30 September 2010

The Fallout Club - Complete Singles

It would be easy to assume that The Fallout Club was Thomas Dolby's band, the answer to the question, what was the "She Blinded Me With Science" guy doing before he embarked on a solo career? This is certainly how the band is best remembered, but The Fallout Club began as Trevior Herion's effort to break into synth pop.

TSM has already blogged about Herion's early career here. Following a spell with power pop combo The Civilians, Herion and drummer Paul Simon formed The Fallout Club as a duo, securing a one-off release through Secret Records, the label that had released The Civilians' first release. "Falling Years" b/w "The Beat Boys" cast a restrained Herion vocal against a cracking, drum machine-like backbeat and little else, save the faintest hint of a bass line. Stark and minimal, the effect owes a notable debt to The Normal's groundbreaking "Warm Leatherette" and "T.V.O.D.," but fails to make suitable use of Herion's greatest asset, his talent for gorgeous melodies.

That would change the following year, as Herion and Simon hooked up with Dolby and Matthew Seligman. The keyboardist and guitarist were on the run from Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club, Wooley's failed effort to capitalize on his writing credit for The Buggle's "Video Killed The Radio Star," a breakout hit in 1979. Herion and Dolby were a match made in heaven. Dolby brought not only his battery of synthesizers, but his burgeoning talent for lush, dramatic arrangements, and Herion dug down deep and found a voice to match, towering and romantic. They cut a deal with fledgling indie label Happy Birthday Records, and released the second Fallout Club single in May, 1981.

"Dream Soldiers" b/w "Pedestrian Walkway" is one of the most perfect synth pop singles of the period. The b-side was a Dolby composition, the repeated refrain of the title offering a cheeky variation on the New Romantic affinity with vehicular traffic scenes, from underpasses to autobahns. It was sharp and clever, a clear indication of the the playful but somehow still heartfelt songs to come on The Golden Age of Wireless. The a-side, one of Herion's own compositions, was a more serious affair, a swirling, pulsing, synth ballad, with the vocalist's plaintive cries rising up over the keyboardist's fluttering arpeggiators, drawing favourable comparisons with the dreamier, darker moments of OMD, Numan, or John Foxx.

The best was yet to come, however. "Wonderlust" b/w "Desert Song" was released five months later, in October of 1981. A clear step forward from "Pedestrian Walkway," the Dolby-penned a-side opens with a bold, "Bolero"-like trumpet before the synths and drum machines come shuddering to the fore, Herion's mighty vocals trading off with Dolby's theremin-like counterpoint, and the verses building to one of the most achingly poignant choruses in synth pop. And the b-side, written by Herion, was scarcely less impressive, with a grand T.E. Lawrence vibe summoning up images of riders sweeping across the desert dunes. Dolby adds the muscular backing vocals, while Simon and Seligman get to showcase their skills on drums and lead guitar. The single may not have disturbed the charts, but in retrospect it is one of the great achievements of the period.

By late 1981, however, Dolby's evident talents were starting to take him away from his collaboration with Herion. Lene Lovich asked him to write and produce her next single, the brilliant "New Toy." And then top forty hit machine Foreigner asked him to sprinkle some of his fairy dust on their IV album. A solo career beckoned, and Herion too thought it was time to strike out on his own, but one cannot help but wonder what might have been had they stuck it out as The Fallout Club. An album's worth of tracks like "Wonderlust" would have been very welcome indeed.

Gathered here are all three Fallout Club singles, newly ripped from our own vinyl copies. As a bonus we've included the instrumental version of "Kiss of No Return," the b-side of Herion's debut solo single, and his last collaboration with Dolby, who arranged the track.

--Crash the Driver


"Falling Years"

01 Falling Years
02 The Beat Boys

UK 7" Secret [SSH 104] 1980

"Dream Soldiers"

03 Dream Soldiers
04 Pedestrian Walkaway

UK 7" Happy Birthday [UR 3] 1981


05 Desert Song
06 Wonderlust

UK 12" Happy Birthday [UR 127] 1981

"Kiss of No Return"

07 Kiss of No Return (Instrumental)

UK 7" Imperial [MPE 1] 1982

12 September 2010

Algebra Suicide: The Secret Like Crazy

Algebra SuicideAfter 1982's stunning True Romance At The Worlds Fair, the wife and husband duo of Lydia Tomkiw (words and music) and Don Hedeker (music and vice) bided their time. Tomkiw frequently booked friends with bands or poetry into clubs, and even co-owned one (Lower Links) for a period. She was not just a poet and band-member, then, but a tireless promoter of the local Chicago scene.

It took three years for the second four-track Algebra Suicide EP to be issued. An Explanation for That Flock of Crows ploughs the same rich furrow of declaimed poetry, muted buzz-saw guitar and clanking drum box. No track reaches three minutes and two of them are half that. Brevity helps make these itchy songs compulsive, but one has to admit they are not a patch on the debut.

Two more releases followed. In 1986 Cause & Effect issued 13 tracks on cassette in a limited edition of 200 copies. This album, Big Skin, was re-issued in 1988 on Buzzerama. A good Samaritan has recently made a dub available. Three of these same tracks were selected for a Buzzerama single. This included the track that was to become the emblematic Algebra Suicide song.

I've heard that somebody is born every eight seconds,
So I presume that someone dies every eight seconds,
Just to keep things even.
It makes me feel short-changed when I read the obituary page --
Someone's holding back information.

Originally titled "Little Dead Body Poem" for its publication in Columbia Poetry Review and appearance on Big Skin, then retitled as "Little Dead Bodies", this track approaches five minutes in length -- almost as long as the entire EPs that preceded it! Not only does it have a guitar solo, it has a music video, which I urge you to watch immediately. In every way, then, this is Algebra Suicide's epic, the tune for which they are best known. And why not? It's incredibly funny and perceptive, even without factoring in the bitter-sweet foreshadowing of the poet's end.

Incidentally, this video illustrates their stage presentation: dressed all in white Lydia would project slides over the band, a quick and easy home-spun multimedia event.

The Secret Like Crazy includes three of the four tracks from True Romance At The Worlds Fair, three of four from An Explanation for That Flock of Crows and six of thirteen from Big Skin. Seven previously unreleased tracks fill out the count, and conclude what can be seen as the first arc of the band's trajectory. After this the drum machine would be upgraded, new synths added and bargain basement recording ditched in favour of something a bit more mainstream. Algebra Suicide would never again be as essential. Which is not to say that fans won't want to hear their subsequent releases: Alpha Cue, Swoon and Tongue Wrestling.

The Secret Like Crazy has been previously blogged on Mutant Sounds and Systems of Romance, but this is our own superior vinyl rip. The album was issued simultaneously in 1987 on RRRecords in the USA and Dom Elchklang in Germany. Oddly, two different covers were used.

Listening to it as an entity it's apparent that synth and bass have been added more for sonic variety than to enrich the tracks musically. There are experiments in mood and tempo, even some "singing". But it all hinges on the words, and when these are perceptive, humorous or striking the songs work.

Me, I love it, and am so glad I bought a copy "back in the day".

When I go, I want to go clean, convenient, leaving no mess
As if I vaporized while taking a shower,
As if I moved to Antarctica
Leaving no forwarding address.

-- Second Chameleon

The Secret Like Crazy


Algebra Suicide: The Secret Like Crazy

A01 Little Dead Bodies
A02 Somewhat Bleeker Street
A03 Gist
A04 (A Proverbial Explanation For) Why No Action Is Taken
A05 Father's By The Door
A06 Tractor Pull
A07 Tuesday Tastes Good
A08 In Bed With Boys
A09 Sinister
B01 True Romance At The Worlds Fair
B02 Tonight
B03 Please Respect Our Decadence
B04 Heat Wave
B05 No War Bride
B06 Let's Transact
B07 Lethargy
B08 Amusing One's Self
B09 Recalling The Last Encounter
B10 Seasonal Zombies
B11 Agitation

lp RRRecords [RRR 022] 1987
lp Dom Elchklang [DOM EK 001] 1987
cd RRRecords [RRR 022] 1987 (1000 copies)

Algebra Suicide: True Romance At The Worlds Fair

LydiaIt's one of those decisive musical moments. You pick up a record with scarred cover that you found hidden in the back of a large disused collection. It looks completely generic, uninteresting, bland. When you pull out the vinyl it's gouged and barely wants to sit still in the record player. Nervous vinyl. You cue up the first selection with no special anticipation. You've listened to thousands of records like this one, issued from bedrooms and garages all over the North American continent. It's 1982; everyone is doing it.

When the sound trickles out of the grey speakers, it is smeared with distortion and cut with scratches.

A whispered remark changed a girl's life.

How appropriate that first line, delivered clearly, with just a hint of sarcasm. The pithy remarks on the debut EP from Algebra Suicide might indeed change a girl's life. They changed my life, I am sure.

Make no mistake, there was a difference.
She had a war job and mother-in-law trouble,
A jitterbug wedding,
And an itch that started quick.

One day I was in a different library, this one filled with books instead of records. Wandering through the stacks I found a section dedicated to historical periodicals. There I discovered Woman's Day and similar magazines from the fifties. I scanned the intriguing advertisements and articles that spoke of post-war America. "Too many blondes spoil the crowd" advised one. "The invisible bones of the face" said another. My skin went all tingly, like it does when someone holds a very sharp knife millimetres away from incision.

After a few moments I realised why these phrases seemed to issue from inside me. Lydia Tomkiw had found them too, some rainy day in Chicago. She'd compiled them, assigned scansion and recited them at poetry slams, maybe at some little bar on Belmont St. Later, Don Hedeker set a Multivox rhythm box clattering and churned out muffled guitar chords as accompaniment. Algebra Suicide transferred these words to vinyl in a seminal moment, never to be repeated.

Sometimes four tracks is exactly the right amount. Sometimes seven words is all you need. It is debatable whether the group ever reached these heights of expression again, though certainly there were a lot of other words waiting in the wings. Lydia Tomkiw made it as far as Columbia Poetry Review and The Best American Poetry anthology (1988), but passed away in obscurity in 2007.

Chances are you have never heard True Romance At The Worlds Fair. The way the chords uncoil slowly at the beginning of "Recalling The Last Encounter". The way the band's name is dropped into the lyrics with only apparent ease. The desire to become hydraulic. The reason children look like copies of their parents. The cheerful irony.

So this is your lucky day. I do hope it's raining.

-- Second Chameleon

We have obtained and restored a rare version of this record with as much care as possible. Apologies for the inevitable pops and gurgles. They are all there for a reason.


Algebra Suicide: True Romance At The Worlds Fair

A01 True Romance At The Worlds Fair
A02 Recalling The Last Encounter
B01 Praxis
B02 In Bed With Boys

7" EP: Buzzerama [AA-500] 1982