ambient note, the sound was fine. Then the intensity of the song built up to the point where the sound was once again starting to rattle our hollows.

My wife pulled her “give note to sound man” routine. The band had their own board, in front of the club’s mixing desk where their sound man was mixing. She handed him the note saying that it was “too loud” and as often happens, he moderated the volume back to passable levels. The band played another several songs and then pulled “Metropolis” out of their set bag. This was the only song that I had previously heard yet but as the concert continued, the bass levels were getting louder again. I don’t know if Tom was using earplugs [I have worn them at 99% of all shows for the last 27 years] or not, but he won’t put up with concerts that are too loud, and he left the room. My wife followed suit soon afterward as I was left there with Tom’s wife Elisa and I was not feeling the love. I went outside the club to see Tom and my wife chatting outside of the club entrance. Elisa soon followed suit and that was it about an hour into the show.

If a band sounds too loud, you should complain to the sound mixer. If the sound doesn’t get better, then we support leaving. We’ve done it for shows we’ve bought festival passes for and althought this was only a $20 investment, we had no trouble doing it. Maybe The Church had difficulty scaling their dreamy, guitar psychedelia sound into the small club, but the aggressive bass did their vibe no favors. Life’s too short to put up with this sort of hassle.

– 30 –

Posted in Concert Review | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

First Record Show In Over Four Years Disappoints

Your basic record show: dimly lit space, bins, old guys, hipsters, and…oh yeah, records.

Let’s take a break before yet more OMD posts. Other things have been happening and one of the that merited commentary was the first record show in my sleepy town in over four years. Just like the last one, this one was held on a… Saturday? The venue was not the typical hotel ballroom but a venue, like the brief run of shows that I had attended in 2009-2010. Unlike the Asheville Sound Swap shows, this was not held at The Grey Eagle. This was held at the Asheville Music Hall; a venue near the heart of the downtown.

Unlike The Grey Eagle venue in the more remote [yet trendy] River Arts District, the Asheville Music Hall was on Patton Avenue, which meant that I had inherited the Asheville Parking Problem® in wanting to attend this show. Three of the downtown city lots were full on a bustling Saturday of September 30th. The last lot I checked [library/civic center] had space available. So I entered and spent 8-10 minutes in a queue of three, slow-moving cars attempting to park. Level 1. Level 2. Level 3. Level 4. Finally, spaces were on Level 5. Then I hot-footed it across downtown to the venue; a ten minute jaunt.

I entered the smallish [300 cap. I’d guess] club to see about a dozen vendors set up in the long, narrow room. If you’ve never been to a record show, the photo above captures the basic gist of things. Big vendors have large tables with particularly rare wares displayed [and hopefully illuminated] on a large standing display. Bins thick with records sit on the tables and you have to sometimes wait to move to another bin to browse until the others move on. A quick once over revealed the sight below: Monk-bait of a high caliber.

Maybe I should start with these four bins?

Diving into these bins revealed that they came by the bin labels honestly. Most of the stuff inside was definitely 80s New Wave. I saw a lot of things that I didn’t need or want, but at least they seller had alphabetized the bins; a helpful courtesy. Prices were on most of the bags and I have to say that they were trending high. Albums that I might want to part with $3-5 for were instead in the $10-15 range. Albums like this one.

Believe it or not, I have never owned this…

Though chasinvictoria is now twitching painfully as he reads this, I might have bought a copy of “No Wave” for as little as $5.00, but there was no way I was going to squander 60% of the scant cash I had allotted to attend this show [this Monk had definitely taken vows of poverty what with all of the concerts, trips, and company we were neck deep in during this time] on an album which didn’t actually offer any music I didn’t already have on CD. I continued rifling through the bins.

I did see this Gary Numan 12″ [left] that I can’t say that I had ever seen before. I’ve cooled on Numan but I have the “New Anger” album [“Metal Rhythm” in the UK] and it was the best of his IRS era. No extended remix and this disc was…$15. Can you detect a pattern at this dealer? I moved on from the “N” section in this dealer’s bins. Nothing much to see but then I came across something that stirred deep memories I’d almost long since forgotten.

Snips “La Rocca!” I had read a review of on its release in 1981.

I remember seeing a review of Snips “La Rocca” in the pages of “Rocks Off,” one of the FM-Rock freebie music papers of my teenaged years. I remember the review made it sound interesting, so I picked it up. The disc was not bagged, and there was no price sticker on it. Irritating. I slid the disc out of the cover to find that it had no inner sleeve; lovely!  It looked dicey. I put it back and continued looking in the S-Z portions of these bins. Nada.

I looked at the other dealers’ tables. After this many years, one can quickly sense if someone will have anything that is of interest for sale. You have to look carefully because one dealer’s “punk” bins would be another man’s “new wave.” Nothing in the 12″ bins was calling to me. There were 7″ bins and I can be all about the right 7″ records, so I investigated the few there. Lots of dull, modern indie rock. But wait! One dealer had the 1978 yellow-vinyl re-issue of The Residents “Satisfaction!” I’d buy that, but not for the $20 asked. These prices here were definitely cresting the median asking prices on Discogs. Delusional Dealer Syndrome! I looked at some other 7″ bins but they featured well-thumbed [though seminal] punk records with $60 price tags on them, so I was about to leave this charade.

I had been there for about 15 minutes and maybe I could get back to my car and leave before I had to pay to park [the first hour was free]. On a whim, I stopped back at the Snips record. I asked the dealer how much. I was hoping $3.00-$5.00 and when he said “records with no stickers are $5.00” I quickly paid and left. I got back to the parking garage with eight minutes left. Unfortunately, there was a jam of about 12-18 cars queued to leave and there was no way that I was going to escape without paying a dollar, scratch that! $1.25 for my “second hour!” It looked like rates had been raised.

All together, it was an endeavor hardly worthy of the nearly two precious hours of my Saturday [I had to drive into Asheville from my job, where I had worked for a half day prior] that it had cost me to attend. Most of the stock was not compelling to me and the prices were decidedly unrealistic; they spoke of ripping off green hipsters now buying “vinyls” in this new and disgusting resurgence of the PVC music carrier medium. I had to admit, when I got home and researched the Snips record it looked like I had snagged the only winner in the place.

EMI ‎| UK | LP | 1981 | EMC 3359

“La Rocca!” sported: bass by Jo Julian [John Foxx, Berlin], engineering/synths by Duncan Bridgeman [John Foxx, Gardening By Moonlight], produced by Chris Spedding and Midge Ure [!], and the creme de la créme… synthesisers by Bill Nelson! Oh yeah! This was one record steeped in some heavy pedigree! I hope to actually hear this one soon and report back with my findings. Since it hailed from the holy year of 1981, it could even be life-changing! Maybe tonight.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Collecting | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 11]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Architecture + Morality | 1981 – 4

[continued from previous post]

In 1980, OMD were touring “Organization” in Europe and since they were playing places like Rouen and Orleans, wags in their support band named it the “Joan Of Arc” tour. That got McCluskey thinking, so when the tour was over, he read about Joan Of Arc and penned not one, but two different songs on the topic. The first was the second single from “Architecture + Morality” and it also opened up side two of the album, in the hit single placement slot. It peaked at number five in the UK chart and was the second top ten single from the album.

This was followed both on the album and in the marketplace by “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans].” The subtitle was a sop to Virgin who were livid that the band wanted to release a third single from the album with the same title as the second one. Fortunately, for Virgin [and us], the two songs could not be more different. “”Maid of Orleans” opened with abstract block chords of choral tapes from the Mellotron juxtaposed against hard splices of pipe organ patches and a snare roll for good measure. It would presumably get your attention on the radio because nothing else sounded like this. If anything, it reminded me of an orchestra tuning up, but this intro was 35 seconds of a 4:12 song. Daring.

Then the rhythm box kicked in and the song’s raison d’être didn’t lag far behind as Malcolm Holmes’ military tattoos punctuated the song’s waltz beat. The drumming was tremendous, and Andy’s vocals were calm and measured as they began singing the song, but each of the four verses happened, McCluskey ramped up his passion to match the fervor of Holms drumming until he ended the song on a climactic peak. As if to underscore the melancholy of the performance, Paul Humphreys was playing his leads on the Mellotron; imparting that curious, richly warm sound that has been likened to a “phalanx of oboes” and with it, the song became capable of breaking your heart. Often is the time that I can listen to this and break down in heavy sobs. It’s such an unusual yet emotional song and a personal favorite OMD song. It’s definitely a powerful cathartic.

More than just I thought this. The single made it to #4 in the UK charts and was awarded a silver single. In West Germany it performed whole realms better. It was the top selling single for 1982 in West Germany. It sounded like nothing else in the January 1982 charts it was released as a single in its heyday and 35 years later I’ve heard nothing else like it.

The much more abstract title track was next.  3:43 of the band dipping their toes into musique concrete. Subtle bass against organ chords with some machine like throbbing with random and synthetic construction noises placed wildly in the stereo soundfield filled out the empty spaces at the core of this number until the Mellotron choral effects signified the climax of the song, leaving the Mellotron cellos the sonic spotlight for the song’s coda fadeout.

Snares in 4/4 with the perkiest electropop melody imaginable heralded the coming of “Georgia.” This almost could have been a single. In the United States, their label Epic, thought it might bear pressing up a promo 12″ of it. In the end this was too fascinating and left-field a track to make a facile single of it. The juxtaposition between the almost cheerfully inane rondo melody that would not quit and the steady beat and the obscure [but still troubling] lyrical content was the sort of thing that makes me stand up and cheer but I could not imagine this song being anything other than a fascinating deep cut, but don’t listen to me. I would have said the same about “Maid Of Orleans!” I especially loved the heavy patina of sound bite found tapes used on this one. A year or two later, and this would have been done on a sampling keyboard. The Soviet sounding male chorus before the last verse were pointers to Georgia. Not the state adjacent to me presumably.

“We will watch the morning star
Rising home over Georgia
Dancing in the ruins of the western world
Blindfolds on and we don’t care” – “Georgia”

The song’s coda was equally unsettling. Synth chords predominated with what could have been equally a found vocal tape or McCluskey himself, mixed way down deep into the track affecting a borderline obnoxious, lilting croon. The synths dropped out leaving only a humming drone until the cold ending by a single drumbeat that sounded more like a gunshot.

This album had been quite a journey. It was now time to take it home with the final track. “The Beginning + The End” was a delicate and poised ballad from this band who had opened the album with the nerve-jangling chaos of “New Stone Age.” This song, in contrast, was almost a music box moment, with clockwork timekeeping but surprisingly, a jangling guitar [it even sounded like a 12-string] in the hook seat. a shocking maneuver for this stridently modernistic band. But the vibe of the song is fantastic. It showed the band were able to step outside of the technopop box whenever they wanted to.


With this album, OMD definitely hit some sort of sweet spot. It sold over four million copies by 2007 with three million of them in the 1981-1982 window. It took their fame and popularity to its peak which being, once you examine each track, a very idiosyncratic and left-field piece of work with only one obvious pure pop single on it to my ears [“She’s Leaving”]. The rest of it all seems like deep cuts to me, but millions disagreed. OMD really made huge strides on this one with a sonic footprint that encompassed very little of the Kraftwerk technopop of their roots and more than a little prog as clearly evidenced by the heavy Mellotron usage throughout. The appearance of guitars showed that this band had no fear at this stage. As much as they railed against them, they were using whatever they could to achieve the sound in their heads.

And that sound was not like anything else out there in the ’81-’82 landscape. While the band had their roots in cold Kraftwerk pastiche, with the exception of “Red Frame/White Light” on their debut, their work had been far more emotional that anything from Kraftwerk since 1979. The group tended to wear their heart on their sleeve, emotionally, while holding their intellectual cards close to their vests. The band were openly emotional about song topics that could be downright impenetrable. To these ears it was a fascinating dynamic.

Best of all, it was an excessively rich and warm sound that the group proffered. Not a speck of their sonic palette was cold or icy. Of course, it helped immensely that all of the instruments at their disposal at that time were analog. Their appropriation of the ridiculously warm sound of the Mellotron only pushed them further in this direction. Most of the sounds of 1981 were chillier than what OMD were swimming in at the time.

Thematically, this one was similar to the first two albums in that there was an eclectic mix of material that all fit into the band’s artistic point of view. They were reluctant at this point to write a conventional love song, but there was no shortage of passion on the album. Songs could be presentations of ironic distance [“Georgia”] but for the most part, these songs were straightforward to the point of transparency. Lyrics were trimmed to the bone in most cases with the fewest words with the greatest impact being the way forward. The unsung power here was in the music itself.

OMD’s penchant for not having a verse/chorus/verse structure mean that most of their songs had the melody as a wordless chorus in their songs. It was an instantly identifiable stamp on their work and the point where this ceased to be was an indication that the wheels were coming off of the good ship OMD, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. As 1981 turned into 1982, OMD were at their musical and commercial peak. How they reacted to this set of circumstances makes for a fascinating tale, as we’ll soon see.

Next: …A Dazzling Failure?

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Rock GPA, Your Prog Roots Are Showing | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 10]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Architecture + Morality | 1981 – 4

[continued from previous post]

“Sealand” was an austere epic for this band. Faint boatwhistle synths  with Malcolm Holmes sturdy, unaffected heart beat rhythm while mournful organ chords set the scene for the extremely minimal lyric content. Which would not appear until halfway into the nearly eight minute song. It began as a tone poem of solitude and isolation until the instrumental spell was broken by the appearance of McCluskey at the 3:35 mark.

The minimalism of the song was in direct contrast with its length. Many 7:47 songs were closer to prog opii by default than pop songs, and although OMD certainly had prog roots with their boyhood band Equinox, the arid simplicity of this song set a somber mood without and recourse to overplaying or flashy musicianship. This music has vast gulfs of space between its simple components. When a percussive synth riff set to a simple square wave pattern appeared suddenly at 5:41 the effect was startling,but in just 20 seconds it had faded as the slow chords of the song’s heartbreaking coda had the audacity to employ Mellotron® chords!

For those who don’t know, the Mellotron was an early precursor to a sampling keyboard that used tape loops of strings that were activated mechanically by a keyboard. It was a feature of many a prog album and gained huge notoriety with early boosters being The Moody Blues, The Beatles, and King Crimson. It was an orchesatra in a box… sort of. I think it’s safe to say that I had not heard a Mellotron on any record since 1975, and when OMD rehabilitated this dinosaur in a Post-Punk context, it was startling to these ears. Andy McCluskey claimed that the limitations of their cheap monosynths led them to giving the polyphonic devices [then dimes on the dollar] a try in order to build up their soundstage to something wider.

Side two presented a paradox when I first bought this album. The first two songs were both called “Joan Of Arc.” I wondered what this implied when I first heard the release. I quickly found out that they were two completely different songs and not just a remix situation. The first version was the second single from the album and began with more spectral choral tapes. It seemed like a seven second loop of choral sound was repeating so this pointed to the choral voices loaded into the Mellotron. Then a delicate glockenspiel soon gave way to a sturdy marching beat as McCluskey pondered the mystery of Saint Joan for the first time on side two of the album. The bass synth eventually joined in as the synths entered on the second verse. McCluskey was a model of restraint throughout the song with his passion erupting only on the fifth and final verse. As with most early OMD songs, there was no lyrical chorus. Then the song faded down all elements save for the drum beat, glockenspiel, and the Mellotron chorus; back to guide us to Saint Joan one more time.

Next: …The Saint So Nice They Sang It Twice

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Record Review, Rock GPA | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 9]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Architecture + Morality | 1981 – 4

[continued from previous post]

When the needle hit the wax I was greeted by sounds heretofore alien to an OMD record. Creaking machinery, pneumatic hissing, and frantically jangly rhythm guitars that sounded almost banjo-like until the wailing polysynths added mild reassurance that this was, in fact, OMD. Andy McCluskey’s vocals were completely bent out of shape with anxiety as he lamented “oh my god what have we done this time?” It felt like Bowie’s “Sense Of Doubt” escalated into an outright panic attack. The synth leads cut in and out of the mix; imbuing it with a chaotic wrath that was certainly a new leaf for this band.  In the song’s coda, an oppressive hum, like that of a bomber’s engines, gradually displaced the wailing lead synth. Ultimately, only the droning hum, the steady 4/4 beat, and the metallic creaking remained as it all faded down.

The next song was actually the most likely hit single on this album, thought it was only ever released as a single in West Germany, back in the day [one resides in my Record Cell]. “She’s Leaving” was the logical follow through to the kind of pure-technopop as represented by “Messages” and “Enola Gay” that the band was probably best known publicly for. The rhythm box in the intro gave way to a pair of descending bass chords before drummer Holmes backbeat really gave it an appealing swing while McCluskey’s elegantly crooned vocals were worlds apart from the chaos that had just gone before.

The lilting synth melody here was another OMD heart tugger that played nicely against the bittersweet lyrics detailing the end of an affair. Virgin had wanted to issue this as a single in the UK but after three [hit singles had been pulled from this album, OMD put their feet down and that killed the idea… except for in West. Germany, where the label did it anyway! I’d like to think that saner heads would have prevailed since this makes for a song too strong to languish as a deep cut on an album even this popular, but there we are.

The first single released from the album was “Souvenir,” as mentioned earlier. It was a stunning calling card for this album as it was completely different to any previous OMD sound yet was still filled with their now trademark heartbreaking melodies. This band astounded me as they were avant-garde in many respects, having been influenced by Krautrock, yet their sense of melody was overwhelmingly strong and could not be displaced by any amount of experimentalism. Moreover, that sense of melody was usually heart-breaking in its melancholy and poignance. This song was exceptionally so.

Dave Hughes was in the band largely as a live player for most of the previous year, until he was replaced by Martin Cooper. He remained in contact with the band and ended up giving Paul Humphreys access to some choral tapes he had made and Humphreys slowed them down for the ethereal air that they ultimately took on here. He then co-wrote the song with Hughes’ replacement, Martin Cooper. The result was perhaps the third electronic ballad ever made. Only Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights” [the first] and “Just For A Moment” by Ultravox come to mind as earlier examples for me. The combination of the delicate choral tapes with the winsome, arpeggiated lead lines were powerful enough, but when the immense rhythm track of Malcolm Holmes was taken into account, it took this already winning song to new heights.

Adding fuel to the creative fire was that this was the second song that was ever sung by Paul Humphreys, so that contributed further to its distinction. His thin vocals were multi-tracked to beef them up a bit but he really fit right in with the delicate feel of the track. The song stood apart from the rest of the “Architecture + Morality” album in that the producer for it was Mike Howlett, who had helmed the “Organisation” album and not Richard Manwaring, who helmed the latest album.  As with many OMD songs, the strong instrumental melody took the place of a traditional chorus.  The middle eight featured the choral tapes isolated with the drum track playing a shuffle beat with elegant amounts of echo and space.

This track was always breathtakingly beautiful. It was astonishing to me to learn, decades later, that Andy McCluskey found the song “soppy” and didn’t rate it highly. Well, Humphreys had found “Enola Gay” too “poppy” [like that’s a bad thing?] so it shows that no one is perfect. Others agreed because “Souvenir” reached as high as #3 on the UK charts [with a silver disc] and it topped the Spanish and Portuguese charts. It remains OMD’s highest charting single in England.

Next: …An epic length haiku

 

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Record Review, Rock GPA | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 8]

By 1981, the classic OMD lineup [L-R]: Malcolm Holmes, Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper

[continued from this post]

As OMD moved from 1980 into 1981, they found themselves synchronizing immaculately with the zeitgeist of the year which saw Post-Punk and the emergent New Pop aesthetic reaching for its acme in the public consciousness. 1981 was a watershed year for me as a listener of pop music. I can’t say when as many left-field, intensely creative productions managed to find such a wide audience as what happened [at least in the UK] that year. At the time, I was eagerly soaking up as much of it as I could from my home in Orlando, Florida; not the most progressive of locales. Needless to say, a huge proportion of my favorite albums of all time date from this calendar year.  It was a year in which the sort of music that I care the most passionately about was at its commercial peak. And it was the year that OMD rode the gravy train to enormous fame and sales in many parts of the world.

OMD as a touring entity by the end of 1980 encompassed the core duo with drummer Malcolm Holmes. Dave [Dalek I Love You] Hughes was their second keyboardist that year but left, and he was replaced by Martin Cooper, who knew the band and had earlier played sax on “Mysterality.” By the time that the third album, “Architecture + Morality,” was released in November of 1981, Cooper was firmly ensconced as the fourth wheel on the OMD bus.

The album proper got its name in a roundabout way from their friend/designer Peter Saville, who had a long and storied history with the band. His girlfriend at the time was Martha Ladly. At the time she was one of Martha + The Muffins [by the next year she would join The Associates] and she was a graphic designer like Saville. She had been reading the David Watkin’s book “Morality + Architecture” and the thought occurred that it would make a great title for the OMD album currently in the oven. This would not be the last time that Ms. Ladly had something to offer OMD.

It was in September of ’81 that I had heard the pre-release single from this album. “Souvenir” had gotten airplay on WUSF-FM’s excellent Friday night New Wave programming. I could barely receive the signal in Orlando; 90 miles away from Tampa, Florida but I listened that year since it was filled with the kind of music that I really wanted to hear. One night that summer the 10″ extended version of “Souvenir” had been played as an import single. I had no idea that the single was released at the time so it came as a pleasant surprise, to put it mildly! The song did not sound remotely like any previous OMD track and now I knew that OMD were stirring. A new album would be forthcoming soon.

click to enlarge

It was two months later when I got the news that Record Mart Warehouse [my favorite store at the time] had the new OMD album on import and I wasted no time in getting down there and buying a copy. 1981 was an interesting year for me. I was graduating high school, starting college, and my music listening was insanely active and the role payed my import vinyl in my life was exploding. I was honing in on import albums as being in my best interests and my attention to import singles was just around the corner. I bought the album and took it home; admiring the die-cut cream sleeve from Peter Saville Associates. The inner sleeve could show one of two photos in the front of sleeve window, but to me, the cover must always look as shown on he sleeve above. Inside was an insert for the OMD fan club in green ink on matching cream paper [see left]. It tantalized me with offers that were pretty much out of my reach with the impossibility of paying for anything in a foreign currency at that point in time. Life before PayPal was no walk in the park in this regard.

Next… We played the album

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Rock GPA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment