[21 July 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Xymox, also known as Clan of Xymox, were together for only a year or so by the time they released their EP Subsequent Pleasures. Vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Ronny Moornings teamed up with bassist/vocalist Anka Wolbert, bought a bunch of 1983 state-of-the-art equipment and moved to Amsterdam before getting down to work. Their blend of the gothic and the romantic is one of those early ‘80s staples that has aged remarkably well. Subsequent Pleasures fell out of print and has since been resurrected by the Dark Entries label. It’s tough to tell if this re-release will spark any new Xymox fans, but it will certain satisfy many a vinyl collector. After all, the remastering job is just perfect. It could easily pass as something made today, considering the retro mood that everyone has been in lately.
If you’re a gearhead, a glimpse at their equipment will give you a good idea of their sound: a TEAC 144, Yamaha CS-15, Korg MS-10 and MS-20, and a BOSS Dr. Rhythm DR-55. So just from a hardware point of view alone, you could call it synth-pop. Factor in Moornings and Wolbert’s musical leanings and it doesn’t sound unlike the songs Graham Lewis would sing for Wire. The forms are cyclical and the mood is tense and brooding. The guitar is used as a textural instrument and the bass a rhythmic one, and everything has a chorus-ey warble to it. The strange noises take a backseat in the mix to the clang and jangle of guitar and keys. At just 22 minutes, it neatly sums up the space that musicians were eager to fill up due to Joy Division’s absence.
The centerpiece of the EP is, debatably, a 4:31 goth-pop nugget called “Moscovite Musquito”. Of the five songs here, it’s the least affected one where the implied atmosphere does all of the talking. It’s got muttered verses, a Peter Hook-esque bassline and a conventional tonality. The four remaining songs play around with discord to varying degrees. “Strange 9 to 9” hangs in the air, waiting for a harmonic resolve. And when it does arrive, it’s greeted with a slippery guitar line and an Ian McCulloch yelp. “Abysmal Thoughts” sounds much like its title, if one could decipher what Moornings were saying. “Going Round” takes advantage of its title too, with a spinning polyphony reminiscent of “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” minus any pop inkling.
It was during the song “Call It Weird” that my six-year-old said “this sounds weird” and proclaimed the overall mood to be “nervous”. The refrain, riding along a Speak & Spell-like synth sound, is not unlike Stipian mumbling. They could be singing “talk, talk”, but it’s not crystal clear. This is not new romantic, a tool for wooing. Subsequent Pleasures is for those times you felt that you missed out on the time when punk had melted into a confused, directionless industrial wasteland where scrap metal was king and prominent chart-toppers could kiss off.