Mass : Labour of Love
I’m constantly amazed at the number of bands that I should know but don’t. Each year I discover loads of new bands and obscure old bands, but it seems as if there are plenty more coming from the same pool from which they came, leaving me feeling unfinished in my search through pop music’s history and its future. And if I, someone who is theoretically supposed to be more “informed” when it comes to these things, is constantly learning something new, then it becomes all the more obvious how much a casual music listener is missing out on. I thought I had my post-punk checklist all but finished (This Heat, cheeeeeck!) when 4AD opened my eyes to a band I had never even heard of: Mass. Two of its members later formed the Wolfgang Press, a band whose minor mid-90s hit “Going South” I had discovered when it was still somewhat fresh. But this obscure seminal goth/post-punk outfit proved to be something entirely new to me.
Based on the pink nippled Venus in Furs artwork, the band, on the surface, appeared cheeky and lighthearted, but the music on the disc inside displayed something entirely different altogether. Mass’ one and only studio album, Labour of Love, is extremely creepy. Hardly any light escapes from this dingy slab, and if it does, the dark shadows cast by the haunting atmosphere and brooding basslines are always lurking behind. Beginning with lengthy opener “Mass,” Labour of Love delves deeper into the churning post-punk that Joy Division left open in Closer.
“Ill” is swathed in swirling, airy sounds and scratchy punk guitars, Gary Asquith’s moaning vocals providing a harried and frightening front. “Why,” represented twice on this album, is reverberating, minimalist goth-rock with descending shouts, though no actual words. Once “Isn’t Life New” starts up, however, all melodicism has been cast aside in favor of noise, saxophone squeals, chants and the odd xylophone. It isn’t really until “FAHTCF” that something resembling a song begins again. This one is actually quite reminiscent of Joy Division as well, something like a slowed-down “Transmission” with crashing cymbals instead of danceable beats and super creepy organ.
There are many reasons why Mass would have stayed obscure, mainly because they were so radio un-friendly. This music challenges, certainly, but it almost seems to taunt and tease, to prod you until you can’t take it anymore. It’s abrasive and misanthropic. It’s brutal and it’s jagged. And I’m extremely thankful that 4AD didn’t let it languish in the archives, because that’s one more notch on the post-punk belt that could have gone un-etched.
This Heat – Deceit
Savage Republic – Ceremonial
Wolfgang Press – Burden of Mules
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.