CHR-009: Terminal Vibration Vol. One

Various Artists Terminal Vibration: Vol. One

Cheap Hotel 2019

I'd originally planned to put this out after the Terminal Vibration 100 hit the site, but the compilation wound up being ready ahead of schedule. This latest Cheap Hotel release rolls up the whole Terminal Vibration vision into an unmissable two-disc anthology, where new wave, hip hop, post punk, house, dancehall, techno, afrobeat, funk, disco, trip hop, electro, boogie, dub and fourth world avant pop all collide in a killer selection of 30 Riddimatic Traxx From The Wild Side Of The 1980s.

I've worked up a little mix from the original compilation. Please excuse the transitions, which are quite conservative — and in some cases a little rocky — but I wanted to retain as much as the original track as possible. Sure, I might have mixed from Junior Reid's One Blood straight into the wayward groove of Ryuichi Sakamoto's Riot In Lagos, but I just couldn't bear to skip the amazing intro and build up as riot begins to take shape! At any rate, on with the music...

Listen Now

    CHR-009: Various Artists - Terminal Vibration Vol. One Part 1

  1. Simple Minds I Travel Arista
  2. Bullet train punk disco from the band that would later bring you Don't You Forget About Me, this much earlier track finds the crew lean and hungry at the dawn of the decade. This is the sound of Europe-endless Moroder madness crashing the new wave party, screaming past skyscrapers and concrete bunkers, circuitry, telecommunications and the rising sun looming on the horizon.

  3. Doug Wimbish featuring Fats Comet Don't Forget That Beat World Record
  4. Pure fast-forward cyberpunk madness from Fats Comet (aka Tackhead aka the Maffia), this electroid punk-to-funk workout comes at you like a Prince cameo in the Count Zero motion picture. With a peerless stutter-funk groove hitting about as tactile as they come, this is everything implied in the promise electronic dance music.

  5. Jamie Principle Waiting On My Angel Persona
  6. Gothic digital disco from the dark prince of Chicago, shaded heavy with new wave colors. Rising from deep from the underground just as house was beginning to make its presence felt, this record arrived fully formed just as everyone else was still figuring out how to work the equipment. About as catchy as anything ever played on a dancefloor, in a perfect world this would have been a #1 smash hit (images of Idoru spring to mind).

  7. Junior Reid One Blood J.R.
  8. Apocalyptic dancehall masterpiece arrives at the tail end of the decade, the rhythms in this track are happening on something like four or five planes. Pepperseed drum machine beats flip into slow-motion breakbeats beneath the electronic roots-n-future mash-up, while the spectre of Junior Reid hangs above it all sounding like a prophet.

  9. Ryuichi Sakamoto Riot In Lagos Alfa
  10. Innovator on holiday from YMO turns in one of the most futuristic tracks ever laid down on tape. Coming out in early 1980, this could have been released twenty years later and still sounded ahead of its time. Unbalanced, untethered and utterly unpredictable, this is quite simply the benchmark of brilliance... everyone making electronic music should aspire to be this good.

  11. Thomas Leer Tight As A Drum Cherry Red
  12. Skewed electropop heaven from the Scottish bedroom auteur. From the brilliant 4-track EP, 4 Movements, the entirety of which is just stupidly, preposterously ahead of its time. Miles away from any sort of rigid synth pop conventions, this melts and glides like some Mediterranean sunset serenade.

  13. Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 When One Road Close Another One Go Open Wrasse
  14. Afrobeat goes electro! After four stellar solo albums, Fela Kuti's main man behind the kit takes his sound into the 1980s in a big way, offering up the greatest polyrhythmic-fourth-world-dubbed-out-future-shock stone tablet since King Sunny Adé descended into the studio with Martin Meissonnier behind the boards. An indisputable monster-groove.

  15. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five New York New York Sugar Hill
  16. One of a handful of tracks that so perfectly fit the Terminal Vibration remit, it almost hurts! In fact, there were a handful of records from this crew that would have fit just as well: The Message (which this record echoes), Scorpio and especially Message II Survival. For me, the bionic superfly attack of New York New York is the pick of the bunch, a track that sounds better still with every passing year.

  17. Brian Eno/David Byrne Regiment Sire
  18. Like the last track, this is Terminal Vibration distilled down to its purest essence, only more so. Indeed, the entire My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts album was probably the impetus for this whole endeavor. Over at DJ Food had it down as a Trip Hop blueprint if there ever was one, and when confronted with Regiment's rock hard downbeat funk riddim and muezzin wail, you know exactly what he means.

  19. The Clash Outside Broadcast CBS
  20. A saner man would have gone with the original version, which everyone knows and remains a classic tune, but this seven-plus minute dub version is a wild tangled trip that fits in far to well to pass up. Dig that atmosphere — car horns, street sounds, disco diva vocals, throbbing bass, proto-raps, electrofunk hand claps, stylized sax and Joe Strummer swirling in a cavern — in this runaway late night taxi cab ride.

  21. D-Train You're The One For Me Prelude
  22. Part of why I love this era so much is the way so many disparate scenes suddenly found themselves in sync — punk/disco/rap/reggae/the avant garde — and wired up to to the dancefloor. In truth, much of this was down to disco's gravity pull, as both a force to be reckoned with and something to define oneself against. This seminal Prelude joint is the moment at which boogie splits off from disco proper, and is the secret cousin to all The Clash's Sandinista!-era dancefloor burners.

  23. Jungle Wonz The Jungle Trax
  24. More early Chicago. You practically get a hit of that sense of discovery — and wide-open possibilities — every time you spin the best of these records. The rule books hadn't even been written yet, so the prospect of Harry Dennis' Last Poets-style raps over lush fourth world minimalism must have sounded no more out of bounds than Larry Heard's proto-ambient house or Jamie Principle's solitary moonlight missives. Nowadays, we know better than to take this stuff for granted...

  25. Aisha The Creator Ariwa
  26. Roots reggae songstress does her thing in Mad Professor's digital playground, resulting in a crisp slice of liquid perfection that still sounds like the future. This is so lean and mean! I'm sure there are cooler songs... I just can't think of any right now. Ambient house heads will instantly recognize the vocal sample that later turns up in The Orb's Blue Room (all roads lead to Jah Wobble).

  27. Reese Just Want Another Chance KMS
  28. It still blows my mind that this record, with its bunker-crumbling drum machine beats and ten ton bassline oozing out of every pore, came out in 1988. But then, Kevin Saunderson is nothing if not an innovator (they don't call him Master Reese for nothing). As if the greatest bassline ever weren't enough, he peppers the track with killer sequence after counterpoint-sequence and spooked warehouse vibes to spare.

  29. Silicon Soul Who Needs Sleep Tonight Disko B
  30. Classicist electro-chanson from New York. Loneliness personified. First heard this, appropriately enough, on Terranova's DJ-Kicks — the O.G. Terminal Vibration experience — even if they just played the instrumental synth sequence. Hearing the original tune (from 1981) was such a joy, thanks to a timely reissue from Disko B at the turn of the century. I used to play this when I knew I was gonna have to pull an all-nighter, and it never failed to get me in the mode.

Listen Now

    CHR-009: Various Artists - Terminal Vibration Vol. One Part 2

  1. The Special AKA Bright Lights Two-Tone
  2. Shadowy post-ska dance music from Jerry Dammers and co. The protracted sessions for the In The Studio LP resulted in a brilliantly strange collection of moody tunes that seem — from the cover on downward — haunted by the spectre of trip hop menace well before the fact.

  3. Model 500 Night Drive Thru-Babylon Metroplex
  4. Dark, sleek future music from techno originator Juan Atkins. With Night Drive Thru-Babylon, he created an utterly kinetic perpetual motion engine, serving as electro's killer app and pointing the way forward to techno's otherworldly, psychedelic glow.

  5. Big Audio Dynamite Sudden Impact! Columbia
  6. Sudden Impact! is electroid dance pop of the highest caliber, shot through with just a hint of dub and strains of the nascent dancehall, sounding something like Mad Professor vs. The Latin Rascals. Proves that Mick Jones had his finger to the pulse of eighties dance music, running from Radio Clash right through Megatop Phoenix and the Second Summer Of Love.

  7. 808 State Narcossa Creed
  8. Rough and rugged acid house from Manchester's original techno proposition, back when A Guy Called Gerald was still firmly in the crew. As hinted by the title, this is electronic music at its most druggy and weird, even as it never loses sight of the dancefloor. The finest track from their excellent debut album, Newbuild, this manages the trick of sounding ancient and at the same time like it could have come out tomorrow.

  9. ESG Moody Spaced Out 99
  10. Girl group punk funk from New York. ESG managed to capture the spirit of Central Park's endless Puerto Rican conga jams (a sound that also inspired the likes of New Order and A Certain Ratio within the moody corridors of half-lit punk funk, getting tagged by the music press as PIL meets the The Supremes. And at the end of the day, what higher praise could you ask for?

  11. Hashim Primrose Path Cutting
  12. Overcast New York electro retrofit with bionic slap-bass funk, this sounds like it could've come from the streets of Chiba City. Coming out on electro/freestyle stalwart label Cutting Records and masterminded by the peerless Hashim (who also produced the definitive electro masterstroke Al-Naafiysh The Soul), this record's practically a genre unto itself.

  13. Massive Attack Any Love Massive Attack
  14. Trip hop supergroup's humble beginnings start with this killer Smith & Mighty-produced cover of Rufus & Chaka Khan's Any Love, fronted by the angel-voiced falsetto of Carlton and featuring a brilliantly introverted rap from Tricky (almost as an afterthought). That's a crazy amount of talent to squeeze into one studio, right there. Of course, it shows through in this deliciously minimalist tune, featuring some of the most kinetic drum programming ever laid down on tape.

  15. Grace Jones I've Seen That Face Before Libertango Island
  16. This skewed, cosmopolitan dubwise chanson always strikes me as undeniably trip hop in both spirit and execution. Look no further than Massive Attack's Spying Glass and Nicolette's No Government (1996 version) for some sound comparisons. From the storied Compass Point sessions that resulted in Nightclubbing, Grace Jones' finest hour.

  17. Virgo School Hall Radical
  18. Virgo unleashed this bit of moody dancefloor magic right at the close of the decade, perfecting the deep house blueprint just in time for the nineties. And I do mean perfect... this song — in form, sonics and execution — is like a flawlessly cut diamond. When that bassline hangs in repetition for a bar before cascading into the chorus, it captures every lonely walk through your high school's crowded corridors as you try to slip through unnoticed and as quickly as you can. It gets me every time...

  19. Derrick Harriott Dub Whip Hawkeye
  20. Ah yes, Derrick Harriott with another one that's almost too good to be true. Early-eighties cover version of — strains credulity — the Dazz Band's Let It Whip?! Not only that, but with a dubbed-to-pieces remix tucked away on the flipside. With its visions of discomix reggae on the game grid, this is one of the most prized 12"s I own.

  21. Wally Badarou Chief Inspector Vine Street 4th & Broadway
  22. More Compass Point magic, this time from synth man Wally Badarou. For people who don't know (who are these people?!), Badarou was in the Compass Point All Stars, who played on that Grace Jones record (and a whole other brace of brilliant things). So casually understated yet undeniably brilliant, Paul "Groucho" Smykle's notion of adding go-go-inspired percussion to his Vine Street remix push this over the edge into the divine.

  23. Roxanne Shanté Have A Nice Day Cold Chillin'
  24. Rock the bells! Roxanne Shanté does her inimitable thing over an impossibly funky Marley Marl production, this invents the sound of golden age hip hop. I'm only sorry that I couldn't include more hip hop on this compilation: The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better, Too $hort's Players, the Death Comet Crew's At The Marble Bar and The Junkyard Band's Sardines. Oh well, there's always Volume Two...

  25. Fresh 4 Wishing On A Star Lizz. E 10 Records
  26. Another Smith & Mighty production for another supergroup-before-the-fact. Fresh 4 were a crew consisting of Bristol royalty DJ Suv and DJ Krust (who'd both later wind up in Full Cycle/Reprazent), Flynn (later of Flynn & Flora) and Judge (who he?). With its blissful, sun-glazed Faze-O sample, torch song vocals and slow-motion breakbeats, this is trip hop's blueprint writ large before the nineties even started.

  27. Prince Something In The Water Does Not Compute Warner Bros.
  28. Sublime machine soul from the young Prince, just as he was poised to take over the world. Tucked away among the marathon electro boogie funk jams on his 1982 double-album 1999, this track rides a robotic start-stop rhythm haunted by Detroit-style synths, random computer bleeps and Prince's all-to-human paeans to the women who've done him wrong. The man's finest moment?

  29. Colourbox Looks Like We're Shy One Horse/Shoot Out 4AD
  30. Discomix post punk dub-cum-spaghetti western epic from proto-trip hop architects Colourbox, just grooves along for a satisfying four-and-a-half minutes while samples from Duck You Sucker and Once Upon A Time In The West drift over the top. Then, halfway through its eight-minute running time, it goes all moody and atmospheric before going all Binary Skyline with a fourth world cyberpunk downbeat coda that sounds like sci-fi Repo Man meets FSOL's Central Industrial. Really, it's the only way to end this mix properly...

Simple Minds - Empires And Dance Doug Wimbish featuring Fats Comet - Don't Forget That Beat Jamie Principle - Waiting On My Angel Junior Reid - One Blood Ryuichi Sakamoto - B-2 Unit Thomas Leer - 4 Movements
Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 - N.E.P.A (Never Expect Power Always) Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - New York New York Brian Eno/David Byrne - Regiment The Clash - This Is Radio Clash D-Train - You're The One For Me Jungle Wonz - The Jungle
Reese - Just Want Another Chance Silicon Soul - Pouti The Special AKA - In The Studio Model 500 - Night Drive Big Audio Dynamite - This Is Big Audio Dynamite 808 State - Newbuild
ESG - Come Away With ESG Hashim - Primrose Path Massive Attack - Any Love Grace Jones - Nightclubbing Virgo - Virgo Derrick Harriott - Whip It
Wally Badarou - Chief Inspector Roxanne Shanté - Have A Nice Day Fresh 4 - Wishing On A Star Prince - 1999 Colourbox - Baby I Love You So
CHR009: The Records

Scott Walker

Scott Walker in glasses at the microphone, circa 1967
The man with the golden voice

I was still reeling from Mark Hollis's untimely passing a month earlier when news of Scott Walker's death began to filter through in March. The sense of loss is always compounded in such cases, and with Dick Dale, Ranking Roger and Keith Flint gone too — and in such close temporal proximity to one another — it was hard to know where to begin. In their own way, all five figures had a significant influence on pop music's development over the years, and accordingly each of them had a profound impact on my own musical life. Three of them are responsible for records lodged right up there among my absolute favorites of all time, while the other two figures aren't far behind.

Scott Walker's career stretches back the longest, starting in the mid-1950s when he was still a child star known as Scotty Engel. However, it wasn't until the mid-1960s, when he hooked up with Gary Leeds and John Maus in L.A. to form The Walker Brothers, that he really began to make waves. At this point, each member of the trio took the last name Walker, much like the Ramones and Hardkiss later would with their respective group names. The trio wound up crossing the Atlantic in search of an audience (once again, much like artists like Hendrix and the Sparks later would), which they ultimately found with hit singles like Make It Easy On Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore. The group, it seemed, were on top of the world. Then, in 1967, Scott Walker went solo.

Scott Walker Scott Philips

For me, this is where things get really good. As predictable as it might be, my favorite stretch of the man's discography remains the four self-titled albums he recorded in the late sixties. Each of these records are defined by a lushly-orchestrated, arty baroque pop of the absolute highest caliber, with Walker's rich, golden croon intimating enigmatic and often existential sentiments. With a cast of characters including sailors, soldiers, dictators, prostitutes, knights and even death himself, these tales certainly pushed the boundaries of pop music's typical subject matter of the era. Run-of-the-mill crooner outings these were most definitely not.

His solo debut Scott is a stone cold classic, announcing itself with the brass fanfare of a vigorous forward march called Mathilde. It's a truly bracing blast and the first of his many covers of the legendary Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, whose literate, worldly songwriting would certainly prove a key influence on Walker's own compositions. The stately ballad Montague Terrace In Blue is one such song, its vivid descriptions exploding into a monumental chorus, while the exquisite organ-hued sketch Such A Small Love unveils the almost Medieval overtones that he'd continue to explore in earnest. Similarly, The Lady Came From Baltimore betrays a burgeoning fascination with country music, foreshadowing what would become a growing influence in the years to come.

He even takes a stab at the crooner standard When Joanna Loved Me (also done by both Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett), in which he more than holds his own with the giants, while Angelica and The Big Hurt give his vocals a chance to really soar. However, it's a pair of Jacques Brel numbers that point the way forward, with the Gothic melancholy of My Death and Amsterdam's swirling carousel of madness showcasing Walker's considerably unique vision. At the end of the day, Scott is a simple case where every track's a winner, and one can certainly see why Bowie was such an ardent fan (he even covered Amsterdam in 1973 for the b-side of Sorrow).

Scott Walker Scott 2 Philips

Scott 2 seems to pick up directly where Amsterdam leaves off, with the same rude-edged, seamy undertones in yet another in a long line of Brel covers. Jackie is a driving stampede of chanson, firmly in the tradition of Mathilde, while the Spanish-style bolero Next tells the winding tale of a young army recruit with the same unflinching detail as Amsterdam. Notably, a snatch of Walker's soaring vocal  — the naked and the dead — would later be sampled in Orbital's track of the same title (the b-side to Halcyon + On + On).

The soaring Best Of Both Worlds finds Walker at his romantic peak, while The Amorous Humphrey Plugg (later sampled by Wu-Tang general Masta Killa!) walks the tightrope between carefree fancy and creeping dread. The Girls And The Dogs (another Brel cover) even offers a bit of lighthearted fun, with its description of the inner workings of the relationship between girls, men and their dogs (the latter of which always seem to get the raw end of the deal!). That one always cracks me up. It's also worth noting the b-side to the Jackie, the massive, cinematic epic The Plague, which boasts inspired use of treated vocals and twisted instrumentation in a continuation of Next's darker corners.

However, if one reads between the lines, the overriding trend here — despite all the aforementioned highlights — is an increasingly subdued, dreamy atmosphere hanging over the proceedings. Outlined in scattered, ethereal moments like Windows Of The World, Wait Until Dark and the closing Come Next Spring, these breezy chansons nevertheless seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. This is where Walker's literate, existential vision begins to imbue everything with an added sense of depth and gravity, pointing the way forward to the spectral majesty of Scott 3.

Scott Walker Scott 3 Philips

From the opening strains of It's Raining Today — with its at times almost atonal string section in counterpoint with a sparkling chord progression — it's clear that you're dealing with something extraordinary. In a certain sense, Scott 3 is almost works as a bridge between Walker's sixties work and what he'd be up to decades later. This is also Walker's big songwriting breakthrough, in that all but the last three songs were written by Scott himself (the final trilogy are all Brel compositions).

The sound has also shifted dramatically, with an even greater emphasis on the sort of ethereal songcraft that had begun to build up steam in the softer corners of Scott 2. The tone poem Copenhagen is a great drifting, shimmering mist, and sets the tone for a record that seems to capture the first days of spring, when the snow is just beginning to melt and the sun's warmth gradually starting to return. Rising from a thunderous cascade of timpani, Big Louise is a heavenly portrait of a sad, lonely woman (the world's passed her by) imbued with a deep sense of pathos and melancholy.

The almost ambient Two Ragged Soldiers, with its circular, shimmering progression, is emblematic of the whole affair. There's but a handful of tunes to break into a canter, such as We Came Through — connecting as it does to earlier driving marches like Jackie — and the black humor of Brel's Funeral Tango, while the folky concision of 30 Century Man (the album's shortest track) betrays an understated funkiness in its implied rhythm. In many ways, it's the latter song — paired with the medieval undertones of If You Go Away and Winter Night — that most clearly foreshadows where he'd venture next.

Scott Walker Scott 4 Philips

Next being Scott 4, which is quite simply phenomenal. We're talking about one of the absolute greatest albums ever recorded, hands down. Every home should have a copy. In truth, its perfect fusion of lush orchestration, arty lyricism and hip rhythm is almost too good to be true. The Seventh Seal opens the record with a Morricone-esque cascade of orchestra charts and Gregorian chanting over a locked, oneiric drum beat, its subject inspired by Ingmar Berman's film of the same name — the story of a lone knight's ongoing chess game with death. Simply exquisite.

Similarly, The Old Man's Back Again is almost comically perfect in execution, with Scott's peerless croon dancing across the surface of a rolling, funky downbeat rhythm (30 Century Man made explicit) and another duel between baritone chant and lush orchestration. Walker's off-the-cuff scat-singing in the denouement comes as an added bonus. If you've never heard Scott Walker before — and your interest is piqued — this song just might be the place to start.

Elsewhere, here's still some remaining strands of the ethereal Scott 3 lingering in the midst, most clearly in the gorgeous Boy Child, which sounds like the first rays of the rising sun shone through the treetops in a grove of ancient redwoods. Sheer majesty and wonder. The languid Angels Of Ashes finds Walker at his smooth-crooning best, recalling earlier ballads like When Joanna Loved Me and Come Next Spring, finding him at his most disarmingly unadorned and classicist.

Special mention must be made of Walker's latent country inflections, which return here with a vengeance. The strummed guitars and ethereal strings of On Your Own Again linger midway between Gothic cathedral and home on the range, while Duchess is a gorgeous western ballad that would make Charlie Rich proud. The great galleon of rousing orchestral country pop Get Behind Me often reminds me of Tumbleweed Connection before-the-fact, while the bittersweet Rhymes Of Goodbye is a cowboy song in widescreen... as wide as the great blue horizon stretching out beyond a country plain as far as the eye can see.

It’s the ideal conclusion to a record with a sound unlike any other, and a stirring grand finale to the man's first golden era, painted in rich gatefold glory and glorious downbeat perfection. Hearing Scott 4 for the first time is like stumbling into a secret world, colored in summer haze and autumn chill, full of mystery and longing. This is just the sort of music destined to be rediscovered time and time again.

Scott Walker We Had It All CBS

Walker rang in the 1970s with 'Til The Band Comes In, which kicks off a string of lesser albums running through the decade. In fact, none other than Scott Walker himself admitted to taking a good deal less care with his albums during this period. Which isn't to say that there aren't a number of gems tucked away in the grooves of records like Stretch and We Had It All, records that find Walker delving into the world of country pop with understated abandon. We Had It All is a particularly great song, and quite moving in this context (especially when his voice soars to sing I know that we could never live those times again in the chorus).

The Walker Brothers Nite Flights GTO

It was a 1978 reunion record with The Walker Brothers — of all things — that reinvigorated Scott Walker and brought everything back into focus. Nite Flights was split evenly between the three brothers, with Scott's contributions betraying a dark, moody vision that seemed to run parallel with the contemporary records acolyte David Bowie's had been working up in Berlin. Shutout and the title track have the same sort of European, new wave-inflected vision as records like "Heroes" and Lodger, while The Electrician seemed to lay the blueprint for everything else Scott Walker would do from here on out.

Scott Walker Climate Of Hunter Virgin

Climate Of Hunter fulfills all the promise of The Electrician — particularly in the opening one-two punch of Rawhide and Dealer — while songs like Three and Seven updated the sleek new wave pop of Shutout and Nite Flights. Conversely, the beatless ambient pop of Sleepwalkers Woman seemed to hark back to the ethereal qualities of Scott 3, even if they were recomposed in a completely alien environment. Climate Of Hunter was a welcome return to form, an LP of a piece with the contemporary records of Kate Bush, Talk Talk and David Sylvian, particularly albums like The Dreaming, Spirit Of Eden and Secrets Of The Beehive. Without a doubt, Scott Walker was back.

Scott Walker Tilt Fontana

Still, it was over ten years before he delivered a follow up, setting his latter-day precedent for protracted years of radio silence punctuated by the occasional brilliant record. Tilt found Walker spinning his inscrutable avant pop even further into abstraction. The opening Farmer In The City almost sounds like an operetta swathed in modern classical, with Walker's voice sounding as incredible as ever. His piercing croon defines the record, drifting lonesome among haunting strings and atmosphere, as in the eight minute excursion Patriot A Single. Interestingly enough, its the title track that connects back most literally to the fretless bass odysseys of Climate Of Hunter.

Scott Walker The Drift 4AD

After another eleven years (punctuated by soundtrack work for the French film Pola X and production for Pulp's brilliant swan song We Love Life), The Drift arrived to great fanfare. A true event, it seemed to be the most overwhelming salutations ever bestowed upon a new Walker release. To be fair, it's the first time I knew to be paying attention (in 1995, I didn't know to be checking for Scott Walker records yet!). By this point an avowed fan of the man's music, I picked it up the day it came out. As foreshadowed by the opening Cossacks Are, the record was an even more primal, organic dive into the subconscious. This was a vision of avant pop that felt right at home in not only the world of modern classical but also the burgeoning sub-genre of dark ambient.

Scott Walker + Sunn O))) Soused 4AD

Appropriately enough, The Drift commenced Walker's longstanding relationship with the 4AD imprint, which turned out to be his longest since the classic era with Philips (a relationship that lasted until his death). Just as records like The Drift and Bish Bosch found him edging ever deeper into abstraction, his collaboration with Sunn O))) was a meeting of the minds with the reigning auteurs of doom. In 2017, The Childhood Of A Leader — which would turn out to be his final album — rounded out a decade of comparatively feverish activity, his highest frequency of output since the halcyon days of the sixties.

Ending on a high note, it's a testament to the man's restlessly creative spirit, always moving forward and never succumbing to nostalgia, resisting the urge to make that classicist album or tour the hits as so many of his contemporaries wound up doing. It was this quality that marked Scott out as singular among sixties figures, ever delving deeper into the avant garde. And yet however far he'd venture into abstraction — records sometimes informed by their darkest corners — that golden voice would always be there, rising from the depths and calling you home.

Johnny Rotten Meets Tommy Vance Uptown On Capital Radio

Johnny Rotten grips the microphone and Tommy Vance hovers over the sound boards Capital Radio
The Johnny Rotten Show: The Punk and His Music

In light of Public Image Ltd.'s Metal Box status as record of the month, it's worth noting the fortuitous historical twist of fate that found Johnny Rotten guesting on Tommy Vance's Capital Radio show back in July 16th 1977 at the height of his notoriety in The Sex Pistols. I'd perennially heard whispers about this interview — along with the idiosyncratic selection of records that Rotten played throughout — but it wasn't until reading Jon Savage's storied punk tome England's Dreaming that I came into contact with actual coverage of the event. In fact, it might be my favorite part of that book.1

Some time later, Simon Reynolds' timely survey of post punk, Rip It Up And Start Again, delved into further detail.2 The idea is that the Capital Radio appearance found Johnny Rotten the punk throwing the world for a loop as he played a deep selection of reggae, dub, arty rock, glam and krautrock — rather than the punk rock onslaught that was no doubt expected of him — letting down his guard and introducing the world to John Lydon, the man, and ultimately sowing the seeds for Public Image Ltd.'s heady forays a year later. The birth of post punk, in other words, sourced in all manner of strange pre-punk sounds. After that, I simply had to know more about what went down when Johnny Rotten met Tommy Vance on Capital Radio.

Well, the good folks at the Fodderstompf website (hub for all things PIL-related) hooked it all up a few years back, providing the interview in its entirety here.3 With a breakdown of the records Lydon played, a full transcript of the interview and even full audio of the whole affair, it's a real resource. I can't stress the importance that you drop everything right now and listen to it! When I first stumbled upon it, years ago, it was a real eye opener. Lydon's selections lay out a roadmap to all manner of cool music, shooting off into nearly every possible direction. I'd always wanted to riff on these records a little bit, and I can think of no better time than now...

Tim Buckley Greetings From L.A. Warner Bros.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to be found is the handful of records from the canyon that play a crucial role in the transmission. I mentioned this in passing during the extended Two Weeks In The Canyon foray last year, but it bears repeating. This is one of my absolute favorite bits of musical happenstance of all time (see also Depeche Mode chilling with Derrick May at The Music Institute), with Lydon opening his set with Tim Buckley's awesome Sweet Surrender, the sun-baked cinematic strings rising from Lydon's request to Just play the records...4

You really need to hear the audio to appreciate the sheer magic in evidence, the juxtaposition of punk's first wave vanguard riding high in '77 (after conquering the U.K. the prior year), the amiable Lydon/Vance back-and-forth, and a whole raft of utterly absorbing music. Sweet Surrender of course taken from Buckley's Greetings From L.A., his unexpected swerve into gutsy, soul-inflected territory, marked by the man's otherworldly croon ensconced in slowly melting, sun-glazed surroundings, and picking up where the proto-kraut mirage of Gypsy Woman (sex on vinyl doncha know?) left off.

Neil Young On The Beach Reprise

The other big canyon moment here is Neil Young's awesome Revolution Blues, a burning downbeat groove that just rolls on in portentous slow-motion. With its oblique references to the Manson Family's movements leading up to that bloody night on Cielo Drive, it has clear parallels to punk's savage imagery that had so startled the press of the day. Throughout the interview, Lydon has a lot to say about the papers (which had continually plagued the band with sensationalist, fear-mongering coverage), none of it good, noting their exploitative nature and ultimately dismissing it all as rubbish.

The entirety of Neil's On The Beach LP actually happens to be my favorite of all his records, with the baleful Revolution Blues an undeniable highlight. Quite kraut-leaning in its particular way, with a searing widescreen solo from Young himself, it's firmly in the tradition of other Young monster jams like Cortez The Killer and Cowgirl In The Sand. One only wishes that it had a chance to stretch out a bit to about two or three times longer (although the brevity in this context certainly plays to the punk ear).

Kevin Coyne Marjory Razorblade Virgin

Despite not originating from the canyon proper (rather Derbyshire, England), Kevin Coyne's Marjory Razorblade is quite canyon-adjacent in spirit — even if there's a proggy British-ness to it that marks it out as very much its own beast — for my money managing to beat even Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde at his own game. If there's one record in particular that Lydon made famous on this show, it's got to be this one, which was introduced to a generation of young punks when he played Eastbourne Ladies — after talking about getting beat up by gangs in the summer strolling the streets.5 'Nuff dread!

Third Ear Band Music From Macbeth Harvest

Lydon actually played a fair few folk tunes from the British Isles, including a killer version of the Irish folk tune Jig-A-Jig that apparently no-one has been able to identify to this day, along with Coyne's Eastbourne Ladies and Fleance by the Third Ear Band. Existing at the cusp of freak folk and British prog, the Third Ear Band turned out a handful of strange, otherworldly albums like Alchemy and Elements before being drafted in to provide the soundtrack for Roman Polanski's especially bloody, doom-laden version of Shakespeare's Macbeth (but then, is there any other way to do that play?).

That's a haunting movie right there... pure dread, through and through, like a slow-building nightmare it just washes over you. I remember seeing this hard-R-rated movie in English class in the 10th grade (how did that happen??), and it stayed with me ever since. This score is a large part of what gives the movie its haunting, otherworldly atmosphere (that and the fog creeping into every frame), with the Third Ear Band's droning medieval instrumentation in full force throughout. The show-stopping Fleance is an undeniable highlight, with Chaucer's Merciless Beauty sung by the young Keith Chegwin (as Fleance himself) during the film's memorable banquet scene for King Duncan.

Nico Desertshore Reprise

Even if he claimed to not be a fan of The Velvet Underground, Lydon played a lot of arty music from ex-Velvets like Lou Reed's cabaret-inflected Men Of Good Fortune (from Berlin — be sure to also check out the spectacular Lady Day), Legs Larry At Television Center from John Cale's avant garde The Academy In Peril and Nico's nightmarish harmonium mirage Janitor Of Lunacy. Crucially, all three figures wound up having an outsized influence on not only David Bowie's Berlin records, but also Brian Eno's contemporaneous avant pop excursions and even more directly PIL (along with large swathes post punk itself).

Peter Hammill Nadir's Big Chance Charisma

Speaking of Bowie, Lydon plays his glam rock staple Rebel Rebel, along with further jukebox glam from Gary Glitter's Doing All Right With The Boys (later covered by none other thank punk superstar/ex-Runaway Joan Jett herself, on her blistering debut album). At the weirder end of glam, Peter Hammill (of prog iconoclasts Van Der Graaf Generator) even gets singled out for praise by Lydon for the proto-punk outing Nadir's Big Chance — an utterly unique LP, existing at the intersection of glam and prog — going so far as to (inadvertently) play two tracks from it, emphasizing I'm damn sure Bowie copied a lot out of that geezer. The credit he deserves just has not been given to him. I love all his stuff.6

The Creation Life Is Just Beginning Polydor

With almost all of the selections emerging squarely within the span of the 1970s — Lydon even going so far as to state I've never liked any of those 60s bands. Terrible scratching sound. — nevertheless a couple sixties records do slip through. The first is The Creation's Life Is Just Beginning, a string-quartet-led bit of psychedelic garage punk (and the flipside to the oft-compiled Through My Eyes). Coming as it does on the heels of Tim Buckley's Sweet Surrender, it imbues the proceedings with a similarly cinematic flourish.

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Trout Mask Replica Straight

Sixties renegade Captain Beefheart appears later in the mix with The Blimp Mousetrapreplica, from his notoriously off-the-wall Trout Mask Replica double-LP, which like Bitches Brew and Monster Movie hit like 70s records just barely snuck in at the tail-end of the decade. The good Captain's utterly original abstract blues, straining as it does at the very confines of rock itself, works up a wild racket from the sands of the Mojave that seems to predict all the best prog and avant rock. As Lydon himself says, What he does with music, he takes it away from the, it has to be this position or that position, he just uses sounds to make the whole thing better, but he's mad, he's great.7

Culture Two Sevens Clash Joe Gibbs

Note: The dub version of I'm Not Ashamed is played — the original can be found here.

Along similar lines, one of the best parts of the show is when Lydon and Vance bond over a mutual love of reggae, with Vance commenting:

I like reggae mainly because, for a long time, I thought it was about the only stream of music in which people were trying to do different things like overdubs, using echoes...

to which Lydon interjects:

They just love sound. They like using any sound, I mean right down to that Culture single: car horns, babies crying. And why not? I mean it's only sound music, isn't it.

Fred Locks Black Star Liners Vulcan

One could write a whole book on Lydon's reggae and dub selections alone. As this handwritten note8 to a PIL fan attests, he clearly had a strong grasp of the form, far beyond any sort of passing, casual affinity... a true connoisseur. His strong, opinionated nature shines through here, as it does in the interview, when he singles out Fred Locks' Walls for praise — highlighting its brilliant sense of paranoia (a Parallax reggae record if there ever was one!) — even if he dismisses the remainder of what I've always held to be a very strong roots record as lame. What gives Johnny?!

Makka Bees Nation Fiddler Congo

Further deep cuts (this time 7" exclusives) — ranging from Vivian Jackson (aka Yabby You) & The Prophets' Fire In A Kingston and Makka Bees' Nation Fiddler — are the order of the day, both of which offer up superb dread-inflected reggae informed by a swirling, almost overwhelmingly atmospheric production that more than vindicates everything Tommy Vance was just saying a couple paragraphs back. Choice material, in other words. Roots reggae doesn't get much better than this...

Ken Boothe Let's Get It On Trojan

On a similar tip, island soul man Ken Boothe gets a look in as well, with his cover version of Syl Johnson's Is It Because I'm Black. Taken from his Let's Get It On LP, which exists in the shadow of his classic Everything I Own set (released the same year). To this day it's never been reissued, in spite of the fact that it originally emerged on reggae powerhouse label Trojan Records. What's up with that? In fact, most of Lydon's selections couldn't get much deeper, and even after four decades of reissues, compilations and anthologies, many of them are still pretty hard to come by.

Peter Tosh Legalize It Columbia

Fortunately, there are a handful of selections that are a bit more straightforwardly available to the uninitiated (although I suspect everything here is available on Youtube/Soulseek nowadays!). Roots radical Peter Tosh — having been one of the Wailers — has what must have been the highest profile of the bunch. Indeed, this record is nearly as easy to find as any given Bob Marley record! They even used to play it on 91x during regular rotation9 (maybe they still do, for all I know). You can't go wrong...

Augustus Pablo King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown Clocktower

On the flipside of the coin is Augustus Pablo's King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, one of the most perfectly atmospheric dub records ever conceived. Another great cinematic moment in the context of the show, with King Tubby's trademark splashing percussion rolling across the mix as the interview rattles on. Dub techniques themselves among the most important musical developments of the last fifty years, filtering through post punk and disco into just about any sound and scene you could mention.

Dr. Alimantado Sons Of Thunder Greensleeves

Similarly, there's no getting around the deejay's eerie prediction of rap, toasting over re-purposed backing tracks the same way hip hop MCs would later rhyme over extended funk jams, rolling samplescapes and hard-hitting drum machine rhythms. Reggae, reggae, reggae! It's essential. Like I was just saying the other day:

My father wrote about this in his book. Chapter 1... Page 1... Paragraph 1: What is the answer to 99 out of 100 questions?... Reggae.10

Deejay iconoclast Dr. Alimantado's Born For A Purpose later turns up on the Sons Of Thunder LP, done up in a discomix style with its dubbed-out b-side Reason For Living tacked onto the end. Dr. Alimantado became a favorite with the punks, in large part thanks to Lydon's endorsement, especially his phenomenal debut album Best Dressed Chicken In Town. Which, in truth, everyone should own... and while you're at it, grab Sons Of Thunder too. This utterly original, and deeply strange music is on par with other absolute essentials like Captain Beefheart, Metal Box and Can.

Can Tago Mago United Artists

That's right, Can! One could guess the krautrock legends would make an appearance here, and the rolling eighteen-minute monster jam Halleluwah stands as the penultimate track of the show (coming in just before Peter Tosh closes out the evening). Interestingly, Fodderstompf notes that it was Sid Vicious who actually tuned Lydon into Can in the first place. The band's wild kraut-funk workouts would later play a crucial role as part of the inspiration behind PIL's storied Metal Box sessions (alongside disco's extended rhythms and the monster basslines of dub).

Bobby Byrd Back From The Dead International Brothers

Speaking of funk, we get to the very last of Lydon's records: Bobby Byrd's nimble funk masterpiece Back From The Dead. The tune actually gets played smack dab in the middle of the show, but I've saved it for last since it's one of the most memorable moments of the evening, when it drops in just after Lydon states:

Just to get these was a real strain, I ain't got a record player at the moment, so I have to pass them around, because music's for listening to, not to store away in a bloody cupboard. Yeah, I love my music.

That's pretty cool... the man speaks the truth! When all is said and done, it's what this site is all about, really. In the same way all this music fed into PIL and post punk — be it the funk, the dub, the rock, or the avant garde — it lives and breathes on even to this very moment, its echoes and repercussions flowing through the years from node to node to node and all the tributaries between.

Perhaps that's why, even after all this time, this interview itself remains so fascinating? It gets to the the heart of how profound music's effect can be, the way you can play something from fifty years ago and it could still manage to sound hotter than the latest thing. Like Lydon said, Just play the records. They'll speak for themselves. That's my idea of fun...

Tim Buckley - Greetings From L.A. The Creation - Life Is Just Beginning David Bowie - Diamond Dogs Augustus Pablo - King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown Gary Glitter - Doing All Right With The Boys
Fred Locks - Black Star Liner Vivian Jackson & The Prophets - Fire In A Kingston Culture - I'm Not Ashamed Dr. Alimantado - Born For A Purpose Bobby Byrd - Back From The Dead Neil Young - On The Beach
Lou Reed - Berlin Kevin Coyne - Marjory Razorblade Peter Hammill - Nadir's Big Chance Peter Hammill - Nadir's Big Chance Makka Bees - Nation Fiddler Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica
Nico - Desertshore Ken Boothe - Let's Get It On John Cale - The Academy In Peril Third Ear Band - Music From Macbeth Can - Tago Mago Peter Tosh - Legalize It
The Johnny Rotten Show: The Records

    The Punk And His Music: The Tracklist

  1. Tim Buckley Sweet Surrender Warner Bros.
  2. The Creation Life Is Just Beginning Polydor
  3. David Bowie Rebel Rebel RCA Victor
  4. Unknown Artist Jig-A-Jig Unknown Label
  5. Augustus Pablo King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown Clocktower
  6. Gary Glitter Doing All Right With The Boys Bell
  7. Fred Locks Walls Vulcan
  8. Vivian Jackson & The Prophets Fire In A Babylon Prophet
  9. Culture I'm Not Ashamed Joe Gibbs
  10. Dr. Alimantado Born For A Purpose Greensleeves
  11. Bobby Byrd Back From The Dead International Brothers
  12. Neil Young Revolution Blues Reprise
  13. Lou Reed Men Of Good Fortune RCA Victor
  14. Kevin Coyne Eastbourne Ladies Virgin
  15. Peter Hammill The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning Charisma
  16. Peter Hammill Nobody's Business Charisma
  17. Makka Bees Nation Fiddler Congo
  18. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band The Blimp Mousetrapreplica Straight
  19. Nico Janitor Of Lunacy Reprise
  20. Ken Boothe Is It Because I'm Black Trojan
  21. John Cale Legs Larry At Television Centre Reprise
  22. Third Ear Band Fleance Harvest
  23. Can Halleluwah United Artists
  24. Peter Tosh Legalize It Columbia



Savage, John. England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, And Beyond. New York: St. Martin's, 1991. 381. Print.


Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up And Start Again. Great Britain: Penguin, 2005. 15-17. Print.






Fodderstompf. John Lydon: Capital Radio, Tommy Vance Show, July 16th 1977. Fodderstompf. F&F Publishing, 30 Sep. 2017. Accessed 2 May. 2019.


Fodderstompf. "It ain't the names that matter, you got to be able to hear them first...". Fodderstompf. F&F Publishing, 30 Aug. 2017. Accessed 2 May. 2010.


As opposed to during the Sunday night Reggae Makossa show.


Actually, Tom Cruise said this as David Ames in the movie Vanilla Sky! Well, if you substitute Money for Reggae, that is...

Public Image Ltd. – Metal Box

Can Ege Bamyasi United Artists

When discussing the basis for the whole Terminal Vibration vision, in laying out its roots at the axis of rhythm and atmosphere, there are any number of notable precursors that immediately spring to mind. If you root around in the shadowy pre-history of the 1970s, you come across obvious rhythmic precursors like the motorik grooves of Neu!, Can's kosmische funk, the atmospheric avant pop of Roxy Music/Brian Eno, and their timely fusion in Bowie's Station To Station and all the Berlin records to come in its wake (see also Iggy Pop).

Miles Davis Dark Magus Columbia

There's also no getting around the blazing atmospheric tension of Miles Davis' monolithic jazz fission side-long monster jams and Don Cherry's proto-fourth world excursions throughout the decade, not to mention the sun-glazed, dusted grooves of War's The World Is A Ghetto and The Isley Brothers' wild, multi-jointed rhythms. Then there's the ghostly studio magic of King Tubby and his skipping, aquatic dubs, or Lee "Scratch" Perry's voodoo-tinged freakouts, both similarly forward-reaching in scope, predicting as they do the dislocated riddimology of post punk, trip hop and beyond.

Public Image Ltd. Metal Box

Virgin 1979

However, if there's one record that (symbolically at least) stands at the portal to the world of Terminal Vibration like the Colossus at Rhodes, setting the tone and the template for everything to follow, it is without a doubt Public Image Ltd.'s mighty Metal Box. This album delivered the most thorough collision of funk, dub and punk up to that point in time, a rough and rugged blueprint for all manner of rude mechanical sound to spring up in the decades to come. Poised at a sort of street-level anti-glamour, it paralleled most of the new forms that would arise from the margins to storm the mainstream in its wake.

Public Image Ltd. pose on a rooftop
Public Image Ltd.

Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Jim Walker and John Lydon

PIL were formed by John Lydon in the fallout of his untimely exit from The Sex Pistols, with splintered guitar prodigy Keith Levene (once of The Clash) and soon-to-be bassist extraordinaire Jah Wobble (who at the point of the band's formation, he hadn't yet played a note!). Notably, the position of drummer was never a permanent one, although Jim Walker seemed to have the largest impact during the band's key early years. Despite Lydon's punk fame as Johnny Rotten, he was determined to reinvent himself as a member among equals (even going so far as to describe PIL as a multimedia corporation): with punk's star frontman, the as-yet unsung guitar prodigy and the brilliant non-musician all on equal footing within the group.

Public Image Ltd. Public Image Virgin

The idea was to match the social rebellion of The Sex Pistols with an equally extreme sonic attack, this time tearing up rock's rulebook in the process. Their first, eponymous record washed away the ragged sound of punk with one great wave of sleek and minimalist futurism, its cascades of ringing guitar serving up one of new wave's great warning shots (The Edge was certainly paying attention) even as it was informed by a dubby bottom end (post punk's m.o. in chrysalis). And despite its place as one of punk's definitive voices, Lydon's wail possibly sounded even more at home in this cold new environment.

Public Image Ltd. First Issue Virgin

The landmark Public Image culminated in the band's debut album First Issue, which found them done up like fashion models in a tongue-in-cheek manner, with all but Walker decked out in suits in a curious parallel to Kraftwerk's tailored, machine-like perfection. The sounds within more than lived up to the image, with the sleek post punk attack of Public Image and Low Life offset by the doom-laden stomp of Theme and the icy dubbed-out, discomix tundras of the closing Fodderstompf. The latter two tracks in particular offered up twin portraits of the sound that would become post punk, pointing the way forward for the group's landmark second album.

Inset from PIL's debut, First Issue, featuring a glammed-up Jah Wobble on the cover of PIME magazine!
That Jah Wobble's a handsome chap...

Inspired by their twin obsessions with krautrock and Jamaican dub, the band descended further into the shadowy realm of the studio with the stated goal of working up a sound unlike anything else around. Needless to say, magic was wrought from the whole affair, and the resulting tapes from these sessions more than lived up to such a lofty target. Such unique music demanded a singular presentation, and the album was slated (in its original form) to be released as a trio of 12" singles housed in a metal film canister emblazoned with the PIL logo. This concept served as both the source of its title as well as a thorough deconstruction of the album-as-statement, encouraging the listener to play the sides in whichever order they chose.

Public Image Ltd. Second Edition Virgin

After its initial run, the album was reissued as Second Edition in the standard double-LP format, which is actually how I (and I suspect many of us in the States) first heard it. Its sleeve featured a black-and-white photo of the band's faces warped and melting into one another, nearly as appropriate a visual representation of the sounds contained within as the original metal slab had been. It prefigures the look of whole swathes of records to come out of the industrial scene (for instance) in the decade to come. Indeed, in 1989 it would have fit right in. But in 1980, the whole thing just looks like trouble...

An albatross looms in the sky
Getting rid of the albatross...

In the Second Edition version of the record, Albatross opens the album (after all, Metal Box opens wherever it wants to), its ten-ton bassline coming on like a dark sequel to Fodderstompf in 3D. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner might be the first thing that springs to mind, and indeed the tune matches the pervasive sense of dread running through Coleridge's epic poem, but writers have interpreted the track as an echo of Lydon's wish to distance himself from punk and The Pistols. With lyrics like getting rid of the albatross and sowing the seeds of discontent, it's pretty hard to argue. His warped muezzin wail makes perfect sense in this context, with Levene raining shards of splintered guitar noise across the top of Wobble's immortal bassline and the drums stomping beneath in doomed slow-motion for a solid ten-minutes.

Basic Channel Quadrant Dub Basic Channel

Careering burns at a similarly glacial pace, the subterranean strains of its slow-motion groove and haunting bassline adding a spectral caste to the proceedings. Rising and falling in pitch like dread-laden steam in some cold-blooded thriller, the unspooling synths create an incredible compression of atmosphere around this nightmare discomix showcase. It's as close to the idea of a flesh-and-blood band attempting to predict the sound of Basic Channel's dubbed-out, skeletal techno (well over a decade before the fact) as one could get (and of course BC had a metal box of their own. The nagging vocal refrain from Lydon (is this really living?) is just the icing on the cake. All things considered, it's probably my favorite tune on the record.

Jah Wobble

It's tempting to have Metal Box down as a Wobble showcase, with his massive bass sound triumphantly anchoring the whole record as it does. Sure enough, he's a household icon around these parts), and obviously the band were never the same after he left. Still, that does nothing to diminish the crucial role that the rest of the band play. Subtract Lydon and it just wouldn't be the same at all — his piercing wail imbues everything with a haunting, ear-shredding immediacy — while Levene's great sheets of sound (in both guitar and synth form) provide the all-pervasive sense of dread atmosphere that defines the record. When the trio's inimitable contributions all interlock over the rugged drumming (which is rarely mentioned in discussions of this record, but is crucial), the results truly do sound unlike anything else around.

The Gun Club Miami Animal

Announcing itself with a fragment of kosmische synth sound, Graveyard pulls into focus on a rolling baleful groove, appropriately enough registering the album at its most strikingly spectral. With Levene's jagged guitar shapes obliquely recalling Link Wray, this instrumental is a down-tuned Desperado mirage. Squint and you can just barely hear the faintest hint of The Gun Club's haunted, atmospheric rockabilly circa Miami. It's an almost undisclosed secret for such a notoriously anti-rock record, but there it is, hiding in the spaces between the spaces, and further pointing toward the album's inscrutably contrarian nature.

Public Image Ltd. The Flowers Of Romance Virgin

A similarly rock moment turns up in Poptones, which clocks in at nearly eight minutes (aside from Albatross, it's the longest track here). Levene's speaker-shredding guitar showers down over a start-stop beat driven by Wobble's dub-tastic basslines wandering up and down the fretboard. More than anything else here it points the way forward to the hollowed-out sonic pile-ups on PIL's third album, The Flowers Of Romance. You hear a song like Poptones and Kurt Cobain's love of the band makes perfect sense (in fact, The Flowers Of Romance cropped up in a list of his favorite albums). Indeed, when viewed through a lens of abstraction, its not hard to sense to roots of alternative and grunge in there somewhere.

The Sex Pistols Submission Virgin

Chant, in contrast, calls back to punk rock in a rather abstract way, featuring Lydon railing over the top of a scrawling blast of atonal noise just as he might have during the Sex Pistols days. But then there's the maddening repetition of someone chanting love war fear hate in the background throughout, raising the spectre of process music and post punk's lingering abstraction. It's just another measure of this record's striking variance, which in its own way seems to cover as much ground as The White Album, even if most of its forms hadn't even existed back when The Beatles were doing their thing.

Funkadelic The Electric Spanking Of War Babies Warner Bros.

As much as Metal Box is a deconstruction of the album-as-statement, certain corners of this record seem to deconstruct the band's very sound. The Suit is one such track, with Lydon intoning in relative monotone over a simple time-keeping backbeat and another one of Wobble's great throbbing chunks of bottom-end. It's this aspect of the record that often makes me think of it in the same breath as Funkadelic's The Electric Spanking Of War Babies. Where the War Babies found Funkadelic stripping their band's sound down to its constituent parts and rebuilding it like a composite street racer, Metal Box finds PIL melting their sound down to its base molten form and throwing magnetic shapes around the room.

Suburban Knight The Art Of Stalking Transmat

Bad Baby is another such track, with its bass/drum locked groove rolling away as Levene opts to contribute desolate synth lines rather than his usual sheets of guitar noise, leaving Wobble's bottom end to carry the melody. Lydon's offhand vocals — which split the difference between carefree and dejected — are some of the record's most memorable. The instrumental Socialist plays like a dub version of a punk tune, guitars shunted to the side and Wobble's bass taking up the lead. Its striking compression captures a sense of pure claustrophobia and dread, as Levene unfurls squelching synths like strangled mechanical voices over the subdued madness. In both cases, my mind flashes immediately to the angular menace of Suburban Knight's The Art Of Stalking.

U2 War Island

At first, No Birds takes a similar tack, with Lydon's offhand vocals and another adamant bassline from Wobble rolling out beneath. However, it quickly becomes the closest thing here to First Issue, with Levene's guitars sound like the blueprint for The Edge's sound circa U2's Boy/October/War trilogy. I'm especially reminded of tunes like I Threw A Brick Through A Window and The Refugee, both of which happened to take a particularly minimalist, rhythmic angle on the band's usually widescreen sound. This all in keeping with the PIL influence, which brought such stark, uncompromising rhythms to the post punk party in the first place.

Public Image Ltd. Death Disco Virgin

Nowhere is this more evident than Swan Lake, which in its original version was released as the Death Disco. Death Disco was the founder of the feast, so to speak, laying the groundwork for the mutant disco rhythms of Metal Box even as it wired it all up to a spluttering, punky spirit. Levene's spidery guitar lines quote liberally from Tchaikovsky's ballet of the same name (hence the track's retitling to Swan Lake here), while Lydon wails into the cold, bleak night (see it in your eyes) and Wobble's throbbing dub basslines stalk beneath, occasionally rolling up into a mini-disco bridge. As such, Swan Lake/Death Disco is the record's most realized fusion of disco, dub and punk, and remains its undeniable centerpiece.

Public Image Ltd. Memories Virgin

However, for my money the preceding Memories rivals it. With an even faster attack (this time approaching techno velocity), it features Levene running through another one of his Desperado-esque guitar figure over a ramshackle disco pulse. The spectre of Link Wray hangs over the proceedings once again, as does James Pennington. The use of compression here just line any number of Suburban Knight 12"s, especially at 1.5 minutes in when the center of gravity shifts to a bass-heavy throb and Lydon wails over the top like a madman. This punk-tinged mutant disco vision just might have had PIL's most far-reaching impact on the music to come in its wake.

Jah Wobble Invaders Of The Heart Lago

The figure who chased down this aspect of the group's sound most thoroughly was without a doubt Wobble, who unfurled similar death disco-tinged rhythmic madness over the course of records like Betrayal, Full Circle, Snake Charmer and Invaders Of The Heart. These records may not have had the same sense of profound danger as Metal Box, but they maintained the overwhelming sense of atmosphere and even added a distinctly fourth world flair to the proceedings.

Jah Wobble The Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble In "Betrayal" Virgin

However, it was Wobble's debut album he Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble In "Betrayal" that wound up getting him kicked out of the band (the rest of the band objected to his use of some PIL backing tracks on the record). And yet it was Lydon and Levene who had positioned the band as a multimedia corporation that would put out everything from records to soundtracks, films and even musical equipment. One certainly imagines that spooling out killer tangent records from session cutouts would fit the bill, with the promise of side-projects echoing those of George Clinton's P-Funk organization and Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark empire in the 1970s. Ironically, in the end it was Wobble (who was always the most skeptical of the band pitching itself as a corporation in the first place) who offered the most follow-through on the initial premise!

The Clash Sandinista! CBS

It's a shame that Lydon and Levene kicked him out for using those backing tapes, especially considering their case of writer's block that would come just months later (the sessions for The Flowers Of Romance were fraught with complications). All of this in stark contrast to Wobble's restless flurry of creativity, working with everyone from Can's Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit to The Edge (of U2) and disco master-producer François Kevorkian. One could imagine the group powering through the 1980s with Wobble still in tow, generating loads of source material and spooling it all out into worlds in their own right just Can had the 1970s. At any rate, one wonders what a PIL Sandinista! might have been like...

The Prodigy The Prodigy Experience XL

Radio 4 ends the whole trip on a gentle breeze of Satie-esque ambience, shades of some celestial carousel and Lynch's lady in the radiator. The synth melody is just dislocated enough, in the surreal sense of disorientation one feels in a dream, that the melodic wandering of Wobble's bassline beneath it all carries an entire counterpoint melody and takes center stage. There's an interesting glimpse here (in spirit, at least) of Wobble's later collaboration with Brian Eno (Spinner), and I'm often reminded of the sickly-sweet synths in The Prodigy's Weather Experience.

Post punk icons

It's the perfect signing off moment for an album that fuses kosmische funk with dub and punk in such a way that sounds utterly unlike any of its inspirations. Metal Box represents the sound of a whole new music, dreamt up alongside similarly trailblazing figures like The Pop Group, The Slits and Gang Of Four. Still, nobody did it with PIL's sense of gravity and ambience. In retrospect, they were the beating heart at the center of it all.

This heavy atmospheric music (more often than not wired-up for the dancefloor) is true out come the freaks music, and as such it's close to the Parallax heart. In turn, it's also the cornerstone to everything discussed in the Terminal Vibration trip, not only as a prime influence but also something of a decoder ring to the whole affair. Get Second Edition and absorb it... really get it, and you'll be ready for anything the Terminal Vibration 100 will throw at you 40-some days from now.

Slow Burn

Flammable Material

Summer 1987. The splash of the swimming pool echoes on the edge of earshot in my cousin's room out in Carolina, gear stacked against the wall and freestyle riddims in full force in the twilight. The TR-808 kicks into gear, beats roll and bass bumping and an errant keyboard sequence dazzles across the top in slow-motion. Strange shades of Smith & Mighty Walk On.../Any Love just moments before the fact, rugged beats cut through the palms dancing in the evening breeze over Caribbean waters and way out east into the Atlantic waves against the shore.

The Orb Remix Project Auntie Aubrey's Excursions Beyond The Call Of Duty Ultra

The slow-burning grooves of Barely Breaking Even creep down across the Parallax Pier, over crystal clear waters and hazy visions cooked up in the kitchen (swimming in flavors succulent salty-sweet). A wood-paneled TV sits in the corner, beaming in black-and-white imagery from the past and then fast-forward to the future, networks all in place and linked up in sync with the rhythm. Deconstructed breakbeats and the Space Centre Medical Unit Hum of rustic air-conditioned ventilation, Not For Threes on 747 flight home and There’s More To Life Than This (Björk's Debut as a trip hop record) and Auntie Aubrey's Excursions Beyond The Call Of Duty swinging in from 1980s jewel of the Caribbean vibes against the dawning 21st century blues... once they tore a kid to pieces and then he awoke one day a broken man.

Bobby Konders A Lost Era In NYC 1987-1992 International Deejay Gigolo

We Who Are Not As Others up among the tall buildings and then out into the suburban sprawl where everyone knows your name but no one knows you, small solace comes within the confines of the machine and pyramids and palms and technicolor 2600 dreams (these dreams are my color scheme). Big Rooms filled with big rigs and big speakers bump big music in the glistening mist, the pump of pure bass out the bins and the crisp crack of the snare, hi-hats sizzling and shakers tickling the eardrums, congas tapping away on the inside of your head. A Rub A Dub Stylee in a kidney-shaped pool, Bobby Konders' Rydims/Cutting Records/Todd Terry/WordSound/Massive Sounds/Clocktower, it's a New York-style ting.

Photek Solaris Science

Out in the northern rooms, ASCII characters rush up and down the screen and across these city streets, rebuild your world on wheels, cycles and skates and boards and cars in the moonlight, Alleys Of Your Mind and Grantville corridors. The Baby Namboos and slowed-down Apache breaks, the cool blue of Solaris all half-lit in moody neon. Strange venues hidden in the shadows, electronic shops and trip hop bars all linked up on a grid in walking animation colors with a grimy mix of tropical and dusty, downbeat island boogie let's melt together in the night...

Excerpt from The Coqui Papers

Terminal Vibration: The Concept

The message likely lost in translation (it's a 21st century overload thang).
11010100101001FUTURE SHOCK IN FULL EFFECT10010100101011

At this point, it’s about time to wrap up the whole Terminal Vibration saga into a neat little package with a bow on top. In answering the initial question, where does post punk intersect with machine funk, the obvious response drifted quite naturally toward a region that's always fascinated me: the proto-Earthbeat global overload rhythmic mash-up of new wave, hip hop, dance and My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts-style fourth world madness that would ultimately give us modern music as-we-know-it, exploding in the 1990s and cascading right up to the present (we’re still riding that wave).

Brian Eno/David Byrne My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts Sire

When you really break it down, the whole shebang was catalyzed as post-disco/dub reggae innovations washed up against the shores of pop culture and then filtered back out into the hyper-localized scenius of the global underground (usually hate that term, but so apt in this case). Paired with the rush-of-the-new inherent in the sudden availability of cheap technology and burgeoning cyberpunk/future shock aesthetics, the inevitability of fast-paced innovation at the margins seeping into the media glare of the mainstream became inescapable. It was but a short leap from Spoonie Gee to Tupac Shakur, from Model 500 to The Prodigy.

Spoonie Gee Spoonie Rap Harlem Place

With the rapid ascent of these at-first hyper-localized sounds into the pop consciousness, there was an unshakable frisson in such tactile music storming the charts from deep in the depths of the cutting edge. Suddenly, it was possible to dream up the future in some makeshift studio, be it Lee Perry at the Black Ark, Cabaret Voltaire’s Attic Tapes or even Moodymann’s bedroom symphonies. There’s a reason why the rugged sounds of a Cabaret Voltaire always seemed a much better fit with the gutter tech of Neuromancer than the shiny, pristine surfaces of long-fade EDM.

Cabaret Voltaire Red Mecca Rough Trade

There's an undeniably physical sense of space that tethers it all to the imagery of Zion and Chiba City, even as its reality is augmented by the more cerebral, dislocated sounds within The Matrix itself (this is where The Black Dog or Aphex Twin — who was at one time actually attached to the project — would excel). In this great mash-up of styles existing at the interface of rugged atmosphere and rhythm — rap/electro/post punk/boogie/trip hop/techno/house — all new forms would get warped and twisted into shape accordingly, oftentimes cross-pollinating with each other in the process.

The Black Dog Virtual Black Dog Productions

I’m still ironing out the contours of the grand finale Terminal Vibration 100, but suffice it to say that it looks an awful lot like the blueprint for the future... 21st century music dreamed up years before the fact. As such, it mirrors the way the preceding 1970s took the raw materials of the 1960s flame out and hammered them into the forms that would come to define the era's new music: disco, hard rock/metal, reggae/dub, funk/progressive soul, kosmische/electronica and punk/new wave. The eighties just came along and boiled it all down to its essence, yoking it all to a post-disco beat, and then waited for the inevitable explosion.

Miles Davis Dark Magus Columbia

So at its core, the Terminal Vibration concept embodies heavy rhythmic music with a strong sense of atmosphere — often evocative of a particular place in time, and moody to a fault — with a definite sense of rugged futurism spliced into its DNA. In a strange sense, it seems seems to render the whole sonic terrain future proof (against all odds) in retrospect, no matter how things continue to develop and individual aspects might date. Think Nuggets, roots reggae and jazz fission, all undeniably tied to distinctly period signifiers, and yet by now all timeless in equal measure.

Can Tago Mago United Artists

PIL's Metal Box, Can's Tago Mago, Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear: records such as these have not been bettered on their own terms, even as they set blueprints in place for thousands of artists to follow, imitate and elaborate in the intervening years. In the same way you can watch 2001 in 2019, nearly 30 years after its depicted future (let alone fifty years after its real-world premiere) and only say damn... in amazement, it's a rush to take it all in. And then maybe try your hand at topping it, or swooping in from another angle that the innovators would never have dreamed of. After all, that's what they did. That's the future...

Rugged Sounds

Tricky in the grime of the city on a Saturday night in the lunar light
Sons Of The Subway Walk Under A Full Moon's Light

// All these rugged sounds in discordant harmony, swirling like shadows in your mind, extraterrestrial raggabeats/trip hop broken down/post punk noise/machine soul riddims, The Dust Brothers/Black Grape vision and rock 'n roll in full effect — Captain Beyond and the MC5 and The Stooges and Blue Cheer — Paul's Boutique from a dub on the "Scratch"/Tubby/Bunny Lee tip and Cabaret Voltaire to Adrian Sherwood to Mad Professor on to Zion My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts Tackhead and techno's ramshackle symphonies in the night, 69 inna Black Odyssey style and acid dreams dripping down long neglected Chicago corridors, Da Tunnelz and Hashim lost inna Haunted Dancehall haze, In A Magenta Haze, a Purple Haze... after all, it's a Terminal Vibration fing. ***

Terminal Vibration: On A Ragga Trip

Rastaman runs through a pile of records
Baaaaaaabylooooon faaaaaaaalllllllll!

Like the Island Disco bonus round, here's another brace of records that fell through the cracks in the Terminal Vibration schema. In truth, they probably wouldn't have if Chapter One hadn't been a placeholder. This might have found a spot between the Imperial Slates chapter — which this bonus round runs perpendicular to — and the Edge Of No Control chapter (even if those chapters already flowed rather naturally from one to the other). At any rate, it makes sense to cover it as we draw near to the final feature, due to its profound shaping influence on the sounds contained therein.

The focus here is reggae, specifically its routes into dub, dancehall and trip hop as the decade unwinds. With central concepts like versioning and dubs making their way into the mainstream via their adoption by the twin worlds of post punk and disco, at the dawn of the 1980s the sound was poised to reshape pop music to a startling degree. By the end of the decade, dubs and remix versions would become commonplace, spitfire rapping (itself in part derived from deejay reggae records) was everywhere and reggae/dub/dancehall was living large in a ragga style. What follows is some general riffing on a brace of these records, lying at the interface of ragga and the body pop...

Various Artists Babylon: The Original Soundtrack Island

This soundtrack is the perfect way to kick things off tonight. Babylon was something of a conceptual answer to The Harder They Come, replacing the crisp, peak-era reggae of Jimmy Cliff and The Maytals with a darker, smoked-out sound that made more sense in the era of post punk as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s. Crucially, this features cuts by British reggae artists like Aswad and Dennis Bovell, further bolstering its overcast atmosphere. Bovell , who'd had a storied career already as a member of U.K. reggae group Matumbi (not to mention productions for everyone from The Slits to Ryuichi Sakamoto), provides a closing suite of three moody instrumentals (the CD reissue includes seven more cuts in addition) that'll leave you wanting a Bovell full-length to get lost in.

Blackbeard I Wah Dub More Cut

I Wah Dub is that record. Recording under the name Blackbeard, Bovell goes even further into left field this time and turns in a selection of killer dub shot-through with deep space atmosphere. This exists in parallel with Scientist's beloved dub records of the era, like Scientist Wins The World Cup and Scientist Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires, which expanded on the seminal work of foundational artists like King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry.

Creation Rebel Starship Africa Hitrun

Further deep space endeavors, this also illustrates the importance of British reggae in the form's next chapter. Starship Africa represents super-producer Adrian Sherwood's desire to cut a deeply psychedelic dub record with Creation Rebel, mainstays on his On-U Sound imprint. The tracklist is split between two suites (one to a side), the titular Starship Africa and Space Movement, belying a self-consciously proggy vision of dub that connects back to earlier forays like the Vulcans' Star Trek and Colonel Elliott And The Lunatics' Interstellar Reggae Drive.

Johnny Osbourne Nightfall Greensleeves

On an interesting side note, thanks in part no doubt to the oftentimes apocalyptic themes tackled on the reggae of the era, there's a subset of records that have almost heavy metal imagery in their sleeves. Exhibit A is Johnny Osbourne's Nightfall, which was famously sampled by More Rockers' Night Fall (which I mention because it's a sample that I searched out obsessively back in the day). Even more so than dub, roots reggae of the decade flows quite logically from that of the late 1970s.

Aswad A New Chapter Of Dub Mango

With similarly metal-worthy imagery of Haile Selassie driving a chariot pulled by lions, Aswad's A New Chapter Of Dub is a spaced-out, deeply psychedelic re-imagining of their fourth album A New Chapter. This entirely instrumental outing by the British reggae band adds a hefty dose of crazy electronic madness to the mix in the sort of record that epitomizes the vast new horizons that dub music offered at the dawn of the 1980s (and beyond, truth be told).

Toyan How The West Was Won Greensleeves

Just as there was an almost imperceptible shift at the turn of the decade as dub was codified into a genre in its own right, the deejay records that had been filtering in throughout the 1970s — records like Big Youth's Dread Locks Dread and Dillinger's CB 200 — reached a critical mass. The sound tightened up, as evidenced by Toyan's killer debut. He was practically the next generation to come up after the original deejays that cut records, and if you squint you can just make out the silhouette of dancehall's eventual rise a couple years later.

The Lone Ranger M-16 Channel One

A record like The Lone Ranger's M-16 is — on the face of it — largely a continuation of the original deejay records, such as his own debut The Other Side Of Dub (from 1977), but in those tuffer, more compact riddims, you can (once again) sense the shape of things to come. It's interesting to consider that roots reggae's twin offshoots — dub and deejay — would turn out to have a bigger impact than just about any other music over the last quarter of the 20st century, with the twin forces of rap and remixology picking up where they left off to drastically reshape the popular musical landscape.

Horace Andy Dance Hall Style Wackie's

One of my absolute favorite records of the decade uses dub methodology in what amounts to six discomix versions, with the original tune followed seamlessly by its x-ray dub. The result is a record dripping with atmosphere, in which Andy's signature falsetto is cut adrift amidst the lonely alleyways of Kingston. The first clue is the stark black-and-white sleeve, which looks exactly how this record sounds in Pi monochrome. With the spectre of paranoia hanging over the whole affair in such a way that recalls The Parallax View, this also sows the seeds for trip hop's shadowy forays nearly a decade later.

Snuky Tate Babylon Under Pressure Animal

With respect to trip hop, this record is interesting not just for its towering Light My Fire cover version (predating the radical Massive Attack reinvention by over a decade), but the way it signals a global vision of reggae. Aside from the U.K. (diaspora in effect), Jamaica had been nearly the sole source for reggae before the 1980s, when suddenly records began to creep in from all over: South Africa, Germany, the greater Caribbean, and in the case of former post-punker Snuky Tate, the United States. Much as in the case of hip hop, dubwise sounds captured the world's imagination for years to come, right up to the present day.

Gregory Isaacs Night Nurse Island

Conversely, Gregory Isaacs' records of the day represent the flipside of the coin, wherein the sweet soul of lovers rock melts into the crisp production techniques of the 1980s to offer up a vision of reggae that would serve as a blueprint for glistening pop-reggae confections for decades to come. Night Nurse even features ace backing from the Compass Point All Stars, who also backed Grace Jones and Gwen Guthrie around the same time. The blissful Cool Down The Pace — in any of its myriad versions — is the sound of Club Paradise going off in a placid tropical lagoon at sunset.

John Holt Police In Helicopter Greensleeves

John Holt — reggae's original loverman — goes roots on the title track, with a radical reinvention that finds him following in the footsteps of Peter Tosh and repping the rastaman's herb of choice. Police In Helicopter is firmly in the remit of Terminal Vibration, with a rugged, cinematic sound miles away from earlier records like 1000 Volts Of Holt and The Paragons. Still, the remainder of the record focuses on Holt's softer side, so there's a little bit for everyone here.

Derrick Harriott Whip It Hawkeye

It's a tough call which of tonight's records is thee most Terminal Vibration, but this would certainly be in the top three or so (along with Horace Andy's Dance Hall Style). Whip It is a nifty remake of the Dazz Band's epochal electro boogie monster jam Let It Whip, but the flipside is where the real magic happens. Dub Whip is a skeletal revamp of the tune that floats spectral fragments of the Harriott's original over a brilliantly squelching synth bassline.

Yellowman Zungguzungguguzungguzeng! Greensleeves

Shading into dancehall proper here. Indeed, Yellowman might be the form's first star (shoot me down, I'm pretty far from an expert)? Zungguzungguguzungguzeng is certainly a crucial early tune to come out of the genre, featuring the man's non-stop top-of-the-dome toasting over a bass-heavy downbeat groove, all of which is colored by a quicksilver guitar figure and shades of echo-chambered brass. You can just tell a whole new thing is taking shape here. Also worth a look-in is the prior year's Mister Yellowman, this record's equal and the home of the brilliant Lost Mi Love (which, in a roundabout way, turns up in Terranova's DJ-Kicks). Needless to say, the vibes are once again terminal...

Various Artists Original Stalag 17-18 And 19 Techniques

Tenor Saw's Ring The Alarm is similarly crucial, possibly even more so, putting dancehall's evergreen stalag riddim into the popular consciousness. Even queen of mediocrity Beyoncé covered it! The Original Stalag 17-18 And 19 compilation — complete with brilliant Limonious sleeve art — showcases ten different takes on the riddim, including Little Kirk's What's Love Got To Do and Lloyd Hemmings's Ragamuffin Soldier. I met Lloyd Hemmings once, at Trade Roots Reggae. He was cool, even signing my copy of Thirteen Months In Zion!

Tenor Saw Fever Sprint

Getting more electronic by the moment now, Tenor Saw's Fever is — for me, at least — the tipping point into dancehall-as-we-know-it. Drum machines, fat basslines and gloriously technicolor synths are the order of the day. It's but a small step from here to Sleng Teng and Computerised Dub. This is one of those albums that everyone should own (at the very least anyone with a passing interest in Jamaican music), it's something like the Raising Hell of dancehall, a line in the sand smack in the middle of the decade.

Tenor Saw's liquid singjay vocal tone was undeniably something quite special, setting the template for a sound that would be endlessly imitated in the years to come. Out there in the digital glare of 1985, he was doubtlessly poised for a long and fruitful career as one of dancehall's leading lights. Tragically, his body was found at the side of the road outside Houston, Texas three years later, presumably the victim of a hit and run driver. He was 21.

Barrington Levy Here I Come Time 1

Fortunately, the great Barrington Levy did get to have a long and winding career. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with jungle and trip hop has most likely already heard his rich, piercing vocals, while dancehall fiends could pick it out in a line up even if they were blindfolded and wearing earplugs. Pay attention now: the title track is one of the greatest singles of all time. No joke, it should be played on the radio as often as Thriller. Like Police In Helicopter, it sports a resolutely cinematic sound, this time in the circuit-driven context of digital dancehall.

Wayne Smith Sleng Teng Greensleeves

The watershed moment in digital dancehall was Wayne Smith's Under Me Sleng Teng, which was produced by the great Prince Jammy. Has anyone rocked a Casio this hard?! Widely sampled and imitated, by everyone from SL2, Roni Size (as Firefox), and even Sublime! I have a Jammy compilation that comes complete with bonus disc featuring a documentary about the man, which includes great footage of Sleng Teng sweeping the Jamaican music awards (along with interview footage with Wayne Smith himself).

Prince Jammy Computerised Dub Sleng Teng

Jammy's companion piece to the Sleng Teng album is the awesome Computerised Dub, a record that — for a dyed-in-the-wool techno head — is almost too good to be true. There's no way these lightly-dubbed rhythm traxx, renamed with computer-era terminology sans vocals, should be so endlessly engaging! Tunes like 32 Bit Chip, Auto Rhythm and Wafer Scale Integration are the equal of anything from Kraftwerk to The Egyptian Lover, LFO, Yellow Magic Orchestra and even Detroit techno (gasp... oh no he didn't!).

Various Artists Firehouse Revolution: King Tubby's Productions In The Digital Era 1985-89 Pressure Sounds

Much like hip hop (again), the parameters of digital dancehall rewrote the rulebook of reggae, with old guard artists often adopting its contours and reshaping their sound for the new era. Take this compilation, which like the title says rounds up a selections of King Tubby's productions from the digital era. These crisp computer rhythms have far more in common with the productions of his young protégé Prince Jammy than rootsy slates like Dub From The Roots and King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown. Time marches on...

Pato Banton Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton Ariwa

If there's a back catalog that one could spend the rest of their lives exploring, Mad Professor's Ariwa setup would provide plenty of terrain to cover. With over seven-hundred releases in circulation, there's whole worlds in there. I wish I had more of the things. Everything I do own is superb. This record features British deejay Pato Banton waxing esoteric over futuristic dubwise production, culminating in the utterly absorbing moonwalk that is My Opinion.

African Head Charge Off The Beaten Track On-U Sound

I often think of Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound imprint in the same breath as Ariwa. Both catalogs are similarly deep and varied, inspiring both awe and intimidation (where does one even start?!). Like Creation Rebel's Starship Africa, the African Head Charge records go some way to showcasing how far out into pure head music the label could get. Fusing abrasive post-post punk beats with heavy dub and tribal percussion, these frigid, towering beats could soundtrack any number of William Gibson stories (if the movies ever get made!).

Colourbox Baby I Love You So 4AD

Even if it did come out on 4AD (home of the Cocteau Twins and the Pixies), this ace Colourbox 12" is cut from the same cloth as Adrian Sherwood's wild On-U Sound adventures. The a-side is a cover of Jacob Miller's Augustus Pablo-produced smash Baby I Love You So, while the flip features the monster discomix-cum-spaghetti western groove of Looks Like We're Shy One Horse/Shoot Out. The secret square root of trip hop, buried in the dying embers of post punk.

Aisha High Priestess Ariwa

More Ariwa, this is also strikingly forward-looking, with crisp machine rhythms that always make me flash on both Mtume's Juicy Fruit (the album) and Timbaland's syncopated r&b. The production here is perfect. Aisha herself is compelling, with mystical themes coming on like the split of Erykah Badu and Susan Cadogan. Famously, the wordless vocal refrain from The Creator was later the source of the hook in The Orb's epochal ambient house talisman Blue Room.

Lee "Scratch" Perry + Dub Syndicate Time Boom X De Devil Dead On-U Sound

We caught a glimpse of King Tubby in the 1980s, and now its time to take a look into what the great Lee "Scratch" Perry was up to. Backed by On-U Sound's Dub Syndicate, Scratch turns in one of his finest records with both feet planted firmly in Terminal Vibration territory. This is directly descended from storied Upsetter records like Super Ape and City Too Hot, with all the implied madness that entails.

Gregory Isaacs Rumours Greensleeves

Gregory Isaacs pulls a Police In Helicopter of his own, with an outspoken political attack (decrying rumours of war) over a knife-edged dancehall riddim. What you hear between the lines in that swinging beat and decomposed orchestra stabs is the sound of the 90s writ large on loud Greensleeves wax two years ahead of schedule. I'm talking about ragga, the place where dancehall and rap meet up to rumble. You play this back to back with Guy and Tony! Toni! Toné! (who had ragga fixations of their own) and everything makes sense.

Chaka Demus vs. Shabba Ranks Rough & Rugged Jammy's

If there was one figure who embodied dancehall in the popular consciousness at the time, it was Shabba Ranks. He was arguably ragga's first global superstar, prefiguring the likes of Sean Paul and Elephant Man, crossing over with contemporary rap audiences of the day. Ruff & Rugged (which was reissued the following year, first under the name Ruff And Tuff and then Two Tough, both times with new sleeve art) predates all of that, offering up that dancehall mainstay — the head to head split LP — with the young Chaka Demus (just before his fruitful partnership with Pliers had begun).

Shelly Thunder Fresh Out The Pack Mango

The lines get increasingly blurry as the 90s draw closer, illustrated here by Shelly Thunder's Fresh Out The Pack. The opening My Name Is Shelly is driven by a hip hop beat that wouldn't sound out of place on an Eric B. & Rakim record, while Working Girl seems to follow Neneh Cherry's lead even as Dangerous delves confidently into swingbeat rhythms. Further complicating matters is a healthy dose of bread-and-butter, prototypical dancehall numbers like Defence and Kuff '89, rounding this out as a prime snapshot of a very particular moment (1989-1990) in time.

Junior Reid One Blood J.R.

If there's a turning point one might single out (or at least one that I'd point to!), Junior Reid's One Blood certainly fits the bill. With its crisp dancehall riddims shuffling dynamically beneath deep sub-bass, spectral dubwise sonix and Reid's soaring vocals (One blood, one blood, one blooooood!), the beat seems to deconstruct and rebuild itself right before your eyes as heavy slow-motion breaks drop in and out of the mix. That's the 90s right there, and whole squadrons of producers spent the decade recreating those same dynamics.

London Posse Gangster Chronicle Mango

British rap crews like Demon Boyz and London Posse had a natural proximity to soundsystem culture both sonically and geographically, thanks to realities of the Jamaican diaspora in England. Posse ringleader Rodney P flips freely between cockney rhymes and ragga patois over the course of the superb Gangster Chronicle, one of the original stone tablets of U.K. hip hop. I suspect these rugged breakbeat symphonies would appeal to fans of The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better and Mekon's Welcome To Tackletown about equally, hinting at the wonderfully polymorphous nature of the era's mad stylistic breakbeat pile-up.

The Sindecut Changing The Scenery Virgin

The Sindecut's mash-up vision of hip hop, r&b and reggae flies quite a bit closer to club culture than London Posse's grimy street portraits, with a surfeit of smiley culture post-Second Summer Of Love vibes running right through its breakbeat-driven uptempo dancefloor grooves. Still, there's a fair bit of ragga chat to be found here. Part of the reason the distinctly British hip hop of The Sindecut, London Posse and Hijack appeals to me is the way it refracts New York's rugged musical export through the prism of soundsystem culture, with all the intensely localized trappings that entails (shades of grime, long before the fact).

Soul II Soul Volume IV The Classic Singles 88-93 10

Much as was the case with fellow travelers trip hop and jungle, its a sound that likely couldn't have happened outside the parameters of a very particular time and place. In fact, one day I broke down and started filing all of these records within the trip hop wing of my record collection again. To my mind, trip hop takes in all manner of things from the avant-breakbeat chansons of Nicolette and Terranova's post punk-damaged racket to the Bristol blues of Smith & Mighty and prototypical Mo Wax/Ninja Tune-style downbeat. The warped abstract hip hop of the WordSound imprint is also in with a silver bullet, alongside r&b-adjacent figures like Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul, and ALL the British rap up to (but excluding) grime (which true to form gets a section of its own).

Definition Of Sound Love And Life: A Journey With The Chameleons Circa

Definition Of Sound's kaleidoscopic debut embodies just how blurry the lines can get, and was sort of the deciding factor in going through with the move in the first place. Coming on like a more low-slung rumination The Sindecut's club-tinged hip hop, it veers wildly between uptempo club numbers, breakbeat rap and dub-inflected downbeat with a heavy bottom end. It's sound evidence of the porous boundaries between the various sounds and scenes — all fevering away at the edges of soundsystem culture in their own distinct ways — at this point in time.

Bobby Konders "All The Massive Hits" In A Rub A Dub Stylee Nu Groove

Equally emblematic (if not even more so) of ragga's all-encompassing nature at the turn of the decade is this compilation of prime Bobby Konders material, New York club music that straddles the line between ragga and deep house with apparent ease (these records came out on NY house stronghold Nu Groove Records). Of particular interest in this context, even more than epochal house trax like The Poem and Nervous Acid, are reggaematic dancefloor missives like Massive Sounds' She Say Kuff and Mikey Jarrett's Chartbuster (subtitled Reggae House Style).

Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds Mercury

Jarrett's Husslin' Slowdown — which similarly features the subtitle Strictly Dancehall — is just that, rocking a no-nonsense pepperseed riddim. Konders wound up putting out the awesome Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds two years later, a moody outing at the axis of club music and ragga that I've always thought of as a sort of American Blue Lines, before slipping into his natural ragga state thereafter as the mastermind of the Massive B setup.

Carlton The Call Is Strong FFRR

Speaking of Blue Lines, Bristol was really heating up around this point in time, quickly becoming a focal point of the industry machine and hotbed of musical activity, with not only Massive Attack but the great Smith & Mighty making waves in the mainstream. Falsetto sensation Carlton's debut album was also Smith & Mighty's first full-length production outing, picking up where they left off with records like Walk On..., Massive's Any Love and Fresh 4's Wishing On A Star.

The Call Is Strong is a sumptuously produced tour de force that fuses a languid take on club culture with heady dub vibes in a stirring selection of reggae-inflected gems like Cool With Nature and Do You Dream. I've always suspected Andrew Weatherall must have been a huge fan of this record, as the album he later produced for One Dove seemed to freely recall this LP’s hazy dreamtime atmosphere, all wrapped around the gossamer vocals of Dot Allison.

Massive Attack Blue Lines Wild Bunch

Blue Lines is often touted as one of the turning points in modern music, and it's a crucial record sure 'nuff. Still, the attempt of journalists to get a handle on new musical developments can often divorce such records from their original context, elevating them but also in strange a sleight-of-hand suggesting that there's nothing else to see here. Not the case, not the case at all. For instance, the Carlton record is undeniably a fellow traveler, and song-for-song is every bit its equal. What's more, I think it's illuminating to hear Blue Lines as a particularly moody, introspective take on the heady space between dub and hip hop at the time.

Right off the bat, one could point to Horace Andy's presence as a literal connection to Jamaica, but then take something like the mighty Five Man Army, which plays like hardcore ragga in smoke-blurred slow-motion. The baritone presence of Daddy G on the mic foregrounded here (which would sadly become more and more rare on the later records), coming as an added bonus and further driving the point home. A stone cold classic, no question. So if you want to hear what the Bristol blues are all about, by all means start here... all I ask is that you keep digging deeper!

The Ragga Twins Reggae Owes Me Money Shut Up And Dance

If Bristol had club culture's downbeat underbelly ragga soundclash on lock, then Shut Up And Dance were runnin' the ardkore side of things. In parallel to their own records, the duo produced a series of brilliant 12"s around The Ragga Twins' winning machine-gun interplay, culminating in the Twins' phenomenal debut, one of the great albums and signposts of the early nineties. Tunes like Ragga Trip and Illegal Gunshot are among the greatest breakbeat/dancehall mash-ups ever, while the dead-eyed minimalism of 18" Speaker fills out into a killer instrumental that somehow manages the trick of perpetually sounding like it came out yesterday.

Cutty Ranks/Tony Rebel Die Hard Pt. 1 1991

Like Rough & Rugged, this is another head-to-head dancehall split. Die Hard Pt. 1 pits Cutty Ranks against Tony Rebel, with one side dedicated to each of them. The beats here wickedly stripped-down to their electronic foundation, with naught more than a machine riddim and keyboard bleeps building to an utterly infectious backing (see Pon Mi Nozzle, a particular highlight). The Cutty Ranks side hits harder, with gruff ragga chat the order of the day, while Tony Rebel's is the sweeter, showcasing a nimble toasting that often slips into dulcet singjay tones.

Chaka Demus & Pliers All She Wrote Mango

Chaka Demus & Pliers — who started out as solo performers in their own right in the mid-eighties — teamed up at the end of the decade to become one of the great duos in ragga, a true sensation. 1993's Murder She Wrote captures the team at the peak of their crossover powers, with straight-up dancehall like Friday Evening and the title track vying with chilled pop ragga like I Wanna Be Your Man and Tease Me. The big surprise is an utterly infectious cover of The Isley Brothers' Twist And Shout (is there any other kind), which was thankfully tacked onto the American release as the opening track.

Smith & Mighty Steppers Delight Three Stripe

Alongside The Call Is Strong, this four-track EP was the only real fruit to come of Smith & Mighty's ill-fated deal with FFRR. The remit here is rootsy breakbeat, with tunes like Rub (with toasting from The General) and the rolling beats of Killa sounding like ragga jungle slowed down a few dozen BPMs, pointing the way toward the junglist More Rockers 12"s just around the corner. The moody Give Me Your Love is equally prescient, offering a glimpse of the dubbed-out majesty the duo would pursue over the course of their next few records.

Smith & Mighty Bass Is Maternal More Rockers

After a handful of records on their newly-minted More Rockers setup, Smith & Mighty made their triumphant return with Bass Is Maternal, a killer selection of signature vocal cuts and rootsy, dubbed-out instrumentals. Despite an initially lukewarm reception, the record's gone done as a stone cold classic. Down In Rwanda features Andy Scholes' spectral falsetto over mid-tempo junglist breaks, while Maybe For Dub and Closer touch down with digi-dub vibes in full effect (a side of their sound that has come to fore in the ensuing years in the form of reissues, first with Brain Scan in 2003 and then last year's revelatory compilation Ashley Road Sessions 88-94).

General Public Rub It Better Epic

In passing, I've got to throw some love General Public's way. This album was crucial for me at the time. Pops was a huge fan of the band going back to its origins in The English Beat, and this got massive play around the house. I remember coming home after my last day of school to find him dubbing the newly-purchased CD to cassette before we left on a road trip to Yosemite (that same afternoon, I dubbed my first tape ever — an Adam Ant compilation). Rub It Better features a heavy, almost live big beat sound, with a greater emphasis than ever on Ranking Roger's toasting on the mic (Pato Banton even returns to trade verses with Roger, just as he had on The English Beat's Pato And Roger A Go Talk a decade earlier).

Ranking Roger Inside My Head Paras

I was gutted to hear of Ranking Roger's passing last week. His vocals never failed to add a flash of joy to whatever he appeared on, be it with his original crews The English Beat and General Public, or his own new wave/ragga/dance hybrid solo material. I can remember like it was yesterday the pure excitement when he joined Big Audio Dynamite in the mid-90s (culminating in the Entering A New Ride sessions) and later cropped up on Death In Vegas' take on Twist And Crawl, in which he guested on an ace version on his own tune from The Beat days. Like I said, it was always a pleasure. So long Roger, you will be missed.

Buju Banton 'Til Shiloh Island

Another stone cold classic. Like All She Wrote, this is ragga at its most inviting, while still managing to pull no punches. As an album, 'Til Shiloh is even more varied. There's hardcore dancehall in the shape of Only Man and It's All Over, downbeat ragga like Murderer and Sensimellia Persecution, sunshine roots in Wanna Be Loved and Not An Easy Road, and a smattering of brilliant pop like Complaint (featuring the smooth vocals of Garnett Silk), and Hush Baby Hush. The full, widescreen sound is of a piece with other mid-decade triumphs like Bass Is Maternal and Rub It Better, and as juxtaposed here, I daresay work rather well as an informal trilogy.

More Rockers Selection 2 More Rockers

Along with Smith & Mighty's return with their More Rockers imprint came a slew rootsy jungle records credited to More Rockers the artist (much like Underground Resistance and Kemet Crew). More Rockers was a collaboration between Rob Smith and Peter D. Rose. The duo's output centered around two albums that came on more like a soundsystem captured live in the mix, flowing between ragga chat, sweet lovers jungle and tearing instrumentals with ease.

Various Artists Ragga Jungle Anthems Volume 1 Greensleeves

Like ragga's soundclash between dancehall and rap, ragga jungle's pile up of rave's breakbeat science and dancehall signifiers was one of the most exciting sounds to make a splash at a time when exciting sounds weren't exactly thin on the ground. What started out as a sampladelic art form inevitably led to actual head-to-head collaborations like Congo Natty's Code Red (as Conquering Lion) and UK Apachi & Shy FX's Original Nuttah. This compilation, put out by Greensleeves, takes the concept to its logical conclusion with an exclusive selection of tunes featuring a whole raft of dancehall luminaries chatting on top of killer junglist riddims.

Rockers Hi-Fi DJ-Kicks: The Black Album Studio !K7

Right around this point in time (1997), you started to get this fascinating squaring of the circle between trip hop, jungle, dub and techno. The Rockers Hi-Fi captured this spirit in their DJ-Kicks outing, with Farda P.'s toasting over a selection of dubbed-out downbeat, ambient jungle and dusted riddims with atmosphere to spare. At one moment, they even reached back into O.G. deejay with a cut from Prince Far I & The Arabs (the Adrian Sherwood dub of Long Life, to be specific), with a heavy low-end rumble erupting from within the surrounding crisp, of-the-moment beats in evidence throughout.

Timbaland And Magoo Welcome To Our World Blackground

I don't know if it's just down to my listening habits at the time, but I've often though that Timbaland And Magoo's debut had traces of dancehall lingering about it, as if the sensimilla smoke had been digitized and beamed onto the grid, Tron-style. 15 After Da' Hour, with its methodical downbeat riddim and stream-of-consciousness wordplay, would probably be the most obvious pointer, with the added sweetener of Timbaland's ragga-esque fifteen after the hour chant in the climax.

Bounty Killer Next Millennium TVT

Besides, as the decade was bookended by instances of dancehall's storming of the mainstream, it would only make sense that it would begin filtering back in around this time. Something like Bounty Killer's Next Millenium captures the fin de siecle zeitgeist, with Blade-style sleeve art that also manages to eerily predict The Matrix. The urban signposts hit even harder this time around, with guest spots from Noreaga, Big Noyd and Mobb Deep in full effect.

Massive Attack Mezzanine Wild Bunch

Was it Angel or Dissolved Girl that was actually in The Matrix? Mezzanine was an interesting one because it telegraphed the first clues that Massive Attack would ultimately abandon the rootsy flavor of their nineties work. The metal-cum-post punk guitars from Jon Harris are the first giveaway, as are the angelic vocals from ex-Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser. Tellingly, Mushroom Vowles split from the group shortly after. Still, there's a strong sense of dark roots hanging over the whole affair, dub pressure inna widescreen style, that would turn out to be hugely influential.

Roots Manuva Brand New Second Hand Big Dada

I first heard Roots Manuva the following year, on Leftfield's Dusted, which opened their long-awaited second album Rhythm And Stealth. The album's harder edges seemed to have similar signposts as Mezzanine, and Manuva's cameo was an undeniable highlight of the record. His debut album is even better. Like Rodney P, his vocals are poised midway between rap and dancehall, this time right there at the turn of the century. After this, you're talking U.K. garage/grime and that's a 21st century ting, no question. It's the perfect place to sign off, with the next millennium on the horizon and Terminal Vibration entering its final chapter...


    Terminal Vibration 10:

  1. John Holt Police In Helicopter Greensleeves
  2. Tenor Saw Ring The Alarm Techniques
  3. Horace Andy Lonely Woman Wackie's
  4. Johnny Osbourne Nightfall Jah Guidance
  5. Smith & Mighty Down In Rwanda Andy Scholes More Rockers
  6. Aswad Dub Fire Mango
  7. Snuky Tate Light My Fire Animal
  8. Derrick Harriott Dub Whip Hawkeye
  9. Yellowman Zungguzungguguzungguzeng Greensleeves
  10. Massive Attack Five Man Army Horace Andy & Tricky Wild Bunch
  11. Toyan How The West Was Won Greensleeves
  12. Barrington Levy Here I Come Time 1
  13. Pato Banton My Opinion Ariwa
  14. Prince Jammy 256K Ram Greensleeves
  15. Wayne Smith Under Me Sleng Teng Greensleeves
  16. Cutty Ranks Pon Mi Nozzle Penthouse
  17. Aisha The Creator Ariwa
  18. Junior Reid One Blood J.R.
  19. Colourbox Baby I Love You So Lorita Grahame 12" Version 4AD
  20. Gregory Isaacs Rumours Greensleeves
  21. London Posse Live Like The Other Half Do Mango
  22. Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds Mack Daddy Mikey Jarrett Mercury
  23. Buju Banton Murderer Elektra
  24. Carlton Cool With Nature FFRR
  25. Manasseh Meets The Equaliser Surface Tension RIZ
  26. The Ragga Twins Ragga Trip Shut Up And Dance
John Holt - Police In Helicopter Various Artists - Original Stalag 17-18 And 19 Horace Andy - Dance Hall Style Johnny Osbourne - Nightfall Smith & Mighty - Bass Is Maternal Aswad - A New Chapter Of Dub
Snuky Tate - Babylon Under Pressure Derrick Harriott - Whip It Yellowman - Zungguzungguguzungguzeng Massive Attack - Blue Lines Toyan - How The West Was Won Barrington Levy - Here I Come
Pato Banton - Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton Prince Jammy - Computerised Dub Wayne Smith - Sleng Teng Cutty Ranks - Die Hard Pt. 1 Aisha - High Priestess Junior Reid - One Blood
Colourbox - Baby I Love You So Gregory Isaacs - Rumours London Posse - Gangster Chronicle Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds - Bobby Konders & Massive Sounds Buju Banton - 'Til Shiloh Carlton - The Call Is Strong
Manasseh Meets The Equaliser - Dub The Millennium The Ragga Twins - Reggae Owes Me Money
Terminal Vibration (On A Ragga Trip): The Records

Motion 003

Motion 003: It's The Terminal Junction

The latest Motion playlist is actually an adaptation of the original Motion mix from a few years ago. I'd forgotten all about the O.G. outing before stumbling upon it about a week ago, and the general mood has fit the current drift of the Heights perfectly. All I did was shuffle a few tracks, but ultimately the songs remain the same. Despite predating the concept by some five years, this mix is pure Terminal Vibration. As such, it's a perfect way to gear up for the final chapters of the saga...


    Motion 003: It's The Terminal Junction

  1. Grace Jones Love Is The Drug Island
  2. Bionic mnemonic Roxy Music cover version from the mighty Grace Jones. Early Compass Point magic with its clash of dub, new wave and disco, this lays out the blueprint for what would become the prevailing sound in the coming decade. I've always loved the dub-tinged, vector moonlight vibes — and the SPEED — that the All Stars brought to this version.

  3. Soft Cell Memorabilia Some Bizzare
  4. Brazenly stripped-down synth pop from the duo that brought you Tainted Love, this slab of mantric 4/4 robot funk is the split of acid house in the same way that Charanjit Singh's Synthesizing: Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat was. That squelching acid line always makes me flash on 1998 and certain Meat Beat Manifesto records (particularly Prime Audio Soup).

  5. Liaisons Dangereuses Peut Être... Pas TIS
  6. Belgian industrial proto-techno from 1981. This is one of those records I remember obsessively searching out by virtue of its outsized influence on later dance music (particularly Los Niños Del Parque and this song). The latter so compulsively funky, you can practically hear it rewiring your circuits for the dancefloor.

    Like Smith & Mighty and PIL, this music put me ahead of the curve on the post punk revival by about half a decade, which is one of the few instances I've ever been in the right place at the right time!

  7. Yoko Ono Walking On Thin Ice Geffen
  8. Yoko's icy new wave art-disco masterpiece. This Downtown New York monster groove takes everything she'd been up to with Fluxus and the Plastic Ono Band out for a walk on the dancefloor, predicting the likes of Björk and Fairlight-era Kate Bush in the process, and sounding like something that could have soundtracked a David Lynch film some ten years later. Lennon's mad guitar solo in the bridge (one of the last things he ever played) is just the icing on the cake.

  9. Talking Heads Cities Sire
  10. More post-punk-inflected disco from arty New Yorkers, this nightmare funk finds the band working toward the multi-jointed polyrhythmic sound of Remain In Light. With bad jams like this, I Zimbra and Life During Wartime tucked away in its grooves (along with a host of moody, atmospheric numbers like Air and Drugs), Fear Of Music is an indispensable companion piece (both records Eno-produced) and remains an underrated record in its own right.

  11. Can "Don't Turn The Light On," Leave Me Alone Liberty
  12. This ethereal, shambling groove from Can — one of the great institutions of krautrock — is taken from their third album Soundtracks, which is made up of a bunch of backing music they'd previously provided for films. Even taking into account its patchwork, archival nature — featuring material from both the Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki eras — it remains (along with the Tago Mago/Ege Bamyasi/Future Days trilogy that follows) one of their greatest LPs.

  13. Morgan Geist Probs Environ
  14. Morgan Geist was on fire around this time (2002), with the Metro Area records on his own Environ imprint even culminating in an excellent full-length album the same year. However, its Probs and the three-track Moves EP that remain my absolute favorite, placing focus on the minimalist interplay between uncomplicated digital rhythms and dubbed-out keyboards in a half-lit, skeletal affair that boils disco down to its funky essence.

  15. The J. Geils Band River Blindness EMI
  16. Kicking off with a bridge that sounds like the Tron soundtrack, this ragged technoid mini-epic is taken from the album Freeze-Frame, which featured the band's brilliant reinvention as a new wave blues band (see also Foghat's Tight Shoes and Girls To Chat & Boys To Bounce). The twisting rhythm box beats in this shuffle-funk masterpiece are the secret cousin to Graham Central Station 'Tis Your Kind Of Music. It's no wonder The Electrifying Mojo loved 'em.

  17. Section 25 Looking From A Hilltop Factory
  18. One of Factory Records' mainstays (alongside New Order and A Certain Ratio), Section 25 struck gold with this surprising slab of electroid proto-techno. Replete with eerie/angelic vocals, throbbing proto-Underworld synths and sequences cycling over a ticking drum machine, this Bernard Sumner produced gem would have fit in perfectly on Andrew Weatherall's Nine O'Clock Drop (I thought I remembered it being on there, in fact). Future Shock/Terminal Vibration music.

  19. Inner Life I'm Caught Up In A One Night Love Affair Special 12" Disco Version by John Morales Prelude
  20. Disco stone tablet from Jocelyn Brown's group, from that period before they were on Salsoul with their whole futuristic Tron-style aesthetic. This back when they were still on Prelude. Despite the images of electro-tinged post-disco that mention of the label usually brings to mind, this sumptuous mid-tempo burner is peak-era disco (hitting #7 on the US Dance charts in 1979), with a full string section in tow, soaring in the limelight.

It's the perfect soundtrack for the home stretch of any run, bringing you back down those final blocks and up to your front door. Operating at the nexus of disco, post punk/new wave and even kosmische, it also slides in quite nicely with the home stretch of Terminal Vibration (coming at you shortly).

A Terminal Vibration selection against the backdrop of the Petrova Gora Monument To The Uprising Of The People Of Kordun And Banija
Motion 003: The Records

Talk Talk – The Colour Of Spring

Talk Talk The Colour Of Spring

EMI 1986

It turns out I hadn't said everything I wanted to about Talk Talk after all. My little tribute to frontman Mark Hollis evolved slowly in the wake of his death, and the piece wound up a tribute to the band as a whole as much as the man himself. In truth, I'd been intentionally vague when it came time to discuss this particular album because I'd intended to dive into it with even greater detail as the March record of the month (appropriately enough, on the first day of spring).

By now, everyone knows Spirit Of Eden is my favorite record the band ever released. However, someone recently asked me where to start with Talk Talk. After all, that's a good question. Their career took a number of twists and turns, the major transition centering around their shift from the new wave, dancefloor-oriented pop of their early records and the freeform blissout of their later material.

Nestled at the very center of the band's five album run, The Colour Of Spring is the axis at which their sound hinges. Blending the indelible hooks of their earlier pop sensibilities with the abstract ambience of later records like Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, this record also features some of the band's most indelible songs (and with a group like Talk Talk, that's really saying something). As such, it makes the perfect place to start with the group. So take this record of the month as a gateway invitation to work your way forward and back through their discography, because this album — while wholly excellent — is just the tip of the iceberg...

Promo shot of the trio
Talk Talk in a pensive mood

The record opens with the casually unfolding rhythm of Happiness Is Easy, rolling on nothing but Paul Harris' drums and percussion for a solid half-minute before the first sparse accent of plaintive pianos enter the fray. The vocals of Mark Hollis enter with the twang of a guitar, as the song seems to gradually compose itself before your eyes. The throbbing, low-end rumble of double bass (played by Danny Thompson) drives the rhythm in a way that brings to mind Underworld at their most intimate, while the surrounding instrumentation takes on the mood of ECM's sleek European jazz, gently folded into the space of an unassuming pop song.

This sound often makes me think of Dave Stewart's soundtrack to the film Lily Was Here, especially the burning groove and sweeping atmosphere of the main theme, with Candy Dulfer blowing a mean sax in the grand central moonlight. Here, strings rise from the shadows — full of pathos — and underpinned by the organ playing of one Steve Winwood, all aspects swirling together over that unyielding, motorik rhythm as Mark Hollis leans into the chorus:

Take good care of what the priest says:

After death it's so much fun.

Little feet don't let your feet stray.

Happiness is easy...

In a surprise twist, a choir of children (credited as the Children From The School Of Miss Speake) carry the bridge back into the verse. At one point, a mutant horn staggers out of the mix (one of the hallmarks of Talk Talk is their utterly surreal warping of instrumentation into unrecognizable shapes). Showcasing the band's brilliance at shading between joy and sadness, the tune culminates in a sweep of uplifting strings, before receding back into an acoustic riff on guitar that accompanies the children's choir out into the long fade.

Mark Hollis gets passionate on the mic
Mark Hollis sings live at the Hammersmith Odeon 1986

Mirroring the backing choir in Happiness Is Easy, the closing Time It's Time rides great waves of massed choir over a heavy downbeat stomp. In truth, it's my least favorite moment on the album, for a number of reasons. The drums are far too massive, with a crashing eighties sound utterly at odds with the organic crispness in evidence elsewhere. There's also a stark juxtaposition between the quiet verses and the booming chorus, whereas the rest of the record flows together quite naturally.1

Not that there's anything terribly wrong with the tune itself, it's just that the ragged execution sticks out like a sore thumb on an album that navigates such moody terrain so deftly. Subtle currents shift slowly in the shadows, with almost painfully intimate moments telescoping out into an all-encompassing widescreen sound like it were the most natural thing in the world.

Talk Talk I Don't Believe In You EMI

The record hinges beautifully on this axis, as exemplified in a track like I Don't Believe In You, which is the split of Spirit Of Eden drawn in Spring's primary colors. There's a slow-burning intensity in the downbeat verses that gradually gives way to gorgeous Hammond B3 organ in the refrain. The tune is punctuated by a great ragged guitar solo from Robbie McIntosh, writhing in slow motion against the tune's downbeat blues with wild abandon.2 The song is suited perfectly to the album's vivid chamber pop arrangements, which in large part manage to transcend their time of origin.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that the band's bassist Paul Webb would later work with Beth Orton (under the pseudonym Rustin Man). I'd wager Portishead were huge fans of the group... one could even imagine the band doing a great cover of this tune. The downbeat rhythms — here and throughout this record — are more locked-down than they'd later be on Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, prefiguring the sound of moody trip hop like Massive Attack's Home Of The Whale. Even if they're not as brilliantly freeform as they'd become in a couple years, the rhythms do retain a thoroughly engaging sound, with tactile precision every tambourine and shaker seems to clasp at your eardrums.

Talk Talk Life's What You Make It EMI

In stark contrast, the cascading, widescreen sound of Life's What You Make It represents this album at its most direct and radio-friendly. Propelled by an invigorating electric guitar riff (this time from David Rhodes) that shimmers across its infectious four-note piano stomp, the sound seems to have more in common with the arena-sized ambitions of Simple Minds, with even the guitars themselves bearing a striking resemblance to something Charlie Burchill might play.

However, the band is wielding their strange powers of foresight once again, because this sounds not like the contemporary Simple Minds of Once Upon A Time but instead Simple Minds circa Real Life (which came out five years later!). I wonder if Life's What You Make It did influence the Scottish group's latter day sound (especially the song Real Life itself)? I wouldn't be surprised. From the breezy backing vocals to the swirling Mellotron and those great crescendos of organ, it's all there in technicolor, adding extra bite to the track's double-edged title.

It's worth noting that my Dad was actually the one to introduce me to Talk Talk's music way back in the day, almost by osmosis. I grew up on this stuff! Pops was a huge fan of the group's sound, and this song was a particular favorite. His thing is a strong appreciation of multi-layered music, which naturally rubbed off on me with all my atmospheric obsessions. It was actually his old cassette that I was rocking out to back in college, after putting a tape deck in my very first car. Pops' Talk Talk tape captured a perfect distillation of the band's sound in 90 minutes.

Talk Talk Give It Up EMI

The similarly epic Give It Up is a massive organ stomp cut from the same cloth, although I contend that it's even better. Alternating between subdued verses — carried by haunting guitar lines and fragile lead vocals — and a piano-driven bridge, where Mark Hollis sings:

Gotta give it up

Gotta get a second chance

Gotta give it up

Gotta get a second chance and the joke's just started

And then a great swell of organs crash across the track in a massive wave of pure electricity. I already liked to this stirring performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1986,2 which turned out to be the last year the band would perform live together. It's without a doubt one of my favorite pieces of concert footage ever.

What this tune highlights is the band's gift for moving from the most serene passage to a pure rush of energy with unparalleled grace. Check out how after the mad heights of the chorus, the tune subtly collapses back into the muted verse with that gentle guitar passage. Or the way the tune's absolute climax builds into another surreal guitar solo, its twisted notes burning out in the darkness before the massive chorus wheels back once again to conquer all.

Closing out with a stripped-down coda, shades of gospel in Hollis' ad-libs over the backbeat as the organ line finally resolves itself once and for all. It's a very close call, but this might be my favorite track on the album.

Talk Talk Living In Another World EMI

The other contender is Living In Another World, which plays like the severe younger cousin to Happiness Is Easy, burning with a barely-controlled, exposed-nerve fury. It kicks off with a bang straight out the gate, in a roll of piano thunder and a snapping beat reeling out beneath shades of organ, Mark's moody couplets and acoustic guitars strummed with a precise rhythmic fury. The whole thing gradually builds until the organs swell into a flood of raw sound in the bridge — Hollis' impassioned lead vocals haunted by ghostly backing in the distance — before a bluesy harmonica enters the fray with a wild solo cascading up and down the soundscape.

The other day, I mentioned how important this record was for me in the dreary days of (early) high school, and no other song dovetails more perfectly with those memories than this song: Help me find a way from this maze... I can't help myself. Word, Mark, word... I couldn't have said it better myself.

Mention must also be made of the phenomenal bassline Paul Webb lays down in the chorus, throbbing and shape-shifting through the rhythm in fractal counterpoint to the lead progression. It's the true nth power behind the song's central groove, moving with a lunatic precision against the chiming, twin guitar attack of David Rhodes and Robbie McIntosh. Notably, Webb also provides the ghostly backing vocals in the chorus, haunting the melody with another indelible layer of intrigue. Rustin Man strikes again! Taken all at once in a great flood of sound, it adds up to a truly epic vision painted in sound.

Talk Talk Asides Besides EMI

If Living In Another World exemplified the record at its most intense, then the downcast shades of April 5th, played out on a lone piano while tambourine and shaker mark out the time. A fog of mutant horns hang in the distance, the tunings seeming to come from somewhere entirely outside the body pop, offering the strongest hint of things to come. The vocals of Mark Hollis are at their most delicate here, cradled by the warmth of that B3 organ that comes rising from the mist. I'm reminded of David Sylvian's Secrets Of The Beehive, even if this came out a whole year earlier.

It's worth noting two non-album b-sides from the period, It's Getting Late In The Evening and For What It's Worth, which were from the Life's What You Make It and Living In Another World singles, respectively. Both tunes further develop this abstract, ethereal mood, which turned out to presage the direction they'd begin to take a couple years later. Still, April 4th is the best of the bunch, sounding like a dress rehearsal for Spirit Of Eden.

Appropriately enough, The Future Sound Of London featured the song in their mind-bending BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix 2 in 1995 amidst a sea of post punk, downbeat ambient and twisted psychedelia. Alongside iconoclastic records like Andrea Parker & David Morley's Angular Art, 23 Skidoo's Porno Base and Fleetwood Mac's Albatross, its drifting abstract ambience felt perfectly at home .

The trio look on, walking in unison
Talk Talk walks the lonely road

Chameleon Day is even more deconstructed, with detuned Blue Note horns hanging lonely over the sparse pianos... it's by far the most freeform, deserted track on the record, plangent sounds ringing stark against the dead quiet. Reaching beyond even Spirit Of Eden to the abstract deconstructions of Laughing Stock and the Mark Hollis solo record, its the record's most intimate and unadorned moment. With that Hollis croon accompanied by nothing but a lone piano and windswept horns, this tune could have come from the era of Chet Baker and Mose Allison, only with the wounded pain and vulnerability that comes with Hollis' voice. This deeply spiritual sound might have closed out the record brilliantly, albeit on a quite different note than Time It's Time.

It's sound that no one else could touch. Lying at the crossroads of the group's earlier dancefloor synth execution and the lush oceans of sound painted in their later music, The Colour Of Spring is where both sides meet in a flash of brilliance. It makes the perfect place to start with the band's music, but I must warn you... once you're hooked, you'll find yourself tracking their sound out in every subsequent direction. And few things in music are more rewarding than that.



Still, the flutes in the extended coda have a minimalist attack along the lines of Penguin Café Orchestra.


In some ways, it recalls the bluesy space rock of Roy Buchanan's You're Not Alone and even Journey's I Would Find you, albeit marked by a striking intimacy far removed from such deep space sonics.


Talk Talk. Give It Up. At the Hammersmith Odeon, London, 1986. Live Performance.