Three great twelve inches
Leather Nun Slow Death 12" (1979/1984)
The Gordons Future Shock 12" (1980)
One of the most exciting segues on record that I have ever heard is the one from The Feedback Song into Rema-Rema, on Rema-Rema’s Wheel in the Roses 12”. Originally released as the first single on 4AD, the transition from the feedbacky, squiggly wail/piano pounding/effect pedal twisting/thud thud to a buuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhm of a distorted bass slide and primitive tribal drumming is paradise. When I first heard it, I dropped the needle over and over in order to hear it again. The needle drop is not to get past Feedback Song. No, Feedback Song is great, too. The song starts with a clean bass riff and is joined by a simple drum beat that doesn’t get much beyond a throbbing drum in a hollow room. A synth washes in and even in 2005 it doesn’t sound dorky or dated, say the way the synths are on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure. Then the pleasant whine of a loud guitar cracks though and a vocalist with a Scottish (or Irish) accent sings as if he’s making a declaration. Little changes, other than a couple brief breaks. The song goes out with a chaos of feedback and synth washes, and, as described above, bamm comes Rema-Rema.
The song Rema-Rema is one of the great primitive punk / post-punk tunes. It is big; it is loud; it is dumb; it is direct. Hard primal drumming and a monster bass are fucked by more squalling guitar. The vocals sing-song over the mess. The only thing that compares by contemporary standards is the A Frames live when they are liquored up and playing stupid. As far as bands of yore: It brings to mind the other two mentioned here and Australia’s X.
Side two of this 12” is an instrumental song called Instrumental, which reeks of Chrome/Killing Joke distopian soundscape. Again, simple and thuddish, Instrumental relies on feedback and repetition. The closer is a slow thing called Found Affections. Even more atmospheric than Instrumental, FA pulses in an early industrial way, with some drugged dub influence and, of course, there is feedback.
Rema-Rema were not around for long. Band members left to form Adam & the Ants, Mass, and Renegade Sound Wave. Drummer Max (a woman) teaches ballroom dancing. The lack of experience makes for a serious lack of polish, which only aids these guys/gal. If Rema-Rema would have lasted longer and gotten “proper” studio treatment the result would have probably been slick and sterile.
My first encounter with The Leather Nun came when I bought the Primemover/FFA 7". I was so unimpressed that I ignored their output for years and never bothered to find out what came before that record. Then one day, a friend of mine pulled out the Slow Death reissue. "No! Not The Leather Nun!" I pleaded. But he assured me all was fine: I needed to hear this. He dropped the needle and he was right. I searched for the record. The two 7"s that make up the record were impossible to find and by the time I stumbled upon any Leather Nun records, I had forgotten what the damn record was my friend played me!
Then a couple years ago, another friend put a couple Leather Nun songs on a CDr he made me. "No! Not The Leather Nun!" I cried once more. "This is the good stuff," he promised. And it was. The search was on once again, but this time I had a title: Slow Death.<>Original released in 1979 on Industrial Records, the Slow Death 7" debuted the Swedish band, The Leather Nun. They say they were the first band since Abba to break out of Sweden. Maybe so. Throw this pup on your turntable and you will think that if they weren't the second Swedish rock and roll band to climb out of the north, they were the best...at least for one record.
Slow Death starts out with the song No Rules, a distorted, primal, Stoogoid/Raw Power-style riff that immediately plunges into a sub-Motorhead punked up swamp. Fuzzed vocals emerge, English painted with some evil, thuggish accent. Behind the fuzz and dumb riffage (and that is smart dumb, not dumb dumb) are some odd vocal loops or something I can't quite figure out. But it works.
Second song is the title cut, a slow, sparse crawl about someone dying slowly from burns that cover 90% of their body - fun stuff that owes a lot to Suicide's Frankie Teardrop as well as Pere Ubu's Heart of Darkness. Not quite as good as either of those two doom classics, Slow Death is still a pretty sweet song.
Ensam I Natt originally appeared as just a sliver of time on the Slow Death 7". Here, on the reissue, you get the whole show. A busy bass line starts it up and then once again we plunge into fuzz filled dumbness. Ensam is easily one of the 100 best punk songs ever made. It is primitive, it is brutal, and it is immediate. Perfect.
Death Threats closes the side. It is a combination of bass/drum loop, a band saw loop, and a drill, then a telephone ring. The vocals come in, sounding as if they were recorded in a room lined with cotton balls. The guitar arrives late, perhaps because it is being played under water. And the solo is taken up by a very loud typewriter. A drill/saw crescendo ends the song. The first time I heard to Death Threats, I was only half listening so I didn't pick up on the instrumentation until the end of the song. Upon second listening, I heard the saw, drill, etc. What I am getting at is that, hardware aside, there is a song here and it is a good one.
Side two was originally released in 1980 and is a long live version of Slow Death, featuring Genesis P-Oridge on violin and Monte Cazazza on synthesizer. Like the studio version, it creeps in. It is slow and sparse. The vocals are more distant, but that is fine. The synth and violin combine and sound, at times, like a wah-wah guitar. About the two minute mark the guitar comes in with a slashing ka-kunnnnnnnng. It takes up the melody but doesn't overpower. Past three minutes, I start looking at my watch. At five minutes, I fall back into the song, the length actually making this version better. The guitar starts what turns out to be a long, fragmented wah wah solo. Guitarist Bengt Aronsson is no Ron Ashton. And he couldn't tune Grady Runyon's gee-tar either. My man Bengt comes from the Scott Soriano School of Wah Wah Soling. The Soriano School involves mating simple phrases with complete nonsense. It involves dumb fingers - not smart dumb, this time it is dumb dumb. However, as moronic as Bengt's sub-soling is, the man nails it. A hot-shit solo would ruin the song, it would bring it crashing down in pretension. This is pretty much all of what is needed and it aces the song.
I am not a Leather Nun fan. They released far too much crap to get my endorsement. That said, I do very much recommend this 12". It is as pure and primal as loud art punk gets and well worth a hundred listens.
While that Rema-Rema segue is hard to beat, nothing compares to the introduction of The Gordons’ Future Shock. A fucked up bass grinds out the opening notes, so loud it compresses and fuzzes out. I’ve been in bands that have tried to cover this song and the bass is so mangled that it makes any attempt to do the song seem feeble. With Future Shock, I must have played the intro a thousand times more than the whole song. After the bass, a guitar does some weird squiggle riff and then spiders into a headache hook. Right before the vocals puncture the song, a desperate sax screams. “Future shock, future shock, get ready for a future shock…” we are warned. The vocalist sounds like English is his second language, though the guy is from New Zealand, where, last time I checked, they speak the Queen’s tongue. And that is about all there is to the song. The guitar gets quiet here and there, some screaming follows, we are warned a few times more about the Future Shock, the bass and drums do the same thing over and over. But all this is good. Hypnotic repetition takes hold and all you can do is enjoy the ride, until it all slows down and drops dead to some tinkling guitar shenanigans. Rumor has it Future Shock charted on the radio in New Zealand when it came out. It is certainly one of my top ten punk songs of all time.
The flip is just as simple as the fantastic A-side. Machine Song uses another simple riff, and some feedback to drive the song into a nice slow groove. Adults and Children sounds like The Fall with a swollen adrenaline gland. Again, repetition with a squalling guitar is the order of the day. And the song ends with an appropriate thud.
They actually evolved out of The Models who released a pretty decent 7" which has unfathomably never cropped up on any (legit)punk retrospective to date...
Maeco Pirroni looks back on them very fondly: "I'd been in Rema Rema, that was that Acklam Hall, Scritti Pollti, PragVec… I thought that was just shite." (!!!)
Mark Cox & Michael Allen went on to form the Wolfgang Press.
Several years later the 4ad super-group This Mortal Coil covered "Fond Affections", but it's nowhere near as good as the original.