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The Sound - Shock Of Daylight & Heads And Hearts review (Glenn McDonald 1997)

date: Jun 14, 1997


"Shock Of Daylight & Heads And Hearts"

Speaking of old-fashioned, the first two releases by British reissue boutique Renascent return to circulation part of the catalog of what may be the band to encapsulate the spirit of the Eighties with the most frightening thoroughness. How I managed to totally miss The Sound the first time around I can't imagine, since they made exactly the sort of music I was into at the time and they are in Trouser Press, but missing them then leaves me to discover them now, and I'll probably appreciate them more this way. If you abhor swirling big-arrangement pretensions and over-complicated emotional histrionics, you will want to avoid this album. If you have slipped into comfortable denial about ever having worn parachute pants, dyed your hair three colors, or experimented with massive accessory asymmetry, this album could undo years of therapy. On the other hand, if you feel a tiny twinge of wistfulness at the thought, a little wave of nostalgia with enough tingling energy left in it that you almost get up and go see if your old collection of bandannas, sleeveless t-shirts and Echo and the Bunnymen concert pins is still in that box in the hall closet under your old photography portfolios that you keep meaning to peer into, or, if, and this would be profoundly tragic, you didn't have this phase of your life (too old? too young? spent Eighties closeted with your chess tutor?), then you could ask for no better opportunity to vive it, re- or otherwise.

The first of Renascent's two remastered discs combines the six-song 1984 EP Shock of Daylight with the band's fourth full album, Heads and Hearts, and a pair of non-album bonus tracks. EPs were a dubious marketing invention, but whatever its origin, for a short time there really was a subtly distinct art form there. Making a cohesive, balanced disk with four to six songs on it is a different discipline from either filling an album twice as long, or padding a single with b-sides, and the two-sided-ness of vinyl also influenced the character of the problem, since an EP side had to justify itself with only two or three songs. Shock of Daylight could be the textbook example of how to approach the task. Side one opens with "Golden Soldiers", a pounding, frenetic blast of squalling guitars, hammered piano, galloping bass, brass stabs and dueling voices, something like the early Simple Minds running low on patience. "Longest Days", which would have been the middle of the first EP side, takes advantage of "Golden Soldiers"' inertia to make a relatively fast mid-tempo song seem slower than it is. Glassy synthesizers and a popping bass line provide most of the animation, while feedback-smoothed guitars and some more horns buzz overhead and a blocky drum machine track clicks below. This bridges the way to the Armoury Show-like "Counting the Days", which speeds up just enough to be noticeable, its simple hook enunciated by keyboards and trumpets while Borland's second vocal provides the intensity to balance the quiet lead.

With "Longest Days" and "Counting the Days" having built up the anticipation (and need) for something stranger, the second side opens with the stark "Winter", a cycle of emphatically plucked acoustic guitar notes and Borland's anaesthetized voice augmented, for most of the song, only by a few strategically-placed washes of keyboard ambience, the obsessive instrumental minimalism mirroring the song's claustrophobic lyrical sentiments. The EP's pace now having been pretty effectively killed, "'a new way of life'" starts it up again. Angular and rawer than the opening triptych, its Echo and the Bunnymen-ishness mitigated by some vertiginous Human League-like key modulations, it exists in an interesting symbiosis, I think, with "Winter", since it serves as a fitting recovery from the prior song's disconcerting stasis, but almost needs it to justify its lack of the first side's uncluttered melodic appeal. To "Dreams Then Plans", then, is left the task of resolving these abrasive tendencies with both the rosy pop glow of the two "Days" songs and the various impulses of the other three tracks, which it does chiefly with a stabbing guitar hook that evolves into the central melodic motif for a pair of dramatic crescendos, the concluding one ending with an abruptness calculated, I suspect, to get you to flip the EP over and start again.

On this CD, though, "Dreams Then Plans" leads, with no pause for reflection, into "Whirlpool", the opening track of Heads and Hearts, squealing guitar solos piercing a dense bank of synthesizers and roiling bass. Borland's vocal resemblance to Jim Kerr is particularly unmistakable on the verses here, where he repeatedly falls away from his notes, trembling emotively. "Total Recall", on the other hand, with its echoing guitars and eerie synthesizers, recalls the early Chameleons and the later Skids. "Under You" settles into a steady drum groove with choppy guitar accents, and mostly lets Borland, a saxophone and some whirling keyboard figures hold the stage. The synths make up even more of "Burning Part of Me", which rises to symphonic transport and plunges to tentative ticks in alternation. The first side would have ended, I think, with the defiantly hopeful "Love Is Not a Ghost", a smoother, quicker pop ballad with a pair of wide-eyed sax solos that both seem to cut off as if debilitating self-consciousness set in very suddenly, the second onset taking the whole song down with it. "Wildest Dreams", to open side two, slows to a crawl propelled by only shuffling drums.

Dreamlike processed atmospherics drift through, helping give the song a little of the feel of U2's The Unforgettable Fire, and Borland's dramatic vocals mix in some of the spirit of Echo and the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain, both of which albums probably appeared approximately while the Sound were recording this. Some of the atmosphere leaks into "One Thousand Reasons", as well, but by the chorus the band's natural predilection for melody has returned, and parts of the song remind me of the Armoury Show again, and of Then Jerico. "Restless Time" continues to accelerate, taught vocals and shiny keyboards swapping roles so that the vocals act more like sonics, while the keys take the melody. "Mining for Heart" is the successor to "Winter", moaning portmanteau keyboards and a twitching monotonic guitar pulse prodding the reverse-reverbed vocals. "World As It Is", with its bizarre, metallic percussion, spasmodic bass and vocal cadences, piano and orchestral-hit samples and shouted choruses, is almost self-parody. The album finishes calmly and beautifully, though, with the stately "Temperature Drop", which seems made to be heard from an arena floor, your sweat just beginning to cool as you realize that the show is drawing to a close. Of the two CD bonus tracks, "Blood and Poison", with its anvil-strike piano dissonances, skittering guitar and stop-start architecture, feels like a good song idea that just didn't quite work out, but the deliciously bouncy "Steel Your Air", which wouldn't be out of place in a Hunters & Collectors set, is a b-side of the very best sort: a cool song that would have sounded absurdly out of place on the album.

Copyright 1997, Glenn McDonald

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