Mute Records: 40 Essential Tracks

Essential Mute Records tracks

essential Mute Records tracks Crime and the City SolutionCrime and the City Solution – “Six Bells Chime”

from Room of Lights (1986)

The other post-Birthday Party band not named Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Melbourne singer Simon Bonney incorporated ex-BP members into this dark chamber pop ensemble. This paean to first love lost seems to come from deep in Bonney’s core, his vocal affectations even approaching those of Cave and Tom Waits, billowing like smoke and fire from a metalworker’s hearth. The band’s guitars and supportive piano build endless layers of echoing baroque theatrics. These qualities caught the attention of film director Wim Wenders, who turned sound into vision and asked the band to play this cut live in his cult classic Wings of Desire. – AB


Laibach essential Mute Records tracksLaibach – “Opus Dei/Life is Life”

from Opus Dei (1987)

Formed in old Yugoslavia, this band’s difficult, even controversial artistic connections to nationalism use brutalist industrial sounds and booming, growling vocals. This impenetrable veneer, combined with early ostracism by their homeland, made commercial and critical acceptance hard to earn. Almost out of necessity, some of Laibach’s best-known cuts paired others’ pop songwriting with their martial imagery. The payoff? Subverting both. Queen, The Beatles and Andrew Lloyd Webber all fell under the band’s withering gaze. Yet no Laibach transformation is as car-crash curious as the shift of Opus’ white-reggae one-hit wonder “Life is Life” into music for a goose-stepping military processional. – AB


essential Mute Records tracksLoop – “Soundhead”

from Heaven’s End (1987)

British psych-rock/shoegaze outfit Loop combined a number of interconnected if different-sounding influences—Blue Cheer, Spacemen 3, The Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain—into one immaculately noisy whole. “Soundhead,” the first track on debut album Heaven’s End, is deafeningly hypnotic, as peculiar as that sounds. It’s a track heavy on pulsing kick drum and hand percussion, a steady stomper of a track that could lure the listener into a trance. But it’s also the kind of track that shrieks with distortion and noise. It’s telling that Loop once released a split with Godflesh. As druggy and cosmic as this band is, the sound they wield is utterly destructive. – JT


essential Mute Records tracks Nitzer EbbNitzer Ebb – “Join in the Chant”

from That Total Age (1987)

This British group’s chiming new metallic dances filled Mute’s release schedule between 1987 and 1988, helping to define electronic body music (EBM). “Join in the Chant” was Nitzer Ebb’s third single from their debut album, anchored by Bon Harris’ gurgling synth line and David Gooday’s 10-ton-hammer drum loops. Above these, Douglas McCarthy recites angry mantras (“Lies, books, burn, fire, oh!”) that are reductive summaries of fundamentalism, fascism, and maybe a few other isms. It’s infamous in its simplicity. People who joke about industrial music look to songs like this to inspire their punchlines. People who are serious about the genre know it’s a vital part of EBM canon. – AB


Nick Cave albums Tender Prey

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “The Mercy Seat”

from Tender Prey (1988)

It makes sense that Johnny Cash would later cover “The Mercy Seat” in his American series, in a way giving a nod back to an artist whose oeuvre has long had the shadow of The Man In Black cast over it. “The Mercy Seat” is, like many of Cave’s best songs, essentially a murder ballad, only the murder comes on the part of the state. It’s told from the perspective of a man sentenced to death (the title makes the method pretty obvious), meeting his maker in the last moments of his life: “Anyway I’m hoping to be done with all these looks of disbelief/ An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and anyway I told the truth…and I’m not afraid to die.” There’s a twist at the end, though it’s well worth experiencing the seven harrowing minutes it takes to get to via jackhammer bass, ornate gothic strings, and the sound of the gates of hell opening up. – JT


essential Mute Records tracks ErasureErasure – “A Little Respect”

from The Innocents (1988)

With bands such as Yaz, Depeche Mode and Erasure, Mute Records had its share of genuine hits over the past four decades. Of course the common thread in all those bands is songwriter Vince Clarke (even if he was only in Depeche Mode for about a year). Clarke has a way of turning synth-driven pop music into earworm gold, of which “A Little Respect” shines brightest. The leadoff track on Erasure’s third album, it represents the UK duo’s evolution into maturing popsmiths with utterly undeniable melodies. Thirty years after its release, it doesn’t sound as if it’s aged a day. – JT


Die Krupps essential Mute Records tracksDie Krupps & Nitzer Ebb – “The Machineries of Joy”

(1989)

Dusseldorf act Die Krupps were considered pioneers of what eventually became industrial music, combining pop constructs and metallic sounds at the dawn of the 1980s. This is their only appearance in the Mute catalog, but working with label darlings Nitzer Ebb to give a fresh coat of EBM paint to their 1981 song “Wahre arbeit, wahrer lohn” served two purposes. First, it reinvigorated Die Krupps to resume recording with a new emphasis on the guitars that would color much of EBM to follow. Second, it was a Darth Vader-meets-Luke Skywalker moment in musical history, when influencers and protegés came together as studio equals. – AB


fortranFortran 5 – “Love Baby”

from Blues (1991)

David Baker and Simon Leonard spent decades in North London (and on Mute) trying to make inroads into public music consciousness. They started with arty synth-pop in I Start Counting, and ended with a 10-year experiment in Kraftwerk-inspired electronica called Komputer. Weirdly enough, it’s a transitional period as Fortran 5 that might have been the most successful, if only because it fit so well with the sounds of the day. Baker and Leonard’s second single under this stage name was the first, best evidence of transforming their sample-heavy I Start Counting work into music embracing the British rave scene. Covering relatively new ground for the label, this featured disco divas, wiggling keyboard lines and endless hi-hats, and its remixes hinted at a future world full of Nightmares on Wax, Aphex Twin and The Orb. – AB


Diamanda Galas Plague Mass essential Mute Records tracksDiamanda Galás – “This is the Law of the Plague

from Plague Mass (1991)

Mute has had a decades-long relationship with experimental artist Diamanda Galas that began with 1986’s harrowing Saint of the Pit and carried forward into almost a dozen albums. The Mute run included some of Galas’ most famous works, 1992’s wiry The Singer, 1994’s bombastic The Sporting Life, with John Paul Jones, and 2003’s florid Defixiones: Will And Testament. It also oversaw Galas’ trilogy of merciless albums on the AIDS crisis: 1991’s Plague Mass, 1993’s Vena Cava and 1996’s Schrei X. Galas’ signature screeches and epically nihilist piano remain today a deadly adventurous investment of time and money for any label as they were a generation ago. Yet the union seemed perfect. A label that had swaddled itself in the independence its performers championed gave space to Galas and her contorted vision of storytelling—these reverberating tales of injustice, genocide and retribution shone in colors that would make the late Jean-Michel Basquiat envious. The pairing would result in a wholly and genuinely original path for avant-garde resonance, best captured by Plague Mass, Galas’ damning live-stage koan to government lethargy in the midst of HIV’s rise. “Awake to help me and behold,” Galas prays on “This Is The Law Of The Plague.” “Swords are in their lips, for who, say they doth hear, but thou, O Lord, shall laugh at them. The God of my mercy shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies.” Where else but Mute could offer quite the platform? Nowhere, truly. – EA


inspiral-carpetsInspiral Carpets – “Two Worlds Collide”

from Revenge of the Goldfish (1992)

Manchester’s baggy scene had a short shelf life, and for all of their hard work Inspiral Carpets seemed just on the edge of greatness within it. They never cracked the top 10 at home, overshadowed by grooves and antics from the likes of Happy Mondays. “Two Worlds Collide” was the only song to do so in America, the last single Mute pushed for them there. It deserved the push because it rose above mere rave material: its keyboards and piano stabs, sweeping guitars and Tom Hingley’s vocal arrangements were assembled in a desperate, majestic manner that few Madchester artists ever approached. It was one of the last gasps of a dying genre, but definitely a powerful one. – AB

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