4AD: A Brief Introduction
Few record labels have inspired fans to attach themselves to the label and religiously follow them. Stax, Chess, Bomp, Stiff, Wax Trax; these labels set the standard for companies that defined themselves based on a strong roster of artists. 4AD carried the torch for the post-punk movement but also created new genres with an eclectic roster of artists, who could be called ethereal, dreampop, wall of guitar or Goth. For 4AD, growing talent in a "family" atmosphere meant the artist was given freedom to explore their own talents and ideas while the leader of the label knew when to be involved and when to stay back.
4AD emerged in 1980 after Ivo Watts-Russell received 2,000 British pounds from the owner of the Beggars Banquet record shop (which had just started their own label) to go out and find musicians to record and eventually move to the Beggars label. One of the first releases was by Bauhaus, which was the only band that went over to Beggars. Other notable artists in that first year included future Wolfgang Press members in Rema Rema, In Camera and Mass. Other distinguished acts, who came on board in subsequent years, included future Sony artists The The, Modern English and The Birthday Party (Nick Cave's old band). Rabid 4AD fans (known as 4AD whores) religiously collect everything on the label, whether it was for the artwork that defines every release since 1983 or music like the gothy female post industrial stuff (This Mortal Coil, Xmal Deutschland), ethereal, shimmering rock (Cocteau Twins, Dif Juz, Pale Saints) or older artists side projects (David J., Colin Newman, Lydia Lunch). What follows is a celebration of the first reissues of albums since 4AD became an independent label again after their licensing arrangement with Warner Brothers Records.
Bauhaus In the Flat Field (4AD)
Although Goth never had much of a...ahem...prayer of becoming one of rock's force majeures, the pale and devoted can still be seen kicking around late night donut shops even today. Much of their gloomy disposition can be traced back to the four young Londoners, in Bauhaus, who became the unwilling forefathers of this small, but fervid, scene at the dawn of the '80s. By the time of In The Flat Field, which somewhat brazenly did not include the previous year's classic "Bela Lugosi's Dead" single, the band had most of its core flavors in place - spare but hypnotic rhythms, big-time guitar dynamics, and the dour operatics of Peter Murphy's lead vocals.If the album suffers a few losses in structure and focus due to the band's self-production, it delivers ultra-lucid examples of the sheer ferocity of Daniel Ash's punk-noir guitar ("Dark Entries," "Double Dare") and Murphy's basso-to-screech-and-back-again maneuvers ("In The Flat Field," "Nerves"). If the lyrics were self-indulgent and sometimes outright dodgy, Bauhaus' ability to successfully flirt with minimalism, electronics and neo-psychedelia exhibit how far ranging the bands vision could truly be. Sadly, by the time they made their impressive performance during the opening sequence in 1983's chic Bowie/Denueve vampire flick The Hunger, the band was all but over. And while the most recent retrospective Crackle might feature more highpoints, the addition of the nine bonus tracks here makes this a hard re-issue for both purists and the curious to pass up.
The Birthday Party Hits (4AD)
Hits is such an appropriate title for this new collection. Not only are these some of the greatest recordings ever made by Nick Cave and the rest of this sinister, seminal group, but the songs on Hits showcase the most concussive, mind-blasting moments of the Australian group's seven-year history (counteracting the effects of Olivia Newton-John and the Bee Gees between 1977 and 1983). Hits is an astounding representation of The Birthday Party's gift for humor; dark, powerful, archetypal imagery and bent musical misanthropy. When within earshot of fantastic spastic numbers like "Release The Bats," "Zoo Music Girl," "She's Hit," "King Ink," "Big-Jesus-Trash-Can"--or even the more low-key boilers such as "Nick The Stripper" and "Mutiny In Heaven"-- it's probably best that you make sure no one can see you and that breakables and sharp-cornered furniture are out of the way.
Dead Can Dance A Passage in Time (4AD) Since 1993's Into The Labyrinth, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, betterknown as Dead Can Dance, have made enough inroads with American audiences to be viewed as a strong cult act. Prior to that though, Dead Can Dance was a cherished cult act in its native England. This compilation (originally released in 1991), including material from the duo's first four albums, as well as "Bird" and "Spirit," two tracks specifically recorded for A Passage In Time, is a necessary introduction to Dead Can Dance's formative years. While Dead Can Dance's recent work has bridged together the worlds of chants and technology, the 16 songs found here owe a debt to the Middle Ages. However, Dead Can Dance's sound transcends not only any one genre, but also any one century. Haunting, spiritual, beautiful and timeless, Dead Can Dance is unlike any act in popular music at this time, or possibly any other. What distinguishes Dead Can Dance from other acts who have ventured into the netherworld realms are the striking vocals of both Perry and Gerrard.Both, though Gerrard's uplifting, ethereal voice in particular, possess the ability to lift listeners into the netherworlds with them. Perry's more chilling vocals are showcased often on A Passage In Time, especially onthe closing "Spirit." However, the obvious gifts of both resonate on A Passage.
His Name is Alive Nice Day/Stars on ESP (4AD)
Since Warren Defever's outfit is from Livonia, Michigan (Livonia was the title of their first LP), near Ann Arbor and Detroit, they decided to record something in the spirit of their region's '60s roots like Motown mixed with the Stooges/MC5, instead of the '66-'72 Beach Boys-inspired chamber pop of 1997's Stars on ESP. The six-song result is damn good, too. Tracks such as "Hot Tonight" and "Wet" achieve the scratchy claustrophobia of Funhouse Stooges and the dirty riffs of Wayne Kramer circa Back in the U.S.A., while the wonderfully happy "Nice Day" and "Come" are begging for the incredible Marvin Gaye or Mary Wells to leap from their graves to sing them (a young Smokey Robinson or David Ruffin would also do!). But instead of going for a full-on homage, Defever and gorgeous-voiced Karin Oliver stay within their recognizable, carefully crafted ambiance, with all their lovely background touches. Defever works in tougher six-string bite, with hints of hard blues and R&B, but he never lays it on too thick, meaning the vocal melodies are still given precedence. And the Brian Wilson-esque tambourines, bells and wall-of-sound production (which Wilson borrowed from Phil Specter) transforms this exercise in archeology into a now sound. It's too short at 14 minutes, but this mini-LP is another fine work by a group distinguishing itself as an energetic US underground marvel, one greatly worthy of the 4AD imprint of uniqueness and quality. Defever grew up on Stars On ESP. It's hard to believe this multi-influenced, studio eccentric released such unrealized efforts as Home is in Your Head and The Dirt Eaters EP in 1992. Having recorded for four years in his Michigan basement, Defever conjures clear, gentle breezes, coolly moody, broody, sooty stuff that's arresting and warm. Like Britain's High Llamas, only less tribute-like, one senses the guiding hand of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson's experiments circa '66-'69 (think "Girl Don't Tell Me," "Caroline No" and "I Can Hear Music") running through such pretty, alluring, twinkling numbers as "The Bees." Over the top of this murmuring warmth, Karin Oliver's vocals hum along sweet and true. With hints of dub, dreamy sound collages, and acoustic folk, Stars is a lovely, heady work.
M/A/R/R/S Pump Up the Volume CD-5 (4AD)
Seminal one-off collaboration between 4AD's Colourbox (brothers Sean and Martyn Young) and A.R. Kane. "Pump Up The Volume" is the label's most successful and well-known single, crossing over to the pop, alternative and dance markets. The song was a musical departure from each group's usual sound but combined their mutual love of sampling, dance music and hip-hop to create this track that ruled the airwaves in 1987. Sampling Eric B. & Rakim's classic "Paid In Full" and Yeminite songstress Ofra Haza was genius, but they would later run into legal complications (this was released before sampling credit laws were defined). This reissue includes all four mixes of the single plus the amazing B-side, "Anitina (the first time I see she dance)."
--Craig M. Roseberry
This Mortal Coil It'll End in Tears (4AD)
Classic reissue from the vaults of 4AD Records, one of the UK's most successful and respected independent labels. This Mortal Coil was a "concept" group conceived by label founder Ivo Watts-Russell, and was comprised of musicians, he either signed, knew or admired, covering some of his favorite songs. Each handpicked song was drenched in atmospheric melancholy, exploring a sound that was restrained yet evocative, ethereal and moody, organic and electronic. It'll End In Tears (the first in a trilogy of releases) features members of 4AD recording acts The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Modern English, Wolfgang Press and Colourbox, along with vocalists Howard Devoto (Magazine) and Gordon Sharp (Cindytalk) interpreting obscure songs from Alex Chilton/Big Star, Tim Buckley and Roy Harper. The album opens with Sharp's strong vibrato rendition of Big Star's "Kangaroo" and flows into This Mortal Coil's debut single, Tim Buckley's gorgeous and stark "Song To The Siren," sung beautifully by Liz Fraser, (Cocteau Twins). However, the album's most poignant track is "Holocaust." Magazine's Howard Devoto delivers a brutally sad punch to the Alex Chilton original, accompanied with simple piano and string arrangements. The album's original songs are also compelling. Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerard takes center stage with the solemn "Waves Become Wings" and the ethnic "Dreams Made Flesh." Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde also contributes great songwriting on "The Last Ray" and "Barramundi." On the closing song "A Single Wish," Gordon Sharp sums up the album simply by sighing "It'll End In Tears" in a comforting voice that reminds you of an old lost friend.
--Craig M. Roseberry
This Mortal Coil Filigree & Shadow (4AD)
After a two-year hiatus, This Mortal Coil returns with their crowning achievement, 1986's essential double album Filigree & Shadow. Once again Ivo & Co. delve deeper into the heart of darkness and despair, delivering a flawlessly produced album filled with 23 brooding abstract and breathtaking tracks. Dipping further into his musical treasure chest, Ivo unearths more brilliant, but overlooked moments from Tim Buckley ("I Must Have Been Blind" and "Morning Glory"), Colin Newman ("Alone"), Van Morrison ("Come Here My Love"), Gene Clark ("Strength Of Strings") and Talking Heads ("Drugs"). Enlisting new vocalists Alison Limerick, Dominic Appleton (Breathless), Richenel, Caroline Seaman and sisters Diedre & Louise Rutkowski, along with musical contributions from Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins), Peter Ulrich (Dead Can Dance), Richard Thomas (Dif Juz) and string arranger Martin McCarrick (who also appears on It'll End In Tears), Ivo had a line-up that could realize his musical vision. Unlike the debut album, Filigree & Shadow includes more original material and is infinitely more dense and experimental. There are many great songs on this album, but the highlights include: Gary Ogan and Billy Lamb's reverent "I Want To Live" (beautifully sung by Louise Rutkowski); Alison Limerick's gut-wrenching performance on "My Father"; Peter Ulrich's tribal and percussive "At First, And Then"; the enchanting and ethereal "Firebrothers" (featuring Richenel) and the Colin Newman (Wire) classic "Alone," performed by Caroline Seaman. Filigree & Shadow is music for people who don't like to go out and it solidifies the TMC "sound" - a minimal, yet lush, emotional soundscape layered with sensual ambient textures, vocal treatments and incidental effects.
--Craig M. Roseberry
This Mortal Coil Blood (4AD)
The final chapter in the TMC trilogy, Blood combines melodic songwriting with lush instrumentation and enchanting, yet haunting vocals. Once again, Ivo and co-producer/engineer John Fryer team up with string composer Martin McCarrick and singers Alison Limerick and Diedre Rutkowski to cover songs from a vast musical repertoire, while creating beautifully cerebral material of their own. This double album represents This Mortal Coil's best produced work, brimming with great covers and amazing new songs like "D.D. and E.," "The Lacemaker" and "Dreams Are Like Water." Not as minimal or experimental as the previous albums, Blood retains the moody atmosphere, containing renditions of songs by Spirit, Emmylou Harris, Chris Bell, The Byrds, Syd Barrett and Rain Parade, interspersed with instrumentals, sonic bits and strong original songs. Once again, Ivo employs some of his favorite vocalists to complete his musical vision. Kim Deal (Pixies/Breeders) and Tanya Donnelly (Throwing Muses/Belly/Breeders) shine on the gorgeous duet "You and Your Sister" (originally recorded by Chris Bell). Limerick gives another overwhelming heartfelt performance on Spirit's reflective "Nature's Way." Caroline Crawley (Shellyan Orphan) adds her soothing, childlike vocals to The Apartments' "Mr. Somewhere," Syd Barrett's eerie "With Tomorrow" and interpretive singer Mary Margaret O'Hara's inspirational and teary-eyed "Help Me Lift You Up." While Dominic Appleton (Breathless) returns with a lisp-ridden performance of Chris Bell's "I Am The Cosmos."
--Craig M. Roseberry
Various Artists Lonely Is An Eyesore (4AD)
Lonely Is An Eyesore was 4AD's "concept" compilation to end all compilations. This massive undertaking not only highlighted the label's eight current artists, it also showcased in-house sleeve designer Vaughn (sic) Oliver's 23 Envelope design company (now operating under the name, V23). For this massive undertaking, each artist contributed a brand-new recording (minus Dead Can Dance's "Frontier") while Oliver designed a lavish sleeve and booklet that encapsulated all of his visual ideas up to that point. Video director and artist Nigel Grierson would shoot all of the videos (except for Throwing Muses' "Fish") to be released along with the album. Originally released in 1987, Lonely Is An Eyesore includes brilliant tracks from The Cocteau Twins ("Crushed"), The Wolfgang Press ("Cut The Tree"), Clan of Xymox ("Muscoviet Musquito) and from the underrated instrumental avant-jazz quartet, Dif Juz ("No Motion"). The album also includes the sample heavy, guitar-led "Hot Doggie," from Colourbox, and Dead Can Dance's menacing, Renaissance-flavored "The Protagonist." Only Throwing Muses' "Fish," with its indie-rock jangly guitars and abrasive vocals, breaks away from the stereotypical 4AD sound. This would be the last project on the label to enforce the myth of the "4AD sound" - dark, moody and atmospheric textual songs mainly led by female vocalists or by male vocalists with dark voices. After this project, Ivo broadened the label's identity, sound and roster by signing more American bands - The Pixies, Ultra Vivid Scene and His Name Is Alive - ushering in a new era for 4AD.
--Craig M. Roseberry