This expanded reissue of Domino's debut EP begs the question, Why wasn't she as big as Kate Bush or even Julee Cruise?
Anna Domino is American, but she signed with a Belgian record label and had most of here commercial success in Europe. To American and British audiences, she is best known for singing on someone else's record, providing background vocals on a single track on The The's Infected (1986).
Yet Domino has maintained her low-key music career. She released a spate of albums and singles in the 1980s, and later recorded as one-half of Snakefarm. Enough people listen to and care about Domino's music to warrant a vinyl/download reissue of her first EP, East and West, first released in 1984. An outtake and b-side from those sessions as well as both sides of a stand-alone single have been added to create East and West + Singles.
It's a bit surprising Domino did not get more recognition and college radio airplay at the time. East and West + Singles presents a low-key, sultry, somnambulant, cosmopolitan art pop. It fits right in with what one might expect from the high-class Les Disques Du Crepuscule label, which also released music from Paul Haig, Cabaret Voltaire, and the Durutti Column. Furthermore, the sound will be instantly familiar to anyone who is acquainted with fellow '80s purveyors of sophisticated art pop. East + West + Singles slots in effortlessly with the likes of Kate Bush, Julee Cruise, Bryan Ferry, and Peter Gabriel.
Like those artists, Domino makes pop music that sounds like it was created with a canvas rather than a recording studio. There are tribal polyrhythms, chilled-out horns, twangy guitar, and a steadily ticking drum machine, and that's just the intro of first track "With the Day Comes the Dawn". It is a bewitching, evocative bed of sound onto which Domino's pleasant, laconic voice drops effortlessly. All that's missing is a David Lynch movie to go with it.
Even better is the stunning version of Aretha Franklin's "Land of My Dreams". Domino takes the swing and the soul out of the song, replacing it with keyboards that circle back on themselves claustrophobically. In place of Aretha's brassy emoting is Domino's naked, fragile croon. When she sings, "In the land of my dreams / You would love me so much more", it is with sadness rather than determination. She truly makes the song her own.
The remainder of East and West + Singles stays on that dreamy, understated course. "Review" is the closest thing to a straight pop number, thanks mainly to a catchy bassline and some handclap effects. "Trust in Love", Domino's debut single, is funky in an abstract, Talking Heads-with-Eno way. Other tracks waft on by without leaving an impression at all. The vaguely Eastern-sounding "Repeating" fulfills its title, unfortunately, slinking around for a good while but trying one's patience.
The "Zanna" single with Belgian art/industrial mainstay Luc Van Acker fares much better, picking up the pace slightly but adding the sort of pulsing bedroom easy-funk Ferry had by that point mastered. Jazzy B-side "Rhythm" is almost as good, but the demo "Dreamback" with its skeletal, synth-heavy arrangement just doesn't fit.
Unlike her like-minded contemporaries, Domino never had a moment when the pop outweighed the atmosphere. That makes East and West + Singles more of an acquired taste, but it's one worth savoring.