Sunday, November 29, 2020

Cremant Ding Dong - "Es muss nicht immer alles wachsen" (2020)

It’s rare that I come across a new song where the individual elements of the music, lyrics, and video all blow me away. Cremant Ding Dong only have four songs to their credit so far, but they’ve already found their stride. Their new single “Es muss nicht immer alles wachsen” is their best yet.

First, the music: it’s solid synthpop with loads of great sounds and angular guitar bits. It’s upbeat and energetic with a well-constructed arrangement. Even better are the lyrics. The whole thing is a humorous takedown of capitalist arguments in an era of big business obliviousness to human suffering. The title and chorus translates to “not everything has to always grow”, and the rest of the lyrics describe things that don’t really need to grow forever (businesses, markets, power, toe nails, capital) as well as a few things that should keep growing (flowers, children, hair, love, trust). It’s clever, playful, and insightful all at once.

And then there’s the video! It’s pure joy. The most notable feature is an adorable cat, but it’s also full of whimsical visual effects and colors. The band is present, but focus more on grooving and playing around than on showing off their individual looks or expensive equipment. A synthesizer makes a brief appearance, and a few shots appear to be from a performance on a stage (such a foreign concept!), but the emphasis is more on movement and color.

The single is available on Bandcamp here and the video can be seen here. The rest of the band’s songs are in a similar style and are also quite good, in particular “Testergebnis”, a song about waiting for Coronavirus test results.


Score: A+

P.S. Thanks to Lutz for the tip!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Sea State 12 (again)

I’d like to share the lyrics to the Sea State 12 album that has now seen the light of day. My last post introduced the album, and I’d like to shed a bit more light on it here.

The eight songs of the album were developed collaboratively regardless of who brought the original ideas. This was the first time that I wrote songs that someone else sang the lead on, and I’m incredibly pleased with how well Susan was able to express what my voice just couldn’t muster. Susan and I both had a lot to say and we clearly had some things we needed to get off our chests. Nonetheless, we tried to have fun with it, and we hope it’s a transformative and cathartic experience for the listener in the same way it was for us.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude for Susan for making these songs and this whole project a reality. We made the music as a band, but the fact that you can listen to it now is in large part due to her efforts to make it happen. I also need to profusely thank Luann; she obviously also played a huge role here, and her pulse, spirit, and enthusiasm are what drive a lot of this music. Great thanks are also owed to Derek, John, and Carter for their collaboration and contributions, and Jim, Scott, Sylvia, and Steve for taking our raw sound and turning into something that anyone else might want to hear. All of these people have made sense of the messy ideas that were brought to the table and worked with them until they became something worth hearing.

And now to the lyrics!


Fifteen Miles

Sittin’ here waiting, waiting forever
Fifteen miles of endless waiting
Might stop breathing, cease all thinking
Fifteen miles of endless boredom
Keep on staring, a room with no view
Fifteen miles of endless nothing
Get impatient, stuck here waiting
Fifteen miles of absent motion

Don’t get upset, this is just the start
If you think it’s bad now, it’ll only get worse

Look all around at a metal wasteland
Fifteen miles of endless plastic
See other faces, look just the same
Fifteen miles of no expression
Start to move but stop right away
Fifteen miles of indecision
No end in sight, no reason clear
Fifteen miles of absolute waste

Look at each other, just pay attention
Stop what you’re doing, put down your cell phone!

Get frustrated at the road
Fifteen miles of thick asphalt
Think about what was here first
Fifteen miles of nothing at all
Try to imagine a different way
Fifteen miles of bikes and trains
Take a chance, try something new
Fifteen miles of anything else

Something is broken, we’ve got it all wrong
We shouldn’t be here, we can do more


Genderfree

The intended meaning of “genderfree” is “freedom of gender”, as in, “liberate your gender”. I’ve always wanted to write an anthem about rejecting the constraints of conventional gender roles, and this isn’t the first time I tried.

Trapped! Trapped! Do you feel constrained?
Detained! Restrained! Do you feel held back?
Attack! Fight back! Does it make you sick?
A trick! A trick! Do you want something more?
A bore! What for! Oh, tell me what’s the use
Abuse! Abuse! I refuse to play
The game! A name! I don’t need the words
It’s forced! Of course! Let’s begin anew

Why are we stuck here where we are?
Despite our choices we only pick from two
Let your imagination loose
There’s a spectrum (or a field) of possibilities
So do as you please, no one to appease

Genderfree!

There’s a mask that you wear someone else put there
Didn’t matter how you felt, it’s the hand that you were dealt
This is where you’ll fit, it’s all that you will get
Throw a fit, make a scene, you’ll just seem obscene
In a world full of chance, there’s only skirts and pants
Despite what they say, there’s no room for play
Stray from the track, you will be attacked
They talk about choice, but you don’t have a voice


No Worries

Lay your worries down
Forget about the past
Don’t mind the busyness
Let your troubles pass

Making big decisions
You find yourself here
Think about your future
Don’t ignore what’s right before you

Lay your worries down
Forget about the past
Nothing to think about
Let your troubles pass

The smell of something burning
Grabs your focus sharp
Feel electric shivers
Must be hard at work

And when the job is over
Lying half awake
Rising to the surface
To face the world as you are

Sleep away the headache
Restore your outward glare
Face the outside world now
Pretend nothing’s changed

But now you are as reborn
Freed from all the chains
Nothing to think about
Let your worries disappear


Watch

It’s the strangest thing
To see it happen as you hit
Right before the eyes
And be powerless to stop it
You can scream and shout
You can plan ahead and be careful
It happens anyway
Despite your attempts to prevent

You can’t make it stop
You can only watch
You can’t make it stop
You can only watch

Well, I stood and I tried to think of
What had just happened, how I was not hurt
Picked myself up
Pulled myself in shape, sat down on the curb
While I looked around
Heart was racing fast, I could hardly speak
A stranger walked up
Tried to make amends, where to even start
If I only knew
I’d say it right away, I wouldn’t hesitate
If I only knew, I wouldn’t wait a blink

It’s the strangest thing
To see it happen as you hit
It’s beyond control
It’s up to the laws of physics
Your feet, they still move
And now you are somehow standing
It’s hard to believe
Despite your attempts to prevent


On the Ground

What did you think would happen here?
Bring all your guns, all of your gear
Raise up the pressure, feel the heat
Scare all the people down on the street

Walking along up to your house
Here they come to ask you why
It doesn’t matter what you say
They’ll have you down on the ground

What were you doing on the street
That’s no place for people to be
That’s why you’ll get what you deserve
They’ll have us down on the ground

Hit the street – as they march on over
Don’t back down – when they tell you to go
Stand up strong – as they make their threats
Rise above – when they force you to the ground

Their true colors have been shown
Look at where they point their guns
Now you know whose side they’re on
They’ll have us down on the ground

There’s nothing left for us to do
Get outside and join the crowd
Smoke will clear across this town
We’ll rise up from the ground


Girl

Be my girl
Baby show me when you come
Be my girl
Let me know it when you come

There’s room for you
Fill me up

I’m into you
Oh so deep
Let’s get you
Into me

Your fever’s risin’
I’m burning up
My bed’s too neat
Fuck it up

I got your number
You got my name
I am the one
Who’ll make you rain

I’ll tell you baby
When we’ve gone too far
When I play you
Like this guitar

Be my girl
Baby show me when you come
Be my girl
Let me know it when you come

There’s room for you
Feel me up


Blue Wail

Some people understand, some don’t
They’ll try to hold your hand, I won’t
Cause I don’t let anyone unmake me

And sympathy
It’s a drug you see
Keep you lookin’ for someone set you free

It’s written on your arms, it’s comin’ from your lips
The sound of your apocalypse
Notes on your guitar, lies that you tell
Blue is the color you make, when you wail

And where you goin’ now, you wonder
Rollin’ through your mind it sound like thunder
Only thing that matter, callin’ you

So you take it on the road, but can’t hide
The reflection in the mirror, you know it don’t lie
Glass has shattered, you’ve fallen through

And it don’t matter what you’ve been told
You know in your heart
you got to let it go
Cause your blue wail and bruises
Are all you leave


Cling

When the world is heavy
Pain and sin
When the light has left you
Sinew and skin
Cling to me

Oh child

When your heart is beating
Pain set in
When you’re bruised and bleeding
Let me in
Cling to me

Oh child

When your bones are broken
You’re livin’ hell
And they’ve told you
Not to tell
Bring it to me

Oh child

I’ll fight forever
To keep you from harm
Put you back together
Where you’ve been torn
Oh child
Oh child
I’ll fight forever
To keep you from harm
Hold you together
Right these wrongs, child
Oh child

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sea State 12

It’s been about five years in the making, but the album from my last band in Austin is finally out!


Susan, Luann, and I started the band in 2014 as Sea State Six. We immediately set about writing our own material and while we seemed to gravitate to heavy and serious matters, there was always some playfulness in there, too. Most of the album was recorded between 2015 and 2017, but a wrench was thrown in the works when I decamped to move to Berlin. I owe a lot to Susan for still seeing it through from there.

We had the pleasure and fortune of collaborating with several people along the way to getting the music recorded in its final form, and I’d like to thank all of them, including Derek Young, John Hammond, Carter Arrington, James Williamson, Scott Love, Sylvia Massy, and Steve Turnidge.

For the curious, I played bass and I was the primary songwriter of the first five songs (coincidentally). Susan sang, played rhythm guitar, and wrote the other three songs. Luann played drums and was our gifted arranger. Carter played the lead guitar on the record.

I’d like to find a good place to share the lyrics, but for now, I’ll let the music speak for itself. Enjoy!

[Edit 2020.11.10:] If you’re interested in a lossless version, at least Qobuz has it. Here’s the USA shop link and here’s the link for Germany.

[Edit 2020.11.15:] For lyrics, see the next post.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Bernadette La Hengst & der Chor der Statistik - Live 2020.09.19 Haus der Statistik, Berlin, Germany

This has been a hard year for most people. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve had it as hard as most. That said, it’s probably obvious that I’ve missed seeing live music. It’s one of the only forms of social entertainment that I especially enjoy and engage with. It’s one of the few things that actually makes me feel connected to the world around me. I much prefer writing about live music to recorded music, so I’ve been pretty quiet here. The stress and the anxiety of the world, and particularly in the USA, haven’t helped. I’ve barely wanted to leave the house for six months now. But I have the luxury of living in Germany, and things are relatively safe here. So I finally decided it was okay to see a free, open-air concert in a low-key environment. There won’t be many weekends left with good weather, so I don’t know how many opportunities I’ll have like this before winter comes.

Anyway, the Haus der Statistik played host to an event with workshops, presentations, and live music. The building is the former statistics office of the DDR that has largely fallen into disuse. It sits just off Alexanderplatz in the center of the city. It seems to be indefinitely under construction but in the meantime is home to an artist collective, who have dubbed the area “Allesandersplatz” (“Everything-Different-Place”). The main draw for me was Bernadette La Hengst (formerly of Die Braut haut ins Auge), who performed a set accompanied by the Chor der Statistik, a large, casual choir. These sorts of choirs are in vogue in Berlin, and they seem like a lot of fun. Bernadette made it clear that the choir was open to everyone interested, and she invited the audience to spontaneously join in as well.

Bernadette and the choir played songs from throughout her career, including a song or two from Die Braut haut ins Auge, and consistent themes were solidarity, social and economic justice, and unity across borders. For most songs, the only instrumentation was her guitar, and the songs were arranged to accentuate harmonies and multiple vocal parts. The choir didn’t strike me as a professional unit, but rather a casual collective of people that shared a political outlook and a desire to have fun in a productive outlet. That said, I didn’t hear any jarring disharmony or missed notes, and in fact I was impressed with the arrangements, the performance, and the sustained jovial atmosphere.

The final two songs were particularly notable. The penultimate was a cover of Palais Schaumburg’s classic “Wir bauen eine neue Stadt”. Bernadette played along with a drum machine, which gave her enough space to add some lead guitar flourishes. With the choir singing various overlaid parts, it made for a more relaxed, less skittish rendition. For a song ostensibly about post-war reconstruction with metaphorical overtones of anti-capitalist, independent artistic creation, the scenery was perfect: the stage was surrounded by piles of stone and concrete in the parking lot of a semi-abandoned building from a government that doesn’t really exist anymore.

The final song was a version of Beethoven’s “Ode an die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”), with lyrics adapted from the original by Friedrich Schiller. Taking inspiration from the fact that the music (but not the words) are used as the European anthem, Bernadette (along with fellow choir enthusiast Barbara Morgenstern) composed new multilingual lyrics explicitly embracing diversity and open borders.

This was a thoroughly pleasant experience, and presumably reasonably safe, since there was plenty of room to spread out. If this is how we have to do live music for the time being, I’m on board.


Score: B+

P.S. Thanks to Lutz!

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Le Tigre - "Hot Topic" (1999)

When LCD Soundsystem started making waves in the early 00s, it was easy to hear their first single, “Losing My Edge” (2002), as a sort of mission statement. It’s got a good beat, it sounds effortlessly cool yet anxiously precise, and the lyrics are ironic to the utmost. But even knowing that they were making fun of themselves and their cohort, the list of bands recited as the song nears the end became one of those things where everyone that followed had to prove they knew all of those bands.

I don’t know what the first example is of a song that just lists other songs or bands (was it Nurse with Wound’s Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella (1979)?), but it amuses me greatly that Le Tigre beat LCD Soundsystem to the punch by three years. Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic” is even more direct and focused, although they were being sincere while LCD Soundsystem were knowingly winking while doing it. I’m aware that the latter might be a response to or a mockery of the former, but I hope it isn’t. They’re both good in their own way. But in the long run, “Hot Topic” might be better.

It’s better because it isn’t a joke, and Le Tigre weren’t just trying to prove how cool they were. Their mission was to dance, to fight the patriarchy, and to cite their influences and forebearers. Maybe that sounds awfully pretentious or self-absorbed or trivial. Sincerity in music is often viewed with skepticism according to modern tastes (see “Losing My Edge” for the case in point), but Le Tigre explicitly wanted to have a good time while transmitting their message. In that, they succeeded in full. The beat is solid, the lyrics make their point, and the list of influences is varied and contentious but yet a valuable resource. It’s certainly indicative of a time and a place, but it’s a fascinating and relatively poorly documented time and place, so it’s all the more special.

Some of the choices are obvious (Yoko Ono, Aretha Franklin). Some were just friends of the band (Tammy Rae Carland, Krystal Wakem). Many are artists, filmmakers, and writers, but there are even academics and athletes. It’s quite a list. Of course, no such list can be complete or comprehensive, but as an entry point into a world of queer and feminist icons, it’s still a great place to start learning.

For detailed annotations with portraits and even more links, check out this great article from Slate.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Chromatic Apparition - Cyclicity

It's been a long time, but I finally have a new song to share. It's the first release of my new project Chromatic Apparition. The lyrics are what I tell myself to keep myself sane. Enjoy!

https://chromaticapparition.bandcamp.com/track/cyclicity


Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Few Thoughts on The Sound

I first encountered The Sound when I visited Drake Records in Köln just about ten years ago. The gracious owner offered my friend and I a drink and put on Jeopardy after he saw me browsing the New Wave section. I loved it, but for some reason ended up buying Wolfgang Riechmann’s Wunderbar instead. Just a few years later, Edsel Records released two box sets containing almost the entire recorded discography of the band, and I devoured both with glee. I’ve been meaning to write an article about the band and these reissues ever since. Now that I’m stuck inside during a pandemic, what better time to finally do it?

The roots of The Sound lie in The Outsiders, a (sorta) punk band fronted by Adrian Borland. After two albums and EP that already showed the band pushing on the boundaries of punk and independent record production, the band started to splinter. In the midst of a substantial lineup change, the band ended up changing their name to The Sound while recording a demo album that bridged the gap from The Outsiders to the eventual debut album of The Sound. This demo album, recorded in mid-1979, eventually saw release in 1999 as Propaganda. It’s still somewhat punky, but Bi Marshall’s clarinet and saxophone show the band grasping beyond the basic forms. Most of the lyrics are fairly basic critiques of British society and suburban life (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but a few are particularly noteworthy, such as the staunchly anticapitalist “Cost of Living” and the prescient “Music Business”. Three songs would later be rerecorded for Jeopardy and one for the Physical World EP. The album is fairly raw, and although some critics (and members of the band) consider it the band’s “real” debut and even their strongest album, I think it lacks the sophistication, finesse, and subtlety of their best work. It’s still cool to hear them in transition, though, and apparently some of the tracks were recorded with Outsiders member and later lyrical contributor Adrian Janes on drums before he left for university.

After a brief diversion with the experimental Flesh As Property EP by Second Layer (featuring just Borland and bassist Graham Bailey), the first proper Sound release was the Physical World EP in late 1979. While the title track and “Coldbeat” (later rereleased as the 12" b-side of “Sense of Purpose” in 1981) are in the same vein as Propaganda but with slightly better production, the final track, “Unwritten Law”, already shows the band moving in a deeper, darker, and more dramatic direction. This early version is absent from the recent reissue box sets, and although it isn’t as strong as the rerecording on Jeopardy or any of the live versions, it’s still a thrill to hear a primitive version based more around guitars than the brooding keyboards that would define all later versions.

[The Physical World EP.]

The Sound then signed to Korova, best known as the home to Echo & the Bunnymen. The Sound would be forever damned to follow in their footsteps and live in their shadow, although the frequent comparisons were not entirely unfounded. At any rate, their debut album and first release on Korova was Jeopardy in 1980. It’s amazing to hear the quick leap they made from everything they made before then. Despite the hasty sessions and miniscule budget, the result is stunning. Although the production is certainly not at the level of the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles (which apparently consumed all of Korova’s budget, leaving The Sound in the lurch), the immediate energy of it plays to the band’s strengths. The album is raw and still just a touch punky, yet comes across sophisticated and fully formed. “Hour of Need” and the new version of “Unwritten Law” benefit from noticeably more nuanced production. Marshall’s icy keyboards shine, as do Bailey’s throbbing post-punk bass and Michael Dudley’s propulsive drumming. Other highlights are “Missiles”, an unapologetic critique of the military-industrial complex, and “I Can’t Escape Myself”, an incisive assessment of mental health struggles. It’s a great album.


After a tour supporting Echo & the Bunnymen, The Sound issued the Live Instinct EP, shortly before the Bunnymen’s Shine So Hard live EP. While Shine So Hard sounded great and showed the band progressing into their next phase, Live Instinct is something of a regression. It’s upbeat and intense, rough and unsubtle. It’s alright, but offers nothing particularly special. Korova then assigned The Sound the same producer for their second album that had handled the Bunnymen’s Heaven Up Here, Hugh Jones, and he clearly had his own ideas of how From the Lion’s Mouth (1981) should sound. The result is cleaner, more elaborate, and much more refined, but the quality of the songs doesn’t quite match Jeopardy. The grandiosity and stateliness of the production is a welcome change, but the songs suffer from a loss of energy and power. In the process of writing the album, Marshall was apparently kicked out of the band and replaced by Max Mayers, although Marshall was still credited with cowriting “Skeletons” and “The Fire”, the two songs that sound the oldest and rawest. She has claimed that she wrote parts for all of the songs, and that most of those parts ended up on the final album, but Meyers is credited with cowriting five of the songs. Regardless of the author, keyboards and synthesizers took a more prominent role. The highlight of the album remains the strident opener, “Winning”, a battle hymn for combating depression that foreshadows their later anthems. The album was followed by a non-album single, “Hot House”, another excellent upbeat song confronting some sort of struggle.


The Sound’s lack of commercial success began to grate on both the band and their label, and their third album, All Fall Down (1982), is spitefully uncommercial. It’s dark, challenging, and full of synthesizers and drum machines. It’s much more aggressive than From the Lion’s Mouth and perhaps closer to Jeopardy or Second Layer’s World of Rubber (1981). The album has a poor reputation, but most of its risks pay off. The boldest, most difficult track is the opener, “All Fall Down”, but plenty of accessible moments can be found thereafter. “Party of the Mind” is a great pseudo-pop song, and “Monument” is another superb anthem. “Where the Love Is” and “Calling the New Tune” are strong upbeat numbers as well. The album certainly isn’t perfect, but it grows on me more and more with each listen. “We Could Go Far” is a fascinating floating dream, and the irony that the label insisted on adding the bass drum is painful. The box set includes the original version without it, but ultimately both versions have their charms. The reissue also includes three other outtakes that presumably would’ve been b-sides if they’d released a single from the album. None of them are duds, and the best of the bunch, “Sorry”, was even played live.


After getting dropped by their label, The Sound somehow ended up getting paired with former Factory Records singer/songwriter Kevin Hewick for the This Cover Keeps Reality Unreal EP (1983). It sounds like The Sound fronted by Hewick, but Hewick isn’t as convincing as Borland, and it doesn’t hold together well. The first side is more conventional while the second is quite experimental. The final song, “Scapegoat”, was apparently recorded solo by Hewick a year before the rest. It’s a unique release but not particularly successful.


While on the search for a new label, the band recorded a set of demos that first saw release on the second of the Edsel box sets. Three of the tracks would end up on the Shock of Daylight EP, another three on Heads and Hearts, and the remaining four eventually appeared as b-sides as late as 1987. The recordings are a bit rough and it sounds like they suffered some tape generation loss, but the songs are generally fleshed out and well arranged. Most of the songs already sound fairly similar to their eventually released versions, albeit with simpler arrangements and production. Although the demos are an interesting artifact, nothing about them is better than the final versions, so there isn’t much going for it.

Eventually, The Sound ended up on Statik, and their first release with them was Shock of Daylight (1984), an EP that seems like a huge leap from their past. The six songs are all tuneful but deep, with strong lyrics that are generally less downbeat than before. “Counting the Days” is particularly amazing; it sounds like a love song, yet is ambiguous enough to prevent a simple reading. “Winter” is sparser and gloomier, but the other five songs are all anthemic and strong yet complex. The EP might be the most optimistic Sound release, and it’s cohesive and consistent without getting dull. It’s their finest moment.


This was followed by Heads and Hearts (1985), which continues some of the same sounds and themes and almost maintains the same level of quality. “Whirlpool” is a bit dark, but it’s a powerful description of the depressive energy that can suck you down. “Under You” and “Wildest Dreams” are similar, and they too manage to address mental health struggles without sounding trite. On the other hand, “Total Recall”, “Love Is Not a Ghost”, “One Thousand Reasons”, and “Temperature Drop” are grand and beautiful. “Restless Time” and “World As It Is” are slightly more aggressive and recall their earlier sound, which doesn’t work quite as well, while “Mining for Heart” is a throwback to All Fall Down with its minimalism and openness. The band were apparently disappointed with the album and its production, and while it does have a distinctly 80s sound, it’s only barely dated, and the many synthesizers are rarely over the top. The album doesn’t quite match Shock of Daylight, but it’s almost on par. The b-sides aren’t quite at the same level; most of them are heavy and negative. The box set also adds “Shimmer”, a previously unreleased outtake that tops all the b-sides and fits in right with the album tracks. One wonders how it was overlooked for so long!


To make up for their frustrations with Heads and Hearts and its supposed shortcomings, The Sound quickly released a live album, In the Hothouse (1985). Strangely, only four songs from Heads and Hearts made it to the album, but it also included “Prove Me Wrong”, which would end up on Thunder Up two years later in a similar form. The best track is a frenzied version of “Wildest Dreams” that benefits from a blazing solo, but otherwise the production is rather dry and it hardly even sounds like a live album. It’s not bad, but it sounds more like a best-of compilation than an exciting live album. It doesn’t show much that the studio albums didn’t already, and it sounds too tight and clean. There are plenty of bootlegs that are more dynamic and compelling.

After Statik also ended up screwing over the band, they got one more chance with Play It Again Sam, who released their final album, Thunder Up (1987). By this point, Borland’s mental health struggles were beginning to wear down the band, and the album shows it. The first side is almost too bright and direct, with a surprising abundance of optimism and a lack of subtlety, while the second side is darker and more mixed in tone. Although the band had gradually included more and more band compositions over time, this album is almost entirely written solely by Borland. “Barria Alta” is the lone band composition, and it is the most complex and detailed song on the album. “Iron Years” is a solid pop song, but it comes across just barely over the top. “I Give You Pain”, on the other hand, is a solid slow burner like they hadn’t done since “New Dark Age”. Despite that the band got to work with their preferred producer Nick Robbins, the album sounds fairly dated, mostly because of the cheesy synths. The band apparently prefer the production of Thunder Up over Heads and Hearts, but I think the latter is superior in sound and in songwriting. Thunder Up still has some great moments, but it has less depth and nuance.

[Thunder Up.]

The last item in the Edsel box sets is The BBC Recordings, originally a double-disc album released in 2004. The Read and Peel sessions are attached as bonus tracks to the albums they were promoting while the BBC Live in Concert disc is given its own CD. The Read and Peel sessions both have high production values that might make them even better than the album versions. The Read session in particular sounds substantially better than the versions on Jeopardy, and while the Peel session is about as good as the From the Lion’s Mouth versions, the Peel session sounds more natural and less forced. The highlight is an early, slower version of “Hot House” that sounds like it’s still very much a work in progress. The BBC Live in Concert disc also sounds great and somehow more alive and intense than the studio versions. There’s less variation in the sound, but all the tracks are strong. Ian Nelson again shows up to contribute sax to the same three songs he played on from Heads and Hearts, and his parts are more upfront in the mix.

After The Sound, Adrian Borland stayed quite active in the music world until his unfortunate suicide, although he never again quite matched the same level of quality that he had with The Sound. His solo albums carried on where Thunder Up left off, with less of an alternative or post-punk sound and more of a mainstream pop sensibility. His songwriting was generally still good, but the production was often quite cheesy and dated. Borland was also a member of Honolulu Mountain Daffodils (under pseudonym), a bizarre and playful band led by Pete Williams. While many of their songs are indulgent or uninspired, plenty are creative and successful. The vocals are consistently bad, but the atmospheres and ideas are often quite good. “Also Sprächt Scott Thurston”, “(I Feel Like A) Francis Bacon Painting”, and “Collector of Souls” are particularly noteworthy. Later in his career, Borland also collaborated with Carlo van Putten and others (including Mark Burgess of The Chameleons!) under the name White Rose Transmission. Their albums are well-produced, gothic, and haunting, but the results are again mixed. Some of their music works, but some is drab or awkward.

It’s a shame that The Sound never found wider appreciation. Living in the shadow of Echo & the Bunnymen did them no favors; while the Bunnymen may have reached greater heights, one wonders if The Sound could’ve gone just as far if they’d been given the same budget and support. I’m glad that they persevered despite all the downsides of the music industry and that they managed to find sympathetic labels for so long. The Sound never released a bad album, and their willingness to grow and develop without repeating themselves makes their back catalog quite rewarding to explore. The Edsel box sets are well worth their price and are quite well assembled, even if the Statik albums and some of the rarities are sourced from somewhere other than the original master tapes.

Scores:
Propaganda: C+
Physical World EP: B-
Jeopardy: A-
Live Instinct EP: C
From the Lion’s Mouth: B
“Hot House”: A
All Fall Down: B+
This Cover Keeps Reality Unreal EP: C
1983 demos: C-
Shock of Daylight EP: A
Heads and Hearts: A-
In the Hothouse: C+
Thunder Up: B
The BBC Recordings: B

Further Reading:
Interview with Bi Marshall, Part 1
Interview with Bi Marshall, Part 2