So tell me what it feels like
You tell me dearest one
She turns around and takes her shades off
And says
It’s like staring at the sun

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The title of Ultra Vivid Scene’s second album was meant to look like the inscription on a 23-year-old woman’s tombstone, Joy 1967 – 1990; which gives you a measure of the shits and giggles we’re up for inside.  All manner of softly sung S&M drug vignettes set to gently edgy indie synth pop built around some killer melodies.  I read a review of the album that intrigued me and although it took me three years to track a copy down, I was so pleased when I did.

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Ultra Vivid Scene were a studio concoction put together by Kurt Ralske in NYC, signed up to 4AD Records which was a perfect fit for this outfit’s hushed vocals and twisted dream pop.  They featured a young Moby for a few minutes in 1989 on guitar but he was long gone before Joy was released into the wild.

There is a defiantly kinky sense of restraint about this album, whether you take that literally or meta-thingily there is a lot not being done here.  The wonderfully taut ‘Three Stars’ is a perfect example, it sounds like its’ being sung by a man whose teeth are clenched in lust, contemplating the welts he has just inflicted on his lover’s helpless buttocks, I’d, umm, imagine … something a bit like that anyway, possibly, maybe.  Ooo, look over there behind you, something shiny!

Mistress star
She took a fall
And landed on her knees
She blew a kiss
And bit my wrist
Till the tension eased

I love it.  With a neat mix of guitar pop and synth overtones, not to mention a spiffing cello break and great little guitar solo this is such a wonderful track, upbeat, rude and melodic, it has it all for me*.

Day-glo Jesus-es (Jesii ?) = very profound
Day-glo Jesus-es (Jesii ?) = very profound

Joy then switches into perfect indie pop for ‘Three Stars’, which wears its Big Star influences up front and clear for everyone to hear.  This one is all about the build and the melody and a great guest appearance by, 1537-crush Kim Deal; so good it sounds like a Summer’s day to me and in December that’s as good as it gets.  Check out the amusingly pretentious 90’s video though, I do warn you now though Ralske’s hair is uncompromisingly wussy and the video contains gratuitous toe shots:

Other faves of mine include the Cars-on-smack of ‘Lightning’, where Ralske sings lines like ‘a razor blade /a dollar and a dream / a whisper and a scream’ over jaunty motorik pop and a great guitar solo out of the Elliot Easton archives, it sounds like a delinquent outtake from Heartbeat City**.  In ‘Guilty Pleasure’ UVS tap into the same vein of awkward white funk last properly heard on Bowie’s Let’s Dance, to great effect.  Whereas ‘Extraordinary’ is bordering on balladic, Ralske sounding thoroughly crippled by ennui and enabled by some great Ian McLagan style keys, as he tells a certain someone he likes her because she’s ‘not quite like all the rest’ – praise indeed!

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Oh go on, I’ll bore you some more, Joy also boasts another couple of belters in ‘Grey Turns White’, which is another taut, repressed-sounding humdinger with yet more great soloing and can’t-be-arsed-to-breathe-out vocals.  On a more upbeat vein is ‘Staring at the Sun’, which is yet more great indie pop about being cool and young.  The strangest track here is ‘Praise The Low’ where the music turns positively medieval and sinister, dealing with what appears to be human sacrifice?  We seem to have stepped off the set of a Woody Allen movie straight on to the cliffs of Summerisle^, killer melodies, which is a little unexpected it has to be said.  There’s some that grab me a little less too, but let’s keep to the positives here.

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Joy is like nothing else I own, it doesn’t rock it slinks and pops, in a rather beguiling louche fashion.  My only real gripe is the cover art.  I once went to an exhibition of 4AD cover art in Manchester and basically, apart from the Pixies shockers, I hated it all for being ineffectually and self-consciously arty; Joy is no exception.  The repeated images, lyrics from ‘Staring at the Sun’ only in the inner sleeve – it does bugger all for me.  Luckily 1537 LP cover redesign studios are on the job, surely this is a better cover?

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I have chosen to break away from my usual, frankly quite immature, chicks and cars style of redesign and I feel that my (soon to be) award-winning record sleeve art captures all the high-mindedness, gravitas and sobriety that the artist is striving for.  Word up.

719 Down.

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*apart from Gregorian chanting and whooshy space noises, I’m very partial to those too.

**which is pure praise as far as I’m concerned.

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^Emily is hanging round
By her feet strung upside down
Swaying back and forth without a sound

The time has come to claim your place
Wipe that look right off your face
Or disappear without a trace

And all around a fire’s burning
Brighter then the sun
But we don’t feel the sun today
’cause once you’ve offered all to burn
Then so above below

The time has come for us to praise the low
To praise the low

Dripping blood and taken down
Emily is happy now
Lying face down on the winter ground

So shut your eyes and genuflect
The avenging angel comes
And start to count
6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Once you’ve offered all to love
Then so above below

23 thoughts on “Clenched In Lust

  1. “With a neat mix of guitar pop and synth overtones” – that sounds right up my street.
    I seem to gravitate to the guitar foundation with the synth layered on (like the Cure) as opposed to synth foundation with guitar layered on (like Depeche Mode). So if it’s in the order you say Joe, sold!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Obviously any activities/proclivities described in the post are for illustrative purposes and do not necessarily reflect how I keep warm during the evening. Honest. Umm, interest rates may go up as well as down, calls cost 45p/minute, terms and conditions apply and stuff.

      Like

  2. I remember this from back in the day, thought they were cool for having Kim Deal on a track, I was a big Breeders fan back then. That album grew on me. I also have a 12 inch with a song called ‘Not in Love (Hit by a Truck) which I really dig and used to slip onto mix cassettes.

    Liked by 1 person

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