Monday, February 20, 2012

Ssleeping desiresS – Home Demos - July / Aug 2010 CD-r

...And now for something much more recent! The first time I saw San Francisco-based Ssleeping Desiress, they opened up for Sixteens at a small bar in the Mission District about 3 years ago. I had listened to a couple of their songs on their myspace page prior to attending, and my interest was piqued. There were no other bands doing such a straight-ahead synth sound in San Francisco at the time.
The band took the stage - two guys I had never seen before in the often insular city - and with a couple synths, a drum machine, and a live snare drum they barreled through a 20-minute set of vintage-sounding darkwave. The duo would alternate between synths, vocal, and drum duties; the live drum fills added a bit of a visceral and organic dimension to the barrage of electronics. They sounded spot-on.
While the band has gone through a few lineup changes since that time, Ssleeping Desiress has essentially remained the brainchild of Gabriel Ramos, who is now the sole member. This CD (limited to a scant 25 copies) is the only physical legacy of their earlier lineups, released in 2010 when Ramos was joined by Mona Martinez on vocals and percussion. The male and female vocals with gritty electronics recalls bands like Ronin, early Xeno and Oaklander, and even Nine Circles.
For a demo CD, the release is quite strong. While several tracks indeed have a bit of a rough "demo" quality, most of the them, including Tunnel, Passage, This Age, and Sleepwave (which I shared on the first Commercial Music compilation) are excellent.
The band has a few songs on various compilations - most notably the second Circuit D'Actes compilation . They also will have the fourth release on the excellent Flexiwave label in the coming months. Most of the songs on this disc are no longer part of the band's repertoire, but Ramos was happy to let me share them. Ssleeping Desiress is certainly a gem in the electronic underground, and it's great to hear these early sketches that run along the boundaries between minimal synth, coldwave, and electro.

Ssleeping Desiress: Home Demos - July / Aug 2010 CD-r
2010, Self-released

1 Tunnel
2 Crown Of Flames
3 Bird's Eye View
4 Sleepwave
5 Entrance
6 Passage
7 This Age
8 Rose Hill

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Stars That Wouldn't Shine: Selftitled mLP

Occasionally an unknown record grabs you, even though the ingredients that it consists of sound a bit ridiculous. New York band The Stars That Wouldn't Shine are a perfect example of that phenomenon. First of all, take a look at the cover. Their style is a mishmash of goth, punk, greaser, and Clockwork Orange. Who wouldn't buy this record base on the cover photo alone? Fittingly, their music is a complete conundrum as well - it's a mix of heavily synthed-out gloomy post punk, Madness-style ska, gothic surf rock, jokey deathrock, and completely deadpan, monotone and British-sounding vocals with lyrics about murder, death, Nazis, and mice. This sounds like a completley inconceivable combination, but oh, how wonderfully it works on this 8-track mini LP. If the Addams Family were a band on 4AD Records, they would probably sound like this.
There are no credits on the record aside from a photo credit and the songwriter "SARJ". Mysterious and intriguing! Right off the bat, the band slams into two fast-paced gothic ska-ish songs, full of synths, random cymbal crashes, and polyrhythmic percussion a la Adam and the Ants. The third track, Tchiakovsky, really shows the band hitting their stride. Again, it begins abruptly. No fade-in, no intro, no full measure before the vocals.... just, BAM! you're hit with a wall of heavy synths and repetitive surf guitars. The vocals are perfectly monotone, almost spoken-word, with no attempt to even try rhyming. The final song on the first side, Mister Klaus, is a "live" song that, rather than sounding like a live performance recording, sounds more like a studio recording with crowd noises thrown on top for its entire duration. It also inexplicably contains an entire album's worth of "Oi" chants, all in a row, all stated in a completely monotone voice ("oi. oi. oi. oi. oi. oi."). It is also probably the best gothic party anthem about a Nazi war ciminal (presumably Klaus Barbie) that I've ever heard.
Side 2 starts with their best gothic ska-cum-darkwave track on the album. It's fast paced and reverbed, with two or three repetitive guitar notes that sound more like they are quickly fading in and out rather than being strummed, and refrains with great organ-sounding synths. The next two tracks sound quite similar to each other, except "Four Days" has a bit of a bright feel to it and is probably the only relative dud on the album, and the subsequent "Don't Stop Now" is darker both musically and lyrically, with a break in which the singer matter-of-factly states "And so I kill you". It would be a bit creepy, if it wasn't so charming. The closing song on the album, "The Mouse Song", is on probably my favorte - a complete deathrock gem full of heavy haunted-house synths, tinny, jagged guitars, and lyrics about... um, being a mouse.
I've listened to this album half a dozen times in the past few days, and it continues to grow on me. It somehow achieves the rare mark of simultaneously sounding completely campy and utterly unironic. The ingredients of this album simply should not work anywhere near as well as they do. Maybe I am the only person who loves this record this much, but I have the sneaking suspicion that there will be a few people who'll be adding this to their wantlists and seeking it out.

The Stars That Wouldn't Shine: Selftitled mLP
1983, ADI Records

A1 Lying On The Floor
A2 You Don't Love Me
A3 Tchiakovsky
A4 Mister Klause
B1 Anything #3
B2 Four Days
B3 Don't Stop Now
B4 The Mouse Song

Monday, February 6, 2012

Circle Seven: Suburban Hope EP

Now it’s time for some good crowd-pleasing post-punk. This is the sole release from Montana-based Circle Seven. It was released on the venerable Ruthless Records back in 1981. It was one of the very first releases on the label. The band is often filed under or mentioned as a punk band on the web, and while they definitely had a punk edge to them, their music was more dynamic than that label implies. Their songs were generally pretty fast-paced but their guitar sounds ditched the guitar noise of many of their contemporaries for a surprisingly refined tunefulness. The vocals are especially strong – emphatic and pretty powerful, bordering on goth on a few songs on the second side. It somehow sounds as if he is yelling in a hushed voice.

The record starts out with a midtempo burst of punk energy on the titular “Suburban Hope”. The second side certainly has the strongest songs. “Cover Up” is a trackthat drives forward without losing momentum. It doesn’t even contain a chorus, it just keeps a steady pace until the last 40 seconds or so when the it ends in repeated chants of “cover up cover up cover up…”. “Say One Thing” is another unrelenting track that barely pauses for air in its 1:45 length. It also contains some pretty great drum fills that are basically substituted in place of any sort of vocal chorus. The record closes with “Look What You Got”, on which the singer sounds more angst-ridden than on any preceding track. He progressively sounds more aggravated as the song barrels on.

This is a pretty solid EP, and will certainly appeal to fans of no-frills guitar-driven post punk. The songs are quite well-written and the record is surprisingly refined, which is probably why it tends to be on quite a few wantlists. It’s a record that sounds good upon first listen, but slowly grows in potency over repeated spins.

Circle Seven: Suburban Hope EP

1981 Ruthless Records

A1 Suburban Hope

A2 I Woke Up

A3 Distant

B1 Cover Up

B2 Say One Thing

B3 Look What You Got

Click here to listen!