Given the glut of music produced underground over the last 50 years or so, some truly excellent music is bound to go unnoticed in its own time. Such is the case with Hanover, Germany’s 39 Clocks. Earlier this year saw the release of Zoned, a compilation album that included several of the tracks from Pain It Dark. Originally released in 1981, Pain It Dark was the debut album from the band and owed no small debt to the Velvet Underground, Suicide, and Nuggets-era garage rock. The re-release brings the band’s spare arrangements, cold German-inflected English vocals, and comfort with discomfort into today’s context—and it all sounds great.
It’s such a joy to discover something from the past that sounds so vital, so ripe for broader discovery and adoration. If the sometimes-harsh sonics and low vocal levels don’t offend, they’re not doing their job. For a band known in their time as tricksters and provocateurs, it’s simply their mode of operation. That’s not to say that songs like “Psycho Beat” and “Radical Student Mob in Satin Boots” aren’t “accessible”—it simply depends on your definition of the word.
Although VU is clearly the band’s touchstone, the band simply uses them as a jumping-off point. Pain It Dark sounds like American garage and proto-punk filtered through some shadow-filled masterpiece of German expressionism. It took 28 years for the music of 39 Clocks to emerge from the shadows, but thankfully, it has.