Rational Youth Released The Ultimate Minimal Synth Album With “Cold War Nightlife” [part 2]

bill vorn and tracy howe of rational youth

[…continued from last post]

“Les Meilleur Des Mondes” [The Best Of Worlds] was a change of pace, with what was side two of the original LP opening with an instrumental. The sound was deliberately paced with the music shot through with programmed glissandi of bubbling synths that highlighted the contribution of Bill Vorn, who was behind most of the music writing and programming here and he actually got the credit on the album of “Music Processing.”

The next track once more saw the band making music with a very political subtext as the experience of an armed crackdown was explored in the song as the music bed was reminding me of early B-Movie material with lead lines recalling the Manchester band’s sound.

rational youth - city of night cover artThe somber pace of the previous two songs was finally banished for the ebullience of the zippy “City Of Night.” Fast BMP sequencers and cheerful lead lines and string synths  made this track an obvious choice for a single and the bright point of optimism on what was generally a dour album not seeing too much hope in the 1982 environment. The middle eight here featured Vorn on vocoder and a vibe that was decidedly similar to what fellow Quebecois synth poppers Trans-X would put to wax the following year on their hit “Living On Video.” Hearing this, I can’t help but thing that rational Youth got some gears turning in Pascal Languirand’s skull with this song.

Given that the band were huge Kraftwerk fans, it was surprising that the only track here to recall the Düsseldorf foursome was the brilliant “Dancing On The Berlin Wall.” The phrase “Cold War Nightlife” came from this song and it was very prescient of the group to write what was the soundtrack for the actual fall of the Iron Curtain seven years hence. I appreciated the evocation of Harry Palmer in the lyric and the middle eight here was instrumental with wailing sirens over minimal synths sounding not a million miles away from the early Human League B-side “Introducing.” I also can’t help but think that John Crawford of Berlin must have been aware of this song when penning his own [less interesting, it must be said] ode to dancing in Berlin.

The 2019 CD was filled out with six bonus tracks. The first of these was “Power Zone,” another methodical, science fictional instrumental that sped up for a surprisingly vivid and fast-paced middle eight. That middle eight, in particular, really reminded me of Duran Duran’s “Tricked Out” from “Red Carpet Massacre.” Is it my imagination, or are there many ideas on this album that many others picked up and ran with?

The most severe sound here was the B-side of the band’s 1981 debut single, “I Want To See the Light.” “Coloboid Race” was a song written, lyrics and all, by Bill Vorn. It’s not surprising to hear that after this album Vorn left the band to continue his studies. Today, he’s an expert in robotic art and you can hear all of the clinical personality aspects that came home to roost on this track. Mr. Howe adopted the classic minimal synth, unemotional delivery that music like this all but demanded in the early years of the form. The ones that perhaps unfairly marked synthpop as geek territory for years to come afterward.

Next: …Cities Of Light

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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