Jun. 1st, 2014

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Released four years after Time and the Maiden, but only two years after Claire Voyant was signed to Metropolis Records, Love Is Blind is the group's third studio album. The official release date was September 24th, 2002 and judging by Metropolis' failure to send a copy to WAIH, the label didn't seem to have any interest in promoting it like they did the remix disc Time Again. CMJ Weekly seemed to have lost interest in the group as well, as there was no mention of a new album in their hallowed and influential pages.

I found out from my then long-distance girlfriend that Claire Voyant had released a new album and ended up having to special order it from the local CD store. It's a shame that the label didn't push this harder – if at all, but then again Metropolis tends more towards grinding beats than gossamer beauty. For people like me who mope about that the Cocteau Twins are no longer releasing records, this is manna from heaven.

The album opens with "Pieces," which is probably the most dancefloor-friendly thing Claire Voyant ever recorded before the remixers got their hands on any of their songs. "Twenty-Four Years" brings them back to the mid-tempo grandeur of their previous albums and we stay there through "Mirror," "Abyss" and "Silence" (not a cover of the Delerium/Sarah McLachlan collaboration).

If we are to divide the ten songs of Love Is Blind like a record, "Silence" would close the first half with a bit of high drama. Victoria Lloyd's voice reaches into the heavens while strings and backing "ahhs" pulse and push through the majority of the song. It is what vinyl aficionados would refer to as a "side-turner."

We sway back into more melancholy moods with the second half opener, "He Is Here," but then the band takes an unexpected turn with "Close To Me" (not a cover of The Cure). It's a somewhat unusual song for Claire Voyant, their usual Cocteau Twins vibe sounding like it was invaded by Garbage and then Santigold broke into the studio to mash portions of "L.E.S. Artistes" in there. My DJ brain says that this one would be good to put on at the club when people have gotten a drink or two in and a few early pioneers are starting to wander towards the dance floor.

The title cut, "Love Is Blind," closes the set in an understated manner. Lloyd is almost whispering through most of the song. It sounds like she is writing a letter to a lover who may be there in person, but who emotionally may as well be lost in space. Who hasn't been there?

To date, Claire Voyant has released one more album: 2009's Lustre. Seven years is a long gap between albums and I should probably grab this one before it goes out of print. The band seems to have been on hiatus since 2010, with only sparse Twitter and Facebook posts to indicate any signs of life.

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In this, Off the Rack's 100th entry, we move from a band who sounded like they should have been signed to 4AD in the 1980s to a band who actually was signed to 4AD in the 1980s. No, we've yet to get to the Cocteau Twins, but instead their labelmates Clan of Xymox (sometimes just Xymox).

Activate the WABAC machine: the year is 1985. Two years prior, Xymox had independently released a teaser EP entitled Subsequent Pleasures. 500 copies of the record were pressed, and apparently the band, dissatisfied with the result, destroyed as many as they could get their hands on not long afterwards. Of the five songs on the EP, "Moscovite Musquito" (retitled "Muscoviet Musquito") made it onto Clan of Xymox's 1985 self-titled debut (but only the compact disc). A decade later, the original EP would see a number of CD reissues with various additional tracks tacked on.

I don't remember when exactly I bought this disc, but I know I got it used online. My copy is actually a promo disc (you can tell because the UPC code has a hole punched in it – a typical label method of marking discs that aren't for retail). Despite that, it still has all of the liner notes, such as they are. Included in the two page booklet is a track listing and production and performance credits, all in a damn-near illegible font. Thankfully, the track listing is printed on the disc itself in a much more readable all-lowercase Times New Roman.

I see Clan of Xymox as a time capsule. What else came out in 1985? The list includes Low-Life by New Order, The Head on the Door by The Cure and First and Last and Always by The Sisters of Mercy. Siouxsie & the Banshees wouldn't release Tinderbox until 1986 (Hyaena came out in 1984) and the first full-length by Fields of the Nephilim wouldn't arrive for another year either. This self-titled debut by Clan of Xymox sounds like all of these albums!

So, the group can't be called original, but they did what any good pop band does: appropriate the best and most accessible of what has already been done by the innovative and serve it up for consumption by a mass audience. Of course, in this context, it's a bit odd to be using the term "mass audience," because Clan of Xymox is firmly planted in their niche. This is a Goth club record, no cutting it and serving it any other way.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. This is not a disc I can listen to all the way through. When the band fuses their influences with their pop sensibilities as on "A Day," "Cry in the Wind" and "Stranger," the results are nothing short of brilliant, even when you can pick apart the songs and identify what came from where. "7th Time" rightly got John Peel's personal seal of approval. Other tracks – "Stumble and Fall" and "Equal Ways" – sound like ABC if the duo had been abducted and forced, Clockwork Orange-style, to watch films of kittens being drowned.

The original vinyl LP had eight songs on it, with each side starting very strongly ("A Day" opens side A, "Stranger" opens side B). "No Human Can Drown" is a lovely bit of moodiness which originally closed the LP…and as far as I'm concerned, should have been about two minutes longer instead of fading out after only three and a half. However, the CD I have tacks three tracks onto the end: "Moscoviet Musquito" and two remixes. "Stranger" loses two minutes in remix form while "A Day" gains nearly three. The former is good for radio programmers, the latter good for club DJs needing a piss break. Neither remix was all that necessary of an addition.

My first introduction to Clan of Xymox was actually through a compilation I picked up on a whim: Gothic Club Classics, Vol. 1. "Louise," originally from the band's 1986 set Medusa was included on that compilation. While that song didn't inspire me to go out and grab the group's entire discography (or even the album it originally came from), it was enough that when Clan of Xymox released a live album in 2000 (simply entitled Live), I slotted it into WAIH's new music rotation.

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Creatures, Clan of Xymox's 8th overall album (and first for Metropolis) opens with "Jasmine and Rose," arguably one of the best songs Ronny Moorings ever penned. Yes, it sounds like a long lost track by The Sisters of Mercy (and yes, Andrew Eldritch can suck my left one and fuck a duck while stewing in his impotent rage over my Goth music comparisons), but that's really to be expected if you've been paying attention up to this point.

It was "Jasmine and Rose" that prompted me to go to one of the local record stores in Potsdam, New York way back in 2000 and special order the disc. The place had recently installed a spiffy self-service system for special order CDs in the form of a massive computer kiosk. I walked over, typed in "Clan of Xymox" into the artist field and the results came back with a selection of every release by the Wu-Tang Clan. With the failure of new technology, the person behind the counter put in an order for the proper disc and I got my CD within a week.

So, what happened between 1985 and 1999 with the group? Well, when they started they were a trio: the aforementioned Ronny Moorings along with Anke Wolbert and Pieter Nooten. Fourteen years later, Moorings was the only remaining original member. The band had also split from 4AD after their second album, going through four different labels before getting signed with Metropolis for Creatures. They remain on the label to this day. Oh, yes – and between 1989 and 1994 the group just went by the name Xymox. I think that if I ever get the rest of the group's discography, everything is getting filed under C, much as I'd love to expand section X of my music collection. It's easier that way.

Speaking of name confusion, there is actually a misprint on the liners of my copy of this CD. On each edge of the inlay card, it reads as follows:

MET 128 CALN OF XYMOX – CREATURES

I hope somebody at the label got fired for that one. I also wonder if it ever got corrected. I mean, somebody else should have noticed this in the past fifteen years, right?

So, what does this one sound like? Well, it sounds like a Clan of Xymox album. Basically, if you've heard one, you've more or less heard them all. I don't say this to be insulting, but it's the truth: the crossover appeal for this group is, at best, limited. We are living in the dark, absinthe-drenched, clove-scented batcaves of the eternal 1980s.

Subjectively, I find myself enjoying Creatures more than the self-titled debut. The sounds and song writing, while still derivative, just seems stronger overall. It's still best taken as an over mood piece, but the high points are coming more often. Like Clan of Xymox started strong with "A Day," Creatures also tears up the boot-stomped dance floor with "Jasmine and Rose." After a couple of weaker songs (but not much can stand up to that opener), "Undermined" starts playing, slowly burning it's way through six minutes of wailing angst vocals and searing razor blade guitars. I am being strapped to the rack and stretched and I fucking love the misery I am enduring!

Bring on the heavily reverbed piano for "Consolation" and it's slow-dance time. A bit of humming and a steady 8/8 drumbeat and I feel that it's time to light a scented candle and lay in bed with my lover, weeping about how our relationship is well and truly doomed to fail in the most miserable and tragic way possible.

Can you tell yet that I wasn't particularly happy in my 20s? Truth be told, I'm not particularly happy in my 30s either. Nor was I particularly happy as a teenager, but at that point I'd yet to discover an appropriate soundtrack to fit my moods.

In some ways, Creatures was released at a good time for Clan of Xymox. For a time in the early 1990s, Nirvana and a million plaid-clad imitators had effectively destroyed everything about the music of the 1980s, alternative and otherwise. Much like punk had killed prog rock in the late 1970s, the high theatre and pretentiousness of goth music couldn't withstand the raw and earthy assault of grunge in the early 1990s.

Even so, goth bands started crawling back out of the shadows in the mid to late 1990s. They were never hugely successful – at least not in the United States – but there was certainly an influence at work. I remember heated (and ultimately stupid) arguments over whether or not Marilyn Manson was a goth musician. I still say no, despite much of his shtick being stolen from Christian Death. If black eyeliner makes one a goth musician, then self-abuse onstage makes one Iggy Pop as well. Marilyn Manson is no Iggy Pop.

Legitimately though, there was London After Midnight, Switchblade Symphony, Rosetta Stone, and so on...and then, Clan of Xymox, surviving the 1980s to continue recording and releasing albums throughout the 1990s. In fact, they continued to release albums through the first decade of the new millennium. There is an indication that the body is showing signs of decay though: the most recent Clan of Xymox album, 2012's Kindred Spirits is a collection of covers. Such a move usually gets the attention of the vultures and obituary writers begin checking to see that the ink in their typewriter ribbons hasn't dried.

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Seth Warren

May 2017

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