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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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.

Things We Like: “Wait in the Car”

Colors! Layers! Bricks!

The Breeders are back with a new 7″ single and a super-saturated new video by former Vaughn Oliver associate Chris Bigg. Oliver and Bigg are, of course, praised for their cover art and design expertise on so many 4AD projects including every single Pixies release. This video is right up there with the best of them.

You’re going to need to watch this one full-screen.

SUMMER TUNES: Ocean Blue, “Between Something and Nothing”

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Picture, if you will, a bunch of college kids rolling down a rural road in a beat-up set of wheels, windows down, tunes blaring, bright blue skies and not a care in the world. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s a pretty exasperatingly tired indie-rock cliche. Yet this song from Hershey, Pennsylvania’s dream-pop poster boys seems worthy of the picture.

Sort of. Just replace the farms with colorful flower gardens and the late-summer heat with a refreshing late-spring breeze and you’re just about there. That, and they’re probably a little better dressed than those other kids.

Here, big, bright, shimmering atmospherics and sweet, somewhat straightforward (but no less sublime) imagery collide, expand out, and go on for miles. It’s the perfect soundtrack for catching the rays as you cruise to the beach to catch some waves.

Further Listening: “Drifting, Falling”, “Give it a Try”

Summer Tunes: Heavy Water Factory, “Painfield”

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The humid heat of summer has finally settled in and has us thinking of classic summer songs. First up: Heavy Water Factory.

Not many bands can capture a specific mood or aesthetic and ride it out successfully over a career. Not many bands can do it unintentionally, either. Heavy Water Factory made the heavy, humid heat of a classic Mid-Atlantic summer palpable and managed to do it time and again, consistently bringing the heat over the course of a two-album-plus catalog in the mid-90’s. While it surely wasn’t their intent, their songs feel like summer.

Heavy Water Factory was brought to my attention in the summer of 1996 by a college roommate who boasted of this “new” talent from Michigan (the songs were written two years prior to the record gaining true promotional traction). Their debut, Fluid & Meat was a curious collection of songs – definitely not we expected from the electro-industrial scene of the time – with a slow, heavy atmosphere clouding the body of work. The songs were there but not there. There was a nuance and texture and delicacy to the tracks unlike what were looking for at the time. I came away from my first listen totally zapped of energy and found it surprising that the soundtrack totally meshed with the view outside my window: bright sun, blazing pavement, few people.

“Painfield” is a prime example. The mid-tempo track slowly plods along, building steam at a snail’s pace and mustering just enough energy to hold a groove. Just when you think it’s on the verge of something substantial – a big chorus or massive breakdown – it consistently recoils back to the same easy groove, seemingly succumbing to the weight of the sweltering heat. It’s like they’re gassed out, happy to simply coast along for the remainder of the track and not move too much.

The atmosphere conjured up by Heavy Water Factory is hazy and hot, lazy and lethargic, sultry and sort of sexy. They offer the perfect soundtrack to those blistering summer days you just hope to survive – riding out the day and waiting out the sun for the cover of darkness when you can crawl out into the night in search of something more substantial.

Further Listening: “Shreck Bild”, “Vampire”

Things We Like: Xeno & Oaklander

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Deceptively simple, minimal, synthetic pop. Catchy melodies with dark undertones overlaid with dueling male/female vox. Distant, detached, haunting, enchanting, exotic, inviting, seductive – all of these things.

One thing that that keeps us coming back is the duality of moods that permeates nearly every track. Sweet and sour, dark and light, sleek and leaden sounds all add to the complexity and depth of the songs. They’re intoxicating, addictive, irresistible. It’s kind of like switching between sweet and savory treats – the contrasting flavors simply feed your appetite for more.

Fans of early electronic pop will find a lot to like. If you dig classics like Kraftwerk and Chris & Cosey or contemporaries like Solvent – or perhaps more accessible reference points like very early Depeche Mode, OMD, or Gary Numan – then this is your sweet spot.