Believer/Law – “Matters of Life and Death” (2014)

I initially dropped the needle on Matters of Life and Death with my Rega set to 33 1/3 rpm and thought to myself, “huh, this has a bit of a Tangerine Dream quality to it”. Then I realized it was meant to be played at 45 rpm (♠) and started over.

It doesn’t sound that much like Tangerine Dream any more.

OK, so the synths could be Tangerine Dream-ish, though at the proper speed they’re much more deliberate and less dreamy. The vocals, however, are very insistent, like shouting from a distance, straining the vocal chords but not overwhelming to the listener. While the synths are a bit retro, the complete package has an IDM kind of urgency to it, particularly “The Task At Hand”.

This is another title from the batch I recently bought from Chondritic Sounds. It’s available online HERE for listen and purchase. I have the gray version of the vinyl (edition of 200), which sounds great. I can’t speak to the other two pressings, white (100 copies) and black (300 copies).

(♠) Why oh why do they sometimes not tell us the record is supposed to be played at 45 rpm? It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a long time.

Tangerine Dream – “Thief (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” (1981)

I’d been keeping my eyes out for a reasonably priced, nice condition copy of the Thief soundtrack, and I finally found one the other day in the New Arrivals bin over at Easy Street. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been wanting this other than knowing the music is by Tangerine Dream and the film is a gritty and brilliant crime noir classic. Ironically later that same evening I was flipping through the channels and what did I land on? That’s right, Thief. Which was followed by the original Rollerball as part of some kind of James Caan retrospective. Needless to say, I watched both.

I’ve never been a soundtrack guy, especially not soundtracks that are comprised primarily of scores as opposed to previously released songs. Having listened to a few over the last couple of years, though, I’m kind of intrigued, as this strikes me as a very different way of writing music. You can feel an emotional flow to the compositions on Thief, an underlying base mood that is nuanced and transformed by the soundscape. The musicians are writing to align their art with someone else’s art, and when it’s done correctly the results are magical.

The music is a defining element in Thief, just as it is in most Michael Mann directed films. He could have just as easily scored the album with rock songs and it would have given then entire thing a totally different feel. Same scenes, same dialogue, different emotional content. In fact, Mann originally intended to score it using Chicago Blues songs. It’s hard to imagine what that version of the film would have been like, though the final track “Confrontation” may give us just a hint, the only guitar-based number on the album.

Thief stands on it’s own fairly well. If you’re into Tangerine Dream and similar electronica, it’s a perfectly enjoyable stand-alone album. It’s hard for me to separate it from the film in my mind, but it’s not a major leap by any means.

Bad News – “No End” (2012)

This is my second dip into the Chondritic Sounds pool, and so far the label is two-for-two. Unlike the previously reviewed JFK, however, Bad News’ No End provides plenty of sonic structure, a nightmarish brand of IDM with lo-fi vocals and multi-layered beats. “Typical Illusion” truly takes the term industrial to heart, with metallic, factory-like blasts of sound overlaid on top of the bass, the pace increasing like a runaway locomotive before Bad News bring it back in check to start the process over again. By the time the song peaked a second time I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen the turntable itself picking up speed, sparks and smoke flying from where the stylus touched the vinyl. The label makes some general comparisons of Bad News to late 1980s era Skinny Puppy, and I can’t argue with that.

My only complaint whatsoever with No End is that it left me wanting more – at four songs and about 25 minutes, I could have used one or two more tracks. But better to have felt it too short than too long, because I can easily flip it over and play it again. As for you, you can listen to all four songs on Bandcamp HERE and buy the digital version for just four bucks if you like what you hear.

JFK – “Nganga” (2017)

I just started reading Fight Your Own War: Power Electronics and Noise Culture, and it’s a complete coincidence that one of the first artists I came across in the book was Ramleh, a project that includes one Anthony DiFranco, who also happens to be the solo mastermind behind JFK and who’s album Nganga has been on my To Listen To shelf now for a few weeks. Sometimes it’s a very small world.

While I enjoy industrial, I admittedly lean towards the more musically structured (and dare I say commercial) artists. JFK is not that. At all. JFK is tearing the paint off the walls of the room that is your consciousness, that little safe place you hide deep within your ego. JFK kicks in the door, hoses the place down with turpentine, and throws a road flare in on his way back out. I can’t get into all of it, but “Machinen” and “Nganga” may have altered my consciousness in such a way that I’m no longer entirely sure what constitutes “music”. My favorite track is “Zarathustra”, which sounds like Vangelis working with Tangerine Dream while the whole lot of them are tripping on ayahuasca, spacey and with the electronic buzz of high-voltage power lines right above your head and the occasional beats that will make you think the Hueys are coming in for another pass at Charlie’s beach.

This was one of the titles I picked up recently from the label Chondritic Sound, and if it’s any indication of what I’m in for, it should be an interesting ride. You can listen to all six tracks on the JFK Bandcamp page HERE, as well as purchase the vinyl, which is also available directly from the label HERE.