Things We Like: Lead Into Gold, “The Sun Behind the Sun”

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In late 2015, Lead Into Gold appeared for a one-off performance at Cold Waves in Chicago, arriving some 25 years after the last known chapter of this much-loved yet seldom seen project had been sent out into the world. Lead Into Gold – the solo project of Paul Barker – was active for roughly three years around 1988, quietly delivering a string of releases while Ministry – his main project at the time – was hitting its creative peak. 

This was the heyday of Chicago Industrial, a moment when Wax Trax! Records unwittingly manufactured a scene by unleashing instant classics from Front 242, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Front Line Assembly and KMFDM. Yet the perceived figureheads of the scene were Ministry main-man Al Jourgensen and co-conspirator Barker, partners whose creative output at the time was mind bogglingly vast and consistently good.

While Ministry was delivering pivotal albums over on a major label – genre-defining bombshells like The Land of Rape and Honey and Psalm 69 – the duo was delivering a nonstop barrage of singles, EPs and full-length LPs user guises like Pailhead, Lard and Revolting Cocks. One after another after another the hits just kept coming. And then even more by Acid Horse, PTP, and 1000 Homo DJs. Mostly released on Wax Trax! and mostly collaborations with like-minded – and now-legendary – scene figures like Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, Ogre, Trent Reznor, Richard 23, Luc Van Acker and Cabaret Voltaire. Seemingly every season a new release was dispatched to ravage the dancefloor.     

Yet lost in the maelstrom of pummeling bpms and dancefloor destruction was Lead Into Gold. Here, Barker carved out a place all to himself, one free of the chaos of collaboration; a place where a more introspective and even-tempered voice could emerge. Barker seemed interested in the slow burn; delivering a languid, cinematic take on music. Deeper lyrical themes emerged, supported by an unusual set of samples that seemed to favor ancient films and brass. “Faster Than Light” even became a minor hit.

So here it was, late 2015 with one brief performance of some cult favorites by a scene legend. Beyond the fun of a one-night nostalgia trip, what was the point? Did it still matter? The songs still seemed to have legs. The ones chosen for that night, at least. So what to make of it? Was there a future? Did there need to be?

In 2017, a new two-song 12” arrived. And in 2018 we were rewarded with a proper full-length album of all-new material, The Sun Behind the Sun. 

Judging by the results on these two releases, we would have to say emphatically say, “Yes. Yes, there needs to be.”

Sometimes the scene needs to be shaken up and who better to do the shaking than a scene veteran with just enough distance to offer some much-needed perspective. Songwriting chops, superb musicianship and years of production expertise don’t hurt either. It’s worth noting that Barker’s bass was a crucial component to so many Ministry et. al. classics. His parts on “So What”, “Golden Dawn” and Pailhead’s “Anthem” – a few personal favorites – held things down with a dark, menacing groove worthy of that press-concocted cliché, “industrial disco”.

But we digress.

The Sun Behind the Sun manages to do the impossible. It defies the comeback album trap by simultaneously recapturing the essence of a classic sound while bringing new ideas to the table. No easy feat. So often the comeback album panders to only one of these two traits – sounding exactly like the old stuff or nothing like the old stuff – with a result that reeks of desperation and basically bums everyone out. But The Sun Behind the Sun balances both old and new perfectly.

Barker hits all the familiar sweet spots: the tension; the creeping pace; the samples and brass; the warbling, wheezing, weirdo vocals. But rather than just replay the highlight reel, he digs deep to mine new sounds and improve on the production – which on those late 20th century releases tended to sound a little claustrophobic.

It’s familiar yet refreshing. It welcomes us in, makes us feel at home but still nudges us off our seats and out of our comfort zone. 

Here are a few of our favorite moments:

“To the Throat”
Ominous. Throbbing. Heavy. Dense. There’s so much going on that the song gets perilously close to buckling under the weight of its own creation. Yet it averts disaster by mustering just enough momentum to push itself up and out, clawing it’s way forward on a bed of throbbing electronics and the purposeful drumming of fellow Blackouts/Ministry alum Bill Rieflin (check out his drumming on the aforementioned “Anthem”). It’s a treat to hear Rieflin join Barker on this epic track. An apt soundtrack to Sisyphus rolling that boulder up that hill.

“X0000”
This is the sound of a machine destroying itself. The song disintegrates into a crumble of musique concrète tinkering and white space, only to gather just enough oxygen to reignite the ember and press on with a tiny, smoldering glimmer of light.

“We’ll Take Tomorrow” 
The album’s would-be hit single. Here’s Barker rallying the troops and storming the gates.

“Sweet Caress”
Those drums! 

“The Sun Behind the Sun”
All the best elements of the previous seven tracks converge in a fitting conclusion: drama, grit, dread, catharsis and hope all set to a stunning soundtrack built from the classic Lead Into Gold sounds: complex percussion, steady bass and bizarre sampling. It’s a seemingly impenetrable wall of stormy gray that suddenly breaks to reveal a bright, glimmering sunset. A fitting end to thoroughly exhausting journey.

So, sure, The Sun Behind the Sun is a tough slog and we’re totally spent. But, yeah, it was totally worth it.

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Prints: Autumn 2018

Now that Autumn 2018 has officially come to a close and the doldrums of winter have unceremoniously set in, let’s make the most of the downtime and brighten things up with a recap of the print action from last season.

I’ve got my coffee ready. I’ll wait for you to brew yours. (…) Okay, let’s go.

 

Untitled, 2018

Untitled, 2018

Untitled, 2018 / Untitled, 2018

Untitled, 2018

Untitled (Sunset), 2018

 

 

Prints: Let’s Go!

Black & White

The changing* of the seasons has really lightened my mood. Sure, I love summer for the beaches and mountains and pools and ice cream and general carefree fun, but the soul-crushing heat and humidity has finally pushed me to the breaking point. Summer 2018 seemed especially hot and, though I’m not certain we broke any records, it definitely was long.

Now it’s time to get back back out to the workshop and make it happen. And I’m ready. Seriously, that statement can’t be circled, underlined or highlighted enough. My summer days were filled with sketching and color studies in anticipation of that very moment the clock struck Labor Day. Each day arrived filled with ideas and inspiration. Nights were filled with dreams awash in weirdo, day-glo colors.

So humidity, if you hear me, get your act together and move along. My screens are prepped, colors are ready and it’s time to get to work.

*Autumn does not actually begin until September 23rd.

Prints: Untitled, 2018

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Just locked in two colors on this new screenprint for 2018. I’ve been very much looking forward to exploring more hard-edged, geometric abstraction this year and Untitled was an awesome design with which to kickstart the season.

Seriously, is there anything more exciting than designing a multi-color piece and locking in that final color on the print run? It’s like putting in that last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The thrill never gets old.

Prints: Dot/Dash – 2017 Year in Review

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2017 was the year I jettisoned formal, finished compositions – for one year. In place of a clearly articulated vision prior to printing, I tried loosening things up by composing on the fly, working in the moment and just rolling with it. I went with a few graphic patterns that piqued my interest – mainly dots and stripes – and played with them in random compositions as I printed. Some small editions came out the process, but the prints are all mostly unique. Color choices were determined similarly. I had some hues in mind to start but mainly just built up color as I went along.

It was all very different from my usual working method of super-tight, controlled situations where everything is designed and prepared in advance of production. In that scenario, production is merely a process devoid of all decision making – a means to an end and satisfying in a different kind of way. I suppose I was inspired by Sol LeWitt’s seminal Sentences on Conceptual Art of 1969, numbers six and seven in particular:

“6. If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.”

“7. The artist’s will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His willfulness may only be ego.”

Perhaps a little too much. Because I next wanted to bust things open and let it rip. I worried that things were getting a bit too dry, too expected. Working in the moment and forcing decisions would open things up, let fresh ideas in and set my work on a different course, I thought.

That happened. Sort of. Because the results are oddly not too dissimilar from my usual work.  

The limited design elements really helped temper the atmosphere and hold it all together. Things could easily have gotten out of hand with a messy swirl of color and blobs of form. You know, like Lord of the Flies in two dimensions. Or worse, dried macaroni and construction paper collages. But here I got the best of both worlds: crisp compositions that emphasize simplicity of form and color combinations that I would not have otherwise considered. It was just the right balance of experimentation and restraint.

Take a look at a few of my favorites:

Things We Like: Drab Majesty, “The Demonstration”

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Dreamy and introspective. That’s the easy answer. Some might say “dark”. Perhaps a bit. But that’s an overly simplistic and, frankly, cynical take. It could be said Drab Majesty conjures up a 4AD aura about things with hints of vintage Clan of Xymox or Cocteau Twins in both sound and style. Really, though, there are many influences – dream pop, shoegaze and classic goth among them – that tease their way into the songs. But Deb DeMure, the androgynous alter-ego of L.A.-based musician Andrew Clinco, comes calling with more than just a checklist of references.

On their second proper album, The Demonstration, Drab Majesty transcends the confines of strict style and the niche tastes of a precious few and push out into the realm of 80’s new wave and pop. The songs are catchy and irresistible and satisfyingly accessible while managing to still shimmer and haunt and hover in the corner – a perfect mix of light and dark that invites obsessive listening. Many of these songs wouldn’t seem out of place on mainstream radio of the era. The grand, euphoric “Cold Souls” comes to mind as does “39 By Design”, their languid meditation on the Heaven’s Gate cult – both tracks aptly released in advance of the album like incantations masking as pop singles.

And while there’s a lot to love about The Demonstration, DeMure’s guitar playing could be the true star. Her chiming guitar lines are captivating as they meander around and hang in the air. They lure you in, slow things down and let the white space between notes wrap you in a woozy, warm embrace. “Not Just a Name” and “Forget Tomorrow” conjure up this atmosphere perfectly, the latter playing up the 80’s-era drum machines to near-absurd levels of intensity.

But grandiose gestures are what Drab Majesty is all about. Their image and influences spill out super-saturated, dime-store drama in a kaleidoscope of colors, textures and references. They present an exquisite corpse tangled with so many conflicting cultural touch points – religious pageantry, the occult, KISS Army, Warhol wigs, science fiction, Geisha girl, Members Only – that it’s hard not to fall under their spell (or perhaps surrender to the sheer weight of their presentation) and just follow along. But it all works. Style and sound are a perfect match – light and dark, sweet and sour, high and low – that keeps you off balance and craving more.

After letting this one brood on the turntable for the better part of a month (on glorious marbled blue vinyl and on constant repeat), The Demonstration presents a complete, confident and fully realized vision. Also, the album’s production – care of Telaphon Tel Aviv’s Joshua Eustis – is cleaner and less claustrophobic than its predecessor, Careless (itself a clear statement of purpose with its fair share of great songs).

But The Demonstration is the complete package. It’s that same complex and compelling vision but pushed through with focus and clarity, delivering great songs with production to match.