Second Layer – “World Of Rubber” (1981 / 2015)

When doing some pre-work for this post one of the first things I found on World Of Rubber was, ironically, a review by my friend Bob Cluness. I almost stopped right there and shelved this post, since Bob pretty much nailed it (you can read his take at The Quietus HERE), but you know, this is a blog about what I happen to be listening to at the moment, so I figured what the hell.

I have to confess ignorance about the musical career of Adrian Borland, one half of Second Layer (along with Graham Bailey) and perhaps better known as part of The Sound. Maybe that destroys my musical cred, assuming I even have any. I don’t know. But there are two things I’ve learned on this musical journey over the last half decade. First, this is a blog I do for fun. It’s not journalism. So write what you like. And second, there’s a ton of music out there to be discovered, and the amount I don’t know will always far exceed that which I do know. Better to just accept that and be transparent about it instead of pretending to be some kind of expert.

I picked up World Of Rubber at Berlin’s Hard Wax, an essential stop if you’re into electronic music. The 2015 version is a compilation of all of Second Layer’s published work, which isn’t much – 20 songs total. And right from the beginning it’s evident that this is going to be the kind of morose post-punk that I enjoy. The bass is key here, not simply falling into lock-step with the percussion but instead wandering about to create a layer of fog across the canvas of the songs (check out “Fixation”). The guitar work is like an electric discharge, sometimes a humming buzz of overhead power lines (“Save Our Souls”), other times like a powerful shock from an electrical outlet (“Distortion”). And the vocals. Adrian’s vocals. I’m not generally a big lyrics guy, but you can’t escape them on World Of Rubber. Hopelessness and resignation with an undercurrent of bitterness, Borland is clearly not happy with what he sees when he looks around at what society has become. Whereas punk threw a big middle finger at the world, post-punk is more like the heavy sigh that follows a tirade.

Borland’s struggles with mental illness are well-known, and while he wasn’t formally diagnosed until 1985 there are certainly elements of World Of Rubber that take on more urgency when viewed through that lens. Was there something specific about this period that affected people, or is it perhaps always been like that and music simply became a more viable outlet in the early 1980s? The seemingly constant acceleration of society has certainly left untold human wreckage in its wake, a cause of concern as far back as sociologist Émile Durkheim’s work in the 1890s (and Nietzsche before that). Modern pharmaceuticals have provided tools the help many people achieve a balance, but as their use expands we find ourselves in jeopardy of a Brave New World-like existence (some would argue that is already upon us), soma being dispensed like Pez to an ever-more-numbed population. It eventually became too much for Borland who took his own life in 1999 at the age of 41.

World Of Rubber isn’t exactly uplifting, but no one said great art has to be.

Gravestone – “Victim Of Chains” (1984)

I couldn’t find much online about the German band Gravestone. It appears they originally formed in 1977, with all the musicians attending the same school. Their early sound has been described as prog, but after some personnel changes at the end of the decade it got harder and by the time their third album, Victim Of Chains, came out in 1984 they were full-on metal. There’s a decent interview with Gravestone bassist Dietmar Orlitta (aka Oli) HERE if you’re interested in a bit more history on the band.

Victim Of Chains hits you hard right out of the gates with a very un-Steve-Miller-like “Fly Like An Eagle”. The guitar attack has that 1980s intricacy while the vocals are so high pitched that initially I wondered if I wasn’t playing this at the wrong speed. The opening to “Son of the Freeway” flat-out shreds. There’s a NWOBHM influence, but Gravestone of this period are probably more similar to the truly harder bands of the era than they are to those that were moving in a more glam/hair direction. That’s not to say, of course, that there are no ballads here; it’s from 1984, after all, and unless you were doing thrash it seemed like everyone had a slower song. In Gravestone’s case, it’s the side A closer “So Sad”, and to be honest it’s only so-so, as we were so many ballads. But don’t worry, things pick right back up on the B side and we’re treated to some sweet shredding and vocals that hit their sweet spot.

Waving The Guns – “Das Muss Eine Demokratie Aushalten Können” (2019)

Waving The Guns are a hip hop group from Berlin. Their style has been labelled as “conscious” and their flow certainly fits that description, though since all the vocals are in German I can’t speak much to their message. German Wikipedia offers some hints, though: Waving the Guns make political rap with a clear anti-fascist attitude. They have some party songs that are about alcohol and drug use. The title track, which translates to something along the lines of “That Must Be Able To Endure a Democracy” (I suspect the literal translation is a bit clunky…), made it to #4 on the German hip hop charts back in March, so they’re getting some play in their home country.

I like Waving The Guns’ flow. Musically they don’t overly rely on heavy beats to provide a dense structure to hid behind, using a variety of instrumental samples to provide unique beats to their tracks, like the Spanish guitar mid-range on “Das Privileg”. The vocals are front and center, the centerpiece of the songs, and they are delivered with extreme clarity. This is an album you don’t need to understand German in order to enjoy.

PVC – “PVC” (1982)

Credited as one of the first punk bands in West Berlin, PVC was founded in 1977 and it was five long years until their studio debut was released in 1982. (♠) I was lucky enough to come across this at Berlin’s Cortex Records, a shop that primarily carries new/unopened albums. They’ve got a smattering of used stuff, most of which was contemporary, but hidden in the back of the bin looking all forlorn was this old school classic.

PVC played sped-up rock ‘n’ roll. Their songs have a bit of attitude, but lack the sneer and swagger of many of their contemporaries. The music is tight like a coiled spring, no slop or filler to be found. Songs like “Waves” and “Chromosome XXY” move more towards the new wave part of the spectrum while still retaining a rock core – no synthesizers here, but definitely fitting into a more poppy mold. The B side opener “Berlin By Night” is a worthy homage to their gritty home city and is widely (and rightfully) considered one of PVC’s best tracks. For my money, though, I’ll take “Satellite” with it’s weird, stilted delivery.

PVC doesn’t appear to have ever been released on a non-vinyl format, which is a bit surprising. Fortunately someone ripped it and posted it online (see below), and as an added bonus the record actually isn’t all that expensive – you shouldn’t have trouble getting a decent copy for $20 or so if you’re into it.

(♠) PVC contributed tracks to a number of compilations prior to their first studio album.

Terror Bird – “Human Culture” (2011)

Terror Bird is the project of Vancouver’s Nikki Nevver. Sonically Terror Bird are a bit retro, the synths harkening back to the 1980s, with a sort of dark romantic vibe. The music is a soft dreamy foundation that helps suspend Nevver’s vocals, an effect that comes together most fully in the ethereal “Cemeteries”.

I didn’t find Human Culture available anywhere for listening online, but you can check out some of Terror Bird’s other releases at Nikki’s Bandcamp page HERE. If Human Culture is any indication, there’s some great stuff to be heard there.