Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

This arrived in my inbox just in time to hit the north half of my best reissues of 2004 list. Had you ever heard of the MIDNIGHT CIRCUS? Only if you're a dedicated deep delver into ultra-obscure early 80s English DIY -- deep enough to have bought or heard the "Angst In My Pants" EP from 1980, or to have been trading micro-release cassette tapes in the UK around the same time period. In other words, this CD will be your introduction to the band, and I'm predicting you're gonna like 'em. The Midnight Circus took their name from a Pretty Things song & even at a very young age were way tuned in to the rhythm & the motion of the times: recording on the dirt cheap, pushing ahead with boundary-breaking rock music despite a lack of native talent, sending out homemade cassettes of their practices & 4-track sessions to fellow travelers for the price of a blank, plugging into the most primitive synths imaginable, and firing off multiple attacking rounds of very aggressive, choppy guitar. They were so nervous about the reaction they'd engender with this downscale approach that they never even played live. 1980 vintage FALL almost come off as classically-trained prog-rockers by comparison. Reference points include first-45 Mekons; other DIY linchpins like the Instant Automatons and Desperate Bicycles; anything on Fuck Off records; and, later, in their brief career (1983), all the UK bands who pumped up their sound with intense synthesizer layering and bizarre blurps without going whole hog into the gravy train of the "new wave".

The CD's presented chronologically, starting with recordings from their very first cassette. The loud-ass kick-off "Leather & Lace" is "primitive shit rock" to the nth, and will likely make any subsequent lists that seek to detail some of the cooler ultra-raw 4-track sputterings of the era. Later tracks burrow a hole into what I commonly think of as classic obscuro English DIY -- first-take recordings that sound distant and vague while cutting through the murk with hot fuzz and screeching keytones. Top picks are "The Hedonist Jive" (which comes from their only vinyl effort -- the "Angst in My Pants" comp -- and which'd make a great title for someone's blog or 'zine), the weird noise of "Pop Song", and the later "Obsession & Guilt", which almost sounds like something a real band might put out, if you know what I'm saying. I like the whole package far better than the retrospectives by the INSTANT AUTOMATONS, NATIVE HIPSTERS and THE DOOR AND THE WINDOW, perhaps because in three short years the Midnight Circus' sound grew & fiercely evolved without hitting a bum note that wasn't already meant to be bum. It's the best thing I've heard yet from the 80s cassette culture & I encourage you to get a quick multiple-item order in to Hyped2Death for the whole family -- only 3 shopping days left.