Welcome to the amodelofcontrol.com review of 2019, which begins this week. Over this and the next three Tuesdays, I’ll be rounding up the best music of the year in various categories. In coming weeks there will be the best tracks, the best albums, and the best gigs.
/Countdown/2019/Compilations and re-issues
/Countdown/Compilations and Re-issues
But this week, as I’ve now done for a few years now, I’m going to look at a number of the re-issues and compilations released across the year. This gives me a chance to reflect on some old favourites in new forms, and rediscover some albums that I’d maybe forgotten about entirely, not to mention the odd compilation from a label that is worth your time.
The major changes currently being wrought to the way music is consumed – mainly down to the seemingly endless growth of streaming services, and the reduction in purchases of physical releases of music as a result – might in future years affect this particular post, but there was still no problem this year, with a succession of interesting re-issues, and notable compilations (and indeed, a few of both had to be omitted to keep within the usual ten that I post about).
I run amodelofcontrol.com as what might be called a “labour of love”. I’ve written about music for twenty-two years, fifteen of those years under this website banner, and I continue to want to celebrate all that is great about this corner of the musical realm. So this site continues to exist – with no external funding and no paid-for advertising – and I will continue to do so as long as I want to do it, and as long as people want to read it.
So thanks for reading, contributing, offering comment, or being one of those people that makes the music I want to write about. And here’s to more in the future.
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A great quote from the Pitchfork review of this excellent compilation rather sums up industrial music:
“Musical genres are like leftist politics; as soon as a sect is named, the argument about inclusion begins.”
That said, there’s no real argument that Wax Trax! Records was at heart, an industrial label (even if it did widen it’s horizons at various points), and the excellent film that this accompanies told the entertaining, mad and slightly sad story of it. I was a backer of this a long time ago, and my vinyl copy looks and sounds amazing. The tracklisting took in the obvious – Ministry, Thrill Kill Kult, The Young Gods, Front 242, KMFDM – but also some of the more interesting asides, like Pankow, Mussolini Headkick and Laibach. But all told, I couldn’t have asked for a better summary of what this wide-reaching, influential label meant and sounded like.
It’s notable that all three of the biggest artists associated with “trip-hop” in the nineties (Portishead, Tricky and of course Massive Attack) hated the term, and went to great lengths to dissociate themselves from it – and interestingly all three retreated into the darker shadows. None, though, quite went as full-on into the darkness as Massive Attack with Mezzanine – and conversely it sold more than any of their other albums, too, selling well beyond 2.5 million copies. Even now, twenty years on – hence the re-release – this album is a titanic, oppressive listen, particularly really loud. The bass rumbles away like a storm overhead, with guitars, drums and vocals crashing in around it, but amid the volume comes moments of great beauty. Elizabeth Fraser adds her unmistakable vocals to the astonishing Teardrop (as well as a couple of other songs), Horace Andy soars across the goth-rock-ecstasy of Angel, and elsewhere the group brood and muse their way through songs that leave you in awe. Needless to say, the band never really topped this, but how could they, really?
/Beat:Cancer Tour 2019
The recent Beat:Cancer shows in London (reviewed here recently on /Click Click/007) are to be the last for a while, as the organisation takes a much-deserved break from promotion after seven years of doing so – and doubtless an awful lot of money raised for worthy charities. So consider the compilation that was released aside the London show as something of a victory lap, as various friends of the organisation provide songs, many of them in unique or new forms. Some of them played Beat:Cancer shows this year, or have done other shows in the past, but what this does show, as ever, is the variety of the styles that have graced Beat:Cancer shows. It isn’t just pounding industrial dance music, with downtempo music well represented (Bein-e and Witch of the Vale in particular) as well as a number of new acts that will be gracing bigger stages in time, no doubt (Still Forever and MATT HART, in particular). Thus, this is a smart reminder that Beat:Cancer has worked as much as a springboard for new artists as it has a charity fundraiser, and that it has balanced both well is something to be commended.
It is perhaps a little unfair that this band are best-known as where Shirley Manson first featured in a band, before she jumped ship to Angelfish, and then to much-greater things with Garbage, one of those bands that struck it lucky during the nineties alternative boom, and sold millions. Listening back to this newly re-mastered and re-issued debut album – it was first released in 1989 – the most notable thing about it is that it feels ahead of it’s time. The usual line-up of vocals/guitar/bass/drums is augmented by two keyboard/synth players (and both of those provided backing vocals too, including Shirley Manson), and the impressively dense sound that they created feels like the bridge between eighties goth-rock and the sleek electronically-boosted alternative rock that was to follow in the years after this. Among other great songs, too, it has the thrills of The Rattler, one of the best singles of the time.
There are three albums in this week’s list that have been part of my life for two decades or more. Perhaps like Mezzanine, rather stood out at the time of release. Guitar bands in 1998 were meant to be like the politics were at the time – for once positive, looking to the future where there might be some hope. Chris Olley and Six By Seven were perhaps one of the exceptions to the rule, seething and glowering across an album that never made anything too clear, and was entirely uninterested in the mainstream pursuits of the time. This was alternative rock seen through the lens of post-rock, shoegaze and psych-rock, with hints of the fury that was to be fully unleashed on follow-up The Closer You Get. Twenty-one years old, I still love this band, have seen them live in various incarnations over the years, and this is glorious vinyl reissue reminds why I was so captivated in the first place.
Rational Youth are one of those bands that are perhaps not exactly that well known on this side of the Atlantic, but are one of the important groups within the early days of synthpop (i.e. the early eighties). Originally active for not especially long, founding member Tracey Howe (also once part of one-hit-wonders Men Without Hats) has more recently reactivated the name alongside Gaenor Howe, released the odd new track here and there, and various reissues and rare tracks compilations. They even played live in London – potentially for the first time ever – in 2018, alongside Psyche, and it was frankly quite great. This album, though, is what they made their name over in the first place, and this sparkling, excellent remaster makes clear a few things.
Their debt to Kraftwerk is obvious (one listen to opener Close to Nature will confirm that), but also so is their knack with songcraft. These might be fairly basic, pioneering synthpop songs (remember that synths were a technology that was advancing by the month at the time, and were still expensive), but they are uniformly great songs, the peaks of which are easily the the singles Saturdays in Silesia and Dancing on the Berlin Wall, which also interestingly betray, perhaps, a deep interest in Eastern Europe. Or maybe they just sounded good ideas at the time…
For a group that spun out of Richard Patrick’s dissatisfaction with being in Nine Inch Nails, Filter has had a remarkable longevity. There were moments when I lost interest – but then, I think Patrick did too at points – but the band was beginning sound revitalised again on demo material for an album that ended up being lost in the scandal around Pledgemusic (Filter lost a substantial amount of money there, and I was one of the funders that lost my money too), and so they remastered Title of Record, and album that sold over a million copies the first time around. In some respects it’s not surprising how popular it was – at it’s heart, it is slick industrial rock with a pop core (just listen to the dreamy ballad Take a Picture). The heavier moments are still great, though, with the bass kick that opens Welcome to the Fold now hitting hard enough to put you through the wall, and Captain Bligh an excellently intense five minutes that has a whole lot more depth than I originally thought. Welcome additions are other tracks of the era (the stellar contributions to the Spawn and The Crow: City of Angels, both songs of which are better than the films they came from), and a couple of intriguing remixes. Well worth a revisit, this.
With the live resurrection of Chemlab in the past year or so – shows that sadly I couldn’t make, having missed out on Cold Waves in Chicago for the past couple of years (something I’m already working on rectifying in 2020), meaning that this band remains on my life bucket-list for a bit longer yet. Further to that resurrection, though, the rivethead machine is stirring into life in the studio, too, and following an announcement that Armalyte will be releasing future Chemlab material, this odds-and-ends album is the first fruit of that. Taking in a number of early-period demos and a few new ones that hint towards what to come, what is most startling about the older demos is that how fully-formed many of the songs were some years before they were released. In particular, Chemical Halo and Neurozone were recorded sometime around 1990 in the forms here, and frankly all they needed superficially was a spit-and-polish to jolt them into life for Burn Out at the Hydrogen Bar. The new tracks – in demo form, and apparently for various projects – all make for interesting listening, too, as they provide glimpses of the future to expect.
/Tiny Changes: A Celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’
The most extraordinary thing about this album was that it was already in the works – and most, if not all of it, recorded, before Scott Hutchison took his own life. So what was initially planned to be a tenth-anniversary celebration of a much-loved album – and one I got into far, far too late, and then spent a fair amount of time wondering quite how I’d missed an album that basically described much of my own experiences with depression as an adult – became a eulogy of sorts. An album that is so moving and at points quite shocking in it’s intensity, frankly, it is perhaps difficult to describe it entirely as a celebration, but what is obvious is how many of the artists taking on songs here really feel these songs. Certain songs stand out, mind – Biffy Clyro’s raging take on The Modern Leper gets to the heart of the self-disgust well, while Ben Gibbard’s mellow take on Keep Yourself Warm feels too…spaced out and nice to really get the teeth into it.
The most shocking moment, though, comes from The Twilight Sad – a band who’ve done extraordinary justice to their close friend Hutchison’s legacy in their live take on Keep Yourself Warm in the past year or so – in taking on Floating in the Forth, a song that always felt difficult before his death, never mind when it became not far off a description of his death, in hindsight. They leave it relatively stark, James Graham’s vocals stretched to their limits as he tries to keep it together, particularly when he sings “I think I’ll save suicide for another day“. This album is a celebration of a band and singer that meant so much, but it is also hard to take – and a necessary catharsis.
It has been the year where Brainiac have finally been properly remembered. The release, after years of work, of the excellent Tranmissions After Zero documentary has been accompanied by reissues of a few of their releases – and sadly I missed the vinyl reissue of Bonsai Superstar in 2018, but I didn’t miss Touch & Go reissuing Hissing Prigs… (and Electro Shock for President) this spring. What was interesting was that it didn’t need remastering, going on how great it still sounds. It wasn’t Brainiac going “normal”, that’s for sure. This was Brainiac continuing to reshape and distort their jazz-tinged synth-punk into an alien-sounding world that was light years away from everyone else – and still sounds futuristic even now. I never did work out what the fuck Tim Taylor was on about for the most part, mind…