Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

a. r. kane - sixty nine

a. r. kane
sixty nine


Released 1988 on Rough Trade
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 03/03/2007ce


1. crazy blue (3:26)
2. suicide kiss (3:36)
3. baby milk snatcher (3:16)
4. scab (3:25)
5. sulliday (6:33)
6. dizzy (3:47)
7. spermwhale trip over (4:40)
8. the sun falls into the sea (5:45)
9. the madonna is with child (3:49)
10. spanish quay (3) (2:06)

musicians:

Ray Shulman - bass (1,3)
Russ - bass (3,7)
Maggie - backing vox (1)
Stephen Benjamin - clarinet (8)
Bill McGee - double bass (6)

all other instruments played/written, arranged, engineered and produced by a. r. kane

YEAR ZERO (PART ONE). The first time I saw a. r. kane on the Indie Top 10 run-down on the Chart Show, I was confused. I probably preferred some sub-Bolshoi act. Sort of confused I was the way I heard Sulk by Associates for the first time - I knew there was something there, but it felt far too alien. I was equally confused since my stock-alternative tastes (starting with stuff like The Cure, the Bunnymen, The Smiths & U2 and moving towards bands like The Mission & the Sisters of Mercy) couldn't cope with the new dance-based music apparent in such a rundown. Psychic TV's Jack the Tab seemed very odd, as did stuff like the Shamen - though to be fair, I got the Bomb Squad-noise of Public Enemy's Rebel Without a Pause a year or so later. The late 1980s were quite a wild time that I'm sure people don't seem that aware of, John Harris recently wrote in the Guardian that 1987 was a year zero - you could pull a year out of the air and argue the point, but he was noting how the demise of the Smiths and people gravitating towards forward thinking music in the dance and hip-hop realm, or exhibiting in white indie music something a bit more experimental (he let down his argument by mentioning Electric by The Cult though!!). The late great Peel and a section at the Melody Maker seemed to be very pro a certain tag of acts who vaguely made sense together - the live maelstrom of the imploding Husker Du; other US acts like Dinosaur Jr, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Sonic Youth & Tad; Swiss oddities The Young Gods; and UK-based acts like Loop, My Bloody Valentine & Spacemen 3. I'm sure a 'New Rock' tag was given to this bunch of individuals. Amid the latter grouping were a. r. kane, who were accorded much reverance from MM's Steve Sutherland, who used the best adjectives in music journalism since Paul Morley's NME-era.

M/A/R/R/S. The first time I saw a . r. kane I was confused, though unknowingly it wasn't the first time I referenced a. r. kane - the band who had bizarrely been involved in one of the biggest hits of the late 80s, Pump Up the Volume by M/A/R/R/S. That sampledelic chart-topper found them working with fellow 4AD act Colourbox and some DJs, employing a wide base of samples including The Bar Kays, Ofra Haza, PE and Stock, Aitken & Waterman (who sued...). It advanced the sampledelic possibilities that became a key feature of the remaining decade and the 1990s. a. r. kane didnt' appear to contribute that much to the a-side, it was the fellow double a-side (relegated to b-side status) 'Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)' that was more their own work. Odd that a #1 single would have tucked away on its flip-side a wild blend of art-rock and dub that was the model for a. r. kane's work on their subsequent long-players.

ROUGH TRADE. a. r. kane had initially put out a single ('When You're Sad') in 1986 on One Little Indian, moving to 4AD to release the equally hard to find 'Lolita' e.p. produced by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie. The tenure on 4AD appeared to reach a head with the M/A/R/R/S-experience, the band changing labels once again, moving to Rough Trade. It was this label who released debut album 'sixty nine' and its eclectic follow-up 'I' (1989), as well as the e.p.'s 'Up Home!', 'Listen Up!' , 'Love-Sick' & 'Pop' (most of which turned up on the deleted Sire-compilation 'Americana'; while tracks from 'I' appeared on an album of 'Remixes' that followed the Rough Trade reissues of 'sixty nine' and 'I').

YEAR ZERO (PART TWO). The year zero wasn't really 1987 for experimental rock music or variants of dance and hip-hop, but it felt like an exciting time, despite the fact it lead to terms like 'indie-dance' and bandwagonners like Primal Scream and the Soup Dragons (why is it the former get credit while the others are viewed as a joke, despite shifting at about the same time as each other?). The US scene had stretched rock music into very odd positions, from Greg Ginn's Sabbath-meets-jazz side of My War, to a blend of Coltrane and feedback apparent in Husker Du's cover of Eight Miles High and their epic instrumental Reoccuring Dreams. An act like Sonic Youth epitomised this, coming out of the ashes of the No Wave scene and delivering rock music in a manner that nodded to stuff like the second side of Fun House, Metal Machine Music, and Glenn Branca's Theoretical Girls. Less effective, but key, was the appearance of the Jesus & Mary Chain in the UK with their C-86-affiliated single Upside Down and their classic debut Psychocandy. Obviously the Mary Chain descended quite quickly into a series of cliches (leather trousers, cut up Burroughs lyrics, buzz-words etc), but the effect was immense - Kevin Shields turning My Bloody Valentine from a jangly C-86 outfit ('Strawberry Wine') into a wild feedback-driven blend of Cocteau Twins and early Mary Chain, shifting off into stratospheres uncharted by his peers (he also sampled PE on the single given away with Isn't Anything, a definite relative of several AR Kane tracks). The Mary Chain's club night in London influenced Kurt Ralske to create his Ultra Vivid Scene outfit, who released three great albums, and similarly a. r. kane appeared to reflect some of this feedback approach (we'll forget about rubbish like Birdland, The Primitives, Sonic Flower Groove and John Moore's Expressway Rising). a. r. kane, like My Bloody Valentine, took elements of 'Psychocandy' and applied them much further, fusing them with other genres and influences, making some of the wildest music heard in the Indie backyard. a.r. kane = arcane...so why is it that Kevin Shields and 'Psychocandy' get credit, while this lot have become one of those British footnotes like Blue Orchids, Comsat Angels, Josef-K, Monochrome Set, & Scars?

69 (PART ONE). I'm not sure if the 69 of the title refers to the year 1969 as some sort of reference that falls between The Stooges and Boards of Canada, or if it refers to the popular sexual practice (...all the kids are doing it, my sources inform me!) which is as ecstatic as the drug many folk were necking at the time? Opener 'crazy blue' opens with a riff very much like Slint's 'Breadcrumb Trail' before some Beefheart-Zappa-style jabber and then a blend of indie-guitar riffage, dubby-bass, percussion and jazz inflections that recall the most adventerous period of Miles Davis (roughly 'In a Silent Way' to 'Get Up With It', specifically 'Big Fun' and 'Silent'). a . r. kane apparently tagged it "dream pop" at the time, a term that was sort of applied to shoegazing acts by Americans in the early 90s. Despite the fact the shozegazers of the early 1990s got a bad name, the most adventerous albums of those bands owed a major debt to the territory a . r. kane mined in the late 80s (see The Boo Radleys' Giant Steps & Slowdive's Souvlaki in particular - both of which rich with ambient textures and dub elements).

69 (PART TWO). Second track 'suicide kiss' has similar drumming to MBV-tracks of the time ('Soft As Snow', 'Slow') - which had a drum-machine feel, but appeared to have been delivered in a jazzy timing. 'baby milk snatcher' like the M/A/R/R/S alternate a-side points towards the dub-textures that would be expanded on with 'I', such as 'What's All This Then?', 'Crack Up' and their most popular song, 'A Love from Outer Space.' For the most part 'sixty nine' feels like an album of similar textures, 'I' has many great songs and interludes, but veers off into directions that may confound some ('In a Circle' is classical chamber music, 'Pop' unsurprisingly pop music, while the double-whammy of 'Supervixens' and 'Insect Love' skirts around goth and glam rock). 'baby milk snatcher' epitomises 'sixty nine', jazzy percussion, soulful vocals (with some charming harmonies), Cocteaus/Wyatt-style gibberish, and a whoozy feel that sounds like the world on the best drugs (...which MBV's 'Loveless' might be the ultimate example of?). 'scab' is a strange, acoustic driven song that probably underlines the influence of Robert Wyatt's e.p.'s and albums like 'Rock Bottom' and 'Ruth is Stranger Than Richard' on alternative acts that followed...

69 (PART THREE). 'sulliday' is the longest track here, with drones and feedback coming to the fore with a metronomic industrial beat that perhaps sounds like guns firing in the distance. This is probably how you'd imagine Brian Eno's version of 'Metal Machine Music.' 'dizzy' employs strings, predicting 'in a circle', and utilising Billy McGee who had played with such acts as the Bad Seeds, the Banshees, the Mambas, & This Mortal Coil (McGee would also turn up on 'I'). This classical-element is balanced against a vocal that sounds like a soul Robert Smith and then a series of screams and shouts in the background, heaven and hell combined...'sperm whale trip over' recalls their one-time producer Robin Guthrie and his most famous outfit Cocteau Twins (and his very Cocteaus-sounding production on The Gun Club's 'The Breaking Hands'). In a music and production sense, this feels like a more fractal Cocteaus, the vocals operating in a similar manner that Liz Frazer's did against the Cocteaus-soundscapes.

69 (PART FOUR). 'the sun falls into the sea' feels like a lost psychedelic instrumental, not a million miles away from the Mercury Rev-riff that became the basis for the best thing the Chemical Brothers ever recorded, 'The Private Psychedelic Reel.' The vocals hardly sound like words that can be made out, reflecting druggy inflections, or a dream world. There's some strange Canterbury-style folk sounds amid the drones and waves and moans. Hypnotic stuff regardless...'the madonna is with child' shifts tone, having the feel of Dead Can Dance (...not a bad thing where I reside...) until a guitar comes in, not a thousand kilometeres away from 'Baby's on Fire.' 'sixty nine' concludes with 'spanish quay (3)', which is an acoustic instrumental that clears the pallet after the textured soundscapes of the preceding thirty-eight minutes. Sublime stuff, quite close in feel to certain Bill Nelson and Durutti Column records...

CONCLUSION. '69' and 'I' are both vital records, the latter probably makes more sense after listening to the former - though life would be made easier if a compilation of their One Little Indian/4AD/non-album tracks were put on a compilation. For a brief while a . r. kane were ahead of the pack, though I think like many dealing in these sonic territories, they were trounced by Shields with 'Loveless.' Many of these songs fit brilliantly with other songs of the era that drifted between genres and infected the indie world - A Guy Called Gerald's 'Voodoo Ray', Mark Stewart & the Maffia's 'This is Stranger Than Love', New Order's 'Fine Time', A Certain Ratio's 'Mickey Way', The Beloved's forgotten 'Forever Dancing', Spacemen 3's 'Big City' etc. I guess things like 'Loveless', Bark Psychosis, E.A.R. and the post-Loop project Main took this type of material to its conclusion, as well as the emergence of electronic acts mining and refining these territories from an alternate perspective. a. r. kane's belated follow-up 'New Clear Child' wasn't well received and that was that - rumours of one member working in a museum in the US, and another working with the Boo Radleys/in advertising (hence Cocteau Twins/This Mortal Coil licensed in TV adverts!) abound. Their work was done with those two great records, both of which sound like a future that never quite occurred and the kind of thing that demonstrates what indie was before the term was re-defined around Britpop. Both great records that I've returned to lately, 'sixty nine' feeling like the more cohesive album of the two and one that sometimes feels forgotten.


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