An Introduction

I first became interested in 4AD, a UK independent record label founded in 1980, towards the end of the '80's. I was falling in love with the music of Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party and was surprised when the 4AD label sampler "Lonely Is An Eyesore" came out in 1987 that all these bands were from the same label.

After visiting a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of some American's collection of art, I came to thinking of all this musical art that 4AD have released that may one day drift into obscurity unless someone shows it as art. So now I'm on a crusade, to collect the first ten years of 4AD's releases and exhibit the collection on 4AD's 50th anniversary in 2030. This is a big task which will have some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Friday, 28 October 2011

4AD Top Ten Albums

So after I gave you my all time top ten albums, you lucky people, I thought I would share the pick of my top ten 4AD albums. In rough order of release, these are the albums that have led me to want to collect 4AD. They show a great diversity of style for release from the same label.

So here goes -

Bauhaus - In the Flat Field

One of the enjoyments I get from music, is finding something different, something new that is totally different to anything I have heard before. Most of these albums did that for me. I discovered Bauhaus in the late eighties, by which time they had completely gone as a band and split into their separate projects. The first Bauhaus album I discovered was Mask. Mask was led by David J’s bass, a sound at the time I was obsessed with. Bauhaus did it differently to everyone else though. In time I appreciated this debut album more than Mask. It has an eccentrically English feel to it, unhinged and steeped in a old world of perversion behind closed doors. Steampunk?

The Birthday Party - Junkyard

Junkyard hurt your ears. It was loud, unapologetic, raw, and wonderfully disjointed. The birthday party were a rip off of The Pop Group, but took the idea further. In a similar way to Siouxsie Sioux’s vocals, all the instruments sounded out of tune and yet together somehow worked. It sounded ,on first passing, as though a bunch of 5 year olds were playing punk, until you notice interesting time signatures, mad silences, and complicated runs. The more you listen, the more you enjoy and love hating it at the same time.

Clan of Xymox - Medusa

Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares - Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (Volume 1)
I started listening to this only recently as I continued to pick up more pieces to the collection. Two things seem amazing about this album. On the first few plays, you can hear some of the sounds that must have influenced Lisa Gerrard as she heard the folk music of many cultures as she grew up. The second surprise is the picture that forms in your head of the quite young choral singers that must be making up this choir, the voices sound so youthful and alive. I got quite a shock to see the photo’s of the general choir member, generally middle aged and showing faces of wisdom and experience. Hardly the angelic innocence that washes over you as a listener. You can only be impressed that this sound is the countries folk music. It’s a reflection of the geographic place Bulgaria finds itself, stuck between East and West mixed with Baltic influences with a disregard for the 12 note western standard.

Various - Lonely is an Eyesore

This album is a 4AD legend. It nicely wrapped up 4AD at a point just before the introduction of a new direction for 4AD with the signing of The Pixies. The whole album flows like a concept piece, which is remarkable to say each artist is different in their own way and yet the album feels as though it keeps a constant theme running through it. It changes mood from a sampled covered opening track from Colourbox which wakes you up and pulls you straight in into This Mortal Coil’s mellow Acid, Bitter and Sad. Yet the transition seems seamless. The Colourbox track may be brash, but it still retains enough calm within it to allow This Mortal Coil to follow. This sums up the whole album, nothing is out of place. This also came in several formats, the original LP had a wallet like sleeve, with all the 4AD releases so far, listed on the inside with a key as to whether still available or deleted. There was also a limited edition release, which had a 4 sleeve foldout inner and 12” colour book all in a card box sleeve. Then there was the ultimate 4AD release, some would say, a wooden box version of the album. Limited to 100 copies, 70 of which were given to 4AD band members, staff and the like and only 30 sold to the general public. This was a wooden box containing the LP, cassette, CD and video of the album, along with individual pieces of artwork unique to every box.

Lush - Scar

This was only a mini-album, but still an eye-opener for me. At the time, Indie music was taking off in a big way in the UK and hidden within this surge was a style called shoegazing. I personally never liked the shoegazing scene. For me it had too much of a fixation with the beat generation of the sixties, which never did anything for me, yes, even the Beatles. Although Lush were kind of lumped in with the rest of the shoegazing crowd, I heard something strangely new. This was the first time I had heard loud fast guitar music mellowed with a soft slow and sensual female vocal floating along the top of the white noise. There was also a track called Etherial, and to me this title summed up the music completely. Now the term Ethereal is used to describe even Dead Can Dance, which I still class as world music. Ethereal still conjures up for me what Lush introduced me to, the musical battle of noise and angelic harmony. They never did this again and got sidetracked into Britpop

Pixies - Doolittle

In 1990 in the UK, everyone was going Pixies mad. This was their fourth album, but this one got them a lot of attention in the UK. I had never heard anything like this before, it was completely new, had a sexual depravity akin to Bauhaus and was also mentally unhinged. Doolittle was a revolution in music for me like punk was more than a decade before, yet it took nearly two decades for everyone to slowly realise it. When you heard Nirvana a couple of years after this, Nirvana sounded like very poor, quick fix imitators to me. I never rated Nirvana either. In the UK, this had a special release at independent record shops which had the LP with a 12” book, a set of 12 postcards all in a Pixies Doolittle plastic bag. Very nice

Dead Can Dance - Aion

This Mortal Coil - Blood

I listened to this constantly in 1992. This album can keep you gripped musically, but it’s also fascinating as a project. There’s so much to find out about This Mortal Coil. The session musicians are from all over 4AD and beyond on this album and many of the songs are cover versions. The track that always leaves me close to tears is the cover of the Byrds “I Come and Stand at Every Door”. An individuals musical history of discovery is always interesting. I heard this version years before I heard the Byrds original version. This Mortal Coil’s interpretation of this song is incredibly moving and powerful. The original version is very good, but very much of its time in a sort of hippy, preachy way. So I prefer This Mortal Coil’s version. But is that because I heard that one first??

Lisa Gerrard - The Mirror Pool

Lisa Gerrard works on a level unlike no-one else. A true independent and individual artist. She has a way of expressing music that is deeply spiritual and beautiful without having to use any traditional language. To see Lisa perform live is a opportunity not to miss. This was Lisa’s first solo album after a career as one half of Dead Can Dance. Originally released on CD, it was later possible to get the album on vinyl, which is a real treat. The Mirror Pool is possibly less accessible to a pop fed audience, even less so than Dead Can Dance possibly are. But as with all great music, time devoted to it is paid back in multitudes. I always wonder when I hear music like this, how can anyone that says they love music, not be swept away with an album like this?

Most of these albums are from the first decade. Although many believe the nineties were 4AD’s best decade, I feel the nineties were the turnaround in music, where the number of artists shot through the roof, but the diversity fell dramatically. This was typified even in 4AD.

I would recommend any of these albums, the Lonely Is An Eyesore compilation would be fine introduction though.

Until the next post, thanks for taking the time to read through a man’s dribbling fondness.

1 comment:

  1. Let me first off by saying what a list !
    I've never even heard of this Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares Volume 1, but it sounds quite fascinating and my eagerness to hear it is starting to grow ; )