Above As Below
If, like me, you are a John Foxx fan, you’ve probably heard of Cult With No Name, maybe streamed a few tracks intent on becoming more familiar with this guy Erik Stein, the model on London Overgrown and the front man in the band whose latest work, the Blue Velvet Revisited soundtrack, also includes new material by our own Dennis Leigh.
But that is never enough for me, and I always regard these compilations as portals to other world’s where there is vast array of wonderful and engaging music waiting to be discovered.
The door marked Cult With No Name (in traditional hand-printed typographics) is especially curious…
On 2012’s Above As Below, their fifth album, a range of guest musicians each add an extra dimension and extend the range of CWNN from seductive post-punk poets to new sophisicats of an intelligent, elegant synth-pop that just somehow isn’t quite like anyone else.
From the graceful stylish opener One Kiss, Then Home, the album sweeps discerning and refined through its first movement, a suite of elegant, electronic ballads the highlight of which is the sublime chanson of Maitre D-Day. Jon Boux’s fragile piano is exquisite.
The six-piece sequences ends with the mournful coda of Everyone’s The Butt Of The Joke before the first interval, Losing my Elan, which features a spoken-word recital by the late Bruce Geduldig (of Tuxedomoon) that Laurie Anderson would be pleased with. Having passed away since I first heard this album, Gelduldig’s haunting presence adds a sombre poignancy to this idiosyncratic composition.
Today’s The Day (They Knew Would Come) is a another step in a different direction, quirky, danceable electronica that reminds me of Neil Arthur’s work with Blancmange.
After the tender harmony of Numbers and beautiful melancholy of the instrumental title track, the album’s closing sequence begins with What’s Certain, a technicolor trip-hop number that blends Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys with Erik Stein’s smart, playful lyrics and eloquent diction.
His vocal (a little reminiscent of Lou Reed I think) characterises the band’s unique persona, and is nowhere better exemplified lyrically than on the clever word-play of Idi’s Admin and musically on the seductive intimacy of the last track, the intriguingly-titled Secondary Sexual Characteristics
While the songs have their own quirky humour and individual charm, one element that stands out in particular is the way that Above As Below works as whole piece. The tracks are cleverly sequenced and flow from light to dark, from sobriety to indulgence, showcasing the band’s expanding range. Intriguing, and very satisfying.
Hence the artwork and packaging, which works in much the same way.
Barnbrook is brilliant at this. He just ‘gets’ it.
The tactile qualities of the inner sleeve (of folded draughting film represented as a sheet of typographer’s Letraset) reflect the tone and texture of the music; and on the back of the uncoated cardboard outer case is a unique mix of letterpress typefaces (a characteristic of the designer’s more recent work) which perfectly echoes the extent and individuality of the tracks and the beguiling craftsmanship of the Cult With No Name.