Want List: Fiat Lux Are Making Up For Lost Time

Fiat Lux ca. 1983 L-R: Ian Nelson, David Crickmore, Steve Wright

I was barely a year into this blog when I first posted about Fiat Lux, the 80s band who notably emerged on Bill Nelson’s Cocteau Records label before getting signed to Polydor and releasing a string of singles… then nothing more. Bill Nelson produced the first single then Hugh Jones took over on the bigger label. As a Nelson fan, I had to try these records out and I eventually discovered that I liked them quite a bit. I added everything I needed by Fiat Lux to my miles long want list.

I finally found the “Hired History” EP in 2013 in a Georgetown record store while shopping with Echorich the first time we met; seeing Simple Minds. I mail ordered the “Blue Emotion” and “House Of Thorns” UK 7″ers from a UK record store in 2016 that had a nice line in want list items and appreciably low prices. This year the long pined-for complete collection of Fiat Lux material than fans of obscure New Wave have been opining for has finally manifested. Cherry Red have released “Hired History +” recently and it’s a must-have item.

Cherry Red ‎| UK | 2xCD |2019 | CDBRED 742

Fiat Lux: Hired History + UK 2xCD [2019]

Disc one – Hired History +

  1. Secrets
  2. Photography
  3. Blue Emotion [12″ Version]
  4. Comfortable Life
  5. Sleepless Nightmare [12″ Version]
  6. Aqua Vitae
  7. Feels Like Winter Again
  8. This Illness
  9. Photography [Unreleased Bill Nelson Version]
  10. Comfortable Life [Unreleased 12″ Bill Nelson Version]
  11. House Of Thorns
  12. Sleepless Nightmare
  13. Three’s Company
  14. House Of Thorns [12″ Version]
  15. Solitary Lovers [12″ Version]
  16. No More Proud [Proud Mix]
  17. No More Proud [Dub Mix]
  18. Sally Free And Easy

Disc two – Ark Of Embers

  1. The Moment
  2. Breaking The Boundary
  3. Blue Emotion
  4. Embers
  5. No More Proud
  6. Photography
  7. Splurge
  8. Secrets
  9. Aqua Vitae
  10. In The Heat Of The Night
  11. Solitary Lovers

As we can see, the six-track “Hired History” EP [which Polydor compiled from the five UK singles and released in several European countries – I have a Dutch copy] was here, along with all of the other singles A/B/12″ sides not on “Hired History,” so the first disc has it “all.” But there is also a second disc of the intended album that was never released. That album was to be called “Ark Of Embers” and it is where we will find the 7″ versions [I’m guessing] not on disc one. Better still, there are more LP only tracks that no one has heard prior to this release.

Fiat Lux – Commercial Breakdown JPN LD

The band must have been sorely vexed at being signed to Polydor and getting five full singles released before the album was mooted and then spiked. Most young bands in this period might have gotten three flop singles before the label cutting them off right at that point. After going through the creation/promotion of five singles and the expected album, having it cancelled must have hurt. How weird is it that there was a Japanese Fiat Lux laserdisc from the mid-80s called “Commercial Breakdown” and yet until this year there was not even an album issued?

After the band fissured in 1985, David Crickmore eventually released an album as part of the band This called “Lettuce Spray.” [see L] Wright joined Camera Obscura, which eventually became Hoi Polloi in much the same way that The Juveniles [with Crickmore and Wright] of 1980 became Fiat Lux a year or so later. Incidentally, The two songs released by The Juveniles on the “Household Shocks” album, [see R] long a pricey “minimal synth” artifact, have recently been re-issued on US LP and it is now affordable. Ian Nelson was busy with both his brother Bill’s projects as well as a number of UK pop/rock acts in need of some saxophone. Of course, his surprising death on his 50th birthday in 2006 ended his tale thusly.

I’m happy also that we have yet another orphaned album finally seeing the light of day decades later. but that’s not all that’s happening in Fiat Lux-land. As of 2017, the band reunited and tested the waters with a pair of DL only singles. The first was a remake of the vintage track “Secrets” given a post-modern redux as “Secrets 2017” followed by the first new song, “It’s You.” Then, ahead of the Cherry Red reissue, the remaining Luxers have released their second Fiat Lux album, “Saved Symmetry,” and it’s ready to buy right now.

Splid Records ‎| UK | CD | 2019 | SPLIDCD 21

Fiat Lux: Saved Symmetry UK CD [2019]

  1. Tuesday
  2. Hold Me While You Can
  3. Everyday In Heaven
  4. Grey Unpainted Rooms
  5. We Can Change The World
  6. Wasted [On Baby Tears]
  7. Long Lost Love
  8. It’s You [Album Version]
  9. Calling On Angels
  10. Saved Symmetry
  11. Secrets 2017

The hard copy CD has a single bonus track with the remake of “Secrets.” The DL only has ten cuts. [and can we call DL music “cuts” any more?] A cursory sampling at iTunes reveals that today’s Fiat Lux while less electronic than the sound of yore, is still blazing a trail down the path of dignified adult pop that plays well along bands like China Crisis or Fiction Factory. Unlike China Crisis, Fiat Lux have a band website where these and other items may be perused and purchased.

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Want List: After 40 Years, John Foxx’s “The Quiet Man” Will Finally Be Published This Year

40 Years in the making, “The Quiet Man” is finally published this year

I can chart my John Foxx fandom back to February/March of 1981. Once I finally found a copy of Ultravox’s “Vienna” album in December of 1980, I wasted little time in quickly absorbing all of the earlier Ultravox! albums, the Visage album, and the John Foxx solo album, “Metamatic.” I was an instant John Foxx fan; just add water. One resilient feature of the scant few Foxx interviews that managed to pass my eyes back then, was that Foxx always talked about this “book” he was writing. It was called “The Quiet Man” and we foolishly thought that we’d see a copy in a few years. The title had been taken from the song of the same name from the “Systems Of Romance” album and for a decade or so, there was no prose from it that we’d managed to see, but that all changed in the late 90s.

Parts of the writing filtered out first in the pages of Extreme Voice, the Ultravox fanzine. They had published excerpts in the 1990s here. Once I finally got to read some of it, it became apparent that “The Quiet Man” was the literary framework that built the entire thematic point-of-view that accounted for virtually every song John Foxx had written from 1978 going forward! Brian Eno liked to build cybernetic systems that generated the music he wanted to hear, by imposing arbitrary rules along certain guidelines. And that’s fine. But Foxx seemed to have decided what his themes were and then he created this literary construct to flesh out the details in prose. Prose that frequently became not only the thrust of the songs, but also their lyric structure as well.

Metamatic ‎| UK | CD | 2009 | META24CD

As I have read excerpts of “The Quiet Man,” I could not fail to notice that large chunks of lyrical content were taken from the writing. In 2009, Foxx’s Metamatic label issued a spoken word CD, narrated by Justin Barton, with a piano soundtrack by Foxx that featured five long excerpts from “The Quiet Man” and more of these passages were familiar from lyrics to songs of the last 20-30 years. But the project gave the prose room to breathe beyond the excerpts that had been previously published thus far. It’s 2019, 41 years after the song “The Quiet Man” made its appearance, and we need to get ready for the whole thing.

Our friends at Rocket88 Books, have pre-anounced publication of “The Quiet Man” as designed by his long-time designer, Jonathan Barnbrook. The book will have original photographic images and drawings by Foxx, along with a CD of Foxx doing readings from some of the stories. This is to be released later this year and all we know for certain is that it will be in two editions; normal, and “executive.” Either will have the CD, but the limited edition will include signed art prints. Judging from the DEV Book that Rocket 88 published last year, I expect that the regular edition will be an affordable book of less than $80. Pre-ordering will certainly net some sort of discount; it’s Rocket 88’s M.O. The signed edition will be several hundred dollars if we look back to the spudboys’ tome.

Currently, all we can do is to sign up for more information once it will be released at the “Quiet Man” microsite here. I’m in no hurry as dollars are currently tight. The news of this book finally being published at first gave me pause; as it seems as if Foxx could be putting a period at the end of his musical career by doing this. While it would be churlish of me to insist that my favorite artist keep producing music, his output has been particularly prodigious over the last 20+ years; second only to perhaps Bill Nelson. I can’t begrudge the man should he decide to draw it all to a close, just because I never got a chance to see him perform live. Though that would hurt. But I have some hopes that it’s not all behind Foxx as Benge has revealed that the long mooted John Foxx/Robin Simon project is still underway. Until we get more tantalizing detail on that note, let’s all just start setting aside our pocket change with the notion of buying this fine volume at some point later this year.

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OMD Make Another Summer Shed Tour – This Time With B-52s + Berlin

The B-52s were very generous with the poster real estate here for their special guests – very classy, guys

If you were paying attention to the comments on yesterday’s post, you knew that OMD were in Charlotte this summer. The bigger picture is that The B-52s are celebrating their 40th anniversary with a [what else?] fun summer tour. Well, with those guys it could never be dour. Maybe if Joy Division still existed they might be the only ones doing a dour 40th anniversary tour. And yes, our heroes OMD are once again swept into a long US tour with at least a much better and more appropriate headliner to hitch their wagon to. The B-52’s. And rounding out the bill from the same basic peer group are Berlin. Three bands I have paid to see headline in my life and times. Some, in multiple instances.

The big daddy B-52’s tour has a hefty 27 dates and will thread through various locales of North America that come fairly close to hitting most of the required marks. Interestingly enough, Berlin and OMD will also be headlining their own shows in and amongst those 27 dates, so that those who want a full meal from those bands will get several chances.  Where will this party stop?

Berlin headlining
May 24, 2019 | Agoura, CA | The Canyon
May 28, 2019 | Santa Clarita, CA | The Canyon – Santa Clarita
June 14, 2019 | Reno, NV | BBQ, Brews & Blues Festival
June 22, 2019 | Montclair, CA | The Canyon
July 5, 2019 | Milwaukee, WI | Summerfest
July 6, 2019 | Nashville, TN | The Cowan
July 24, 2019 | Paso Robles, CA | California Mid-state Fair
July 28, 2019 | Costa Mesa, CA | The Hangar @ Oc Fair
August 3, 2019 | San Diego, CA | Embarcadero Marina Park

B52’s/OMD/BERLIN [leg 1]
Aug. 04, 2019 | Los Angeles, CA | Microsoft Theater
Aug. 06, 2019 | Portland, OR | Oregon Zoo Amphitheater
Aug. 07, 2019 | Seattle, WA | Becu Zootunes Concert Series
Aug. 10, 2019 | Bend, OR | Les Schwab Amphitheater
Aug. 11, 2019 | Murphys, CA | Ironstone Amphitheatre
Aug. 12, 2019 | Saratoga, CA | The Mountain Winery
Aug. 14, 2019 | Phoenix, AZ | Comerica Theatre
Aug. 16, 2019 | Salt Lake City, UT | Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre
Aug. 18, 2019 | Greenwood Village, CO | Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre
Aug. 21, 2019 | San Antonio, TX | The Majestic Theater
Aug. 22, 2019 | Austin, TX | Bass Concert Hall
Aug. 24 ,2019 | Sugarland, TX | Smart Financial Centre
Aug. 25, 2019 | New Orleans, LA | Saenger Theatre
Aug. 28, 2019 | Clearwater, FL | Ruth Eckerd Hall
Aug. 29, 2019 | Fort Lauderdale, FL | Broward Center

OMD headlining
Aug. 30, 2019 | Ponte Vedra, FL | Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Aug. 31, 2019 | Charlotte, NC | The Fillmore
Sept. 3, 2019 | Nashville, TN | Cannery Ballroom
Sept. 4, 2019 | Cincinnati, OH | Bogart’s

B52’s/OMD/BERLIN [leg 2]
Sept. 06, 2019 | Greensboro, NC | White Oak Amphitheatre At Greensboro Coliseum
Sept. 07, 2019 | Atlanta, GA | Cadence Bank Amphitheatre At Chastain Park
Sept. 08, 2019 | Huber Heights, OH | Rose Music Center At The Heights
Sept. 11, 2019 | Grand Rapids, MI | Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts At Meijer Gardens
Sept. 13, 2019 | Toronto, ON | Sony Centre For The Performing Arts
Sept. 14, 2019 | Rochester Hills, MI | Meadow Brook Amphitheatre
Sept. 17, 2019 | Washington, DC | The Anthem
Sept. 19, 2019 | Philadelphia, PA | Mann Center For The Performing Arts
Sept. 20, 2019 | Mashantucket, CT | Foxwoods Resort Casino – Grand Theater
Sept. 21, 2019 | North Tonawanda, NY | Riviera Theatre And Performing Arts Center
Sept. 22, 2019 | Cleveland, OH | House Of Blues Cleveland
Sept. 24, 2019 | New York, NY | Summerstage – Central Park

In my own case, the B-52s are doing a July 26th solo headliner at the nearby Biltmore Estate, just a week or so in advance of this big package tour, but I won’t be biting for that. I saw The B-52’s twice on their “Cosmic Thing” tour in 1989-1991 and that sufficed for me. I saw Berlin on their 1983 “Love Life” tour [my third concert ever] and I’ve not heard a note they’ve recorded afterward, save for the singles from “Count Three + Pray” and the ubiquitous “Take My Breath Away.” I have five notches on the concert belt for OMD. Goodness knows, that I felt like springing for them opening for Barenaked Ladies; a band I actually dislike, in Raleigh, NC three summers ago. But then, it had been five years since seeing them headline in Atlanta on a VIP ticket.

The fact that this cavalcade will be playing nearby Greensboro, NC, only two and a half hours away is intriguing to me. I’ve never seen a show in Greensboro, but I’m open to the idea; just not this time. It’s time to put the damper on out of town concert action as the money simply isn’t there now. We’ve done enough of that lately. It would have to be John Foxx at this point. Not bands we’ve seen previously.

Commenter Mel Creighton asked yesterday if I were attending the OMD headlining show in nearby Charlotte. That’s only two hours away, but the fact that I already saw them on the “Punishment Of Luxury” tour in Atlanta last year [and it was magnificent] doesn’t make me want to spend the buck$ necessary for a rematch just over a year later. I suspect that the show won’t diverge dramatically from what they delivered on that headlining tour. But if anyone else reading this in earshot of Charlotte [or Jacksonville, Nashville, and Cincinnati] would consider going, by all means I encourage this! OMD are working on a high plane right now.

In fact people who see those four headliner shows of OMD in the middle of the tour are the real winners, no matter how nice a package this is, because ultimately, the factor staying my hand for the big tour is that in every case this will be three bands you like, performing their greatest hits collection on the summer shed circuit. A safe, comfortable show with few surprises. I’ve seen OMD do that in 2016, and I’m sated on that level. But for anyone else, here’s the ticket links for Berlin, OMD, and the B-52’s.

Holy Toledo! Those Charlotte tickets for OMD are only $25 general admission on TicketMobster®.

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Blondie And Elvis Costello + The Imposters Join Forces For Summer Extravaganza

Two great tastes… you know the rest!

Can you smell it in the air? The imminent aroma of Summer Shed Season coming upon us? The time when rock royalty get their houses in order so that they can play to as wide an audience as possible in the open air. A time of chardonnay and cheese pairings while listening to the strains of what is usually Classic Rock. Not typically our scene, but there was that time that OMD played their biggest US tour in 25+ years opening for… Barenaked Ladies? Yeah, I look back on that one and shake my head occasionally.

Fortunately, this summer will see some New Wave pairings that actually make more sense than that. Although it may just be down to the advanced age of Classic Rockers about a decade older than the Punk and New Wave generation becoming too feeble to hit the circuit, this summer sees some pretty decent package tours taking their place in the queue.

Who wouldn’t splash out two to three bills when the almighty Blondie is co-headling with Elvis Costello + The Imposters? Blondie are still out in front of their well-regarded recent “Pollinator” album while EC + The Imposters have just released “Look Now” to tremendous acclaim from the commenters here @ PPM. Memo to self: I still need both of those albums. Heck, I almost bought “Pollinator” on the week of release just for intuitive kicks! I’ve seen both Deborah Harry and EC several times, but if this were within striking distance, I’d certainly consider grabbing a seat. None of us are getting any younger and there’ll come a day when such giants no longer grace a stage.

Blondie are having a few dates alone up front, as are EC + The Imposters with a solo gig of their own, but from July 20th – August 10th it’s a case of “how are they going to decide who closes the show” syndrome. EC has about 2-3 times the number of albums as Blondie, but Blondie have about 1000x the number of US hit singles as EC managed. Both can rock an incredible show [as well as deliver duds…] but with 13 dates, there will be an odd one out if they swap placings every night. Maybe it’ll come down to a coin toss. I couldn’t make the call!

Unfortunately, most of the dates are concentrated in the northeast/southwest corridor. Many of us will not get the chance to partake, but I will just say one thing before we gaze at the dates below. Flights from almost anywhere in the contiguous Lower 48 are often dirt cheap to Las Vegas. Just saying.

Blondie/Elvis Costello + The Imposters | N American Summer Tour |  2019

  1. June 22, 2019 | Count Basie Theatre | Red Bank, NJ 
  2. June 23, 2019 | Strand Theatre | York, PA
  3. July 10, 2019 | Roundup MusicFest at Shaw Millennium Park | Calgary, AB, Canada
  4. July 12, 2019 | Roxodus Music Festival | Edenvale, ON, Canada
  5. July 17, 2019 | The Majestic Theatre | Gettysburg, PA
  6. July 20, 2019 | Bethel Woods Center for the Arts | Bethel, NY
  7. July 21, 2019 | Mohegan Sun Arena | Uncasville, CT
  8. July 23, 2019 | Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion | Boston, MA
  9. July 24, 2019 | Forest Hills Stadium | Forest Hills, NY
  10. July 26, 2019 | The Anthem | Washington, DC
  11. July 27, 2019 | BB&T Pavilion | Camden, NJ
  12. August 01, 2019 | Pearl Theater at Palms Casino Resort | Las Vegas, NV
  13. August 02, 2019 | Pechanga Summit at Pechanga Resort & Casino | Temecula, CA
  14. August 04, 2019 | FivePoint Amphitheatre | Irvine, CA
  15. August 05, 2019 | The Greek Theatre | Los Angeles, CA
  16. August 07, 2019 | Santa Barbara Bowl | Santa Barbara, CA
  17. August 08, 2019 | Concord Pavilion | San Francisco, CA
  18. August 10, 2019 | Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery | Woodinville (Seattle), WA

Blondie headlining alone
Elvis Costello + The Imposters headlining alone

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Record Review: Trees – Sleep Convention DLX RM [part 4]

Dane Conover in 1982

[…continued from last post]

One of the delights of this CD is not only the sterling album itself reaching our ears on a sliver platter, but the generous abundance of bonus material that more than doubles the number of tracks that were released in 1982. Two alternative versions of songs from the album are the bonus material also available on the DL version of the album. The single “Come Back” was present here in a radically different version that sounded very much like the original album track in terms of the music bed and arrangement, but where it differed, it did so dramatically.

The “moping guy” New Wave lament of the album was turned into a cartoony lover’s quarrel duet with backing vocalist [and future Mrs. Conover]  Missy Zisso going toe-to-toe with Dane Conover in a hilarious version of the song that had a completely different call and response lyrical structure. I loved the “power tool solo” that captured the chaos. Dane wanted smashing plates but engineer Earle Mankey put his foot down. Sigh. Does it cross a cartoonish line in the sand? I don’t know. Ask Thomas Dolby. But it was impossible to ignore and the conflict really brought the listener into the song.

The second alternative version was the even more magnificent take of “11:00 A.M.” where the music was whipped up into an even more Euro-sounding wall-of-synth that actually brought chills to my spine now. The motorik tempo and the imperious synths immediately brought to mind another record that would not exist for another two years: Blaine L. Reininger’s “Mystery + Confusion,” but even that wonderful song didn’t sound half this good! The vibe here had a dark portentous edge that worked like a fiend for me, even as the suit who signed Conover to MCA on the strength of this song’s demo, was pining for the lighter touch he’d heard up front. Too bad for any fans of this album as they had missed out on the definitive take of “11:00 A.M.” for 38 years!

What followed these were the ten songs that were ostensibly the follow up album that never was, “Pandora’s Box.” When the track “Fire” started, it bore small resemblance to the New Wave technopop of the “Sleep Convention” album. First off, there was a full band with Conover here. In addition to drummer Martin Eldridge, Jeff Becker [Four Eyes, Lovers Under Pressure] played guitar and Lee Knight [Joey Harris + The Speedsters] was on bass and they moved the needle closer to the “rock” spectrum, away from pop. Mr. Conover sounded here like Neil Young making a New Wave record, albeit less nasally. But his phrasing was very close to Neil’s sound, and this was definitely rock music with the vocals taking a defiant tone. What it didn’t sound like was a demo. This was a full-bodied production that sounded more elaborate than the album that preceded it. Trees were boldly going where they had not gone before.

Then “Never Believe It” took that conceit as far as it could go with miles of more bad attitude from Conover and some muscular strat-wrangling by Becker that was nowhere near the debut album sound. Then came the quirky throwback of “Searchin'” which sounded like it might have been a demo for the first album since the sound was definitely New Wave with squelchy synthesizer glissandos shot throughout the tune as well as the trusty Arp synthesizer.

After the surprising one-two punch of the “Fire” and “Never Believe It”, the rest of the material here was closer to the pop sound Trees were best known for. Some of the songs here showed that Trees were bending with the winds of time. “Runnin’ Wild” showed evidence of newer digital synths and even [unless I miss my guess] a sampling keyboard. I’m betting that Conover was very excited about developments like MIDI and was in a hot rush to incorporate the latest tech into his toolbox. After all, making a “one-man” album without MIDI involved a lot of laborious work at that time.

“Move On” was a plaintive pop ballad with appealing vocals while “Don’t Look In Her Eyes” was an even more clever love song with contrarian lyrics that really made a case for the paradoxically sweet sentiments. Tracks like “In A Booth” and “Live like You” were simpler demo sounding tracks that used rhythm boxes and were a far cry from the blood and thunder that had opened up “Pandora’s Box.” Speaking of which, that would-be “title track” was a [way too] perceptive look at where we might be today; acquitted by history of the intervening 35+ years. Sigh.

Rubellan Remasters has done us all a great service by not only making this CD happen, but by making it happen in the best way possible. Bringing this under-appreciated cult release into the future and not only mastering the audio with sensitive ears, but also involving Mr. Conover to oversee the liner notes/photos as well as bringing the album that never was [and dynamite alternative versions] in as the all important bonus tracks was best of breed work. It bears mentioning that only the CD has the unreleased “Pandora’s Box” album material on tracks 13-22. Buyers of the DL only get the ten tracks and two alternate cuts.

I will have to say up front that my ears were all the poorer for never having bought a copy of this album in the nearly 40 years of its existence, but I’m making up for it now with all the enthusiasm that I can muster. Dane Conover should have been talked about in the same breath as The Buggles, Sparks, and early Thomas Dolby. He certainly had as many ideas per minute as Trevor Horn with a portfolio of detailed and engaging arrangements. Not to mention his great singing with such a wide emotional palette.  With “Red Car,” he vaulted far past where Dolby would not be for another two years! It would have been the centerpiece of “The Flat Earth” in Dolby’s hands.

But in 1982, Dolby was trafficking in the same old cold wave energy that was dogging technopop from day one – no matter how capably he was trying to move forward. Trees were creating machine energy songs that were warm, humane, and rich for all of the thought and technology that went into them. Seemingly without much effort. This gent sounded like he had talent and ideas to spare and the scarcity of “Sleep Convention” in the marketplace until now was a head-scratching moment of  breathtaking proportions. Correct that injustice by buying a copy here. This was clearly the best reissue of 2018 and I wish I had bought my copy immediately.

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Record Review: Trees – Sleep Convention DLX RM [part 3]

Dane Conover of Trees

[…continued from last post]

As usual, side two track one, was another of the potential singles that should have been burning up the charts of stations beyond WLIR-FM or KROQ-FM. “11:00 A.M.” was one of the songs that in demo form secured Dane Conover his recording contract with MCA. This was a glorious popsong with soaring synth melodies sitting atop motorik Krautrock urgency at its finest. When he dropped into the studio for a month with Earle Mankey engineering to make this album, Conover sure didn’t waste anybody’s time and money. This one should have been a top 20 hit if there were any justice.

The mood and tempo shifted dramatically for the pensive and semi-psychedelic “Wildwood,” named for Mankey’s studio at the time. The heavily chorused, delayed vocals drifted like vapor though the song and the marimba really takes it places. Also the attention to detail in recording rainstorm foley effects in the studio’s shower instead of using an effects library made for a more vibrant experience. I also loved how they recorded Dane letting the cat in from the rain on the fade. Duly crediting him with “sliding glass door.”

The next track was a real change of pace with the loose, almost goofy track, “India.” While every other song on “Sleep Convention” is immaculately realized and arranged, this one seems like a demo in comparison. It almost seemed like Conover might have improvised this one in the studio. The utterly straightforward lyrics [all of the other songs are much more nuanced] simply convey how much the singer wished to travel to India over a simple electropop music bed; with rhythm box and rich interjections of roto toms courtesy of drummer Martin Eldridge. It’s the only track here that feels like it could have been a B-side, but at a succinct 3:00, it works the middle of side two capably enough.

“Gotta Moon” blended synths, acoustic guitars and some gloriously loose slide guitar for a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of a song that I am still trying to parse. Conover’s ad-libbed cackle in the fadeout captured the reckless energy of this song rather effectively. Then the original album concluded with “Red Car;” a masterclass in writing a song based on the nuclear anxiety so prevalent in the early 80s.

The track opened with a cinematic southwest gust of wind over a methodical, if foreboding, drumbeat with lightly strummed acoustic guitars and airy synths setting the mood. Geri Mankey added her celestial backing harmonies to it all as Conover built up a sense of awe and dread as the narrative laid out an atomic test in the mid-50s. Expert detail cheek by jowel with expansive metaphor conveyed the storyline beautifully, and the moment where Conover delivered the lines below, as delicately as possible, was utterly chilling.

“Some guys in advanced artillery,
They already saw this thing,
They told me it’s gonna put this world at ease” – “Red Car”

Then the refrain “bombs away – underground” was followed by an portentous synth riff loop that perhaps indicated that Dane was conversant with Philip Glass. That inexorable  riff ended the song with an echo fade; a perfect metaphor for the crushing tension of the Cold War. The liner notes indicate that the song was originally much longer before the thought was to trim it down. Too bad for us! It took technopop into the realms of the movie “Atomic Cafe” for a brilliant use of 50s nostalgia to reveal just how far we hadn’t come in nearly 30 years of missile waving and chest beating.

Next: …Bonus Round!

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Record Review: Trees – Sleep Convention DLX RM [part 2]

Dane Conover was an Arp man…

[…continued from last post]

This CD had all ten tunes from “Sleep Convention,” but upped the stakes to include two alternate takes of two album tracks as well as the ten songs that would have been on his sophomore album. In effect, we finally got two albums worth of Trees on this long-awaited CD reissue. Things got off to a textbook New Wave start with the electro-bop of “Come Back,” the single from the album. A steady synth pulsebeat and a motorik drum figure gave it the sound of the zeitgeist, but there were complexities lurking right beneath the surface showing that Mr. Conover wasn’t sleepwalking through this process. The slightly atonal synth solo, with his patch shot through with white noise, properly mirrored the anxiety levels of the lovelorn tune, but best of all were the off-beat rhythmic breaks where the drum fills threatened to take the song off rails momentarily.

“Shock Of The New” extrapolated its impetus from New York Times’ art critic Robert Hughes influential treatise on the effects of modern art on society and vice versa to take on the changes that technology was imparting at large on the society of the time. I remember watching the PBS TV series they adapted from the book in 1980, but what I could not have known at the time was how closely its vibe was an astonishing prefiguration of Sparks semi-hit single “Cool Places,” which was released the following year! When “Shock Of The New” begins, the listener would be forgiven for thinking that they were about to hear Sparks and Jane Weidlin’s familiar tune. Was it down to the zeitgeist or the fact that Sparks producer [and former primordial member] Earle Mankey had engineered this album that might account for the eerie similarities. Of course, the themes and melodies are night and day different, but the pulsating synth coupled with that four-on-the-floor drumbeat [not to mention the bpm] are almost of a piece.

The album began on a high plane, but only began to show its cards with the brilliant “Delta Sleep.” The loping backbeat and the twangy, laid back guitar showed a restraint of energy that was contrasted by the propulsive, descending drum fills that made this song barrel irresistibly forward. Conover’s appealing vocals floated over the song like white clouds in a bright blue sky streaked with the sunshine of the synths. The lyrics are a fascinating, cliché-free thread that I’m still trying to parse. They may have to do with the title, which Conover posited as some sort of event in a large structure [possibly a stadium] filled with people on cots. The use of reverse echo here was the first of the slightly psychedelic touches that would make this record stand out in the 1982 milieu. This one worms its way into my skull for long hours at a time and stays there; happily lodged.

The jaunty “No Stranger” contrasted its psychologically fascinating [and potentially dark] “shadow figure” lyric with the brightest, most buoyant music yet on the album. I can quite easily imagine a Fellini-esque circus march video to the pace of this song. The lovely instrumental middle eight was an entrancing keyboard rondo. These tunes were packed with inventive detail that managed to always support, and never obscure the song to its benefit. And this guy was making it all look easy.

What was “side one” peaked with the annoyingly prescient “Midnight In America.” I guess I wasn’t the only one who looked askance at the nascent “Reagan-era” of the period as Conover waded into sociopolitical waters with ease. Fortunately, for us, he remembered to embellish the music with achingly magnificent technological filigree! I am now having serious goosebumps at every instance of the jittery synth hooks juxtaposed against the industrial hum of the reverberant bass and drums underneath it all that demarcate the end of each verse. At this point I had to think, how much more glorious can this album get?

Next: …Side Two Gets Serious!

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