The Minimal Wave Tapes Vol. 2 (Stones Throw)
Veronica Vasicka unveils another set of synthetic pleasures.
Tue Mar 13 2012
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Okay, it's official: We've now heard more minimal wave—the catch-all term that DJ and audio archeologist Veronica Vasicka uses to describe the kind of spare, sometimes dystopian and often homemade machine music from the late '70s through the '80s—than we did when this music was actually new. (And we practically lived in Mudd Club and Danceteria, spots that thrived on this sound). We can thank Vasicka for that; her Minimal Wave show on East Village Radio and her label of the same name have been unearthing the these audio artifacts for years. The Minimal Wave Tapes Vol. 1, released through Peanut Butter Wolf's Stones Throw label in 2010, exposed more people to this music than ever before; the new The Minimal Wave Tapes Vol. 2 is likely to increase its visibility even further.
The charm of much of this music lies in its slight awkwardness; inexpensive synthesizers and drum machines were still a relatively new phenomenon, and MIDI was a foreign language that many electronic-music producers were only just mastering. The availability of cheap electronics meant that there were plenty of DIY-style artists involved in the scene, with creative borrowing as much a part of their modus operandi as pure inventiveness (which does nothing to detract from this music's appeal). "Presidents," from a 1988 track from Greece's In Trance 95, for instance, features the sort of vaguely sinister, bubbling, Eastern-tinged keyboard lines that made Germany's D.A.F. so appealing. A cut from In Aeternam Vale's "Annie" could be mistaken for the pioneering electropunk duo Suicide in full "Cheree"/"Dream Baby Dream" mode, if not for the plaintive French vocals in place of Alan Vega's sinister come-ons.
That last track has a dream-within-a-nightmare feel to it—something it shares with Philippe Laurent's "Distorsion," which features meandering circus-of-the-damned synth draped over an almost bouncy bassline. Felix Kubin fuses grating squalls and glistening arpeggios to a punkish double-time beat on "Japan Japan," while Class Info's "Out of Line" works crooning vocals and bluesy guitar into a gently grinding synth-and-drum-machine rhythm section; the beautiful chord progression in "Theme" (1981), from Australia's Aural Indifference, ends the collection on a wistful note. Whatever the genre, it's a great song—and that's something that can be said for many of these tracks. They're a must-listen for electronic-pop historians, or anyone with a simple hankering to hear some really cool tunes.