Wednesday, January 11, 2012

San Francisco's other postpunk bands: Tuxedomoon, Chrome and Flipper

On Tuxedomoon songs like "What Use?" and "7 Years", cold electronics, shudders of violin, and lugubrious saxophone conjured an atmosphere of languid melancholy.

Tuxedomoon -What Use? 1983

Tuxedomoon - 7 Years 1980

From the Scream with a View EP to the second album, Desire, themes of anomie and modernity recurred.

"Holiday for Plywood", for instance, is about consumer paranoia and dream-home heartache: 'You daren't sit on the sofa/The plastic makes you sweat/The bathroom's done in mirror tiles/The toaster wants your blood'.

Tuxedomoon - Holiday for Plywood 1981

You could imagine Chrome classics like "Chromosome Damage", "All Data Lost" and "Abstract Nympho" as a cold-rush soundtrack for Neuromancer, the 1985 genre-defining novel by William Gibson.

Chrome - Chromosome Damage 1978

Chrome - All Data Lost 1978

Chrome - Abstract Nympho 1979

The saxophone-boosted juggernaut "Sex Bomb", Flipper's big crowd-pleaser was steeped in funk. As in PiL, the bass (played alternately by Bruce Lose and Will Shatter) adopted the melodic role, allowing the guitarist to rain corrosive noise on the listener's head. Like Keith Levene, guitarist Ted Falconi rarely played riffs or distinct power chords, but instead just churned up distorted drone tones and writhing weals of feedback.

Flipper - Sex Bomb 1981

Humour permeated even the the most nihilistic Flipper songs like "Nothing" and "Life Is Cheap". As an example, see the ambiguity of Shatter's line 'Life is the only thing worth living for', delivered in a voice pitched exactly midway between cynical derision (at the sentiment's fatuity) and desperate belief.

Flipper - Nothing 1982

Flipper - Life Is Cheap 1982

Flipper's debut Album-Generic Flipper, from 1981, rocked like a wild party on the rim of the void.

Three years later, Gone Fishin' pushed the band's bass-grind dirge-punk into more experimental zones: stark and hypnotic, "The Lights, The Sound, The Rhythm, The Noise" is a kissing cousin to Joy Division's "Transmission", while the celestial maelstrom of "You Nought Me" swirls with Sun Ra keyboards, multitracked vocals, and pitch-bent sounds, like a demonic kaleidoscope where all the colours are black.

Flipper - The Lights, The Sound, The Rhythm, The Noise 1984

Flipper - You Nought Me 1984

By the closing "One by One", Flipper sound like they're smashing their way through the planet's crust. 'Will's beating up his bass and trying to sound like the low-rumbling surf, Ted is playing the psalm of the ocean, Steve's drums are the waves crashing, and me, I'm singing the body of water', says Lose, misty-eyed and mystical.

Flipper - One by One 1984

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