“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.

Nurse With Wound – “The Musty Odour Of Pierced Rectums (A Collection Of Obsolete Primitive Variations)” (2008)

There are three bands that I’m completely fascinated with, even though I’m not even sure that I like their music:

I’m at a loss to explain this phenomenon. Why would I be this deeply intrigued by a band I’m not even sure I like? And hell, why these bands and not others that also meet that criteria like Psychic TV or Zoviet France or The Osmonds? I don’t know. Probably because they’re weird, not just musically but individually, and I find weirdness unendingly fascinating, which is probably also why I got my degree in Psychology. And why I like to hang out in Walmarts.

This is my second foray into Nurse With Wound, the other coming with 1992s Thunder Perfect Mind. This is a bit of a departure from that other album, a collection of sounds, like a horror movie or something out of Planet of the Apes if all of the apes were totally crazy and hopped up on mescaline. It’s more outtakes than songs, but there’s an overall darkness to the whole thing, super trippy and not the kind of thing I’d want to listen to alone in the dark late at night unless I was consciously and actively trying not to sleep and/or wanting to give myself nightmares.

I’m not sure if Nurse With Wound is that itch I just can’t scratch, or the one I pick at so much that eventually I find myself bleeding and with an infected sore. Could be a combination of the two. But I’ll probably find myself continuing to buy albums when the price and my mood seem properly aligned… and then wondering why I did.

Nurse With Wound – “Thunder Perfect Mind”

I’m part of the Facebook group “Now Playing,” which is basically a place for people to post pictures of whatever record they happen to be listening to at the moment so that others can comment on it. Sure, there’s some run of the mill stuff, but since it primarily appeals to music junkies, a lot of what is posted borders on the esoteric, and a good chunk of it is stuff I’ve never heard of. Which in and of itself is cool, not in a pretentious “look how obscure I am,” but in a, “huh, that looks interesting, maybe I need to look into it” kind of way.

The first time I’d heard of Nurse With Wound (NWW) was when trying to decide about buying a Death In June record (though not the one I ultimately bought and wrote about), and in the course of my research on the later I came across references to the former. And Nurse sounded unusual. Difficult. Challenging. Kind of the, “is this art or crap” way.

I didn’t really consider buying any NWW albums, but I was still sort of intrigued. So when a Now Playing member posted one of their NWW albums I took a look at the comments. And that’s how I came across Luke, who was a big fan and offered to give people good “starting points” if they were interested in checking out NWW, pointing people towards the style of Nurse albums that best fit their interests. So I emailed him and asked for some recommendations. And never heard back. Bummer. Then a few weeks ago I was looking at my Facebook inbox and remembered that there was an “Other” box and that stuff sometimes gets lost in there… and there was an email from Luke to me and two other people, breaking down the Nurse With Wound catalog. I immediately responded and thanked him, and it turned out one of the other recipients hadn’t seen his email either, but did get my response.

So one of the two records Luke recommended for the more industrial side of Nurse With Wound was 1992s Thunder Perfect Mind (the other was 1994s Rock ‘n Roll Station). I found a copy of the 2001 vinyl version of the release on Discogs and ordered it, and here I sit today, listening to it for the first time. And it is industrial, in the truest sense of the word (to my ears – more on that in a sec). Repetitive sounds for periods of time, abrasive, and boring a hole through the a lazy, rainy Saturday afternoon. I think if I played the full length version of “Cold” and listened to it through headphones that I would emerge from the 23 minute experience with my DNA permanently altered. Maybe in a good way. Maybe not.

I just asked Holly what she thought.

Me: “This is some serious industrial.”

Holly: “Funny. I was thinking the exact opposite. It’s too… Mario.” Meaning Mario Brothers. Meaning to video game soundtrackish.

So I guess the first rule of Nurse With Wound Club is, “Your Mileage May Vary.”

It’s not “music” in the traditional sense. It’s musical… but in the sense that it is an experimentation of sound. And a lot of it throbbing, repetitive sound. You can’t dance to it. You can’t sing along (because, you know, there aren’t any words…). You can only experience it. In a way that forces its way into your head, by not just the use of repetition, but by then sudden breaks from the current repetitive patter, which is then replaced by a new one for a time.

Now, mind you, all of the above only applies to side A. And this is a double album.

The vinyl version of Thunder Perfect Mind is interesting. It’s four songs, spread over two records. Side A is one song – the 23 minute “Cold.” Side B is a five-and-a-half minute remix of “Cold” that sounds almost nothing like it – it’s much less grating that the parent track, and actually has something resembling a beat to it. The second record is one long song called “Colder Still” that runs almost 34 minutes and covers the entirety of the two sides. And this is a whole different kind of song than “Cold.” If I was throwing a label at it, I’d call it “ambient horror industrial.” It’s like a horror movie soundtrack, or really more like a horror movie song… if you could make the movie into music, this is what it would sound like. There might be an exorcism happening, or some type of black magic. Unlike on “Cold,” “Colder Still” gives us vocals, but their eerie and ethereal, like they’re coming at you from another plane of existence. I really like “Colder Still.”

So the Nurse With Wound experiment comes to a close. Will I check out more Nurse? I don’t know; maybe. If I can find a reasonably priced used record or CD, I’d give some more of their stuff a shot. Thunder Perfect Mind isn’t going to make it into heavy rotation here at Casa de Vinyl Lane, but the second record will get some more plays, that’s for sure. Especially with Halloween right around the corner. I wonder if I can use it to scare the trick-or-treaters…