Curve Packshiot

Curve – Unreadable Communication – Anxious Recordings 1991-1993 (Cherry Red)

It was like a sledgehammer meeting our ears when the band’s Blindfold EP was released in 1991. I remember vividly the record shop I bought this from (Rockaboom Records, then on Loseby Lane in Leicester) and how it made me feel. It was the tail end of cock rock, where bands like Cinderella, Poison and Extreme among others played to baying fans (actually to be fair, I wouldn’t really lump Extreme with the former artists). Blindfold was an EP produced by Curve and Steve Osborne, excepting the Curve-produced lead track ‘Ten Little Girls’, (Osborne, by this point famed for his work with The Happy Mondays on Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches among other artists). It featured 17 minutes or so of not just guitars, but beats, samples and distortion, creating a delicious mix that shamefully only made it to number 68 in the UK. For those of us raised on punk guitar, new romantic synthesisers and now sequencers, it was like James Bond, producing music that was shaken, not stirred. This dark new sound, many would mimic (most notably Butch Vig’s Garbage), but Curve did it better. It was a breath of fresh air at the dawn of this new decade, where vocalist Toni Halliday’s opening line on this debut EP was “You think of no one but yourself, you see the rest of us as fools…”,  this was relatable. Dean Garcia’s mouthwatering and complex melody, beats and wah-wah guitar playing behind her vocals as this songbird narrates the story. This was damn good music, and when the band played Leicester’s Queen’s Hall (part of the University), I remember standing in this incredibly dark room, in which they performed as a 2-piece in the early 90s, with a drum machine and banks of electronics. It was a memorable sight, though this certainly changed as the band went through their career.

This first CD comprises the three EPs the band released in 1991, produced with Steve Osborne. Complex numbers, where those banks of electronics audibly played their role in producing the music, the likes of which we had not heard before. In 2024, it might be difficult to comprehend just how this might be possible, but it was a key change, Toni’s lyrics were somewhere between “teen angst” and “adult confusion”, but never “adult oriented rock”. Dean’s musical passages deep and textured, Toni’s words meaningful and quite beautiful. In ‘Coast Is Clear’ the narration goes “…you can be my father, for the love you’ve shown. It’s just a little too late, it’s never enough to swallow those pills, now I’m sick and always will be…” and like many, life may be nice, but it’s never enough. That said ‘Coast Is Clear’ is a beautiful track and from their second EP, showed just what the band was learning from the professional relationship with Osborne. More disturbing, yet beautiful wordplay on the final tracks of Frozen, then onto the final EP. As Clipped comes into view, the duo is ramping up the stakes. I just love the second track from this EP, Die Like A Dog. It has it’s own majesty, heavy bass and more wah-wah guitar, along with words expressing what we all hoped for, “…Peace in a world, free from religion, Peace in a world where everyone gets heaven…” and this was 1991, bringing the realisation that we are all on the merry-go-round of life. From another Osbourne produced EP, where the bass is ramped yet higher, feeding a need from within the listener.

I remember the excitement I felt when, after the first 3 EPs, it was announced that Curve would be working with Flood. A pseudonym for Mark Ellis, the engineer/producer who had come to prominence with his work as assistant engineer on New Order’s debut album Movement, here adopting the sounds and feel of those bands he’d worked with during the 80s. This was a real boon, a someone who had most recently worked with the likes of Nitzer Ebb and was now at the ‘controls’ for one of music’s most innovative bands. An example of this association is first heard, as this first CD plays out. From 1992 it was the ‘Faît Accompli’ 12”, where that familiar distortion, those electronic beats and Toni’s deep tones hit the senses, she sings “…don’t try to get away, I’m here to stay, my name is, Faît…”. The emphasis is again dark and not dissimilar from what the band had been producing up until now. It just had something, proving this was not just a fait accompli.

Continuing, the set now features the band’s first 2 albums, Doppelgänger and Cuckoo. Previous tracks from the band’s 3 EPs, didn’t feature on Doppelgänger, instead starting from the band’s single ‘Faît Accompli’, a banging single if ever there were one. This was a wild ride and this version features 4 additional tracks. The album contains the same sea of sound the band had adopted from their early recordings, although this is perhaps tamed a little through production, producing a cleaner sound. An element of this is Toni’s breathless vocal, at times sung so close to the microphone that it almost pops, presumably with the excitement of performing with such an artist. The 4 additional tracks, commence with ‘Falling Free’, a number lifted from the band’s ‘Horror Head’ single, complete with splashy beats and a hard rhythm, as Toni’s ethereal vocals chime in. This version of the album finishes with the band’s recording of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, a number which has been recorded by at least 55 different artists and is a track not unfamiliar to club goers, or,indeed, anyone. Of those 55 times this is one that would sit as nicely at your best friends wedding, as it would at Fabric‘s New Year bash.

The band’s second album was Cuckoo and again the ‘plus’ version is featured here. Fittingly the track that starts the album is ‘Missing Link’, a number which with its metal guitar and solid beats, might have found its calling in the metal charts, as it did the indie/alternative. This time a further 6 tracks are added, the surprise coming from ‘Nothing Without Me’, with its tender outlook quite a juxtaposition to what we have been used to. With its goth intentions and low-sung vocals, it really stands here. Normal progress is resumed with the original mixes of ‘Rising’ and ‘Half The Time’. Disc four concludes the presentation and includes Live and Mixed content, including ‘Coast Is Clear’ from Manchester and ‘Die Like A Dog’ from London, both performances in 1991. These are followed by remixed versions of the band’s material, including the Aphex Twin remix to ‘Falling Free’, a version which creates a monster from this previously sweet number. Further mixed content from both Doppelgänger and Cuckoo is included, bringing together the work of one of the electronic era’s pioneers of the form.

A set of recordings originally released through Dave Stewart’s Anxious Records label, this neatly catalogues an era from a band who have been at the epicentre of the electronic rock, or put another way the intelligent dance music (idm) scene for upwards of 3 decades. These were one of the most exciting bands I witnessed in the early 90s and still rate just as highly . It demands a fresh look, whether you’re a shoegazer, an industrialist, or just interested in the more determined brand of music, this might be for you. It certainly brought back fond memories of a scene that will always live in my heart.


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