SHADOWPLAY, a Post-Punk, Darkwave Overview – Alpha Waves’ “Path to Nowhere,” Kathon’s “Death Among Flowers,” PPNW label’s “Thirteen O’Clock, Volume 1” compilation

Alpha Waves / Kathon / Various Artists
Path to Nowhere / Death Among Flowers / Thirteen O'Clock, Volume 1
Bandcamp / Bandcamp / PPNW

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alpha waves cover

Forgetting, if you will, the fact that we’re two years too late hearing this record – it was Bandcamp-released in July 2013 – and instead allowing the ‘better late than never’ maxim to rule the day, please lend your immediate attention to the Hamburg duo Olaf (vocals, guitars) and Chris (drums), trading under the name Alpha Waves and making a great hypnotic monster of a psych-insinuated post-punk noise that their facebook band page perversely refers to as horror jazz. Call it what you (or they) will, Path to Nowhere is bloody marvelous, and still more proof as if any were needed that this genre is a-burst with varied potential just about any damn place you look.

Opening with deep cave-y tones of guitar and bass, “Behind Drawn Curtains” lays out the band’s sonic manifesto with a no-uncertain-terms authority, a tempestuous if measured assault of a track whose chorus finds the Waves drawing melody out of the ether with a Merlinesque ease. That habit, of paralleling beauty and brutality like the symbiotic charmers they’ve always been, is something of an innate hallmark of this record. Next track “Simplicity” mines that very vein in a way not dissimilar to Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, “Promised Land” has a rolling (irresistible) anthemic Lords of the New Church feel to it minus even the slightest touch of bombast, “Hollow Words” carries an edge of mercilessly hook-laced garage (so long as said structure was built in 1980), while the dextrous rumble of “Chemistry” makes it seem it was maybe recorded in a Viking mountain stronghold somewhere, its pace deliberate, the pound of its heart Spanish fjord pure.

As to the psych side of things – the tag is used liberally on the band’s Bandcamp page – we point you to the discursive, wandering spirit of “No Taints” with its ‘MBV tries to cover Nuggets’ vibe and, more pointedly, the instrumental “Pindsmarkvej,” that follows in “No Taint”‘s wake, and is, though short, trippy as hell – perhaps literally, mind – as if intent on tracing Swans’ down their darkened path, reverb echoing off the too-close walls, screams of effects howling in the night. None of which, however, dilutes one jot this album’s primary remit, which is to bring you ten untempered tracks that jolt and reverberate as if it’s just placed jumper cables on your left and right (stereo!) ventricles. I don’t know if it’s possible these days but my new fantasy goal in life is to stumble upon Alpha Waves pouring Path to Nowhere‘s songs out from a tiny stage in a sweaty club on the Reeperbahn and realizing right that second that, Yeah, life’s complete.

[Path to Nowhere available here]

kathon

Kathon hail from Girona, Spain, and that’s just about all we know about them except for these two things: they got in contact via our most recent NEXT piece and they possess a powerful post-punk mojo that flirts with punk metal in a way that any of us might flirt with the devil, for the fun exciting aspects not the nasty evil ones. Hence, on Death Among Flowers, the band’s mini-album debut just released April 12th, we get a succinct muscularity that reflects both countless hours of rehearsal – the band on here is Helmet-tight – and an aesthetic sympathy amidst the players (Mon guitar and vocals, Sergi bass, and Johnny on drums and vocals) that would seem to imply as much countenance with soaring ‘classic rock’ as with the über-texts as engraved back in ’78-’82. What we don’t get is any snotty posturing, abrasion for the sake of it, or anarcho-sloganeering. If anything, what gets layered atop – and laced through – the aggressive chording and merciless percussive pulse, is a kind of blunt majesty. There’s an elegance to this record you might not expect at first blush, enough so that a moment inside the otherwise hard-driving “Suicide” conjures the questing ghost of Kitchens of Distinction (it’s at 1:18 for those keeping score). Mostly, though, Death Among Flowers comes booming at your from the business (read: punkier) end of the post-punk canon.

After its sepulchral (e-bowed?) intro, “E Rush” thunders mightily into view with a bass/drum/guitar conjunction that suggests the three horsemen of the post-punk apocalypse, Mon’s stentorian, accented English voice filling the fourth saddle. The crafty “Blacklight” slips some light-touch finesse between the towering blocks, “Silent Films” lures with a darkly dreamed rumble of an undertow by which we’re happily pulled below just as the pound of the surf takes over overhead, while the unremitting gallop of “No Place” (following its Morriconesque, guitar-based precursor “The Awakening”) marks it a triumph of momentum and melody a la Brända Barn or Siekiera.

Displaying an intense, passion-bent musicality and the solid songcraft to match, the takeaway beyond those obvious gifts is that Kathon must be a revelation live. In our most fervent hopes we here at SEM hope to get a chance to someday bear that out. C’mon, lads, the West Coast of the US beckons.

[Death Among Flowers available here]

thirteen o'clock cover

You, like me, may have (very reasonably) believed that the days of the vital post-punk/new wave compilation, filled chock to the brim with vintage tracks from original-era bands, the majority of which are heretofore unheard, were well and forever behind us. Well, industrious curator Ian Lambert is here to tell us we were wrong, for which, based on his collection Thirteen O’Clock, Volume 1, just out on newly-minted label PPNW (and yes, you are correct, stands for Post Punk New Wave), we are gloriously grateful. Not only are we graced with a full nine out of thirteen tracks that carry the delicious designation “previously unreleased” next to them – a few live, a couple of demos, the rest just freed from various vaults – one 2014 remaster (a now-trembling-with-authority “Agent Orange” from Sunderland’s Ski Patrol) and a handful of deservedly resurrected obscurities, but as well a selection that wanders the stylistic biosphere of its chosen genre with joy-inducing abandon.

Whether we’re talking giddy new wave (Los Microwaves’ bristling live version of their “Damaged Goods”-on-sulfates “My Name is the Same”), mad synthy electro-pop (“No More Hollow Doors” by Crash Course in Science, burrowing into the brain’s circuitry like a hopped-up John Foxx), playful but experimental doom-synth pop (San Francisco’s The Units busting through most barriers like there’s an urban robot hellhound on their tail), radical – now retro – futurism (both Our Daughter’s Wedding’s thrilling live take on “Pressure Beat” which is perhaps the direction Billy Mumy should have taken after swerving past “Fishheads,” and the Kraftwerk-turns-somber throb of Das Ding’s “Sad But True” that’s the sound of morning after regret fed through a couple Korgs [maybe]), or zany frantic Francophone-sounding London pop (Family Fodder dishing a demo version of “Galapagos” that, frankly, would be most band’s final dream take), it’s all here like some crazed orgy of left-field, punk-inspired auteurs all gathered miraculously together under one roof. And if that’s not enough to convince of the need to add this to your (no doubt already bulging) compilation library, consider…

…B-Movie’s demo version of “Trash & Mystery” that suggests SF Sorrow-era Pretty Things if they’d been born fifteen years later, TV21’s pulsing and extraordinarily good “Through Different Eyes” that combines the inveterate hookiness of an Ada Wilson song with the band dynamics of, say, Psychedelic Furs, the pure paranoid avant punk of Nervous Gender whose “Mommy’s Chest” is the stuff of nightmares but the cool kind like those soundtracked by the Residents, the inviting space desert feel of Red Asphalt’s “Hurtling Moons of Barsoom” which is one of the previously available selections but so relatively obscure (at least to me) to render it brand new and as such is as startling to hear the first time as it was Julia’s Song. Add to these the above-mentioned Ski Patrol calling card from 1980 and the machine precise serrations of 1978’s “Atlantis” by mad Parisians Metal Urbain and what the hell, how do we do any better than that?

The answer, most assuredly, is we don’t, really, and in fact one worries a titch whether Mr Lambert and his PPNW label hasn’t rather exhausted their curatorial capital on their debut release but then came word earlier this week of this and any lingering concern converts immediately to unguarded enthusiasm. Go, Ian, go!

[Thirteen O’Clock Vol. 1 available here]