“Ohrensausen” Compilation (1986)

The other day I posted about “difficult” music, and today I’m continuing along in the same vein. Ohrensausen and the previously reviewed The Elephant Table Album share two artists, Coil and Nurse With Wound, but that’s it. The only other artist on Ohrensausen I’m remotely familiar with is Asmus Tietchens, so I’m a close to being a blank slate here.

The comp comes out of the gate strong with the somewhat schizophrenic “Split and Well Hung” by Chrystal Belle Scrodd, a jarring piece that feels like a few different tracks spliced together. Nurse With Wound’s “The Cockroach of Del Monte” is one of Nurse’s more coherent track, one that certainly has many seemingly random elements but arranges them in a way that makes sense. The Coil track is surprisingly bombastic and militaristic, though that shouldn’t have come as any surprise given its title, “His Body Was a Playground for the Nazi Elite”. Probably my favorite song on the copy is H.N.A.S.’ “Speck Des Jahres”, the second half of which is a great, driving industrial jam.

I have the second pressing of Ohrensausen from 1987, which is on white vinyl. If you do find a copy of this in the wild, check and see if it includes the inserts – there should be four total, though mine only had three (dammit!). And for what it’s worth, it’s a lot more difficult than the self-described difficult The Elephant Table Album I posted about the other day.

“The Elephant Table Album: A Compilation of Difficult Music” (1983)

What do we mean when we describe music as “difficult”? I know I’ve done it before here on the blog, but I suspect it means different things to different people. Is it music with unusual timing signatures? Disturbing lyrics? Experimental work with sound that doesn’t fall into any kind of recognizable pattern or framework? Genres you don’t personally care for? Something that creates an unsettled mood in the listener? Or maybe all of the above… or none… I don’t know. When I use the term difficult, I usually mean something I find musically well outside of the norm, something I can’t quite wrap my mind around. This includes non-music and noise, as well as experimental and avantgarde. It’s music that challenges my preconceptions of what actually constitutes “music”, and I find it valuable in that it expands my mind. I don’t always like it, and often I only listen to a given album once, but that doesn’t mean the listening experience wasn’t valuable.

So I was intrigued when I ran across this record yesterday over at Easy Street Records, because it says right on the cover that it’s “a compilation of difficult music”. I wondered what that meant to the label, and the first artist name my eyes fell upon was Chris and Cosey. Hmm… I don’t normally think of them as difficult. Is that because I’ve listened to them a bunch over the last few months? A little further down is Coil. OK, I sort of get that, at least some of their stuff. Nurse With Wound. Now this is making a bit more sense. I only know a few of the other 17 performers (♠), specifically SPK, Muslimgauze, and Legendary Pink Dots. That gave me enough context to know that this was an album I needed to buy.

The genesis of The Elephant Table Album was an article Dave Henderson wrote for the May 7, 1983 issue of Sounds entitled “Wild Planet!” (the text of which can be found HERE). It was a survey of the more extreme music being made at the time, a listing of dozens of bands with blurbs on each. Four months after that article appeared this double album came out. I’m not sure how it was received at the time, nor do I know how I would have reacted to it back in 1983 (probably badly), but rough 36 years later in my living room it’s tremendous. 400 Blows’ “Beat the Devil” is a high point, along with the Chris and Cosey jam.

Styles mix on this album, though there’s still a general cohesion. The Elephant Table Album opens with an industrial dance track, Portion Control’s “Chew You to Bits”, then takes a sharp left turn to Chris and Cosey, though their “Raining Tears of Love” is less poppy than their later sound, a methodical electro dystopian dream sequence. From there we take another sudden swerve and find ourselves listening to horns and synths and piano and disconnectedly haunting vocals in the very avantgarde “Musak from Hawthorne Court” by Metamorphosis. And it just keeps going on like that, song after song, surprise after surprise.

I can’t say enough good things about The Elephant Table Album. It was re-released on vinyl in 1989 with a different set of liner notes, and that same year a CD version came out, though the CD only has 17 tracks. It also sounds like the CD version was actually recorded directly from a vinyl copy and not from the masters, so buyer beware.

(♠) The track listing on the reverse of the record goes up to 21. However, Muslimgauze is listed twice, both times numbered 9. So what’s the deal? Looking at the grooves on that side it looks like the record only has five tracks, which would mean that despite Muslimgauze being listed twice there is in fact only one track devoted to him on the record.

“The Fight Is On” Compilation (1985 / 1988)

I have a fascination with extreme music. It’s not so much that I like listening to most of it so much as I’m simply infatuated by how far outside the mainstream it is. My self-perception is that I’m more interested in the fact that it exists, the people who perform it, and the people who actively follow it than I am in the music itself. I’ve always been fascinated with subcultures, especially those on the extreme fringes, so I suppose this is a natural extension. If I’m self-analyzing, and clearly I am, this infatuation is possibly a kind of respect (or envy….?) for those who live the life they choose to live even when it is well outside of what society deems normal or, at times, even acceptable. Do I have some hidden longing to exist as an outsider? Maybe… though I doubt it. I don’t have any fundamental problems with my suburban life, or my job, or anything like that. Most of the time I enjoy it. Ultimately I think it comes down to admiring those with the drive to follow their passions, even when their passions take them to difficult places. It’s not so much what they’re doing, it’s how they’re doing it.

Which brings me to this recently acquired copy of The Fight Is On. This comp is filled with the kind of outlier artists who intrigue me – Coil, Nurse With Wound, Current 93, The Hafler Trio… musicians who take approaches to music that are well outside of the mainstream, sometimes going so far that you could consider them anti-music. I’m fascinated by them, and while none are on regular rotation in my life, when I listen to them their sonic compositions do have an effect on me. Not anything clearly defined, mind you. There are no fantasies that arise from hearing them. But what they do is they change the way I perceive, which in essence is changing the way my brain is wired, opening me up to new and different and unexpected possibilities to see things in different ways. And that’s something valuable, not just in how I interact with music, but also in how I interact with the world.

The nine tracks on The Fight Is On are on the more elemental end of the spectrum, songs that create a mood without generating a sense of anxiety or dread. So once again I’ve been thrown for a loop, as The Fight Is On did not give me what I expected from these performers. Instead I have something bordering on enjoyable. Which of course begs the question – would I have felt this way hearing The Fight Is On say five years ago… or has my paradigm shifted in ways that change how I perceive these songs today? My money is on the latter, and for that I’m grateful.

Coil – “Panic” (1985)

There are three songs on this 12″ from Coil, and all three bring something different to the party. “Aqua Regis” is the stuff nightmares are made from, and industrial horror show from the deepest recesses of the most primitive parts of the brain. I mean, just look at the cover of this thing – if that image isn’t nightmare fuel, I don’t know what is. However, “Panic” is some great industrial dance, metallic beats and more structured than its predecessor, though the vocal interlude is creepy as hell (and it sort of sounds like they sampled some Led Zeppelin era Robert Plant with some of the moaning). The B side is given over to an industrial cover of “Tainted Love” that will peel the paint off your soul, if you have one. Even played at 45 rpm you’re left thinking, “wait, is the speed too slow?” It’s not. It feels like something being sung by a homicidal stalker. Meaning it’s pretty great.

Coil – “Another Brown World / Baby Food” (2017)

Clearly the date of this release is not indicative of when the music was composed given that both members of Coil passed away years ago, John Balance in 2004 and Peter Christopherson in 2010. Both of these 12+ minute tracks appeared previously contemporary to their creation, “Another Brown World” in 1989 and “Baby Food” in 1993. I’m not precisely sure why Sub Rosa Label chose these two to be part of this release, though I have to give them credit because the pair compliment one another well. Both are chill electro goodness with a subtle undercurrent of darkness. Not industrial per se, though still conveying a slight sense of potential danger without being anxiety-inducing – you can sit back with your eyes closed and let the slowly wash over you like a subtly advancing tide.

Both tracks can be heard HERE on the label’s Bandcamp page. You can also buy the limited edition marbled vinyl, though I’m perfectly happy with my black version which was half the price and sounds clean as can be.