April 2, 2013

NG: Four Criminally Underrated Artists

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With new and upcoming releases from big name bands like My Bloody Valentine and Daft Punk, it’s hard not to be fixated on the future. But we also shouldn’t forget about those forgotten artists that nevertheless shaped what we hear today. Here are four.

THE SOUND

While Joy Division gets a lot of credit for shaping post-punk, Unknown Pleasures was an exception to the genre. Its melancholic disquiet was a gigantic jump from the in-your-face grit of bands like The Fall, early Siouxsie and the Banshees. The Sound’s music, however, is much more indicative of a slow trend from grit to texture. In its debut album, Jeopardy (1980), tracks range from uptempo punk to brooding basslines of existential angst and bridge everything in between.

The band’s lack of commercial success, despite rave reviews, is frustrating. After a second excellent album, From the Lions Mouth (1981), failed to break into the mainstream, the band’s record label pressured the group to make pop-ish songs. The band responded with the bizarre All Fall Down and soon changed labels. Even with the change, The Sound still saw little success, and the group broke up in 1988. Failure, along with the depression he alluded constantly to in lyrics, pushed frontman Adrian Borland to suicide, and he jumped in front of a train in 1999.

Notable tracks: “Fatal Flaw,” “Night Versus Day,” “Heartland,” “New Dark Age.”

KATE BUSH

I’m cheating here, because Kate Bush is big in the UK — just, not in America. During the 2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremony, NBC cut out the entire dance choreographed to Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” While Bush is resurging in the United States with the stunning 50 Words for Snow (2011), much of her earlier work is absent from the American music conversation. She was the first, and still the best, weird lady of pop, blending a quirkiness that Zooey Deschanel could only dream of with a subtle flair no one has convincingly copied.

Hounds of Love (1985) is still one of the best pop albums ever made, though it really is two albums. The eponymous first side of the vinyl has gems with a conventional pop structure, but the second side, “The Ninth Wave,” contains mind-blowing experimental art pop that still sounds fresh 30 years later. This album is definitely her most ambitious, but it is also a triumph of an already exceptional musical career that seamlessly blended Celtic jigs, liturgical chants, synth pop and lush ambience into beautiful digestible  ballads.

Notable tracks: “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” “Suspended In Gaffa,” “Jig of Life,” “Delius (Song of Summer).”

BASIC CHANNEL

It’s easy to draw the connection between techno music and European EDM — after all, Germany’s Kraftwerk pioneered electronic music. But while Kraftwerk undoubtedly helped to popularize electronic music, African American musicians in Detroit are the ones who independently created techno, melding disco synth experiments with funk, jazz and house. European EDM was precise and sterile then, but Detroit Techno was a messy, futurist take on personal dreams of escapism — not surprising given the Detroit’s state in the ’80s.

Germany’s resp-onse to techno in the ’90s was to strip away disco’s color — leading to rave acts like Scooter and Dune — but some went one step further, generating cold Kafkaesque dances that transcend into trances. The mysterious Basic Channel is among the best, quietly releasing hypnotic 15-minute singles with stark minimalism influences far beyond the reach of techno today. The band’s songs may sound better conceptually and, admittedly, it’s not for everyone. But if you make it past the 3-minute mark, Basic Channel’s mesmeric rhythms will suck you in; you’ll notice every subtle evolution of texture as 80 minutes fly by.

Notable tracks: “Phylyps Trak II/II,” “Enforcement,”  “Quadrant Dub I Edit.”

BAUHAUS

No, “goth” is not the exclusive musical jurisdiction of The Cure. As the first gothic rock band, Bauhaus developed a much more industrial (but dark) sound compared to The Cure’s lush (but dark) synths. If we were synesthetic, The Cure would sound dark red and orange, while Bauhaus would sound bleakly gray. Bauhaus is remarkably consistent — every genre it touched from punk, disco and glam rock turned into gaunt industrial decay. Masterpiece “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” single-handedly defined the genre, just as actor Bela Lugosi himself defined the cinematic vampire. By compiling such disparate working material into one coherent aesthetic, Bauhaus made sure that all “gothic rockers” that followed decades afterward are still copying their sound.

Notable tracks: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” “Dark Entries,” “Stigmata Martyr,” “The Passion of Lovers.”

Original Author: Kai Sam Ng

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