Monday, December 08, 2014
Better late than never, I guess. And late I often am. I've known of the band Tuxedomoon since I was but a wee lad - 14, in fact, when I was the recipient of the Hardcore California tome for Xmas. That weighty slab of pictures and words was a godsend for myself and many others around the globe, and one of the very few widely available books giving the early Californian punk/hardcore/new wave/experimental scenes a serious look-at. Actually, it was possibly the only one, too, but it remains, as they say, 'a classic of the genre'.
Alongside pics and blurbs on punker heavyweights like the Circle Jerks, Germs, Fear, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag et al, there were reams and reams of text, praise and impressive black & white photography dedicated to the more art-damaged spectre of the punk diaspora which hit the west coast at the time, folks like the Residents, Chrome, Monitor, Factrix, Boyd Rice, the Los Angeles Free Music Society and the types of miscreants floating around the Ralph and Subterranean offices, or maybe even Joe Rees (RIP) and his estimable get-up at Target Video. This artwave scene - yes, let's call it that - has always held great fascination for moi. The stayers & players, movers & shakers seemed a different breed to the jackboot & bandana crowd, although their more, err, sophisticated sense of rage and loathing still placed them somewhere within the punk rock gene pool, only distanced by perhaps a few more years at some Cali art-school under their belt (and hard drugs consumed). Of course the other aspect of great fascination here remains the sense of crossover and musical cross-fertilisation between the seemingly bumpkin/suburban hardcore scene and its more urbane, artier cousins, with labels such as Subterranean and Alternative Tentacles up north and SST and New Alliance down south being the great documenters of both sides of the coin.
The Superior Viaduct label - you surely know of this operation - has and continues to be the great 21st-century documenter of this peculiar and highly interesting strand of American post-punk, and you should snap up pretty much everything they do, and pronto. Of course their reissue programme cuts a wide and impressive swathe, also bringing other left-field notables into the fold, from Alice Coltrane to Heldon to Glenn Branca to Peter Jefferies to Leslie Winer, but for me, the label's identity is built on keeping the flame of early Californian art-punk alive in a world which largely doesn't give a shit but should (that's OK: the world didn't give a shit back then either). In the SV catalogue, you'll find some choice noise from the Residents, 100 Flowers/Urinals, Black Humor, Noh Mercy, Factrix, Monitor, Negative Trend, Sleepers and more - and in due time I will run through a few of these titles in greater detail - but for now let's quickly summarise the worth of Tuxedomoon's first two 12" EPs.
They would be No Tears from 1978 and Scream With A View from a year later. Tuxedomoon were formed in the mid '70s by San Fran artheads Steve Brown and Blaine Reininger and, having seen umpteen photos of the ensemble they led decked out in theatrical settings with electric violins and stacks of keyboards and electronic gear, and given the fact that they made it semi-big in Europe and relocated to France for their troubles, I figured they were tre boring and gave them short shrift for the past 25+ years. Who'd wanna waste time with such lightweights when you've got the likes of Alien Soundtracks and Fingerprince to consume? Well, there's room for all. Superior Viaduct don't waste your goddamn time with foppery, and these two EPs are simply ace examples of synth-punk coldwave and other nonsense terms understood (or cared for) only by folks like you and me. Rather than sounding like some sort of austere and utterly uninvolving art-fartery - which is what I had Tuxedomoon pegged as - the sonics here are raw and dynamic and an absolutely crucial link in this period of post-punk west coast rock & roll. Yes, I just used the R & R term, and for these discs, they are indeed applicable.
No Tears' title track is the clincher here, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the desperate times, and the other four cuts present provide enough atmospherics and grime to make me wonder why, after nearly 25 years of rabid Chrome fandom, I never bothered taking the slightest leap in the Tuxedomoon direction. Scream With A View has a slightly fuller and cleaner sound, but only marginally so, and the primitive analogue warmth still seeps through. These are goddamn essential recordings. 20 minutes each: that makes for at least one great album's worth of material (and a subsequent stream of their debut LP from 1980, Half Mute, which buzzes at a nice Metal Box/Cab. Voltaire angle, has me convinced there's at least TWO albums worth of great material there). If nothing else - and it's not worth much of anything else - use this blog as a buyers' guide: these two recordings are well worth buying. Glorious art brut from a lifetime ago. The sound has been replicated and approximated time and again since (this local Melbourne band is currently doing it very well indeed), but the 1970s recordings of the outfit known as Tuxedomoon still sound fresh and exciting in this universe. File next to: Screamers, Chrome, Residents, Metal Urbain and other worthies.