Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division (1979)

“The music of Joy Division – an art-minded English postpunk band that initially struck reviewers as a tuneful version of PiL – sets forth an even more indelible vision of gloom. In fact, it’s a vision so steeped in deathly fixations that it proved fatal: on May 18th, 1980, the group’s lead singer and lyricist, Ian Curtis – a shy, reticent man who’d written some of the most powerfully authentic accounts of dissolution and despair since Lou Reed – hung himself at his home in Macclesfield, England, at the age of twenty-three. According to journalistic accounts, he’d been depressed over failed love. According to his songs, he’d looked upon the horror of mortal futility and understood the gravity of what he saw: ‘Heart and soul – one will burn.’ In the U.K., Curtis’ suicide conferred Joy Division with mythical status. The band’s second and last album, Closer (recorded just prior to Curtis’ death and released shortly afterward by Factory), became one of the fastest-selling independent-label LPs in British New Wave history. By year’s end, it had topped several critics’ and readers’ polls as best album. More significant, an entire legion of Joy Division emulators – most notably Section Twenty-Five, Crispy Ambulance, Mass, Sort Sol and the Names – has since cropped up around England, each professing the same icy passion for sepulchral rhythms, minor-mode melodies and mordant truths. …”
Rolling Stone
W – Unknown Pleasures
Genius (Audio)
YouTube: Disorder (Live)
YouTube: Unknown Pleasures (Master-Tape, Full Album)


My Aim Is True – Elvis Costello (1977)

“Once upon a time, being a bitter, frustrated male musician didn’t mean being a jerkass. Perpetually wronged and rarely laid men were capable of being intelligent about their bitterness, focusing their anger not on the whole of womankind, but on particular women (usually flirts and teases) and attacking these women with a potent blend of wit and bile. Rather than self-aggrandizement, self-deprecation reigned supreme. More importantly, subtlety won out over blatant self-pity or obnoxiousness. Yeah, these gentlemen were angry, but they were smart enough to know what they were angry at– and geeky enough to include themselves in that category. At the helm of this trend towards new-wave geekdom was Stiff Records, a small label operating out of England with a roster including Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, and the mighty Elvis Costello. With his 1977 debut, My Aim Is True, Costello exploded onto the punk/new-wave scene like a mutant hybrid of Buddy Holly and Johnny Rotten. …”
Graded on a Curve: Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True
W – My Aim Is True
Discogs (Video)
YouTube: Watching The Detectives (Live), Red Shoes (Live TOTP 1977), Mystery Dance
YouTube: My Aim Is True 13 videos

Penguin Café Orchestra – Music From The Penguin Cafe (1976)

Simon Jeffes’ mercurial compositions as Penguin Café Orchestra have long intrigued me. And yet, here I am listening to the debut (nearly self-titled) album for the first time, or first times, as it’s already on repeat-play. I first heard the Penguin Café Orchestra via its most famous piece, Telephone and Rubber Band, and that was via its most famous placement – the terrific movie, Talk Radio. So then it all lined up, because I knew the name and loved the cover images, the recurring bird-man motif, but hadn’t ever taken the plunge. When I met Katy she had the When In Rome… live album; so that was my introduction-proper and my go to for many years. Then I checked a few more things out, had a great compilation that mostly did the trick too. When Jeffes died the band ended. But his son Arthur recently took over, calling the project now just Penguin Café and retaining the strange-world spirit of this musical vision. Bits and pieces of jazz and classical and folk drift by and form their own sound in their own space. Penguin Café’s new albums are very good and apparently live they play the ‘hits’ too. In tribute.”
W – Music From The Penguin Cafe
The Quietus: Penguin Cafe Orchestra
YouTube: Music From The Penguin Cafe | Penguin Cafe Single

Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster / 78 RPM (1978)

“It begins with a guitar riff that’s almost martial in its call. Then a howl of ‘Nothin’ for us in Belfast, The Pound so old it’s a pity, OK, there’s the Trident in Bangors’, before it speeds up to the chorus of ‘Get an Alternative Ulster, Ignore the bores and their laws’ that has helped make it one of the best known songs of defiance, boredom and youthful anger. Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers released their second single ‘Alternative Ulster’ in 1978 at the height of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’. Police brutality and sectarian terrorist violence was part of daily life and there were few places for a young band to play. Singer and guitarist Jake Burns, guitarist Henry Cluney, bassist Ali McMordie, and drummer Brian Faloon, started the band a year earlier from the development of a cover band Highway Star, named after the Deep Purple song. …”
Talking “Alternative Ulster” With Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns (Video)
Alternative Ulster: how punk took on the Troubles (Video)
YouTube: Alternative Ulster (Rockpalast ’80), Alternative Ulster, 78 RPM

Grauzone – Die Sunrise Tapes (1981)

“When I first met Marco Repetto, I barely had a clue about his past. It was in May 1994, as I was getting ready to move into his old flat in the centre of Bern. I knew that Repetto was a renowned techno producer, something underlined by the presence of a Roland Jupiter 6 in one of the rooms. However, it took me years to realize that Repetto was once the drummer of Grauzone: the band responsible for ‘Eisbär,’ one of the biggest Swiss pop epiphanies of the ’80s. Somewhere between Neue Deutsche Welle and Cure-inspired new wave, Grauzone had pressed angry lyrics, à la mode muted guitar playing and quirky synthesizer experiments into a dazzling conglomerate of not quite dance music. What Liaisons Dangereuses masterminded in Berlin with ‘Los Niños Del Parque,’ Grauzone did in Bern with ‘Eisbär.’ …”
Red Bull Music Academy Daily – Interview: Marco Repetto on Grauzone’s “Eisbär” and Beyond (Video)
W – Grauzone
MixCloud: Die Sunrise Tapes by Grauzone
YouTube: EISBAER (remastered) – official video
YouTube: Die Sunrise Tapes (Full Album) 54:35

The Mudd Club

Anita Sarko DJ-ing at the Mudd Club, ca. 1980.
The Mudd Club was a nightclub in the TriBeCa area of New York City, USA, that operated from 1978 to 1983 as a venue for underground music and counterculture events. It was located at 77 White Street in downtown Manhattan and was opened by Steve Mass, art curator Diego Cortez and downtown punk scene figure Anya Phillips. The Mudd Club was named after Samuel Alexander Mudd, a doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth in the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln‘s assassination. It closed in New York in 1983. In order to secure the space for the Mudd Club (a loft owned by artist Ross Bleckner), Steve Mass described the future venue as cabaret. Mass claimed to have started the nightclub on a budget of only $15,000. The club featured a bar, gender-neutral bathrooms and a rotating gallery curated by Keith Haring on the fourth floor. Live performances included new wave, experimental music, literary icons Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and catwalk exhibitions for emerging fashion designers Anna Sui and Jasper Conran. From the start it functioned as an ‘amazing antidote to the uptown glitz of Studio 54 in the ’70s’. As it became more frequented by downtown celebrities, a door policy was established and it acquired a chic, often elitist reputation. The Mudd Club was frequented by many of Manhattan’s up-and-coming cult celebrities. Other individuals associated with the venue included musicians Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, David Byrne, Debbie Harry, Arto Lindsay, John Lurie, Nico with Jim Tisdall, Lydia Lunch, X, the Cramps, the B-52’s, the Bongos and Judas Priest; artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and his then-girlfriend Madonna; performers Klaus Nomi and John Sex; designers Betsey Johnson, Maripol and Marisol; and underground filmmakers Amos Poe; Vincent Gallo, Kathy Acker, and Glenn O’Brien. …”
NY Times: The Doorman at the Mudd Club Tells All
Basquiat’s world: Downtown NYC and the Mudd Club (Audio)
amazon: The Mudd Club

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic is a musical group founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1980. The music of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic is almost entirely instrumental, and incorporates many different musical elements; critic Rick Anderson writes, ‘Very few bands have ever managed to straddle the worlds of modern classical music and rock as successfully as this one did.’ In his liner notes for their Beat of the Mesozoic EP, Boston rock critic Eric Van dubbed them ‘the world’s hardest-rocking chamber music quartet.’ … Birdsongs owes its origins to the 1978 breakup of the Boston post-punk band Moving Parts, which included Erik Lindgren (vocals, keyboards) and Roger Miller (vocals, guitar). Miller went on to form the seminal post-punk group Mission of Burma (1979–1983; 2002–present), while Lindgren concentrated on production work in his home recording studio. … Given that musical differences had led to the breakup of their earlier band, both musicians were surprised at the effectiveness of the collaboration. Burma tape loop artist Martin Swope was then enlisted for further overdub work on electric guitar. … In fact, he stopped writing Burma material and began writing more aggressive material for Birdsongs, such as ‘Shiny Golden Snakes’ (which became the lead track of their first full-length album, Magnetic Flip.) After Burma’s breakup, Birdsongs became democratized, and Swope, Scott, and especially Lindgren began composing original material. …”
YouTube: Theme From Rocky & Bullwinkle
YouTube: Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown – Augustus Pablo / King Tubby (1976)

“England has a way with myths. Since the dawn of the popular music era, the English have stolen their music from their colonies and then written the history books to say they invented it. They don’t exactly call it ‘The British Invasion’ over there. Truth be told, whether it was an American, an Indian, or a Jamaican—if you were English and played any instrument except the lute, anytime after 1950, somebody who used to make your sugar had been there first. In most cases, the play-by-play of who stole what is fairly apparent. The Rolling Stones nicked from Howlin’ Wolf. The Who from Chuck Berry. The Beatles ripped off Ravi Shankar, and the Police basically kept Jamaica as a musical banana republic. The end. But one story of theft—or tribute—that runs a little more below the surface is that of ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ the dub reggae single by Augustus Pablo and King Tubby that may have accidentally reinvented punk. Without ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ there would be no post-punk. …”
Dusting ‘Em Off: Augustus Pablo – King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
W – King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
YouTube: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown [full album] 48:25

Lou Reed, John Cale And Nico – Le Bataclan ’72 (1972)

“After decades of being circulated on inferior-sounding bootlegs, the January 1972 reconvergence of Velvet Underground (VU) co-founders Lou Reed (vocals/acoustic guitar), John Cale (guitar/viola/piano/vocals), and Nico (vocals/harmonium) in Paris at Le Bataclan has been committed to commercial release. A suitably noir mood hangs over them as they stonily amble through VU staples and key entries from their concurrent solo endeavors. They commence with a slow and almost methodical “Waiting for the Man” as Cale offers up a simple piano accompaniment to Reed‘s casual guitar and lead vocal. Reed aptly describes the bleak torch reading of ‘Berlin’ as his ‘Barbra Streisand song’ before unveiling a profoundly minimalist interpretation. It captures the unnerving mood inescapably defining the city in the wake of WWII. They return to the early VU for an inspired ‘Black Angel Death Song.’ Reed‘s rhythmic chiming guitar incongruously fits beside Cale as he whittles away an austere viola counterpoint. Back briefly to Reed‘s eponymously titled debut for a very Dylanesque delivery of ‘Wild Child.’ The reconnection between the duo begins to jel significantly, if not audibly throughout an intense ‘Heroin,’ immediately recalling what makes the Cale/Reed combo so appealing. Cale seizes the reigns for the melodically and lyrically involved ‘Ghost Story’ from Vintage Violence (1970). One rarity is Cale‘s ‘Empty Bottles,’ which he contributed to Jennifer WarnesJennifer (1972) album. Nico finally takes the spotlight for a healthy sampling of her work, couching a trio of post-VU efforts around three of her most memorable sides during her brief time in the band. They saunter into an intimate and warmly received mini-set featuring ‘Femme Fatale,’ ‘No One Is There,’ and ‘Frozen Warnings’ of off Marble Index (1969), as well as ‘Janitor of Lunacy’ from Desertshore (1970). The show concludes with another trip into the VU songbook on a comparatively optimistic ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ duly juxtaposed against an edgy and sinister ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties.’ While fans and pundits hopefully proclaimed the performance as the return of the Velvets, alas it would not be so. Le Bataclan ’72 (2004) is a no-brainer for all dimension of VU, John Cale, Lou Reed, and/or Nico enthusiasts.”
W – Le Bataclan ’72
YouTube: Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico at Le Bataclan 1972 (Live) 17:39
YouTube: Le Bataclan ’72 Live (Full Album) 1:17:59

Black History Month: Post-Soul Culture Circa 1992

“… In the March 17, 1992, issue of the Voice, contributor Nelson George surveyed the ‘post-soul’ landscape and discovered that, ‘as a musical genre, a definition of African American culture, and the code word for our national identity, soul has pretty much been dead since Nixon’s reelection in 1972. But what’s replaced it? Arguing in these pages in 1986, Greg Tate tried to establish a ‘new black aesthetic’ as a defining concept. He had a point, though I’d argue there was more than one aesthetic at work. For better and worse, the spawn of the postsoul era display multiple personalities.’ Indeed, over seventeen pages George explores a broad spectrum of post-soul black aesthetics, and the Voice’s art department helped with diptychs comparing and contrasting Malcolm X to KRS-One and Muhammad Ali and Bundini Brown to Chuck D and Flavor Flav, as well as triptychs of Lisa Bonet and Magic Johnson. …”