Dark Entries

Algebra Suicide Still Life LP

Still Life collects sixteen tracks drawn from a handful of mid-to-late ’80s releases by Chicago duo ALGEBRA SUICIDE, who combined deadpan spoken vocals/poetric recitations from Lydia Tomkiw with stark, spindly guitar lines, shadowy keyboard textures, and percolating drum machine, all arranged by her then-husband Don Hedeker. The resulting sound-based performance art managed to avoid the trap of artifice and pretension, despite any assumptions that a phrase like “poetry-music duo” might conjure, with sonic parallels to a number of European minimal/cold wave acts, UK experimental pop hometapers (think SOLID SPACE and the like), and even some of the less confrontational projects that evolved out of the No Wave scene in New York. Hedeker’s droning and pulsing musical accompaniment offered the perfect backdrop for Tomkiw’s lyrical observations, which she delivered in a dry, Chicago-accented monotone that only further underscored the hypnotic impact of the pair’s songs—sometimes shimmering and melodic, sometimes icy and mechanical. If you’re at all interested in some of the more eccentric corners of early minimal synth or ’80s-era art-schooled post-punk but haven’t explored the ALGEBRA SUICIDE discography yet, this anthology is a really useful starting point for further research.

Clan of Xymox Peel Sessions LP

Founders of darkwave CLAN OF XYMOX have been reissued on Dark Entries with their 1985 Peel Session recordings. For fans of the genre, it doesn’t get any better than this—but you already knew that. On the intermittent cool and cloudy days of Spring, this will land just right: ambient yet driving synth instrumentation, with vocals that range from melodic and upbeat (“Seventh Time”) to a tortured ode (“Agonised By Love”). “Stranger” opens the album, and could be the soundtrack to a fallen angel’s journey through hell, with anthemic choral vocals backing the whole song; completely chilling. CLAN OF XYMOX (also released as XYMOX) has a catalog of music spanning from 1983 to present recordings. This group has stood the test of time.

Kitchen and the Plastic Spoons Screams to God LP reissue

KITCHEN AND THE PLASTIC SPOONS were an early ’80s Swedish synth(etic) punk project with a dark, dramatic intensity—too art-conceptual to be humorless goths, too sinister and paranoid-sounding to pass as straight new wave, the aural equivalent of black latex as viewed through a prism of fluorescent plexiglass. Although they didn’t take things quite as far as the SCREAMERS or the UNITS by completely dispensing with guitars, KITCHEN AND THE PLASTIC SPOONS’ double-synth/live drums assault was charged with a similar short-circuited energy, while original vocalist Anne’s steely yet still hyper-expressive delivery (almost exclusively in English) wavered somewhere between SIOUXSIE-style ice queen and Neue Deutsche Welle eccentricity. Screams to God covers the entirety of the group’s brief 1980–81 lifespan, with the recordings from their debut Serve You! 7” (four songs mistakenly made it to the test pressing, later pared down to two for the actual release) hitting especially hard: the space junk synth squirm of “Blätta” devolves to perfectly DEVO depths; “Happy Funeral” careens across an oscillating and claustrophobic keys/drums pulse as Anne defiantly smashes any goth illusions (“no black suits!”); “Fantastic” and “In Bars” warp and bend under layers of processed dystopian electronics and clattering percussion. Dark Entries first put out this collection almost ten years ago, when millennial punks were just on the cusp of a mass blame-it-on-DEVO synth infatuation, and it’s been a highly sought-after artifact almost ever since—I’m not saying that there’s a direct cause/effect correlation there, but I’m also not saying that there isn’t one.

Nervous Gender Music From Hell 2xLP

I didn’t realize this, but this 2xLP (an expanded version of their LP from 1981) is described as being legendary synth punk—in the end, this proves to be true. The band had a cast of characters that were members at one time or another, including PHRANC and Alice Bag. That’s pretty cool. I’m generally not a fan of the 2xLP format, but when you’re trying to really capture something this significant, it can make sense. Just the genre name of synth punk makes me anxious, and the record itself starts off reinforcing that. Particularly at the beginning, it’s got a frenetic feel to it, and I get the impression that wasn’t accidental. It’s also artsy, which can’t really surprise anyone. As you move into the 31 cuts, it does start to settle down some, becoming almost hypnotizing. As you might expect with 31 cuts, there are some hits and some misses, with far more hits than misses, including a completely unrecognizable cover of the SEX PISTOLS’ “Pretty Vacant.” In the end, imagine a soup that includes synth, punk, and art school, and then imagine an influence of Gregorian chants. Whether or not this is your cup of tea, it’s an important recording of an important movement within an important movement. That’s pretty cool.

Sad Lovers & Giants Lost in a Sea Full of Sighs LP

In the realm of dark and dreamy UK post-punk, Lost in a Sea Full of Sighs collects SAD LOVERS & GIANTS’ early work, recorded from 1981—1982. Filled with plenty of bass and synth leads, sax sections, and guitar flourishes, I’ve got a soft spot for this kind of thing. The lyrics are sometimes sappy, like “And when I see you / I fall helplessly in love” from “When I See You” (which could be a CURE song), to the heady lyrical “Lately I find I’ve been walking on tightropes / That stretch through my mind in the spaces I don’t know” in “The Tightrope Touch.” Love songs? Existential crisis? Yes please, and all at once. Lots of music to look back on here, and they’re still at it with the Mission Creep album in 2018 and shows up until the pandemic shutdown. Let’s hope they keep it up!