Zounds – “The Curse of Zounds” (1982)

For about the first four years of Life in the Vinyl Lane I pretty much wrote about every single record and cassette I acquired. Unless I thought it totally sucked, I wrote about it. Over the last year or so that compulsion has relaxed a little, though if I’m being completely honest I sometimes feel guilty when I can’t find the inspiration to write about a release. Because I’m a little crazy that way.

Zounds’ The Curse of Zounds was one of those records I picked up and for whatever reason figured probably wouldn’t make the cut. (♠) And then I played it for the first time. And went to the computer to find out more about Zounds. And immediately ordered a copy of Zounds founding member Steve Lake’s 2013 book about the band, Zounds Demystified. That’s how hard this record hit me on the first listen.

Zounds lyrics contain a lot of politics. They also include satire, absurdism, surrealism, gut feeling, comedy, emotion, contradiction (♣), confession, love, hate, celebration, comment, disgust, and a million other things. Zounds is not a political rock band, it’s a cry for help.
— Steve Lake, Zounds Demystified (p. 6)

Sounds was part of Europe’s anarcho-punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their sound on The Curse of Zounds varies a bit, incorporating elements of first generation punk, post-punk, English folk, and prog. The idea of prog existing alongside punk seems like a massive contradiction, but songs like “Little Bit More” have a prog-like structure sung with punk attitude. Pieces of The Clash and Dead Kennedys somehow peacefully co-exist alongside Can. It’s weird, and it works brilliantly. There are familiar elements interwoven throughout The Curse of Zounds, with Zounds in many cases pre-dating the bands that later took these musical elements and became famous for them (I’m thinking specifically here of the very The Cult-like “This Land”).

As near as I can tell The Curse of Zounds was never released on CD, which is a shame in that it would be approachable to more people. But that’s one of the reasons I have a record play, because so much of this stuff never made it onto a silver disc. If you find a copy, buy it. You can thank me later.

(♠) Holly and I sometimes use the term “blog fodder” to describe oddball stuff I buy… stuff I might not have bought otherwise but figured it might be interesting enough to write about.

(♣) One of these contradictions is the album cover itself. On the front you have a group of firemen putting out some kind of fire. But if you flip it over and look at the continuation of the photo on the reverse you’ll see that their hoses are hooked up to a petrol truck. They’re spraying gasoline on the fire.

Kome Kome Club – “Go Funk” (1988)

Go Funk seemed very out of place when I ran across it the other day at a local shop. A funk record in a sea of rock, a Japanese record buried behind a pile of American ones. And because I’m a sucker for Japanese records I took it upon myself to rescue Go Funk, taking it home where it could live on my shelves with some of its friends.

Musically Go Funk is a little less funky than I expected, but still a good listen. There’s definitely a big band kind of vibe happening here, and songs like “Bee Be Beat” actually do bring the funk pretty hard. Add some pop elements and what you have is a talented group of artists who can pretty much do whatever they want… and that’s exactly what they do. Some songs are in Japanese, others in English, making it more approachable to Western ears.

Go Funk is a lot of fun, a good party time go-to kind of record that would appeal to people with a wide range of musical tastes.

AAIIEENN – “Spaces” (2018)

There’s a scene in the movie Rollerball when Jonathan E visits Mr. Bartholomew in his office meditation space. The room is blindingly white with just a little gray thrown in to offer a bit of contrast. There are pieces of glass hanging from the ceiling on string that are sensitive to the slightest movement in the room and will make a light tinkling noise if disturbed. They’ll also cut you, as Jonathan finds out when he touches one.

AAIIEENN’s newest album, Spaces, is like Mr. Bartholomew’s room – so bright you can barely stand it, everything perfectly arranged and white, still and sterile, but with just that hint of danger that just the lightest touch will cut you deep. But fear not, my friends, as tracks like “Calabi-Yau” slowly build to add more shapes and textures, softening those sharp edges to make the room much less dangerous and more welcoming. Color-wise Spaces stays white, bright and clear. “Euclidian” is a perfect example of this, placing more prominence on the synths and higher pitches while keeping the bass down on the floor, providing structure but in a more subtle way, acting more as a platform on which the electronics can shine. Movies generally provide us with two versions of the dystopian future. One is dirty and dark and dank and rundown and dangerous; the other is bright, clean, clear, and seemingly perfect on the surface, but equally dangerous. Spaces is the soundtrack to the latter.

Spaces is due out on August 31 as a limited edition vinyl release by Reykjavik’s FALK label. There are a couple of tracks available for listening currently online HERE, and I suspect others will go up next month. You can also buy it as a digital download if you don’t want a physical copy or just want to save a few bucks.

Stevie Wonder – “Talking Book” (1972)

Prior to picking up this battered copy of Talking Book the other day, I’m fairly confident I’d never listened to a Stevie Wonder album all the way through. My relationship with Stevie was via his greatest hits catalog, songs I’d hear on my parent’s car stereo, and probably “Ebony and Ivory” when it first came out. I know the same ones everyone else does, though I suspect that my depth of knowledge is much shallower than a typical person my age. I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason I was just never curious enough to listen just a little harder.

The 1,500th Post All Time Top 5 experiment got Stevie Wonder back on my radar, as two of my friends included Songs In The Key Of Life on their lists. The only copy I fond the other day was in pretty bleak shape so I passed on it, but I did snag this VG (OK, maybe a bit less than VG…) copy of Talking Book, which was from the same period. I figured the album would be in a similar feel to it’s opening track, the Stevie-mega-hit “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”, but that’s not when I got when I dropped the needle. In fact, that song is more the exception than the rule. There’s a certain sterility about that track, even on vinyl (♠), that sound that comes from such a great song being so perfectly performed that it seem fake, as in “c’mon man, no one can possibly make a song so impeccably smooth”, but there it is… real. So real and so perfect as to almost become boring. But don’t worry, because the rest of Talking Book is real. And I’m not talking just about the blazing funk of the B side opening “Superstition”, with that simmering tempo rise and Wonder’s spiritualism-soaked voice. That’s pretty good too, and fortunately didn’t succumb to the perfection-induced fate of its partner.

Don’t let this make you think Talking Book is two hit singles and eight fillers because that would be a terrible mistake and you wouldn’t listen to the rest of this great music. Sure, “Blame It On The Sun” feels like an attempt at radio-friendly chart-topper, but there’s a lot of depth to the rest of this album. The sentimental-without-being-sappy “Big Brother”, the prog-rock-style guitar solo dropped into the middle of the otherwise smooth jazz of “Lookin For Another Pure Love”, and the crescendo of “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” are more than ample reasons to get yourself a copy of Talking Book. Plus you get a few big hits thrown in for free.

(♠) I think the flatter sound I hear on this 1970s vinyl is, in this case, better than something remastered over say the last 30 years. That flatness actually serves Wonder well.

Asmus Odsat – “Ecstatic Half Truth EP” (2018)

The pace is set right up front, with the snappy electro-kick drums that open “Deal With It”, and it doesn’t let up for another 22+ minutes. “Deal With It” feels like the soundtrack to some type of horror-theme video game. Not something super gross, and nothing including zombies. More like something about the creatures of the night, that blend of beauty and malice, the shadows and the sheer gothicness of it all. But Odsat doesn’t do this in a smooth, ambient way. Oh, no. There are edges to the music, angles and pixelated shapes. It’s not chiptune, but something more advanced that doesn’t quite reach the modern day. It’s not an original Nintendo… more a Super Nintendo or even a N64. But, you know, with vampires.

“Insecurity Camera” brings edges to the record, not the blocky, structured type form “Deal With It” but instead something razor sharp and cutting. There’s a metallic tinge to high end reminiscent of that taste you get in your mouth when you’ve been injected with radioactive dye for a medical procedure (♠), like a mouthful of nickels. The drops come at unexpected times to keep you on your toes, the entire song leaving you on edge and toying with your amygdala.

Due out in mid-September, Ecstatic Half Truth EP is getting the limited edition (of 100) 12″ vinyl treatment from the Reykjavik-based label FALK. The first track, “Deal With It”, is available for streaming on FALK’s Bandcamp page HERE, so check it out.

(♠) I assume the taste is the same if you’ve been injected for other reasons, but I don’t know that for sure.