Raw – “Raw” (1990)

I picked this up on a lark not realizing its connections to one of my favorite labels, On-U Sound. Raw is Keith LeBlanc, a percussionist and producer who’s had a remarkable career. You know, little stuff like being one of the core musicians that was part of Sugarhill and Tommy Boy, performing with artists like Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, from there being a member of Fats Comet, Tackhead, and Mark Stewart‘s backing band Maffia, and later getting production credits with projects like NIN. No big deal, just a consistent track record of being on the cutting edge of music. Nothing to see here.

Raw was one of LeBlanc’s solo projects, one that only produced this single album in 1990 (he was also releasing solo material as DJ Spike during this period). The overall On-U vibe is all over this record, with Adrian Sherwood in the booth and performers like Gary Clail and African Head Charge‘s Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah joining in on some tracks. Man, this thing is right in my sonic wheelhouse – electronics, dub, vocals that are a cross of singing and rapping, and just a dash of industrial. Interestingly half the album’s eight tracks are remixes of songs from LeBlanc’s 1988 album Stranger Than Fiction, a record he put out under his own name.

I can’t get enough of Raw. This is going to make it into the Gary Clail / Tackhead / Fats Comet rotation that I sometimes find myself embracing, and I’m going to need to track down some of LeBlanc’s other projects as well.

Cabaret Voltaire – “2X45” (1982)

I’ve jumped around a lot in the Cabaret Voltaire catalog over the last few years, and as a result I don’t have a firm sense of their evolutionary trajectory. They’re a band that both fascinates and confuses me in equal measures,

2X45 is sometimes described as a transitional album, one that marks the end of the band’s experimental beginnings and a movement towards a more mainstream sound. “Yashar” was later remixed and released as a 12″ single that did quite well in the charts and you can hear why, it’s Eastern influences giving it that sense of “otherness” that would make for a dance floor groover. But then you flip over the record and play the B side track “Protection” and it’s a blast of industrial underlaid with oddly structured horns, almost like a DJ spinning jazz and Skinny Puppy at the same time with the sound up on both records. It’s jarring and fantastic. “Wait And Shuffle” is similar, though adding the third element of a strong, post-punkish base line that pulses through the song while the horns peel layers off of your brain. “Get Out Of My Face” gives us just a few little hints of what Cab Voltaire would late become on albums like Code just a few years later.

WRISTS – “WRISTS” Cassette (2018)

Opening with a long burst of static, “Dead Friends / Ex Lovers” breaks free into a lo-fi journey into darkness, pulsing, the vocals distorted and dragged out like fingernails on a chalkboard, your worst subconscious impulses converted to sound. The synths try to break free with a kind of 8-bit triumphant march only to be crushed down at the end by a wall of distortion. “Black Moon Curses” tries to recapture this escape from darkness, but is quickly pulled back into the depths by clawing hands, the two forces battling across the song’s three-and-a-half minutes, not so much dancing around one another but existing simultaneously in the same space like two distinct compositions being played at the same time. And lest you think that’s a criticism, I assure you it isn’t. The pull of the opposites is like a tug of war taking place within your mind. “Beckoning of Blood” marks the beginning of the end, the end of the light trying to assert itself, leaving behind only the basest impulses before finally giving way to “Frost and Dust”, its synths not uplifting but instead eerie and unsettling with pacing that implies something chasing you through the depths of your subconscious, something bound to eventually catch up with and devour you.

WRISTS is available on the Suicide Bong Bandcamp page HERE, both digitally and in a limited edition (of 100) cassette release.

Individual Totem – “Electrostatic” (2018)

I got an email the other day from Toronto’s Artoffact Records touting the upcoming release by the German electro-wizards Individual Totem, a band whose last album was described as an “industrial space opera”. I was, needless to say, intrigued. I’d never heard of Individual Totem before, but this sounded like something I needed to check out.

Everything’s just perfect when you’re near me…
— “Perfect”

Electrostatic opens with “Perfect”, a near perfect blend of percussive beats, 80s-style synths, and dejected vocals that seem to set the stage for a somewhat goth, somewhat post-punk style album. But then the vocals kicked in on the second song, “Pure”, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Things take a turn toward the dark side, a hard lurch to the depths of someplace with an undercurrent of danger. The positive vibe of Everything’s just perfect when you’re near me shifted to an I want you, I need you that sounds more like a threat than a compliment, approaching the feel of being locked in a damp basement lit by just a single dim bulb hanging from the ceiling by a wire and awaiting your inevitable and certain to be unpleasant fate.

By the third song, “Warriors Of The Sun”, it’s becoming clear that Individual Totem have no intention of letting the listener get into a groove with Electrostatic. This is their train. They’re at the controls, and we’re just along for the ride, heading into the corners at speeds that well exceed what is safe. And in case you were still harboring any thoughts that things might start moving in a more or less linear fashion you get “Lullaby In A Snowstorm”, a slow and morose journey that derives its beauty from sadness. Nothing danceable here, leaving you instead just swaying as the music wraps itself around you in a thick blanket.

My life is a nightmare,
I’m burning in hell.
I’m dreaming of angels,
But it doesn’t help.
— “Dreaming Of Angels”

The next track is always an adventure on Electrostatic. What will it be? Industrial? IDM? Something in between, or something entirely different? There’s a sense of anticipation as each song starts that makes Electrostatic a joy to listen to, and it doesn’t go away even after playing it a half dozen times. Creating something with an overall feel to it while still keeping each and every track fresh and unique is not an easy thing to do, but Individual Totems make it happen on Electrostatic.

Electrostatic is due out September 7. You can sample some tracks on the Individual Totem Bandcamp page HERE, and make sure to head back next week if you want to pick up a copy, whether that be the digital download or the CD put out by Artoffact.