Can – Silent Night

can_silentnightgermany

Can released this twee synthpop version of ‘Silent Night’ as a single in the UK, France and Germany in December 1976.

Whenever Can turned their hand to more ostensibly pop structures, they proved themselves highly capable of pulling it off, and ‘Silent Night’ carries those sensibilities with it. Michael Karoli‘s droning guitar, interlaced with Irmin Schmidt‘s dense synth chords and bells, provides the carol’s instantly recognisable melody, even if it’s played at half the speed of the jaunty rhythm with its typically clever drumming from Jaki Liebezeit (possibly with an early drum machine alongside him) and funky bassline from Holger Czukay. Okay so perhaps it’s a little bit novelty at times, but in its own way it’s pretty cute. It’s also the closest I think Can ever got to the early, pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk sound.

Johnny Mathis secured the UK number one slot in 1976, the year I was born, with ‘When A Star Is Born’ as my parents often remind me; in an alternative universe, Can would take this song to the top of the charts and bring forward the development of synthpop by a couple of years.

The original 7″ single was backed with ‘Cascade Waltz’ from the Flow Motion album. The track ‘Silent Night’ would later appear on the B-side of a single of ‘Spoon’ in 1980, as well as on a couple of Can compilations. Mute issued the track as a free festive download a few years ago.

Originally posted 2012; edited and re-posted 2019 (cos it’s Christmas, innit).

Catref: vs166
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2012 – 2019 Documentary Evidence

Laibach – Party Songs

The title of Laibach’s new EP reads like their own take on Silicon TeensMusic For Parties, but the party in question here is not some convivial get-together but the Workers’ Party of Korea, the ruling administrative organisation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). I am in no position to say whether this party is as fun as the one that the revellers depicted on the sleeve of Music For Parties are at.

The EP collects together material prepared for the group’s mould-breaking show in the DPRK in 2015, and offers some insight into the control over their performances provided by their hosts. Three versions of the mournful, heart-wrenching aria ‘Honourable, Dead Or Alive, When Following The Revolutionary Road’ are included here, a piece originally intended for their concert at the Ponghwa Theatre in Pyongyang but axed when the hosts deemed it too confusing. If that by itself seems confusing, consider that the 1972 piece is taken from one of the five revolutionary operas approved by Kim Jong-il, and their sensitivity to Laibach’s tender interpretation is perhaps more understandable.

There is a haunting melancholia to the two studio versions on the EP, the band offering a largesse and stirring quality that is strangely moving, even when a surprising cluster of pulse-quickening jagged analogue synth squeals are ushered into view at the conclusion of the Arduous March version. (A third version arranged by pupils of the Kum Song Music School is more restrained, more operatic, and presumably deemed less confusing by the ever-watchful hosts – though its slightly murky recording suggests it may have been recorded covertly.)

Elsewhere, the EP includes a sweeping, epic English version of the evocative ‘We Will Go To Mount Paektu’, commissioned by the hosts for the Pyongyang performance but ultimately binned upon fears that it would not just cause confusion but also “anger and mayhem”. Consider that. “Anger and mayhem.” The song is poised on huge, reverberating rhythms and gentle electronic melodies and it’s hard to see why the hosts were especially concerned, but this DPRK pop song is an ode to the Mount Paektu Bloodline that begat the Kim dynasty, so ours is not to reason why.

Catref: mute605
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

I’m From Barcelona – We’re From Barcelona (Interpop single, 2006)

barca

‘We’re From Barcelona’ by I’m From Barcelona received a physical release on Mute‘s Interpop imprint in September 2006. The track had been available on iTunes earlier in the year, first as part of the EMI Sweden Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams, Buddy! EP, and then again as a single track download. The sleeve photo captures all 25 of the members of the band, like some sort of yearbook photo; the sleeve helpfully lists out who all the members are, but doesn’t go so far as to tell you what they all actually do in the band.

Kitsch sleeve aside, ‘We’re From Barcelona’ is a highly original pop track. Taking its cues from grand, Phil Spector or Van Dyke Parkes-style productions, the song is multi-layered to the point where it is often difficult to identify individual instruments, something that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys did to much more commercially-successful effect on Pet Sounds.

As songs go, ‘We’re From Barcelona’ is one of the happiest, most upbeat and inoffensive track ever conceived, with pretty, tinkly, sincere melodies and a chorus that only the most depressed individual would fail to be moved by. The CD single version includes a different version of the song, minus the lead vocals.

B-side ‘Glasses’ also appeared on iTunes as part of EMI Sweden’s digitial release of ‘Collection Of Stamps’. Beginning with the sound of cicadas, the track evolves into a gentle, rousing folk ballad about not wanting to wear spectacles. Quite how the group’s founder Emanuel Lundgren manages to be able to write songs about the most mundane feelings and objects is well beyond me, but the delicate ‘Glasses’ – all simple percussion, big sweeping vocal harmonies and relaxed, bluesy guitars – is another example of a very individual talent.

First posted 2011; edited and re-posted 2019.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Die Doraus Und Die Marinas – Fred Vom Jupiter (Mute single, 1982)

R-175190-1496411118-3753.jpeg

Die Doraus Und Die Marinas ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ single artwork.

Sometime in 2009, Steve Lamacq interviewed Mute‘s Daniel Miller on 6Music. I missed it and forgot to listen again via the website, but Mrs Smith happened to listen. She told me that Lamacq had discussed his favourite early Mute release, and so I asked her what it was. She couldn’t remember who it was by, what it was called, only that it had kids singing on it and – and I thought this was genius to have remembered this – it had a catalogue number of MUTE19.

And so I rushed upstairs, grabbed the CD-sized Mute catalogue in which I mark the releases I own, and scoured for a record with this number. I was disappointed to find that it was ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ by Die Doraus Und Die Marinas, a record I’d tried many times to track down up to that point but which never, ever seemed to come up on eBay, and I’d given up. That day, however, it was on eBay amazingly, and for a paltry fiver filled in a major gap in my collection.

Worth it? Absolutely.

Die Doraus was Andreas Doraus and a bunch of session musicians, while Die Marinas were a revolving group of kids who, on this track were Dagmar Petersen, Claudia Flohr, Michelle Milewski, Christine Süßmilch and Isabelle Spelly. A friend of Palais Schaumberg member and future Mute artist Holger Hiller, Dorau was barely eighteen when he recorded the sessions for Blumen Und Narzissen in 1981 in Düsseldorf for Kurt ‘Pyrolator’ Dahlke from Der Plan’s Ata Tak imprint. The album was produced with Dahlke and Ata Tak co-founder Frank Fenstermacher. The album’s packaging presented Dorau as a clean, good-looking pop heart-throb, potentially surprising anyone buying the LP given its amalgam of angular post-punk and adventurous synthwork.

blumen

Die Doraus Und Die Marinas ‘Blumen Und Narzissen’ LP artwork.

The lead track from the album was ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’, written by Dorau and Olaf Maureschat. The track would became a massive hit amid West Germany’s homegrown post-punk Neue Deutsche Welle movement. The single was originally released by Ata Tak in 1981, while Mute licensed it for release in the UK the following year. In hindsight, that move looks relatively opportunistic to catch some of the momentum of the single’s success in Germany for UK listeners, as Mute didn’t option either the album or any of Dorau’s copious other output with Die Marinas or as a solo artist.

‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ is, at face value, a novelty electronic pop track, perhaps in the style of Miller’s own Silicon Teens project – the sleeve certainly supports this. However, that would ignore the harsher synths and noises evident behind the innocent German accents of Die Marinas’ ramshackle choir. If you do ignore these, what you do have is a blissfully original slice of early electronic pop which fully deserves its cult status as a collector’s item. It’s incredibly catchy like all good pop should be, although my knowledge of German is so weak now that all I can understand is the title which is sung and repeated at the end of the chorus; but its infectiously hummable if nothing else. The sleeve helpfully explains what the song is about: ‘From Jupiter comes Fred, the marvelous Kosmonaut. All the girls feel enthusiastic about him and want to keep him here forever.’

The darker sounds are explored more wholeheartedly in the pulsing, electro-industrial instrumental on the flip, ‘Even Home Is Not Nice Anymore’ which was co-written with Fenstermacher. The sleeve explains that ‘Fred has come home to his planet after his “excursion” to earth. But there he feels very lonely and realises…’ – realises what, we are not told. Whereas ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’ is a cute pop track with a bit of edge, the B-side is claustrophobic and edgy and anything but twee. Its beats speed up as the track progresses over its short duration, rising like pulsing jackhammers inside your head, a huge throbbing bass synth anchoring the entire track into a sense of panicked urgency.

First published 2009; updated and re-posted 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Bruce Gilbert – Monad (Touch single, 2011)

brucegilbert_monad

I was really looking forward to this release, I have to say. There is something about deeply experimental music being released on a 7” single that for some reason really appeals. I think it’s because the 7″ is so ordinarily suited to the ‘pop’ track that to hear anything other than pop music on a 7″ is quite exciting. Touch‘s Sevens series has included short releases by the likes of ex-Cabaret Voltaire sound recordist Chris Watson and Pan Sonic‘s sorely missed Mika Vainio. Bruce Gilbert‘s association with the label goes back many years, with albums like The Haring getting released on Touch (it was subsequently re-released by WMO). More recently the ex-Wire guitarist – as part of the group Souls On Board – took the B-side of a live split album with Savage Pencil, released on Touch sub-label Ash International. Monad is housed in a sleeve designed by Jon Wozencroft (as are most Touch releases) and lists out the instruments and tools Gilbert used boldly on the front (Korg Monotron Analogue Ribbon synth, Zoom RFX-200, Korg Kaos Pad 2, Apple GarageBand); there’s also a diagram by Gilbert himself on the back.

I looked up the definition of the word ‘monad’ and its meanings vary from being a small, single-celled organism, to – according to Leibniz’s metaphysics no less – an indestructible entity that is the ultimate fabric of the universe. This confusing word has little bearing on the two tracks included on the single, unless they refer to the songs as being solid and reasonably impenetrable soundscapes or their short duration (at 45rpm both are around two-and-a-half minutes long apiece).

‘Ingress’ is a dense drone whose layers are not immediately obvious unless you really concentrate; if you listen deeply you will pick out the various shifts in sound across the piece’s length, the changes in tone and the rich tug of the bass drone. The best way to describe ‘Ingress’ would be as an approximation of what loading tapes into a ZX Spectrum used to sound like, only this is more measured, more deliberate and more ostensibly ‘composed’ than that noise.

Over on the B-side, ‘Re-Exit’ is less constant, consisting of a throbbing, echoing bass loop offset by buzzing noises and a phasing, quiet drone out in the background. The bass loop provides a rhythm of sorts, but in essence its more of a thick pulse. It’s a style that Gilbert has deployed a number of times, both in his solo work and also with Graham Lewis as Dome. In it’s own, pretty sinister way, it’s beautiful.

First posted 2011; edited 2018.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Distant Sky (Live In Copenhagen) (Bad Seed EP, 2018)

It’s been a while since I wrote about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – I think the last thing I put online was a not especially positive review of Push The Sky Away, and Skeleton Tree consequently just passed me by. I feel that I’ve rectified that with this review of the new Distant Sky (Live In Copenhagen) EP that was released last Friday.

You can read my review for the Clash website here.

I also reviewed the new Marianne Faithful album for the latest print issue of Clash, which features a wonderful new composition – ‘The Gypsy Fairie Queen’ – co-written with Cave; Marianne’s new LP was co-produced by Bad Seed stalwart Warren Ellis.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

EnglandNewOrder – World In Motion (Factory Records single, 1990)

Irrespective of whether England win against Croatia this evening, ‘World In Motion’ will still be a fantastic song.

That’s because, unlike ‘Three Lions’, with its raucous insistence on football ‘coming home’, ‘World In Motion’ doesn’t presuppose that we will win. Even in the (dodgy) rap by the then-England squad, it’s just talking about tactics, not some sort of incessant over-confidence in those tactics guaranteeing us success. Without that Keith Allen-penned rap, ‘World In Motion’ isn’t really even a football song; it’s just a great pop song about people uniting together through love.

In 1990, I still followed football. I still played Subbuteo, I still played football at lunchtime at school and I still collected Panini sticker albums. I bought ‘World In Motion’ (on cassette) primarily because it was a good song during a period of heightened euphoria, but it also signalled the end of my interest in football completely. In place of Panini stickers I began collecting records. I haven’t looked back, though I did find myself buying the reissued ‘World In Motion’ t-shirt and I will be wearing it tonight.

Sacrilegious though this may be, I sort of always wished that New Order had recorded a version without the rap. I think it would stand up well as one of the best of New Order’s singles without it, even though it would never have given them their only number one.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence