Ultra Vivid Scene: Mercy Seat

Mercy Seat

4AD 1989.  BAD906


This single was, I think, the pinnacle of Kurt Ralske’s musical career.  This is a re-recording of the song, the original being on his debut album where it stood head and shoulders above the rest of what was an excellent album.  This much longer version gains most of the extra time from an extended intro which builds to the song itself over around three minutes.  Normally these things are just padding to justify the 12″ format, but here the majesty of the song, both lyrically and musically needs this build-up to really work its magic.  There’s less guitar distortion here than in the original, but more delicate meandering around the melody which gives the track a fragility which suits it.  The mesmerising bass line is still much in evidence though.  Somewhat surprisingly a very young Moby plays guitar on this.

The single includes the album version of the track as a closer and a couple of exclusives, which while completely overshadowed by the title track are well worth hearing.

Various Artists: Presage (s)


4AD 1980.  BAD11


This is a very peculiar release, not for the first time on this blog.  Like this post, it’s an extremely early 4AD release, and like The Fast Set, not much like the style they became known for, either the music or the artwork.  In fact it was 4AD’s first compilation.

What makes this odd is that all the bands on this compilation were unsigned at the time.  Only Modern English went on to become 4AD regulars – apart from that all the bands here disappeared without trace.  It has to be said that were this not on 4AD, it would be of no interest to anyone, apart from, maybe, the people appearing on it.

The music itself is somewhat experimental gothy synth based stuff and it’s really not that great.  Most bizarre, although I kind of like it, is the Red Atkins track – a 65 year old who sounds like a busker, and who, apparently is recording again.

So, this is really only for 4AD obsessives.


Magnétophone: Relax, Its The End Of Electronica


Static Caravan 2002.  VAN 40


Magnétophone usually record for 4AD so this beautifully presented and very limited 7″ was slightly surprising, although their geeky, glitchy electronica fits rather better here than there.  Perhaps it’s because it’s less accessible than their usual stuff, especially the B sides which have little in the way of conventional structure.  Regardless, the band are probably the most effective exponent of this genre.

Unfortunately Static Caravan’s love of the 33rpm 7″ continues here.  It really is the most abominable format this side of the cassette tape.  Still, it’s worth a listen.

The Fast Set: Junction 1


AXIS 1980.  AXIS1


This 7″ single is of interest more for the label than the music.  It was the first release on AXIS records, who were sued soon after by another label also called Axis, so they changed their name to 4AD, and the rest as they say, is history.

It doesn’t have much in common with the musical powerhouse 4AD would later become, either in terms of the music or the artwork, excpet maybe the somewhat gothy feel of The Fast Set.  In fact it was a rather inauspicious start for 4AD – this is rather second rate synth pop by a band who released nothing else, apart from a surprising contribution to the first Some Bizarre LP (which I don’t have).  However I often like records as anchored to their time as this one is – primitive synthesisers probably do that better than any other instrument.  The B side (and their Some Bizarre contribution) is a weird Marc Bolan cover.

If you want more, and I realise that’s unlikely, you can download some demos here.

Ultra Vivid Scene: Joy 1967 – 1990


4AD 1990.  CAD0005


I posted UVS’s debut album the other day and it’s been popular, so here’s the follow up.

The title is the inscription on a fictional tombstone, death being one of Kurt Ralske’s obsessions.  However the album isn’t at all as bleak as you might expect; if anything it’s uplifting.  If you’ve heard the first album, this very much continues the journey, but the sound, thanks to producer Hugh Jones and a bunch of session musicians is fuller and more open.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing – the strangely claustrophobic and sparse sound of the first album is like no other and reflects Ralske’s insularity.

Obvious stand out is the single, Special One which feature The Pixies’ singer Kim Deal as a guest vocalist.  I’ll post the single version another time.

Ultra Vivid Scene: Ultra Vivid Scene


1988 4AD; CAD809


This is in effect a solo release by Kurt Ralske (although Moby plays guitar on Mercy Seat), and is in my view one of the best albums from the late 80s.  The heavily distorted guitar work and twisted lyrics are reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, although Ralske absurdly claimed at the time that he didn’t listen to music and wasn’t influenced by anything.  As is almost always the case it’s the song writing which really elevates this release, Mercy Seat and The Whore Of God being stand-outs for me, but really there’s no weak material here at all.  The worst than can be said about it is that the overbearing drumming is too 80s, but then, it was recorded in the 80s, and the overall effect is superb.  Actually I like records which bear the marks of the era during which they were recorded.

I also have the 12″ single of Mercy Seat which is even better than the album version.  I’ll post it here at some point, but it looks like another two weeks before my vinyl ripping gear is back in service.

Further purchases?  Well there’s nothing available.  UVS seem to have been forgotten about.  None of it’s collectable though, so it’s cheap second hand, and since he never really put a foot wrong artistically, it’s worth getting whatever you come across.