The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Tuxedomoon
The Vinyl Box Dustin Krcatovich , December 9th, 2015 20:04

The post-punk cabaret of Tuxedomoon inhabited a Europe of the mind even before they decamped from San Francisco to Brussels early in their career. I speak of a fantastic place without borders, where punk, Bauhaus (the movement and the band), Stockhausen, and myriad traditional musics all hold equal sway and are never at war with one another. This wide swath of influences makes the band's sound impossible to capsulise, and it's comparably tricky to find that magic entry point which might pull novices in deeper, as none of their output is as template-based as most prefer their pop. As such, The Vinyl Box, a new set which appends the lion's share of the band's studio output along with a few odds and sods, is a real boon for the curious, something you might as well plow right through if you can get ahold of it. Unlike most bands, there is no stark mid-career drop in quality to worry about, and if you get pulled in you're bound to want to dive into the deep end.

Tuxedomoon's early singles, especially the underground dance floor classic 'No Tears', comfortably occupy a space somewhere between Pere Ubu and the Screamers, but by their debut LP Half-Mute, they were already pushing hard at even those loose boundaries. From then on in, the only constants in the Tuxedomoon catalog were change and outlandish, atmospheric production (the latter no big surprise, given that founding members Steve Brown and Blaine L. Reininger met each other in an electronic music class); all other bets were off. Half-Mute and its follow-up,Desire, are probably the group's most frequently cited works, and not without good cause: both represent a sort of goth for the people who've actually did the reading before class, eschewing the Rocky Horror camp of their peers in favour of a knowing, icy glamour (no band was more perfectly matched for the soundtrack of Wings Of Desire).

Holy Wars, from 1985, is probably more consistent and accessible than either of the aforementioned, hemming fairly close to the synthpop-meets-high-school-theatre sound of Oingo Boingo or Soft Cell while treading lighter on seasick drones or manipulated chamber pieces; as a result, though, it's also perhaps their least interesting work, an approximation of a pop record from a band that was at its best abandoning pop expectations.

Luckily, The Vinyl Box offers plenty of other avenues to explore. 1987's You goes significantly further off the rails, while still offering some pop-esque thrills (and, perhaps, the clearest precedent for David Lynch's recent albums). Bardo Hotel Soundtrack, originally released in 2006 and appearing on vinyl for the first time here, might be their strangest record of all, a singular collision of woozy chamber music and sound collage for which there is no clear precedent (though some sections recall fellow post-everything veterans Smegma thrown into the middle of a Sublime Frequencies compilation, which is nothing but a fine thing).

Every album has multiple high points. Still, some might say after listening to The Vinyl Box that it's a shame Tuxedomoon never quite had their Metal Box or Unknown Pleasures moment, their obvious classic, a point on which I respectfully disagree. Joy Division's retirement/retooling was forced, but I suspect they'd have imploded regardless; Public Image Ltd. (not to mention Gang of Four, Devo, Scritti Politti, Human League, and countless others of their ilk) came out strong only to eventually fade into slick and cheesy irrelevance. Tuxedomoon have never quite been recognised as a post-punk leading light, but that lack of commercial pressure left them free to grow and experiment as they please, to produce a treasure trove of music which welcomes deep listening and is fascinating even in its failures, unconstrained by any sensibility other than their own.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.