no songs tomorrow

Various – No Songs Tomorrow (Cherry Red)

Very nearly 4 and a half hours of music finds its way onto No Songs Tomorrow – A Darkwave Journey, a ride into music’s counter-culture. A collection that comprises music of not just Darkwave, but Ethereal Rock and Coldwave, spanning the years 1981 to 1990, over 4CDs. As far as this compilation goes, back in the day my friends and I would have lumped these artists together, referring to them as simply ‘Goth’ or maybe new-wave, but with the benefit of time, it’s easy to break these facets down and differentiate. The label folk here have scoured what is available, not just looking at music from the UK and America, but perhaps lesser-known artists from across Europe and beyond. 

An easy way into this set is to approach it from a familiar starting point, which we find on NST. The Cure introduces this dish with ‘Funeral Party‘ and while other less known artists can be heard later on, it’s Robert Smith’s lazy, almost tortured vocal that sings alongside a wonderful bassline and restrained synthesiser. This is a good start and bodes well for what is to come. We proceed through Babel 17’s ‘Come Into Hell and Murder Hate’, their name borrowed from a 60s Sci-Fi novel and a band formed in France, in 1988. They’re still active today, with their music approaching cold-wave and pre-goth. Black Tape For A Blue Girl follows and what a juxtaposition as Dark Wave greets the listener. An American band with sounds that are far warmer than the previous act, with beats taking prominence over cold hard synthesiser. It’s here that music of the ethereal is heard, with sounds that are almost heavenly in their texture. 

Hold on to your hats, this collection is heading skyward and might be the ride of your life, as these 10 short years are piped into your life, in whichever way you choose to consume your music. The 60 songs here are absorbing, each in their own way and can signpost a life, depending on your listening preferences. It is not just music that will hold your gaze, as bands get ever more creative with their monikers and some very clever word play is used. Call it a generational slant if you like, but these leave many bands of today dead in their tracks. Digging ‘down under’ finds Dead Can Dance and their track Avatar, a number with a “neoclassical darkwave” tone and an eerie vocal technique. This technique, known as glossolalia, is provided by Lisa Germaine Gerrard and might leave you shaking in your trench coat. I howled when reading that a band named Executive Slacks could be found early in proceedings. ‘Say It Isn’t So’ is a tremendous track, full of energy producing music on the darker side of new wave. A band from Philadelphia, USA, whom, it has been said “…were created on borrowed guitars and trash cans…”, such were their meagre beginnings. But this was no reflection on their creative abilities and will become one for further attention. Sitting beside them are In The Nursery and ‘Lost Prayer’, a quite bizarre experience, made even more so when you learn they’re from Sheffield, rather than the depths of the Black Forest, as their music might suggest. Complete with the thunderous tone of a bass guitar that begins this number, a military-style rhythm keeping time throughout, a male voice appears to sing what I can make out is “…in morta…”, which after research, in Roman Mythology represents the goddess of death. “Fitting,” I think, but before I can expand on these thoughts, a female voice is introduced, singing sweetly. The drums get louder, and then after what seems like an age, they fall silent and the listener ponders just where they have been. Fitting, perhaps on this compilation, but hair-raising when you learn it comes from twin brothers Klive and Nigel Humberstone from South Yorkshire. Take it from me. They’re good.

As I have said, many of the sounds here are produced by artists from either the UK, or USA, but also from mainland Europe, among others. The German-speaking nations are a no-brainer and Days Of Sorrow, from Dortmund, introduces their ‘Wild World’ with a synthesiser that speaks of countless bands who have followed in their wake and before. Then a drum beat runs throughout, in this English-speaking number, thinking back to my school days, a second language was important after all. The band’s vocalist William Lennox sings in perfect English, his keyboards somewhat similar to those of Japan and a magnificent reminder of their influences. French trio Rise And Fall Of A Decade begin the ethereal melancholy of ‘Nothing To Say, Easy To Answer’, who here at least, can be heard producing music of a soft swing. Dark-synth sounds are presented by Canadian band Psyche, as ‘The Crawler’ is played and another leaf is turned. Now based in Germany, brothers Darrin and Stephen Huss can be heard performing these very different, yet familiar sounds with metallic tones and cinematic qualities. Artists who shared an interest in label 4AD and Factory Records, are the four-piece behind Eleven Pond, performing ‘Tear And Cinnamon’. A very different sound to those previously heard, as this number, with a bassline similar to that of Peter Hook is played over a darkwave synthesiser, a quite bleak vocal offered by James Tabbi

Other more known artists of a darker tone also feature, as Soft Cell perform ‘Heat’. This desolate number is well chosen, it’s not just the mood which conveys the right attitude, but Marc Almond’s lyrics slip down like the best bourbon, as he sings “…you use up bodies like cigarettes, do you need them for ego, do you need them for sex…” a track far more alternative than their best-known work. Cranes, a band from Portsmouth, England have been included, with ‘Focus Breathe’. A personal favourite of mine, although disappointingly features all too little Alison Shaw’s childlike vocal. Post-punk Lancashire band Section 25’s ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ is gorgeous with its electronic tone and is familiar to the music of this time and place. Leeds band Red Lorry Yellow Lorry is a representation of Gothic rock, although ‘Hand On Heart’ was a track perhaps chosen for its dark-wave qualities, with its raw electric guitar, synthesiser and deep drum playing to a constant timing. Its vocal is offered by Mark Sweeney, “…you’ve got your hand on my heart…” and is a love song for the darker-wave generation.

We’re on the way home now and as American’s Museum Of Devotion plays out with the electronics in ‘Gauge Field’. With its heavy bassline and gorgeous beats, this is one Museum I’ve never had the benefit of exploring. As I listen here, I can’t help thinking about British new wave band, Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Funnily enough, it seems that the Sputniks had shaved the morning they went into the studio, whereas Museum Of Devotion forgot to pick up their razors. I get more of a Wild West vibe from them, with their music plugged in and ready to go. Wearing a heavy 5 o’clock shadow and a pair of spurs. Clint Eastwood eat your heart out. It’s the recurring theme of early synthesiser, drum machine, deep bassline and spoken vocal that makes this set complete. Before we leave this ever so complete set, I feel I should leave it to the English band Alien Sex Fiend to round up proceedings with their ‘In And Out Of My Mind’, a gothic rock symphony, sung with the intent of a cold-wave masterpiece. An electric guitar played over a drum machine, with bleak vocals offered by Nicholas Wade (aka Nik Fiend). As Leonard Cohen once sang ‘You Want It Darker’, well I think this set would serve him well. I don’t think we could make this any darker.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.