17.9.12

FACTORY STAR : The Black Veil of the New Sacral EP (2012)

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"When doubt has got his teeth in your bones - just moan that Salford moan - I greet the evening with a glad hand - 2 slate grey eyes - steeped in mystery - is it love that you feel, or is it fear? - remembering things that are making me cry - it's been a long, long time - longer than memory - run into the night - nothing left inside, feeling untied - don't laugh, don't cry - it's still a weird world."

I wasn't expecting to be writing about Factory Star again quite so soon. Most bands nowadays, in the wake of a "year's best" album of Enter Castle Perilous' singular quality, would slope off into contented obscurity for 2 years to piece together a worthy follow-up. Martin Bramah, however, chose to issue the shimmering "Lucybel" 45 before the dust had chance to settle, & is back again with this new mini-L.P., a further half dozen songs. In total, that's not far short of an entire other album. To suggest he's on a roll would be putting it lightly, I think?

The Black Veil of the New Sacral is split into 2 distinct halves. It's first act delivers a brusque call to arms, a rallying cry from a lurid vortex of snarling Orchidian Farfisa & quarry-deep Dragnet bass. Though lyrically minimal, the mood is unmistakably defiant, combative, & UP - optimistic, almost - in stark contrast to Enter Castle Perilous' disheveled parade of squalid Hogarthian miniatures. The highlight, the infectiously elated "Olympian", careens by in a vociferous blur, wielding an organ hook of such brazen simplicity - & raw transfixed electricity - that it might've been dragged howling from the grimy bed of the Manchester ship canal. In all, 3 blistering psychedelic cellar anthems for a dowdy, dilated flock. Somewhere, Lenny Kaye falls off his bar stool, backwards, in slow motion...

It's a fleeting high, of course. The second side's expressionistic Northern noir flickers with dignified melancholy as the band retreat into an eclipsed gloaming. Like an anxious descent from neon flooded, rain soaked streets into a murky Brutalist underpass, "Strangely Lucid" - thankfully liberated from The Blue Orchid's impossible-to-find Slum-Cavern-Jest! E.P. - radiates a vivid narcoleptic incandescence, an eerie 4 a.m. calm redolent of silent, twilit terraces & hedgerows. Bramah also attempted it on The Ballad of Twisted Heel, his elusive 2008 solo album, so he's obviously a song he's particularly fond of it. The closing "Weird World", arguably the finest song here, previously appeared in embryonic form way back in 1993 on The Sleeper, The Blue Orchids' unreleased 2nd album (since unearthed by Les Temp Modernes). It's a proud, burned out hymn to the dark horses & the destitute - the losers & the lost - heartsick soul music for the has-beens & also-rans. That said, having put his worm-riddled character studies to one side, Bramah seems to be addressing himself throughout this latest brace of songs. The withering sarcasm has subsided, supplanted by a palpable sense of weary regret, but also an acceptance that life - however ugly & unpleasant - nevertheless remains a liminal, fantastical mystery.

The Black Veil of the New Sacral offers a rare cause for celebration. And Factory Star endure. EPIC. Get it here.

n.b. Live photography by Guy Christie.

2.9.12

YAZOO : John Peel Session - July 1982 (BBC recording)

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Back in 1982, within the space of a scant 3 months, Vince Clarke & Alison Moyet's Yazoo debuted on Top of the Pops (in April, with the perennial "Only You"). appeared on the covers of the country's 2 most influential music magazines (Smash Hits in May & the New Musical Express in July), recorded the requisite John Peel session (June), & released a classic inaugural album (the timeless Upstairs At Eric's). They were, of course, a peculiar duo from the outset, their atypical juxtaposition of blues & soul-inspired songwriting with cutting edge synth technology appealing to pop-happy chart kids & jaded post-punkers alike (& my mum was a big fan too), culminating in phenomenal chart success. It's easy to forget, however, that Yazoo's Basildon-based inception, meteoric rise to international fame, & fraught break-up (on the eve of their 2nd album's release) all transpired within little more than 18 months: "One minute we were recording a demo on a 4-track, the next we were on Top of the Pops. It all happened so quickly, I don't think either of us had a chance to enjoy it" (Alison Moyet).

Their July 1982 Peel appearance was, by my estimation, one of the very first sessions that I stayed up to tape (& on a school night too!). A stripped back 4-song preview of the imminent Upstairs At Eric's album, debate continues to rage as to whether these radio versions are superior to the officially released ones or not. Personally, I'd profer that, yes, they're certainly quite different & leave it at that. Curiously, all trace of Yazoo's set has been wiped from the BBC's usually reliable Keeping It Peel database. Odder yet, EMI also overlooked it when compiling 2008's otherwise complete retrospective In My Room box set, despite the inclusion of an entire DVD's worth of period television appearances for the Beeb, so perhaps Alf & Vince would prefer it to remain tucked away in their archive?

It's long term unavailability means that all 4 songs have been sourced from a 30 year old, (& rather fragile, by the sounds of it) Scotch c90, so apologies if it sounds slightly shaky in places, or if the authentic 1980s Medium Wave interference is a little intrusive. Sadly, until Mute issue it as a deluxe 12" (hint) this is as good as it gets.