19.1.11

PETE SHELLEY : Sky Yen (1974/80)

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Ex-Buzzcock continuum... Sky Yen is a very rare record indeed. And, no, I don't actually own a copy (more's the pity).

Released on his own, short-lived Groovy label in 1980 in a once-only edition of a 1,000 copies, Sky Yen was actually recorded in March 1974 while Pete Shelley (née McNeish) was still a student at Bolton's Institute Of Technology. It's a primitive Tangerine Dream/Cluster-influenced D.I.Y. oscillator workout that harks back to Eno's caustic Roxy-era experimentation in "The B.O.B. (Medley)", etc - the result of too much time spent sniffing Humbrol modelling glue whilst listening to No Pussyfooting with the curtains drawn, perhaps? Joking aside, Sky Yen is actually a rather impressive achievement - Shelley constructed the oscillator himself from a kit with the intention of soundtracking a film made by fellow student Howard Devoto, & the beginnings of "Boredom"'s 2-note avant garage guitar solo were definitely gestating somewhere deep within it's mordant sheets of lacerating electronic static, I think? Prior to hearing it, 12 year old moi had only previously encountered this type of acutely experimental kosmiche abstraction during the harsher passages of Vertigo's Kraftwerk reissues, or via our local library's scratchy Stockhausen LPs (the latter surreptitiously tucked away behind dogeared copies of Selling England By The Pound & Deceptive Bends).

Bizarrely, when Sky Yen was eventually released in 1980, financed by Shelley's Buzzcocks earnings, it was reviewed in Smash Hits by (of course) the legendary Red Starr. Unfortunately, he wasn't too keen on it: "No Songs, no tunes, no band, no vocals - just 2 sides of solo oscillator droning gently away, note by note, up & down, softly distorted by echo, occasionally sounding like an aeroplane. The second side is more of the same with rather less echo... The title indicates a desire to drift off into the wild blue yonder & this is the soundtrack... Why anyone would want to actually buy this double dose of droning unless they had trouble sleeping is (a) mystery." He must've been in a particularly bad mood that week as he goes on to roundly slag off Television Personalities' "King & Country" as well (there's a nice pic of The Red Krayola though!).

Coincidentally, Sky Yen inadvertently mirrors Throbbing Gristle's formative experimental sessions, which were taking place at their Martello Road safe house around the same time. It also sounds remarkably similar to the much earlier exploratory impulses of the record I'm planning to post next...

LINK REMOVED: Sky Yen has now been reissued c/o Drag City, along with the rest of the Groovy back catalogue.

16.1.11

TRISH KEENAN : Still Feels Like Tears

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Of all the recent, seemingly endless, succession of music-related deaths, news of Trish Keenan's passing seems the most shocking - partly because she was still so young (42), & partly because she was so unfailingly modest & approachable. Her death seems horribly close to home somehow, & a pointless, appalling waste of a singular & spellbinding talent.

Broadcast were without doubt one of the last decade's most interesting British bands, & Trish one of our finest singers (she'd long been one of my personal favourites). She'll be dearly missed by anybody who met her, or heard her band's often astonishing music.




3.1.11

LUXURIA : Unanswerable Lust (1988)

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After Magazine's collapse in 1981, & following his brief solo sojourn with the Jerky Versions Of The Dream LP in 1983, Howard Devoto dumped Virgin Records for Beggar's Banquet, hooked up with multi-instrumentalist Noko (previously bassist in The Cure & Pete Shelley's band) & formed the oft-maligned, & now virtually forgotten Luxuria (Adultery originally, a much better name if you ask me).

I'm as guilty as anybody of ignoring them at the time. In 1988 I was far more interested in the torrent of rough & ready underground rock concurrently spewing out of North America &, aside from perusing a couple of non-committal articles in Melody Maker, Luxuria barely impacted on me. Though I'm now ashamed to admit it, Howard already seemed like a spent, middle aged figure to me back then. Predictably, as I hurtle towards middle age myself, Luxuria's music has belatedly begun to aquire a faded, decadent allure. Unanswerable Lust's melodies - cloaked in an opulent fog of gaudy 80s production ("conform to deform", etc) & sounding not unlike Prefab Sprout or Breakfast Club-era Simple Minds in places - are often difficult to pin down. Engulfing themselves in so much ostentatious embellishment seems rather self-defeating in retrospect, dating their album indelibly, & I can't help wondering what these songs might've sounded like if they'd been recorded in more sober, stripped back circumstances. Tellingly, the least production heavy song here, the relatively unfussy "Lady 21", is also one of the most memorable. Howard's lyric's, however, never fail to impress, veering between sly, self-mocking sarcasm & riotous, melodramatic pretension. Unlike most rock writers, his words generally work as well on the page as in performance.

I've added a couple of related tracks: the spirited cover of Dylan's "She's Your Lover Now" from their debut Redneck 12" (with most of Shriekback moonlighting as their backing band), & a remix of the eponymous "Luxuria" (from the Public Highway EP single). I'm still missing the other Public Highway b-side, "Sickly Thug & I", drop me a line if you can help... (N.B. Some of you may also find this of interest.) Bafflingly, whereas Luxuria's second LP, 1990's less absorbing Beastbox, is still easily obtainable via Amazon & iTunes, Unanswerable Lust has been deleted for several years.

Luxuria split, largely unlamented, in 1990. Howard drifted off into a career as a photo archivist & avoided the music industry for the next decade, only re-emerging in 2001 with Buzzkunst, a one-off collaboration with fellow ex-Buzzcock, Pete Shelley. Noko, meanwhile, formed the surprisingly successful Apollo 440 with a couple of old school friends, & currently plays in Raw Chimp. Both Howard & Noko are, of course, part of the reconvened Magazine, Noko replacing the late, great John McGeoch.