If the post-punk revival has done anything positive, it has allowed for the reissue of forgotten new wave records from all over the world. Certainly French new wave pioneers KaS Product’s Try Out is not as important and earth-shaking of a re-issue as Gang of Four’s recently reissued Entertainment!, but it is a fascinating album that doesn’t quite sound like anything else, a document of a sort of mutant strand of new wave that never really developed into anything popular (but, strangely enough, anticipates the lo-fi punk electronics of the now-forgotten electroclash movement).
Try Out has been out of print since 1982, so you’re forgiven for never hearing about them (particularly since the album never had a domestic release in the United States). KaS Product was the result of a meeting between American jazz singer Mona Soyoc and French electronic musician Spatsz. The results of the meshing of these two styles is evident right from “One of a Kind”, the lead-off track. Soyoc’s breathy and convoluted cocktail jazz vocals contrast starkly with the bare-bones, out of control drum machines that Spatsz places behind her. At first, the two elements don’t quite mesh, but Soyoc changes from breathy chanteuse to raging punk singer in the frantic chorus, shrieking “shake everybody, EVERYBODY SHAKE” as if it were a life-or-death order.
Spatsz’s dedication to making his machines sound like machines provides the key for KaS Product’s unique sound. Where other bands of the period were trying to get slick, catchy pop sounds out of synthesizers, Spatsz was interested in getting the most purely mechanical noises out of them. The drum machines are stark and high up in the mix, and the keyboards are regulated to making unsettling noises, never acting as piano substitutes. KaS Product also incorporates a lot of guitar into its songs, but they too act more as a rhythm instrument in a way that points the way to the creation of industrial music.
It is Soyoc’s show, though, as her unique combination of jazz and punk vocal styles helps elevated KaS Product from experimental noise rock into strange, disturbing pop music. On “Countdown”, a character study of a mental breakdown, her voice crackles with raw emotion that few other singers could manage to sing with while hitting every note perfectly. Even during the spoken word portion of the song, she cannot stop twisting every vocal for maximum musical impact: “She believes she was never meant to live in these times / Well one day they took her away, they said she was ILL.” On the bizarre story-songs “Underground Movie” and “Pussy X” she takes on the voices of several characters, as Spatsz’s mechanical beats highlight the action. “Pussy X” is particularly deranged, a Residents-inspired trip into weirdness that features Soyoc playing the role of a angry cat and her owner, who, at the end of the song, gets aroused by her cat’s vicious clawing. Despite the fact that the song features Spatsz’s most traditional use of the synthesizers on the album, it’s difficult to describe “Pussy X” as an actual song.
Not that Try Out doesn’t feature some great tracks. “So Young and So Cold” is the closest thing to a real pop song on the album, and “Never Come Back” is a vicious punk rock number that showcases Soyoc’s wailing abilities. Mostly, though, the songs find the right balance between songwriting and experimentation. Their definitive song might be one of those bonus tracks compiled from the band’s EPs. The addiction profile “In Need” is a combination of a lumbering Hardcore Devo-esque instrumentation featuring the same simple melody being played by a guitar and then repeated by a creepy bass-like synthesizer blare, and a dazzling performance by Soyoc, using her jazz background to turn each individual line into a song to itself. It’s simple, yet it’s complex, which is about how I would describe KaS Product itself. They were less ahead of their time than entirely disassociated from it, and it is well worth a listen from the sonically curious. Hopefully the Try Out won’t remain out-of-print for another 20-some years.