It's hard to be convinced of this cult Swiss group's greatness when a decade of post-punk rediscovery has rendered its sound all too familiar.
If Kill Rock Stars’ new Kleenex/Liliput release Live Recordings, TV-Clips & Roadmovies is guilty of any major failing, it’s bad timing. In order for it to have better distinguished itself, this CD/DVD set documenting live performances by the dually monikered band (the result of legal action from the tissue people, naturally) really should have been released at least five years ago, before the rush of post-punk reissues became a seemingly inexhaustible torrent of rediscovered music. In the face of increasingly specialist exploration of the fertile creative years that immediately followed punk’s flowering, the all-female Swiss ensemble can’t sound anything but ordinary.
That is not to say that Live Recordings, TV-Clips & Roadmovies isn’t an enjoyable set. Quite the opposite, it’s a satisfactory, albeit unspectacular, live document for connoisseurs of the dowdy, lo-fi end of post-punk, the sort typified by indie frugalism and an almost childlike lack of pretention or instrumental chops. In that vein, Kleenex/Liliput’s punk-inspired music is rough and shambling, often brief yet surprisingly appealing in how well it all hangs together despite its lack of polish. The CD portion is split into two complete shows (one from 1978 and the other from 1983) that cover both appellation phases of the group. Of the two, the Kleenex set is the weaker set. Hampered by poor sound quality, the recording is bathed in an excess of reverb that makes the band sound like a racket shuffling along at the other end of a big room. Certainly, there are those who would consider the lo-fi sound a virtue, but there’s no denying that matters improve with the Liliput set, the better audio quality of which allows the group’s newly-honed adeptness at dub-like spaciousness to shine.
The DVD boasts less material. It’s restricted to a trio of Swiss television performance for each of the band’s incarnations, plus Roadmovie, an arty short film collaged out of Super 8 footage filmed during a 1982 Liliput tour. Rather than being mere bonus curios, this video material crucially allows the group’s personality to shine through. Whether looking lovably ill at ease in their color-coded outfits in Kleenex performance television clips from 1978 or cavorting outside their touring fan in the Roadmovie footage, here the band members come across as individuals that leave a lasting impression rather than another faceless cult group.
That influx of unique character is something the set could use far more of. The performances included on Live Recordings, TV-Clips & Roadmovies are perfectly acceptable feminist post-punk, but it’s unlikely they will leave a deep impression on non-Kleenex/Liliput diehards. The clanging guitars, the bubbling basslines and boxy rhythms, the lo-fi do-it-yourself amateurishness: these sounds have now been solidified as signifiers of a certain brand of post-punk, so much so that they are no longer unique. More unfortunate, aside from a few standouts near the end, such as the previously unreleased “Taste a Taste of My Mind”, the group’s songs have little variation amongst each other, tending to blend into one another into an indistinct haze.
Back when Kleenex/Liliput was one of the few non-English language post-punk bands to receive retrospective name-checks, it was easier for the group to stand out. As the post-punk era has become so thoroughly mined for obscurities over the past decade, even “foreign-language DIY feminist post-punk” isn’t a narrow enough descriptor to make the band stand apart. Lacking the confrontationalism of the Slits, the ramshackle abandon of the Raincoats, and the dance-inducing funkiness of Delta 5, Kleenex/Liliput is virtually faceless when compared to the best of its female-dominated contemporary groups. Live Recordings, TV-Clips & Roadmovies is a nice addition to any post-punk fanatic’s record collection, but don’t be surprised if one of the tracks comes up on shuffle and you can’t quite put your finger on which group it’s supposed to be.