Summer Tunes: Ride, “Charm Assault”

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Ride: Then and Now

It’s summer. Time to switch over to some indie, dream pop, shoegaze and/or britpop. Time for some sun, fun, road trips and popsicle sticks (and/or other summertime clichés). Seriously, though, we’re ready for some easy, breezy tunes. Right now I’m thinking Ride – specifically the tune “Charm Assault” – from their 2017 comeback album, Weather Diaries. The whole record is fantastic – and true to their 1990s form – but for me, right now, this tune is all I need. It’s cathartic, atmospheric retro pop. Supposedly, the lyrics have something to do with Brexit, but I hardly ever pay attention to the words. Well, sometimes. Occasionally. Elizabeth does, but I tend to focus more on melody and mood and less on message. But we can discuss that later.

So while we wait for their upcoming LP, This Is Not a Safe Place, fire up “Charm Assault”, the sunny and melancholy “Cali” or the cooler, overcast “Lannoy Point” to brighten your summer day.

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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.

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!

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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.