Various - Cherrystones: Critical Mass/Splinters From The Worldwide New-Wave, Post-Punk and Industrial Underground 1978 to 1984

by Steve Reynolds Rating:9 Release Date:2015-05-25

Generally when you pick up a compilation there are a couple of familiar bands and songs on it, strategically placed there by ‘The Man’ to entice you in and help the record company shift a few units, but they can leave you feeling a tad deceived and cheated when the majority of what’s on it is a crock of shit.

However with Critical Mass a compilation curated by Cherrystones, I have achieved a first in the 35-plus years I have been listening to music: I do not know any of the bands or songs on this at all. It’s quite an incredible feat considering how many bands and records I have heard over the years, but when I first looked at the tracklist and the album’s aim to highlight the darker and less obvious side of post-punk I was, to put it lightly, slightly compelled.

Post-punk was probably the most important scene to fall out the arse of punk when it succeeded in becoming a parody of itself and subsequently imploded. What was unique about it was that it covered so many facets of music: shiny new pop (Simple Minds, ABC); the raincoat brigade (Joy Division, Bunnymen); electronica (Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode); art-punk-funk (Wire, Gang of Four, Delta 5, The Fall), and goth (Birthday Party, Cure, Sisters).

This created a rich and vibrant vanguard, with many bands cross-pollinating and not being afraid to draw from each other to continuously remain fresh and relevant. This compilation reflects a lot of the above but because none of these bands were/are household names, it comes surrounded with an air of mystery and intrigue.

Take track one, for example, ‘FanfanFanatisch’ by Rheingold with its clean lines and dark wave, clanking synths, all cleverly constructed around a robotic German-sounding voice that is rigid but hypnotic at the same time. It’s instantly catchy and the dark appearance is underpinned by a breezy beat that glues the whole song together.

It’s followed by Rizzo’s ‘I Don’t Care’; a fuzzy guitar is laid out in front of us while a deadpan, tossed-off vocal, reminiscent of Iggy Pop, goads us repeatedly: “Daylight comes, daylight goes by… You must know I don’t care”. It's one part Johnny Thunders and one part Television.

The Tee Vees are up next with ‘War Machine’ - a tinny drum-synth soaked with an intermittent guitar riff and a cold, sobering vocal wrapped around it. It’s a simple arrangement but its economic delivery and disco ditty feel wouldn’t see it out of place at an old-school alternative night.

The carefully selected tracks keep on coming and the diversity continues to intrigue. Chandra’s ‘Kate’ recalls the quirky Flying Lizards; the whacky eccentricity of Aksak Maboul’s ‘A Modern Lesson’ is just a bonkers mess of bendy beats, off-kilter keys and out of time percussion. The Transmitters serve up a frosty version of ‘The Beat Goes On’, with stripped-back drums, curt guitar riff and an anti-singing vocal that fits in perfectly with its surroundings.

The Method Actors do the whole punk-funk thing mixed with the battiness of Thomas Dolby. A driven bass sits at the heart of the song, circled by all sorts of crazy wailing as if the song was made in the local mental ward.

Crazy House take their lead from Suicide with their own brand of no wave, ‘People Fall From Tall Buildings’, a vision of malevolent, electronic dystopia. It’s a short track, followed by one of similar length, Bamboo Zoo’s ‘Emerging’ - a distant vocal echoed by eerie, wispy spoken-word and spaghetti bass.

We get shades of Factory Records when they dabbled in dance in the early 80s with Dojoji’s ‘Quincunx’. Redolent of the Au Pairs and Quando Quango, it's a mix of Hi-NRG expressive polyrhythms, product placement cowbells, and a plethora of stabby horns. It’s definitely one of the highlights of this excellent compilation.

The Lines cleverly mix the post-punk sounds of Joy Division, and have uncanny inklings of what the C86 sound would produce some eight years later with ‘White Night’. Fote’s ‘Permanent’ is a maelstrom of uncomfortable signature patterns. A drum does its own thing and so does an wonky guitar which jams along to its heart's content. Its repetition and drone would be much lauded by Mark E Smith.

Germany’s 39 Clocks mine a similar vein with ‘Heat of Violence’, a cacophony of noise which sounds like an out of tune recorder and is quite frankly a high-watermark of atonal mess. The album is tailed off with the haunting ‘UG’ by The Flowerpot Men, no vocals just a tense nervy soundtrack that captures a feeling of loneliness and isolation such is its low-brow, moribund arrangement.

Overall, this compilation is a real find; it’s packed with unheard of bands and songs that take you down many different routes dependent on your mood. It sounds fresh and uplifting in a lot of places, and Cherrystones should be praised for unearthing and introducing so many new songs to us. Proof that all the best music is steeped in the past. 

I very much doubt there will be a more eclectic and strong compilation released in 2015.

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