“No, I’m Not Nick Frickin’ Rhodes”: David Sylvian + Japan

2 04 2007


Image from the-raft.com

In their late teens, David Batt and his brother Steve stole some eyeliner from Bowie’s dressing room, some new last names from the New York Dolls, and sounds from both to create Japan. In a dyslexic homage to guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, Dave took up singing and became David Sylvian, while Steve dropped a few letters from “Johansen” to become Steve Jansen. Synthesizing the look and sound of glam rock with a touch of the emerging disco sound, Japan was soon signed to Hansa and released Adolescent Sex in 1978. While a minor hit in Japan, of all places, their look and sound were staggeringly out of touch with the post-punk times in the UK, where they were largely ignored. After an equally spotty 2nd album, in 1980 they hit upon the idea of incorporating elements of the emerging Moroder Euro disco sounds, all shimmering synths and backbeat, into pop songs performed in a rock band setting. This time their timing was perfect, and Quiet Life is one of the first classics of the post-Bowie New Romantic era.

MP3: “Quiet Life (Extended Version) – Japan
Buy it on Amazon


Japan, “Life In Tokyo” (Youtube clip)

Having jettisoned most of the sonic aspects of glam for this Japan 2.0, the band’s only real remaining debt to that movement was sartorial. But while continuing down the trail blazed by Eno and Bolan, Sylvian took androgyny to a new place by dialing it back and making it less cartoonlike, and thus more accessible. Ziggy was outrageous, alien and somewhat threatening to the masses. But Sylvian cloaked his gorgeous, pancaked visage with the suave, sophisticated suit – and vocal stylings – of the aggressively hetero Bryan Ferry. Amazingly, this “gay but straight” look became pretty mainstream, and indeed still encapsulates what it means to be “totally 80’s.”

Dave
(Left: David. Right: Nick. Or is it vice versa?)

Just as their sound was taking hold, Japan took an abrupt left turn and started to take more and more out of the music. By their last hit “Ghosts” all that was remained was a droning synth and a vocal. Abandoning Japan at the height of its glory, Sylvian left to pursue a solo career further in that minimalist direction. In the mean time, Nick Rhodes copped Japan’s 16th note sequencers and mascara brushes wholesale and brought the whole package to a level of unprecedented global domination.

MP3: “Girls on Film (Night Version) – Duran Duran
Buy it on Amazon

While Duran Duran’s debt to Japan is undeniable (and to a degree embarrassing: Nick, dude, don’t you even want to *try* and hide your influences?), somehow it seems like an appropriate passing of the baton, from one gazza ladra to another.

Nightporter – Japan fan site
Japan on Wikipedia
Watch more Japan videos





Daniel Ash Wednesday

15 03 2007

Ash Wednesday three weeks ago would have been the perfect time to post this piece and use the punny title. But I’m Jewish, and I always forget about these events until I see people walking around with gunk on their foreheads, at which point I invariably think: “Right, I almost forgot about Daniel Ash!”

Best known for being a founding member of seminal post-punk outfit Bauhaus (notice I didn’t dare say “Goth”, though I suppose I have now…oops), Ash has arguably made his best, and certainly most diverse music in the, er, wake of that band’s, um, ashes. (Sorry, I really am trying to avoid the “G” word, but the puns are damn inescapable).

Bauhaus

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is a fantastic song for which the lyrics were written as Peter Murphy read randomly from the newspaper. But you already know that one, so here’s my favorite goth/dub reggae jam, “She’s in Parties.” I think Ash’s playing on this song is probably the single biggest influence on me as a guitarist. Not that you asked but…it’s not your damn blog, is it?

Mp3: “She’s in Parties” – Bauhaus
Official site: http://www.bauhausmusik.com
Buy music and DVDs by Bauhaus on Amazon

Love and Rockets

Ash’s most commerically successful band was Love and Rockets, who had a huge hit with the inescapable (in 1989) guaranteed-to-separate-the-old-fans-from-the-new-fans 120 Minutes-pandering radio-friendly single “So Alive.” Here’s a far, far better song from that album, a glam stomper about his love affair with a machine:

MP3: “Motorcycle” – Love and Rockets
http://www.loveandrockets.org
Buy music and DVDs by Love and Rockets on Amazon

Tones on Tail

But Ash’s most criminally underrated band was the utterly fantastic Tones on Tail, an experimental electronic-pop band he formed with Bauhaus’s drummer Kevin Haskins (brother of bassist David J) and their roadie, Glenn Campling. The band only lasted about 2 years, just after Bauhaus ended and before Ash and Haskins reconnected with J. to form Love and Rockets. During this time they recorded about 25 songs, most of which were released as singles and EPs. While they never quite got as big as the bands which precedeed and followed them, Tones on Tail did have one fairly successful single, “Go”, which is still being played in clubs to this day. Apparently Moby sampled it on his track of the same name, but I’ll never know for sure as I have a pretty strong “no Moby” policy and I don’t intend to change.

Going with the lesser-known tracks again, here is my favorite song in the T.O.T. oeuvre, the Moroderriffic “Performance” (a.k.a. “Shakes”).

MP3: “Performance” – Tones on Tail
Buy the aptly titled “Everything” by Tones on Tail from Amazon

Ash has been making solo records as well for the past 15 years or so, which you can check out here. I, however, need to get some work done.

And even if you don’t like his music, you really need to give it up to a man’s having such amazingly consistent hair all these years.

The Official Daniel Ash site.
Buy Daniel Ash solo music from Amazon





Goth Thursday. How Awkward.

15 02 2007

Goth

I’m not sure if I really want to indulge in my closet penchant for Goth *every* Thursday, but I’ve been wanting to post these two songs for a while, and “Rural Juror“-like awkwardness of those two words together in the title strikes me as funny.

Al

Before they O.D.’d on guitars and heroin and went all White Zombie on our asses with their limp proto-Industrial Metal (“Jesus Built My Hotrod”, anyone?), Ministry was rad. Nowadays every American chav and Suicide Girl-manquée at Mall of America looks like an Al Jourgensen clone, but at the time his post-Apocalyptic Road Warrior shtick fit perfectly with the dance/rock/goth/industrial/pop sound he helped invent. Both sonically and sartorially, for better or for worse, there’d be no Trent without Al. (Speaking of, check out the new Nine Inch Nails song at Fire in the Stereo).

But before he lost his marbles dropping acid with Gibby, Al wrote some super swell synth-goth ditties, a slightly harder-core Depeche Mode. Ministry’s second album “Twitch”, released in 1985, dabbles in the relatively new art of sampling and rhythmic noise in a pop context, and the result is catchy dark pop; even a bit, dare I say, funky (in a white way).

MP3: “Just Like You” – Ministry
Buy it on Amazon

Sisters of Mercy

I adore the Sisters of Mercy. Besides having the chutzpah to collaborate with fellow bombast-a-don (and Meatloaf collaborator) Jim Steinman, Andrew Eldritch is erudite, pretentious, and goddamn hysterical. In 1985 Eldritch produced a few tracks by a cat named James Ray and released the songs on his Merciful Release label. One track in particular, “Mountain Voices”, is fantastically dark and dancey, featuring very Sisters-like vocals, synthpop synthbass and beats, electric guitars and lots of melody. It’s pretty melodramatic and the chorus is kinda silly (sampled violins!) — and it even flirts with a Country twang. But it works.

MP3: “Mountain Voices” – James Ray and the Performance
Buy it on Amazon (for $39!!!)

I had to buy a filler-laden ‘best of’ CD for $20 on Ebay a few years ago to get this song, but now you can download it and every other song they recorded for free on the James Ray web site.

Now…I must go deposit my beloved Powerbook at the repair shop and pray for its health. I’ll be back with some cool new tracks next week.