Tokyo Wanderer crosses the connections between all the ‘wave’-genres of the late naughts and teens; Synthwave, Outrun, Chillwave and Future Funk blend in and out across the album. Only Vaporwave fails to make an overt appearance.
Incubus is clinically cold. Synth lines and ‘glitched’ out chops are warped through phasers, both standing as foundational sonic elements. Big, spacious guitar solos mimicking 80s corporate rock inject a liveliness to the early tracks- helping the songs shift and morph in a more organic direction as they go. It is all very sonically pleasing.
But as the first 3 tracks roll over into the album’s latter half featuring guest musicians (mostly vocalists), Tokyo Wanderer is lead astray. 4th track and album midway point Loveless, featuring vocalist Lavera, is a delightfully poppy track, reminiscent of Kali Uchis’s first album. But with a tight EP contained in the album’s first 4 songs, Incubus tanks into grievously bad territory.
First offender, the song Drown, features singers Phaun and Nuno Renato Guerreiro. Tokyo Wonderer’s guitar work turn to softer, 90s style-alternative; warbling and burning up under tremolo and overdrive while Phaun contributes a somewhat lifeless Pop vocal performance. Crossing into the final third of the song, the predictive Pop stylings of breakdown-bridge to turn around show. It’s all pretty standard, until Nuno Renato Guerreiro comes roaring in with the most powerless, processed, and airy guttural vocal delivery I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a vocal style so terribly out of place anywhere on the album that it came as a shock. Science asked if it could, but it never asked if it should.
Following this, the song Hurt kicks off with 4 minutes of what sounds like someone taking direct inspiration of Miyazaki’s go-to composer Joe Hisaishi and British Industrial Metal legends Godflesh. Not bad if I do say so myself. The album’s lengthiest song at 7 minutes 58 seconds, I actually quite enjoyed it. But at 4 minutes and 12 seconds in- and still reeling from the prior track- I was sonically accosted by Nameless Warning. Having been silent up until this point, I began to assume they were contributing something other than vocals- perhaps part of the new ‘Doom-y’ guitar elements. But no.
Sounding like a yassified Microsoft Sam, ‘just popping in’ to deliver you a ‘sad boy’ shtick of lyrics, this might be the biggest upset in recorded music history.
The titular closing track features Sola The Luva, Shrouded Serenity, Indyadvant, and a second vocal feature from Phaun. The corporate Rock guitar soloing is back and this time it’s less pleasant. Incubus makes a brief detour into trap territory before arriving at the song’s (and I guess, in turn, the album’s) final destination: chunky Alternative Metal.
“Pornography is simply the most familiar visual language through which we appreciate the disparity between the intensity of imagined experienced and the disappointment or disgust of its realisation.” – Hugh Aldersey-Williams on This Is Hardcore from the article Living Dolls, which appeared in New Statesman Magazine, on 8 May 1998.
Riding on the intoxicating waves of britpop and cinema-chic, Pulp’s 1998 release This is Hardcore is an intoxicating ride of pleasure and disappointment. An entire essay could be written about the album’s depiction of consumable sex, narcissistic dissatisfaction, the album’s place in the conversation of sexism within media, and arguing points over intent, self-awareness or lack thereof. That said, I’ll spare you any bigger questions on life and morality in favor of getting on with it.
Almost immediately, This Is Hardcore showcases a tendency to crowd itself. There is little space for songs to breath, which shows both in its ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ song structuring (understandable/forgivable/expected) and corner-cutting song endings.
Opening track The Fear, like much of the album, is much too indebted to this way of song writing to allow itself the room to see its moody composition to fruition. There’s choral arrangements, layers of guitar and then some more layers of guitar, leaving the recording feeling crowded, busy, and at the same time a little flat. Regardless, the actual songwriting across the album is incredibly well crafted. As a result, front-man Jarvis Cocker and crew’s songwriting is, to recontextualize a quote from journalist Edgar Nye, ‘…better than it sounds’.
I feel slightly sorry for the teenager buying this album in a second hand shop, expecting something more, well, hardcore, and hearing a song like Dishes: a mellow pop piece on the doldrums of being 33. But This Is Hardcore makes a lot more sense once having worked one’s way in. It’s an album of repercussions wallowing in melancholy and want.
Uh, hello? Teen angst? Ever heard about it?
The album’s energy takes a step up with Party Hard while simultaneously dating it alongside 90s alternative rock groups EMF and Spacehog. The following Help The Aged does a much better job. By balancing wailing power pop choruses with soft psychedelic lounge-pastiche verses, Help The Aged gives itself room to breath while continuing to apply layer and layer of sound.
The album’s titular track may be the best singular work on this album. This Is Hardcore is an incredibly dark song. Taking a steady 2 minutes 30 seconds to reach its first chorus, its repetitive motif does more to help the song breath slowly and fully until reaching a magnificent… er, climax, nearly 2 minutes later before its emotional downward spiral: a clearing of the fog of fame and the burnout which succeeds it.
Jarvis Cocker has been on record about the song’s meaning a few times, albeit different angles: a song literally about porn, about fame, society’s aggressive appetite for ‘new faces’, the thrill of burning bridges and so on and so forth. Regardless, the emotional sleaze and excitement of excess followed by destructive fallout is a transition perfectly exemplified in the synthetic melting tones of the song’s outro, which leads into the introductory cold drone of following track TV Movie.
Even across its Beatles-inspired pop rock, TV Movie’s bleakness further reveals the emotional fall-out of narcissistic-consumptive pleasure: the depressive sense of isolation and dissatisfaction.
A Little Soul, however heartfelt, is too cheesy for me to be caught listening to. And from here This Is Hardcore seems to drift out of focus, until its rallying finale. This could have been an album of exemplary pop writing had it reallocated some of its space to letting its songs breath, and perhaps trimmed the fat. Even with a stream of fairly consistent hitters, This Is Hardcore is bloated, which makes the work susceptible to becoming banal. That is to say, from A Little Soul to The Day After The Revolution should have been lifted and reconfigured to their own release, leaving Like A Friend to close the album after TV Movie. Perhaps in this process, the masters to songs like A Little Soul and Glory days could have been destroyed in a fire, leaving all traces of the songs lost to time…
The age of the CD lead to the exploitation of new possibility, which in turn lead to occasional negligence of the art being created for that medium. This tends to happen whenever there is a new medium or fashion of doing things. But this was only the first step in the slow expedition of digital possibilities. More recently, Kanye West – Life of Pablo (2016) became infamous for this very neglect. Having taken advantage of digital possibility, the album was only finished months after its release. This brought into question the criteria of what finished or completed an album and if we had possibly surpassed the age of the solid album.
This Is Hardcore‘s recording sessions spanned from November 1996 to January 1998, and upon its original release didn’t feature one of my favorite songs on the album, Like A Friend. For clarity, I reviewed the non-deluxe version of This Is Hardcore that was available on the Apple Music store (can’t we just call it iTunes?) in October of this year. But what does this mean for reviewing work? What constitutes an album in the post-artifact age? Going forth, how do we group parts of a larger work? What IS mu-… no, I said I wouldn’t go there. Right then. Getting on with it;
There is absolutely amazing work to be found on This Is Hardcore, but as a collection of work it has a tendency to get in its own way. I’m (figuratively) curious what the outtakes of this album have to offer, but I sense the truth is they’re still very much present.
Nonnie and The Onnies is far from a household name. The group’s singular 12″ release isn’t much more than a relic of an industry in an era, but perhaps we can find new respect for such an album.
I’m in Love With A Rent Boy‘s sound is what’s to be expected from an American pop group only 2 years after the release of Madonna’s self-titled debut, albeit lacking Madonna’s synthetic-disco sound for something straddling the Bangles.
The mix is delightfully punchy, the album’s cover art amusing, and its absurdity somewhat intriguing. Rent Boy may be brief, but that only makes it more consumable.
Titular a-side opening track Rent Boy comes with all the trappings of new wave overindulgence and electronic trend following, much to the anguish of any current listener. The absurdity of I’m in Love With A Rent Boy may be the only thing not somewhat forgettable about this track, unfortunately.
Under all of Rent Boy’s commercial cheese is an extravaganza of American generica. Flavorless, plugged in, and devoid of self-reflective or interpersonal emotion. An overproduced musical jingle reminiscent of over-the-top TV ads.
A swing and a miss perhaps, as following track My Hearts in Bondage (Dance Mix) is so satisfyingly engaging. Hearts inches towards EBM with pounding drum machine rhythms driving under dark synth pads. Choppy self-sampling punches up the song’s pop vocal delivery. Its lyrics may not be particularly inspired, but Nonnie’s performance sells me on the emotions at play.
A shame, really, that a track so good would be hidden behind a pop single so bad. Hearts in Bondage may have been overlooked by a loving audience due to the EP’s titular track, but perhaps our current state of retromania will help unearth previously overlooked gems.
Rent Boy‘s A-side closes out with the instrumental …And The Car Was Stolen. It explores a further industrial element over it’s 42 second runtime before disappearing into the void. Far from a substantial song, Car Was Stolen functions as the perfect cinematic mood-setter for a would-be album of Hearts in Bondage.
The album’s b-side should at least be mentioned as a formality; a radio edit of Hearts in Bondage with an instrumental remix of Rent Boy to close out the EP. Unforgivably 80s in an unlovable way.
There is good work to be found on Rent Boy, if only the right crowd were to find it.
If you’re curious what Nonnie Thompson has been up to since, this article from 2006 will have to suffice. Ariel Powers wracked up some more credits to her name throughout the 90s, and is still playing to this day. Gary Pozner, last I heard, is playing music around the south-west US.
For fans of: Madonna, Bananarama, Ministry (With Sympathy-era)
What is the relationship between a commercial space and the consumer? The American pastime of wondering late night department stores; an ongoing surreal relationship between a commercial entity’s physical manifestation and the passive consumer, a cultural element encapsulated in the vaporwave school of art.
In a recent review of Maroon 5’s Jordi, music critic Jensen Ooi shares disdain towards commercial radio’s proclivity for any band once deemed successful. “You’ll get to listen to it when you’re forced to listen to it when it comes on in any public space…”
It’s true, in a way. The best of errands usually have an underlying lack of forced exposure. I know, I know. It’s hard to believe that something as flawless as top 40 radio and commercially branded playlists would fall to the subjectivity of music like the Roman Empire to the Barbarians (/s), but it’s true.
Bombarded by the unsocial of social media at nearly all times, further forced exposure brings us all a step closer towards going postal.
What happens when the lure of commercial pleasantries becomes a red-card in the ‘company to consumer’ relationship? It’s a dynamic based entirely in underlying desires and manipulation, albeit manipulation we’ve come to accept as a function of life. A commercial entity depends on luring in consumers to a passive state of comfort and excitability over products (think ‘homeyness,’ music, food courts, etc.). But a lasso of amenities can quickly become a noose of aggravation.
So how do we design the sonic landscape of commercial entities in a mutually beneficial way? Companies have sunk more money into this than I could ever imagine (though, perhaps not including the consumers’ benefits).
Twenty Thousand Hertz, an audio podcast about audio, explores these topics in their episode “Muzak,” written and produced by Carolyn McCulley.
You can listen to the episode here:
Make sure to check out Jensen Ooi’s work over at Turntable Thoughts, a blog with “a Malaysian-focus on music worldwide.”
There is nothing too ground breaking or distinct about this 7”. Mari Amachi was considered “Sony’s Snow White” in Japan, as well as the start of Japanese idol culture in the 1970s/80s. Maybe from an outsider (both in time and place) this translates to a lack of appreciation for what would make this record in particular stand out.
Taking up the record’s a-side, a cinematic quality pervades Whispering Green Leaves. Instrumentation plods along, complimented by exciting flurries of strings. Whispering Green Leaves’s cinematic qualities are best exemplified by lush Mancini-esque string arrangements which thrust the composition into amplified emotions.
Nearly a decade prior to electro pop, this record manages to escape the fetishism of retromania’s preferred sonic tropes. Maybe this allows the listener to hear the record as objectively as possible. Even then, it’s impossible to eradicate personal tastes (however manipulated they may be).
B-side track Wishing Upon The Sea (海にたくした願い) is made-for-TV (70s TV, that is). I mean that as a good thing, somehow. Relying on my outsider’s ignorance, Wishing Upon The Sea’s 1970s trappings weren’t the antagonizing cheese of my childhood.
Backed by Sony’s impressive session musicians of the time, Mari Amachi’s singing is particularly beautiful here. Each piece of instrumentation compliments each other in hopeful melancholy. It’s not quite a powerhouse of emotional display, but still delivers a mildly entertaining listen.
Perhaps it is as it appears to be, a mildly enjoyable but somewhat forgettable pop record of yesteryear. Whispering Green Leaves may not be heavily sought after in this day and age, but if you can get your hands on it, Wishing Upon The Sea is a delightfully pleasant b-side worth the occasional spin at home.
Bad Lassies is the 2019 debut album by Australian experimental pop duo Knitted Abyss. Members Lucy Phelan and Anna John bring an ambitious level of creativity to darkwave and post-punk that their ‘nu goth’ contemporaries (I won’t call them peers) fail to deliver. Bad Lassies‘s quirky eccentricities distance the band from their contemporaries’ dismal artistic stagnation, yet these quirks never feel gimmicky. No, Bad Lassies’s emotional delivery is only ever enhanced by the artistic choices made.
Album opener Attention is a minimal post-punk track reveling in its loneliness. Squelchy synth bass and light drum machine work give the band an almost early-80s Bananarama rhythm section, blanketed in the more morose qualities of gothic post-punk classics. From here things get darker, less pop oriented, but never losing a distinct sound established from the start.
Inspiration and stylistic elements are lifted and fitted together well without ever falling victim to pastiche. Elements of darkwave, post-punk, shoegaze and Ladytron-esque electronic pop are prevalent and well mixed together to create something new. Knitted Abyss dismisses the queue of bands lining up for ‘cool factor’ authenticity by creating something distinctly their own. Lucy Phelan and Anna John created a well-crafted album, and therefor don’t need to mold to any perceived idea of ‘how things should be’ within a genre.
For fans of: Crack Cloud, Waitresses, Crash Course in Science
This post originally appeared on the 10th Dentist blog on Tuesday, March 4th, 2021. The following version has been lightly edited for clarity.
As if standing in stark contrast to taco-laser-cat t-shirts and ‘millennial whoop’ overdosing (how noble), the rise of 80s worship in the mid-teens has brought back the worst of bad hair days and their musical counterparts. So if you’re looking to spice up your new-found identity or if you’ve finally realized that Africa by Toto isn’t worth it, than this list is for you!
Soft Cell – The Art of Falling Apart (1983)
Soft Cell (a band that, yes, has released more than 2 songs) started in 1978 and rose to prominence in the early 80s with their hit cover of Gloria Jone’s 1964 single ‘Tainted Love’. But enough of that. 1983 would see the release of Soft Cell’s second full-length release The Art of Falling Apart and the glory of it’s titular closing track. ‘The Art’ is a song about drugs that isn’t trying to be anything other than a song about drugs. Big synth stabs and an under swelling reverb makes this a ‘no duh’ for anyone looking to dip their toes in the weird and wacky world of the 80s (FOETUS is only a few steps away from here).
Naked Eyes – Promises, Promises (1983)
There is always something there to remind me that there were much better songs on Naked Eyes’s 1983 album Burning Bridges. The best album to ever be recorded at Abbey Road Studios (Flippant? Maybe. The truth? Definitely), Burning Bridges gave us great songs like its titular track, When The Lights Go Out, Fortune and Fame, and Voices in My Head. But it’s Promises Promises with its minimal production, back and forth melody, and vague funk influences that rounds out this album as one of the best closing tracks on a pop album ever. Naked Eyes is 2 British guys, a Fairlight CMI, and a lot of vague romantic dance tracks. Do I need say more? Well, except to clarify I mean that entirely as a good thing (in this case).
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – So In Love (1985)
So In Love may not be stupid enough to meme-ify, but it’s an emotionally powerful song with all the melancholic nostalgia seeding you could possibly want. In this dreamlike state, you may feel as if your feet will lose rhythm to it’s smooth dance beat as you float away off the dance floor. Don’t worry, no modern DJ will be playing this any time soon, and your drinking that night will likely leave you face first on the floor. Look, were they a great band? No, not really. But if we’re going to collectively obsess over singular 80s pop tracks, OMD has all the trappings (and just enough good songs) to get a mention here.
Sharon Redd – Can You Handle It (1980)
While you were busy fetishizing the 80s, disregarding the AIDS epidemic and the CIA starting a racialized drug war, black and/or queer people were out there making some of the best music of the decade. If you’re looking for peak 80s (in a good way), this is it. Just because it’s not Madonna-white doesn’t make it not so. So, can you handle it?
You may think, ‘why Sharon Redd? Why not something even more 80s like Chaka Khan, Cherrelle, Evelyn King, etc.?’ Those artists are amazing, but they’ve all had second-winds in the age of music streaming and cock and bull ‘I grew up with this’ nostalgia boasts. Either way, if you’re a trend sycophant than you’ve probably stopped reading a while ago. So kick back and enjoy this 6min+ jammer.
General Public – Anxious(1984)
Why are we culturally pining for the 1980s to begin with? Has sociopolitical pressures made us look for a ‘simpler time’? Is it 70s babies grasping for a time that they were the forefront of commercial culture? Can we simply blame all of it on vaporwave and Stranger Things? Who knows. Maybe culture is dying. In a press-play world that awards content and volume over quality and craft, why would anyone take the time to enrich their lives culturally? It may be my upbringing that put General Public on this list, but if the 80s are relevant now, than a track like Anxious is more relevant than ever.