Audio Journal 03/07/2014: Front & Follow

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Front & Follow are a Manchester-based label who I hadn’t noticed until Clash asked me to review Blind Mouths Eat by The Doomed Bird Of Providence earlier this year. That album really impressed me, even though I initially labelled it a concept album.

The Doomed Bird Of Providence are an Australian group presently based in my old residence of Colchester, and for Blind Mouths Eat the focus of their attention was on a devastating 19th century storm known as Cyclone Mahina. For me, Doomed Bird tapped into the same strand of folk and blues that bands like The Bad Seeds, The Triffids and Crime & The City Solution all made their own during their careers, and I happily gave the album 8/10. I described it as ‘a haunting exploration of hopelessness and violence’.

Blind Mouths Eat, in turn, begat To Mahina, an EP by fellow Front & Follow artist Kemper Norton. If Cyclone Mahina inspired Doomed Bird’s album, the album about the storm inspired Kemper Norton. The response is an EP that takes the mysterious fatalism of the original album and uses that feeling as the basis for a collection of electronic explorations that possess a natural dimension infused with a sort of sea shanty quality. This is all about texture, whereas Doomed Bird’s album was primarily about the narrative; To Mahina lies somewhere between a calm millpond and the terrifying stillness that returns after the devastation, making this an imaginative and captivating release.

Kemper Norton 'To Mahina' artwork

If Kemper Norton is mysterious, Pye Corner Audio are downright mythical. Their WordPress site proclaims them to have been active since the Seventies, but in what capacity it doesn’t say, raising eyebrows and leading the listener to ponder whether this isn’t some fanciful aspiration to create a history where one simply doesn’t exist.

Irrespective, Pye Corner Audio produce brilliant electronic music that has its head firmly placed in the world of analogue synthesis, back at a point where you were more likely to wear a suit and a lab coat to the studio, those early synths being akin to giant science experiments than real instruments. The new Pye Corner Audio 12″ for Front & Follow, The Black Mist EP, takes rich pulses, percussion and melodic sounds and infuses them with a chunky beat that sounds like it was borrowed from the Chemical Brothers’ early works. Towering washes of sculpted synth pads wash in like waves and buzzing drones have the distorted quality of punk guitars. Like the longform explorations of, say, Node, ‘The Black Mist’ has that mesmerising quality that I will use as evidence that electronic music has an inner human quality whenever detractors try to tell me otherwise.

Pye Corner Audio 'The Black Mist' artwork

The B-side features a remix of ‘The Black Mist’ and the detuned Plaid-esque deep ambient electro of ‘Bulk Erase’. Here is a track that could easily be a minimal, slowly-shifting exploration of rhythm and pulse, but Pye Corner Audio aren’t afraid of co-opting classical melodic sensibilities and that’s the case here with an arresting, emotive filmic passage that sounds like it’s begging for use by an independent director.

Front & Follow releases can be found here.

Thanks to Justin.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Wire – 1985-1990: The A List (Mute Records album, 1993)

Wire 'The A List' LP artwork

mute records | 2xlp/cd stumm116 | 05/1993

1985 – 1990: The A List was released in 1993, by which time Wire as a four-piece band were no more. Robert Gotobed had left the band by the time The First Letter was released in 1991, the band ditching the last letter of their name and becoming Wir for that album. Wir themselves then promptly called it quits, leaving behind two further tracks which were released on Touch as the Vien single in 1997.

This is a compilation album of tracks recorded by Wire between the Snakedrill EP and the Drill album that included new versions and live takes of the amorphous-lengthed track that proved to be Eighties Wire’s mainstay, its relentless dugga-dugga-dugga rhythm providing the foundation for their material for Mute. So, yes, a compilation, but one with a difference: according to the sleeve notes, ‘The A List was drawn up by asking various compilers to name their “top 21” Wire tracks in order of preference. They were then arranged on a “football league” basis. The final choice and running order are based on this chart and the maximum time of a CD. There have been no edits.’

Those contributing to the vote included the band’s Colin Newman and his wife and Githead accomplice Malka Spigel, Bruce Gilbert‘s chum Russell Haswell, Touch co-founder Jon Wozencroft (who also did the typography for the album), Wire biographer Kevin Eden, England’s Dreaming author and punk authority Jon Savage and Mute’s Roland Brown, and for completeness the entire distribution of votes is included within the sleeve notes. The A List was compiled and edited by Brown, Newman and Paul ‘PK’ Kendall.

The result is a showcase of just how strong Wire’s body of work was in the Eighties. While the purist post-punk fans would no doubt bitterly complain that Wire had more or less left their late Seventies intensity and creativity behind, the Wire that reformed and signed to Mute in the mid-Eighties delivered a high quality pop-inflected ethos mixed in with some of the strangest lyrics that have ever been committed to record. So what if the snarling guitars had been left behind – that was yesterday’s news. The new tracks (mostly) had a smart sound, infused with greater use of technology, while the wry artsiness that dominated Wire’s trio of albums for Harvest / EMI was never more than a sneer away.

The only criticism I have of The A List is that ‘The Boiling Boy’ didn’t make the grade. The version of the track that appeared on IBTABA is probably my favourite track from Eighties Wire, a slow-developing, graceful but strangely linear piece (it scraped into number #56 on the league table with just 29 votes). However, this album was the product of a resolute democracy – how typically Wire to create a compilation this way – and thus I shouldn’t question its exclusion too much. It’s certainly a more considered compilation than the equivalent sweep-up of Seventies Wire, On Returning, which Harvest put out in 1989.

For sharp-eyed completists, note that this was given a stumm catalogue number, rather than the mutel mark used by Mute for some artist compilations.

Track listing:

A1. / 1. Ahead
A2. / 2. Kidney Bingos
A3. / 3. A Serious Of Snakes
A4. / 4. Eardrum Buzz
B1. / 5. Drill
B2. / 6. Ambitious
B3. / 7. In Vivo (Remix)
B4. / 8. The Finest Drops
C1. / 9. Madman’s Honey
C2. / 10. Over Theirs
C3. / 11. Silk Skin Paws
C4. / 12. The Queen Of Ur & The King Of Um
D1. / 13. Torch It!
D2. / 14. Advantage In Height
D3. / 15. Point Of Collapse
D4. / 16. Feed Me

First published 2012; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence