Okay, so apparently, magazines sometimes gave away rare and limited editions of vinyl LPs along with a particular issue of the magazine, itself. Sounds totally rad and, of course, painfully hard to obtain, right? Yes, both are absolutely true.
In this case, I came across this by accident. Illegally downloaded? Yes, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. I was originally looking for some stuff by an old band by the name of, Magazine. While I browsed the results of my search, I came across something that seemed peculiar, and in the interest of a good mystery, decided to download it. It turned out to be a super-rare compilation album that was released by the label, Sweatbox, along with a magazine entitled, Abstract Magazine Nº5. The LP contains 11 tracks (10 listed, 1 hidden) of underground music from the mid-to-late '80s, although two sources claim the LP and magazine, themselves, were released either in the Spring of 1995 or the Spring of 1985. Either way, it adds to the allure of its obscurity.
The first track of the album is by the band, Test Dept., with the track, Fuel Foundation of The Nation. It begins with a long speech by what seems to be a Scottish man who is a bit enraged by the youth of the day. It's a rather long intro to the actual song, which is a traditional bagpipe marching song. It, like any bagpipe music, elicits the feeling of a bittersweet, victorious sentiment. It also has a sort of "funeral-esque" element to it, which the drone of the bagpipes definitely helps to elevate. In many ways, it's a proper opening to this particular album. I'm going to assume, since most of the bands are from England, this is an English release, and thus the opening track really adds more depth to the coming experience.
This is followed by, Fire Eater (remix), by the band, The Wolfgang Press. This particular track is more of a minimalist, experimental piece. It's heavily drenched in percussive instruments with a bold, plucky bass to add an accent, along with a few moments of quiet noise splashed throughout. The vocals are quiet and submerged, which adds to the image that's being portrayed by the lyrics, "Who's out there/In the murky water." Midway through the song, an electric organ and what appears to be synthesized brass instrument appear, really pulling in a new dimension to the song. Seriously, this track is really impressive for its time. I mean, it sort of sounds like the Liars à la Drums Not Dead. By the end of the track, the noise begins to really pick up and a vibraphone quietly makes its way into the track before ending abruptly, which is reminiscent of the last gulp of life from the throat of a drowning victim (not that I know what that's like, though). A great track, indeed.
Next is the song, Fire and Water, by a band called, 400 Blows (Truffaut, anyone?). This is a much more experimental piece, laden in the clanks of large, metallic objects, the haunting repetitions of a ghostly woman, static and a pulsating, melodic heartbeat of a synth. It's really an eerie piece of music, following the water theme that was begun by the track before it. I feel like I'm in a cabin on a very rainy day in some remote part of a marsh while noises constantly echo through the woods, ensuring my insomnia to remain. I sense an early, but perhaps unknown, abstract noise pioneer in this band.
Up on the block is the song, Sealed in Skin, by Swans. They're actually a really influential American band, which helped progress the noise and post-punk movements; in other words, No Wave. This particular track is much harsher than the last two, with an emphasis on a repetitive piano stab and the heavy beats of the snare and tom, accented with a wrenching guitar. This sort of puts me on a slave ship or something, rowing away while the row master keeps time with his dreaded drums. Along with the instrumentation, the song is accompanied with vocals that resemble the throat singing of groups like Huun Huur Tu, although the song is far more creepy than anything I've heard from those guys. It gives off a sense of helplessness and discomfort that I could only imagine the experience of being sealed in skin would be like. Wait, aren't we all? Fuck it, I'm getting creeped out.
Up next is the song, Playtime, by the band, Cindytalk. This time, I don't think they were basing it on a French director, Tati. No, this track is far too unsettling to remind anyone of that pleasant romp. The song fades in with the droning of a bevy of noises, almost like smoke slowly rising from an unearthly, evil source. Added to that are the minimal drops of a wooden block, the crazed, sad shrieks of a wailing saxophone and, of course, a wrenching guitar. Underneath the noise, but over the sax, are the mumblings of a man and woman, who do not appear to be in a conversation, but rather tossing sentences at each other in a whisper. Schizophrenia seems to have taken center stage on this comp, so far.
The next track would have been, Manic (Remix), by Colourbox, but I don't seem to have it. I've searched, but it's not coming up. Therefore, I'll skip it until I can find it, and then I'll edit this review to include it in the future.
Following that track is Gene Loves Jezebel, with the song, Flame. Now, this song is a definite change of pace for the compilation, in that it's much more of a pop track than the experimental creepiness of the earlier tracks. It's a goth-dance-rock sort of track, and it doesn't skimp on the catchiness. It starts off with the stomping, driving beat of the drums along with a twangy guitar and a driving bass that really pulls you into it, immediately. And, they don't sound like The Cure! I love The Cure, but way too many bands sound almost like them, and this band does not. In fact, I have more of their stuff which will show up in future reviews. As far as this particular song goes, it's really well constructed and enthralling. It has elements of funk, bubblegum pop, soul, new wave, dance-punk, you know, generally good music from the 80s underground. The main guitar riff sort of has a jangly sound that's reminiscent of a harpsichord, which adds a layer of uncertainty and mystery to the track. Overall, probably the best track on the album.
Next is the song Maps In Her Wrists and Arms, by, And Also The Trees. It has a "quiet-loud-quiet" thing that a lot of modern post-rock and emotional indie rock utilizes, and it's not really a remarkable track, by any means. But it's thoroughly enjoyable, especially the chorus, which hits hard and heavy. Of course, it's going for the whole "mysterious/dark" thing that a lot of 80s bands at the time strived for, but so what? That shit rules. The band name is also pretty cool, although I would have thought it to be some noise-folk band from today under difference circumstances.
Following that track is, This Is The Place, by a band called, Nyam Nyam. This song is really well crafted. It's got the sort of emotion and power that really could have been a major hit, especially with the relatable lyrics of a relationship gone sour. Of course, the band was hit by the dreaded obscurity threatening any band that doesn't escape the throes of musics cemetery of indifference. The song is pulled in with a quiet, shimmering intro which drops us into a blast of jangly guitars, a breathing bass, a competent drum pattern and the obviously heart-wrenching lyrics on display, especially when the singer proclaims at the end, "I'm not sad, at all." You know, the sort of thing that you say to lie to yourself about how you really feel about that wretched, heartbreaking, bitc... Uhh, err, you know. A fantastic track, if sadly, an unrecognized one.
The Jazz Butcher follows it up with the song, Leaving It Up. This track is pretty rad. It showcases its influences pretty readily, in bands like Richard Hell and The Voidoids and The Fall. The swaying guitar really adds a nice touch to the song, and the vocalist really emotes, a bit like Robert Smith or Ian Curtis, but you know, can't blame them for that. Admittedly, the song could probably be a minute shorter, but it really keeps you up with the catchy chorus. I especially like the line, "We'll be safe like Sharon Tate/Get it on!/Get it on!" It's got the snarky, snarly confidence and the dark, brooding atmosphere that works with the other tracks, and that we all know and love.
Finally, the hidden track, Sentiment, by The Nursery. This is a return to form from the first few tracks, in that it's heavily percussive with the vocals drowned out. The difference is that the guitar drives the track forward along the percussion, with a high-pitched drone in the background. It's actually not that interesting of a song, but it really helps bring the album together, at the end, because it represents the pop-stylings of the later tracks and the noise-oriented atmosphere of the earlier tracks. A fitting end to a great compilation.
All in all, this compilation really helped me discover some new bands that I've never heard of, and allowed me to witness the possible influences of today's music in full. It's a great find, if a really rare one, and if I could ever get my hands on an actual copy, you know I'd definitely jump to the opportunity. I'd really recommend this if you're into goth rock or any form of underground music from the 1980s, especially the stuff coming out of places like England or New York City, at the time. It's a dark and brooding experience, but in the end, you'll feel slightly lifted.
Ch-ch-ch-check it out.