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coverpic flag Mare Smythii - Full Moon 231 - 07/02/15

Various Artists
Insane 80s [EV01>EV10]
EE Tapes

Between 2010 and 2014 EE Tapes released 10 limited edition seven inch EPs with Belgian underground recordings mainly from the 1980s and some from the neighbouring countries thrown in for good measure. The new CD includes a sample with one track from each of the EPs apart from the 7th, called 80s Compilation EP, where all four tracks are included, and two from the second The Insanely Happy EP. In addition there are five bonus tracks previously available only on cassettes from the 1980s. So more than 70 minutes of the underground on one disc secure value for money. Most of the EPs are sold out, so the compilation is not meant as a marketing item to increase the sales of them. Instead the CD gives a picture of the period about what young people of the musical underground in Western Europe and some other countries were dealing with back then. The liner notes by Peter Vercauteren says a lot:

Have we become things of the past?
We had the birth-right to be there when it all happened. Technical failures messed up our first recordings. Household electronics. Bloody wires. Xeroxed covers. We recall the cuts in our fingers, and the smell of spilled glue gave that little extra to our first handmade package. The bewildered look in the local postal worker's eyes when we wanted to post a tape to send to the other end of the world. The mail-art stamps left little room for an official customs-stamp. The postman's confused and worried frown when he delivered the registered answer: a heavy hand-painted cardboard box from an overseas musical friend, with a very discomforting alias. In 30 years, our media have now travelled full circle. Obscure tape-recordings are re-released on limited vinyl, to be compiled on a limited retrospective CD, that will allow some of us to release a brand-new extremely limited cassette. Download-code included.
The music has never lost its thrill in the process: minimal analogue electronics, toy instruments, guitars, sound poetry, objects, experiments with field recordings and objects. Our lyrical outlook on the world is that of an outsider: very much in 1984 and even more so in 2014.
We are simply present!

Oh yes! What strikes me first when listening to the album is that the 1980s must have been a hard time for drummers. They seem to have been close to instinct. At least there seem to be no one present on this compilation at all. Instead there are crude rhythm boxes or more advanced drum machines on each and every track except one. Apart from the electronic beats, the compilation is dominated by electronic keyboards of the day, mainly of the cheap but probably also of the costly kind, and a bit bass or guitar here and there. 1980s synth-pop without and with a twist seems to be the most obvious and easy label that covers the majority of the featured offerings here. The sound is much fresher and less lo-fi than could be expected. Most of the tracks can surely not have been recorded at home on cassette players or old household tape machines. There seems to be more advanced studio equipment involved. And the standard of the songs themselves are also great most of the time. Mainly alternative pop songs and less hysterical experiments and field recordings than the liner notes indicate. There are several top-notch pure pop songs that had deserved a better fate than almost being forgotten on old cassette releases: "Images" by Belgian Bernthøler is a charming alternative synth-pop goodie with female vocals in broken English and inventive bass. Bernthøler's bonus offering "Extérieur Nuit" with oriental tinged synth ain't half bad either. I remember corresponding with French Opera Multi Steel back in those days and buying some of their tapes and vinyl output. Their wonderful fresh and a bit mystic sympho-pop song "Icare" was a favourite back then and still is. And the slowly gliding melancholic minimalistic "Dawn To Dusk" by Dutch Absent Music marks a worthy end of the album. The ingratiating "Number Not Available" by Nine Circles (from The Netherlands) seems to be a new recording, after Lidia "The Rose" Fiala had found a new keyboard partner early in the present decade. But it is symphonic pop as good as any alternative from the 1980s and has been a small YouTube-hit after the EE Tapes vinyl disc was released last year.

We've visited two of the EPs earlier in our Luna menus. The somewhat Middle Eastern flavoured "L'Ultima Storia" by Subject was a favourite when we checked out The (Almost) Insanely Happy EP in 2011. A favourite stamp also goes for "She Sells Sea Shells On The Sea Show" by Belgian BeNe GeSSeRiT (almost conventional compared to many other moves by this unconventional vocals-and-synth-dominated duo) from The Second Benefit EP in 2014. Here are also a couple of interesting melodic instrumentals. "Too Late To Be Sad" by German Nostalgie Eternelle explores the ranges of the synth whereas M.A.L.'s "One Full Week" is driven by very effective echoed guitar. I have to admit I don't usually fancy the most basic and crude kinds of rhythm boxes of the 80s and there are a couple of examples included here. I'm convinced that some songs might've gained if the boxed beats only had been utilized as a click track and removed in the final mix. But there you go. They're a vivid part of the decade, weather I like it or not. Some manage to integrate the box as a vital part of the song, like "Hex!" by Belgian Human Dance. It sounds a bit annoying at first, but eventually grows fascinating along with the vocals adapted to the beats. There are also a couple of cruder home experiments included, that can be approved more due to charm than musical elegancy.

So there we are. Some good, a little bit bad and some excellent offerings. The albums gives a glimpse into a vital musical underground mainly 25 to 35 years ago that most certainly proves to be better than many would expect. It's both a bit nostalgic; brought back some nice memories to me; and proves at the same time that a lot of the recordings are still valid today. According to the EE Tapes home page the album is 'compiled with love and respect! All of the artists presented here deserve to be heard by a bigger audience.' Agreed!

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