Algebra Suicide / Los Microwaves :: Double review (Dark Entries)

Whereas Algebra Suicide employed drum machines to create a laconic monologue, Los Microwaves used electronic equipment to drive experimentation. Two disparate LPs exploring different avenues of music, both employing newly electrified equipment to produce a unique signature.

algebra-suicide-los-microwaves_featDark Entries has the uncanny ability to find obscurity. Understandably the San Francisco imprint has experience of tracking down lost artists, but its talent for unearthing quality has pushed Josh Cheon, and his imprint, to the forefront of early synthesizer sounds and post punk electronics. Recently Cheon has added two new names, for me, to the catalog, two American outfits.

Algebra Suicide were the husband wife duo of Lydia Tomkiw (vocals) and Don Hedeker (guitars/keyboards.) The Chicago twosome turned into a musical group in 1982 who had a decent career but hung up their headphones in 1984. Dark Entries return to the beginning, Feminine Square brings together early EPs, album tracks, compilation pieces and unreleased material. On dropping the needle the immediate comparison is Anne Clark. Not the synthesizer sounds, but the dead pan poetry delivered by Tomkiw. “True Romance at the World’s Fair” is reduced and removed. Tracks across the record are short, clipped and generally bleak. Melodies saw alongside terse machine beats, Tomkiw’s unhappy lyricism and social distress; “It must be why children look like distortions of their parents” could sum up the mood. Strings rise in certain pieces, such as “Somewhat Bleeker Street,” but harmonies act as scaffolds on which to perch those ever grim vocals. Subject matter blackens for pieces like “Little Dead Bodies” and “Please Respect Our Decadence” the line of investigation suffering from an element of adolescence. A greater development of the musical structures arrives later in the album, rhythm patterns and strings built into new shapes, as in “Tuesday Tastes Good.” The LP, with a DVD, has interesting aspects but its minimalism, coupled with the group’s desire to delve into ever grimmer pools, with little lyrical interplay, greys the album. Seventeen pieces, but many hard to differentiate from the last.

DE stays in SF for Los Microwaves, a proto-techno group who were active from the late 70s to the early 80s. For 2013 it is the 1982 LP Life After Breakfast. Peculiar arrangements are explored form the outset. “Time to Get Up” combines sturdy synthlines with a playfulness, vocals echoing with the traditions of The Sparks or The B-52s. “Reckless Dialogue” rings with the stark sounds of Algebra Suicide before the detuned strangeness of “TV In My Eye.” Limits are unknown, styles bleeding and spiraling into the centrifuge. “Forever” is a speed lust piece of synth rock craziness. The San Francisco group don’t adhere to any rules, layering divergent sounds atop one another. “La Voix Humaine” takes big synth lines, full of importance, and chops through with piercing percussion. The album is a hall of mirrors, what immediately seems familiar is instead distorted, stretched, shrunk, contorted and doubled over. Racing arcade game antics land for “You Bet” before the outright lunacy of “If You Want It.” The finale is “Radio Heart”, a frantic and emblazoned piece of electrified rock.  DVD included as well to round off the album.

The US is always a curious customer when it comes to early electronics. Neither Algebra Suicide or Los Microwaves are pure synthesizer music, but that new musical invention was transformative in molding their sounds. Whereas Algebra Suicide employed drum machines to create a laconic monologue, Los Microwaves used electronic equipment to drive experimentation. Algebra Suicide stumble, their quite original sound becoming mundane as content is recycled. Los Microwaves suffer from the opposite, a hyper-creativity that bounds from idea to idea. Two disparate LPs exploring different avenues of music, both employing newly electrified equipment to produce a unique signature.

Both releases are available on Dark Entries.

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