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Pale Saints – The Comforts Of Madness (30th Anniversary Re-masters)

Pale Saints

The Comforts Of Madness (30th Anniversary Re-masters)

1989 was a vintage year for so many reasons – not least the fact that so many great albums came out during that hallowed 12 month period (The Stone Roses’ debut, New Order’s Technique, The Cure’s Disintegration, Jesus And Mary Chain’s Automatic, Band Of Holy Joy’s Manic Magic Majestic, Pixies’ Doolittle, Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, Lou Reed’s New York, Ultra Vivid Scene’s debut, Band Of Susan’s Love Agenda, and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising…to name just a dozen).

Year zero of the new decade, 1990, spawned an equally diverse glut of year-end personal favourites by the likes of Happy Mondays, Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, Neil Young And Crazy Horse, Fatima Mansions, Pixies (again), Band Of Holy Joy (again!), Public Enemy, Sonic Youth, Angelo Badalamenti/David Lynch and Mazzy Star…but the best of the lot in my own opinion arrived right at the start of the new year.

Newly signed to 4AD records, Leeds-based trio Pale Saints released their debut EP Barging Into The Presence Of God the previous year, 1989. Said EP contained their signature ‘hit’ song, the swooning and melodic indie classic Sight Of You, which also featured in John Peel’s festive fifty at the end of that year – at number 11 (one of the b-sides ‘She Rides The Waves’ also figured at number 25).

Through no real fault of their own, Pale Saints found themselves lumped in with many other similar bands of the time (Ride, Lush, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Telescopes, Moose, etc) under the ‘shoegazer’ scene – that took the post-Mary Chain template of ‘dream pop’ and noise/ feedback / guitar FX and distortion which was already pushed to ever more extremes by the revitalised My Bloody Valentine on their 1988 album Isn’t Anything.

However, Pale Saints also kept a lot of their initial jangle pop sensibilities intact – and their sound sometimes resembled earlier post C-86 acts such as McCarthy and fellow Leeds-formed indie legends The Wedding Present. In fact I would wager that one McCarthy song in particular from that era – Red Sleeping Beauty – was effectively the sonic template for Pale Saints: there is an uncanny resemblance in the way the busy drums anchor the sound of the melodic bass and choirboy vocals on that song which bring to mind the bass/vocals of Pale Saints frontman Ian Masters.

It was thus pretty damned smart of 4AD Records to usher in the new decade – and the very first of their 1990 releases – with a debut album from one of its brightest new hopes (as voted by Melody Maker), and, to be absolutely fair, they did not disappoint.

It’s hard to believe that three decades has already elapsed since this remarkable album was first released, but the most gratifying thing of all is how it still sounds like it could have been issued a few weeks ago! It really has withstood the test of time.

The moment the needle drops onto the vinyl record, you sensed that this was a debut album that was quite unlike any other. What other LP starts with a frantic drum solo for god’s sake? Followed almost immediately by the band going hell for leather apeshit with crazed guitar and bass manglings? This one! But don’t be discouraged by this rather surprising opening salvo…this was the band merely exhibiting their gleeful perversity, as the opening track proper Way The World Is kicks in after 30 seconds with a supremely confident chiming guitar and bass intro.

So is this Art rock? Avant garde noise? Chaotic thrashing? None of this and all of this! Pale Saints are revelling in messing with your perceptions here and this is what makes The Comforts Of Madness such a truly satisfying and rewarding listen – even for the first time.

The album has no gaps between the tracks – it is designed to be listened to as a cohesive whole: one number running into the next, and the band take this maxim to a gloriously inspired level, inserting strange ghostly links or bizarre off kilter passages between each listed track to tie the whole thing together into one complete continuous listening experience.

This shrewd tactic arose directly from the way they performed their live shows, where they would veer off into all kinds of sonic adventures to fill the gaps between the songs which would otherwise be filled with awkward silences and re-tunings of instruments or – perish the thought – speaking to the audience.

Interestingly, one very celebrated and hugely influential and much-eulogised album which arrived later the following year (November 1991) would adopt this exact same method and would then get all the plaudits for it. None other than My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. All those weird links between tracks on a ‘classic shoegaze album’ huh? Well, sorry to rain on their parade, but Pale Saints clearly did it first!

Thus: Way The World Is crashes majestically into the bleached out guitar fuzz that signals the next track You Tear The World In Two, which in turn steamrollers its way towards its thunderous climax and then stopping dead via some eerie ambient guitar atmospherics before the dreamy centrepiece of the first half Sea Of Sound – which is so languidly beautiful and majestic it could be a rewrite of some long-lost 1970s prog-pop epic for all we know.

True Coming Dream, which follows, reverts back to the frantic tempo of the first two songs with its almost Wedding Present-like bass intro which accelerates prodigiously before exploding into the surging intro. After two cacophonously exhilarating minutes, the track decelerates again only to flow seamlessly into the curiously whimsical bongo-and-dulcimer-led lullaby Little Hammer, which closes the first half.

The second half is even more astonishing – as if our expectations of the band being able to sustain this quality throughout was ever going to be called into question.

Insubstantial is one of their strongest songs – live as well as on record. When it climaxes (again!), the band veer off into what is probably the most frenzied wig out of them all – careening and bludgeoning their way through 30 seconds of pure gleeful anarchic atonality rather like naughty kids jumping all over freshly-laid wet cement, with Chris Cooper’s demented drum rolls and Graeme Naysmith meting so much abuse to his guitar it sounds as if it is having the living daylights throttled out of it. It’s this distressed mewling at the very end that sounds for all the world like a cat (the one that graces the record cover?) being strangled!

The segue straight into the bass intro that opens A Deep Sleep For Steven is nothing short of genius. This track is immense, a huge sonorous reverbed fog formed from colossal ice sheets of treated guitar, insistent ringing basslines and waves of cavernous, crashing drums. This is narcotic dream music in excelsis, effectively reprising the sound perfected by noise/dream pop pioneers A.R Kane a couple of years earlier. If anybody were to ask what the definitive shoegazing sound was like – then point them to this track. It simply wipes the floor with the competition!

The Language of Flowers restores the fast paced tempos once again, a beautiful jangly pop moment with Ian’s choirboy vocals showcased to the fore, before its abrupt fade into the stampeding intro of their brilliant cover of Opal’s Fell From The Sun, which maintains the adrenalised momentum.

The sublime Sight Of You is next, albeit in rerecorded and speeded up form from the EP version, before the album closes with the schizoid tempo-shifting tour de force that is Time Thief: alternating between slower verses pinned by Chris’s martial tom rolls, Ian’s chorused basslines, and curious piano chimes before then swiftly gathering speed and bursting into the noisy catharsis of the refrains. A pause for breath, and then they repeat the whole thing all over again.

When this track smashes to a triumphant close, you are led to believe the album is over, but the distinctly unsettling noise of what sounds like a distressed cockatoo squawking which follows after a short silence tells you that this band have plenty of pranks lined up their sleeves.

The second disc/LP in this sumptuously packaged 30th anniversary issue features their one and only John Peel Session as well as many demos of all of the album tracks. These versions are not that dissimilar from the finished versions – give or take slight tweaks in tempo or arrangement/production. This is because the tracks were so fully formed anyway before they were finally released that if anything it is testament to how the band were already confident and assured in their approach to recording the album. And the final results speak clearly for themselves.

Pale Saints were never that prolific: They would issue just four EPs (one per year) and only one more album (1992’s more reflective In Ribbons) before Masters departed in 1993, and though that album is also a very strong work in its own right and more consistently produced, with some truly beautiful moments and some tracks written and sung by fourth Saint Meriel Barham – who would join the band for the next two EPs Half Life (1990) and Flesh Balloon (1991) – it lacks the sheer verve and exhilaration of their more focused and barnstorming debut.

Such a consistently great record from start to finish and with barely a weak point anywhere in sight. This remains the band’s finest recording and greatest artistic statement. It is just such a shame that it has never been held in the same high regard and esteem as so many other similar albums of its genre. For me it is the equal of – if not better than – the much feted Loveless! And if that proclamation is regarded by some as heresy then frankly dear, I don’t give a damn.


All words by Martin Gray 

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The Specials: More Specials (40th Anniversary half speed master edition) – album review

The Specials: More Specials

40th Anniversary edition

Double 180gm vinyl

Chrysalis Records Ltd

Available to buy here

The Specials revival rolls on since the release of Encore and the Two Tone re-issues to celebrate 40 years are a welcome trip back in time to the dark Thatcher years, that Dammers and co painted in black and white imagery for the youth, Wayne AF Carey reviews the new master edition…

After releasing the excellent Two Tone box set earlier this year (review) it was a given that Dammers was going to reissue more from the groundbreaking collection of ska classics. This album has been done before, every fan will no doubt own it, yet to have it on double vinyl and half speed mastered, with the added bonus of the rare as fuck 7in, it’s essential for the old school ska heads who are devoted to this movement as much as ever. I listened again and again to this in my youth and it still makes me smile now as I crank up the vinyl and bask in the light and dark sound of Coventry’s finest.

Enjoy Yourself lulls you into a false sense of security with it’s party time happy ska mood. Although a cover of the Guy Lombardo tune it’s owned by the spirit of Dammers right throughout. Then it all kicks in with the darkness of Man at C&A a dark rolling ska tune with Neville Staple issuing a warning of a nuclear attack (remember those adverts 80’s kiddies?) Terry Hall’s moody dulcet tones take over and it’s pure smoothness mixed with Rico’s trombones.

Hey, Little Rich Girl still sends shivers up my spine to this day. A sad story that tugs at the heartstrings and bounces around with it’s skanking ska beat. Hall and Staples feed off each other here and the party just rolls on. Do Nothing is just a stone cold masterclass of ska, a proper head nodder that takes me right back to the early eighties of my youth. I don’t need to explain, you’ve all heard this unless you’re deaf. The trumpet solo from Rico sounds crystal clear on this re-master which has polished up the grit of the first release.

Pearls Cafe is slow roller that sounds as magic as the first time around. A sad story of an aged woman who’s lost the plot and the looks of her youth. Rhoda Dakar from The Bodysnatchers joins Terry here to duet on this sad lament with the classic line “It’s all a load of bollocks.” Quality tune and a testimony to how good The Specials were at making a sad song sound so fucking jolly! We now get album filler number one Sock It To ‘Em J.B. It’s funky as fuck but a quite pointless tune that quotes Jimmy Bond’s films. Why? The Selecter did something similar and that was shit n all.

Stereotype / Sterotype, Pt. 2 is and still sounds fuckin top. A dark number that tells the tale of a proper pisshead who drink drives (don’t drink and drive) and wraps himself around a lamp post. Chilling stuff that sounds haunting and then warps into a slow burning reggae toasting from Neville Staple who gives the message about drink and drugs. The lines “I don’t want no whiskey to make me frisky” “I don’t need no speed to make me go fast” He just wants his stereo! Excellent. Filler number two Holiday Fortnight is a calypso festival tune that sounds alright but not needed really. It’s like a bit of a lightener to kill the dark mood that Stereotype leaves on your brain. Harmless fun at the end of the day.

I Can’t Stand It welcomes Rhoda Dakar back on duet duties. Another calypso tinged number here that rolls on with Dammers fucking about on his organ piano. A proper not so love song that just works with the ending line of “Goodnight Terry. Goodnight Rhoda” The blueprint of Ghost Town is revealed on the immense International Jet Set. Haunting stuff from Hall here with Dammers’ spooky organs floating around in the background. A mention to Horace Panter here must go down for the simple yet effective bass line that sounds stunning. All ending with a plane crash which makes it all the more stark with the screaming passengers…

Enjoy Yourself (Reprise) just makes me chuckle the way it’s all slowed down, with Staple and Hall sounding stoned and The Go Go’s joining in for daft effect. The 7in single is worth a mention just for the fact that the original was rare at the time of the initial release. It’s basically Roddy Radiation and Neville Staple fucking around with rock n roll standards and basically having a laugh. Nice to have a Two Tone 7in back in me collection! Overall this is an album that newcomers to The Specials will enjoy. A seminal part in my life that hit me in the face as a lanky skinny 10 year old growing up in dark times, yet they spread some light for the youth who missed out on the excitement of punk a few years earlier. The fact it sounds still fresh today and resonates with 2020 is a reminder of the cycle of life. Fuck the government…

Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here


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Coil: Musick To Play In The Dark Vol 1 (reissue) – album review

Coil Musick To Play In The DarkCOIL

Musick To Play In The Dark Vol 1


Dais Records

CD/ Vinyl/ DL

Out November 27th 2020

Louder Than War Bomb Rating 5



Andy Brown takes a step into the darkness to review Coil’s ode to moonlight and madness, Musick To Play In The Dark Vol 1 for Louder Than War. Originally released in 1999, the album is finally getting the full reissue treatment via Dais Records.

By the time I discovered Coil, vocalist and head psychic shaman John Balance had passed away, tragically falling from a two-story balcony in 2004. His musical and one time romantic partner-in-crime Peter Christopherson would follow in 2010. Having distributed much of their own music in purposefully limited runs, the band’s recordings would slip back into the shadows. I was living with a friend sometime around the mid two thousands when I first heard their strange, cerebral moon musick. Here was a band that skilfully avoided easy categorisation yet absorbed elements of dark ambient, industrial and electronica. I’d never heard anything quite like it. This long-overdue reissue of the groups seminal Musick To Play In The Dark creates the ideal opportunity to introduce more willing ears to the occult wonders of Coil.

Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson had already made a name for himself in the late seventies via subversive, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle. Alongside Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter, Christopherson would help forge an innovative industrial sound built around synthesizers, tapes and early samplers. Bass, guitar, violin and cornet featured too yet nothing was used in a traditional or predictable way. With Coil he would go on to create a similarly unique and genre-defying sound. Sleazy’s esoteric electronica now enhanced by the prophetic and powerful poetry of John Balance. The group would see a number of members come and go yet John and Sleazy would remain the constant creative force at the centre of this distinctly experimental enterprise. Early albums like 1986’s Horse Rotorvator would help define the confrontational clang of industrial music before developing a thirst for rave culture on 1991’s Loves Secret Domain. This period, broadly speaking, became known as their ‘solar phase’.

The band’s whole existence was based on constant creative growth and saw the duo embrace everything from soundtrack work to instrumental albums of mind-altering drone. It was 1999’s Musick To Play In The Dark, however, that came to define their whispered, dark and immersive ‘lunar phase’. This, for me, is where Coil’s music became something truly magical. Be warned, Musick To Play In The Dark isn’t the kind of album to put on in the background while you do the washing up, nor will it provide adequate motivation for your lockdown inspired jog around the block. This is music to give your full attention to, preferably while lying in the dark with headphones in place. Never has an album title been so thoroughly apt. While there isn’t a guitar solo in sight, the album could almost be described as psychedelic. A quiet, unnerving and transformative form of psychedelia, best enjoyed alone.

Are You Shivering? leers into view with some overwhelming and distinctly frosty synths. Balance appears, breathing ominous incantations down the back of your neck, “Are you loathsome tonight? / Does your madness shine bright?”. Over its near 10-minute duration the track does an excellent job of immersing us in Coil’s dark, mediative world. A skittering and spacious electronic soundscape and the ideal soundtrack to some secretive woodland ritual (or perhaps just your average Saturday night). Red Birds Will Fly Out Of The East And Destroy Paris In A Night follows with some wonderfully discombobulating, expansive electronica. An ambitious, wordless sprawl that evokes the pioneering spirit of Krautrock in the 1970’s. The sense of adventure and experimentation is palatable.

With its slumberous jazz piano, Red Queen expands on the album’s sonic palette yet again. Driven forward by a dark, electronic undercurrent that constantly threatens to pull you under as Balance calmly intones: “Is it so unsafe when you are/ Insecure in the space where you are?” The spectral beauty of Broccoli seeps through my headphones next with Christopherson repeating a sombre mantra: “Wise words from the departing/ Eat your greens, especially broccoli…The death of your father/ The death of your mother/ Is something you prepare for/ All your life, all their lives”. A very human exploration into mortality and the things we leave behind. The music slowly but surely absorbing the listener, the kind of music that seems to stop time itself.

Record crackle, bird song and squelchy beats introduce Strange Birds, the album’s second predominantly instrumental piece. “One day” says Balance as he rears his heads towards the end of the track “your eggs are going to hatch and very strange birds are going to emerge”. It’s enough to send a shiver down the bravest of spines. Balance’s spoken word style throughout the album makes Musick To Play In The Dark play out like the world’s most ominous self-help tape; dark, foreboding hypnosis. The album comes to a close with the shuffling electronica of The Dreamer Is Still Asleep. Dripping in mystery and mysticism: the song creates a mesmeric, devotional and suitably dreamlike tone. Balance standing in ceremonial robes before his faithful flock: “Hush; may I ask you all for silence?”.

It’s hard to describe just how deep this album goes if you’ve got the time and the inclination. Like the music of experimental accordionist and electronic pioneer Pauline Oliveros, Coil have created an album that requires close attention and deep listening. An ode to moonlight and madness that wraps the listener up in an incredibly immersive, nocturnal world. On a personal note, the album stands as one of my favourite albums of all time, a real game changer. A second volume of Musick followed in 2000, so here’s hoping that gets a reissue too. For now you need to bag yourself a copy of the album, turn the lights off and lie down in the dark. I’ll leave you with some wise words courtesy of Coil: eat your greens, especially broccoli, wear sensible shoes and always say thank you.


Available on Bandcamp HERE

All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here

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