Cherrystones Presents Critical Mass Vol. 2: Hearts Of Champions

Various Artists

Gareth Goddard follows his crate-diggers' classic, Critical Mass, with a more dancefloor-friendly sequel

The idea of crate-digging contains within it a latent cultural hoarding, and perhaps a little pang of personal altruism in resuscitating forgotten songs and victims of circumstance. For the digger, it’s a noble, unending quest for that perfect lost artefact either of its time – or somehow years ahead of it. Take, for example, Soul Jazz Records and its Irish counterpart Allchival, which in recent years have uncovered all manner of uncommercial yet superlative music that didn’t quite make it into the canon.

It’s here where Belfast’s Touch Sensitive Records and curator/DJ/producer par excellence Gareth Goddard, AKA Cherrystones picks up where he left off with Critical Mass (Splinters From The Worldwide New-Wave, Post-Punk And Industrial Underground 1978 – 1984) five years ago. Handpicked from one of pop music’s great eras of enlightenment, where unprecedented advances in affordable electronic equipment were matched by a fecundity of ideas, placing endless creative opportunities in the hands of the artist before these electronics had a particular sonic M.O. beyond being ‘not prog’. Primitive, yet timeless, this equipment had few instructions, conventions, and even fewer means to perfect or make permanent their visions – but then, random mutation has always left us with the most exciting results. Inspired by the opportunities presented by punk’s ethos, what this group of artists may have lacked in canniness was more than made up for in sheer infectious – at times charmingly naive – youthful experimentalism.

Critical Mass Vol. 2: Hearts of Champions further chronicles the underground rock strata across the US, UK, and continental Europe in a post-Silver Apples and krautrock residuum, existing concurrently with The Fall, Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, and the Italo and post-disco scene. Compared to the first volume, which very much fit its billing as a best-of for its era, CM2’s course is chartered toward the dancefloor. Its gated snare, proto-industrial drum onslaughts, trebly basslines, greasy funk and a backdrop of Western de-industrialisation provide the bedrock of an even more eclectic blend than its predecessor, with one decidedly firm thematic lynchpin: rhythm.

Playing like a DJ set of lost post-punk crossover dance hits at the far side of the iron curtain, its half-instrumental sequencing is as fluid as you’d expect from Cherrystones. Its flow organically finds commonality between every manner of rhythm, from tribal grooves to the on-the-grid lo-fi repetition, and that foundation allows its inspired moments to breathe and build the imagined unsanitised corridors in which it lives. 

So, what happened with these artists? Sure, there’s plenty of the kind of hypnotic, sparse post-punk as heard on Volume 1, with cuts from English goths The Danse Society, Loco Lotus’ oppressive, Killing Joke-esque dirge, the Netherlands’ Flue, and standout track, the jutting motorik ‘Bowl of Cherries’ by the Mud Hutters – some of whom have went on to greater successes, some never to release more than a single. Martin Rössel & the Dum Dum Boys’ only release, found here, is a barely recognisable slanted junkstore electropop take on the Modern Lovers’ perennial classic ‘Pablo Picasso’. The familiar air of psychotropic substances lie amidst this youthful exuberance. Take New Asia, for example, whose track title was long-forgotten before its inclusion here, explained away with a “I was heavily into taking LSD25 (the real thing) and Eastern Mysticism”.

The overruling strength of CM2 is its embracing of unorthodoxy and the outright weird. You have Die Form’s progressive pop calling to mind Duran Duran via Discipline-era Fripp/Belew King Crimson, French act JP 118’s only known single, a disorienting Eastern-flavoured ‘Le Vieux Satrape’, infuriatingly underheralded US dance-punks Unknown Gender, Belgian ensemble Siglo XX’s strung-out minimal cold wave-meets-proto-house. Where hip-hop has thrived on timing and crate-digging for hidden moments of lucid magic across music history, these characteristics have been one of rock music’s biggest shortcomings – and Goddard’s openness and resistance to that obstinacy is what allows individual, seemingly disparate, genre-melding tunes to transcend themselves and create its own world, as any great compilation should do.

At a time when creativity’s biggest limitation is its lack of limitations, the discovery of pragmatic music which innovated by pushing against said limitations is refreshing. As Goddard says, “this is not a rare-for-rare-sake appendix of bands designed to showcase exclusivity and superiority”. It works as both one flowing work to showcase an alternate cold-war-post-disco history where funk could be languid, pop could be weird, where post-punk intersects with house. And equally, it’s an open invitation to look a little deeper to find more of its antiquities. 

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