A.R. Kane - 69 Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we revisit the UK duo’s striking 1988 debut, full of noise and bliss and darkness, a crucial document of dream pop.

One evening in 1985, the Cocteau Twins made a rare television appearance. Awash in a tangerine glow while performing their song “Pink Orange Red” off that year’s Tiny Dynamine EP, the group emitted an otherworldly aura. While they played, Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala were stationed in front of their respective televisions across London. The two young friends called each other up immediately after the segment ended, blown away by the performance. They dug the music, especially Robin Guthrie’s swirling guitar and the band’s use of a tape machine instead of a drummer, but the pair was more galvanized by what the Cocteau Twins symbolized: boundless creative freedom. Soon enough, Tambala and Ayuli purchased an electric guitar, a drum machine, and some pedals and began experimenting. The illusion that being a musician required expensive gear and formal training crumbled away.

As the story goes, at a party soon after, someone asked Tambala how he and Ayuli, a copywriter at the acclaimed ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, knew each other. Perhaps a little high, Tambala jokingly said that they were in a band together, one which was “a bit Velvet Underground, a bit Cocteau Twins, a bit Miles Davis, a bit Joni Mitchell.” The band name, he explained, was similarly cobbled together from disparate influences: “A.R.” came from the bandmates’ first initials, “Kane” nodded to Citizen Kane, and the mark of Cain as described in Hermann Hesse’s novel Demian. But say it out loud and one word looms: arcane.

Tambala’s semi-fictional origin story quickly snowballed and A.R. Kane signed to the London record label One Little Independent (formerly One Little Indian). The band’s first single did not enter into the world quietly. Its vivid title—“You Push a Knife Into My Womb (When You’re Sad)”—was censored down to simply the parenthetical. With its screeching wall of guitar feedback, simplistic drum beat, and swooning girl-group harmonies, “When You’re Sad” garnered comparison to the Jesus and Mary Chain, who had released their masterpiece Psychocandy the previous year. Whether or not A.R. Kane were influenced directly by the Reid brothers’ noise-rock, they weren’t planning on lingering in that sound much longer. “...We can’t say we’re impressed by any of these shambling bands,” they told Melody Maker’s Simon Reynolds. “The shambling sound is very trimmed, somehow.” As indicated by the single’s woozy B-side “Haunting,” A.R. Kane was aiming for something far more expansive.

Tambala and Ayuli had spent the past decade creating a shared lexicon that directly shaped the music they created together. Friends since their primary school days, they were both children of immigrants: Ayuli’s family emigrated from Nigeria; Tambala’s father came from Malawi. Growing up in Stratford, East London, the pair “were always outsiders” but “oozed African confidence and a degree of arrogance—we ruled,” Tambala later recalled. As teenagers, Ayuli was drawn to dub music and Tambala leaned towards soul and jazz-funk, but they inhaled all the sounds of London from house to post-punk to hip-hop. 

Later, when journalists asked about influences, A.R. Kane never mentioned whatever indie band was on the cover of NME. Instead, they cited the fusion rock band Weather Report, the Brazilian trio Azymuth, dub-punkers Basement 5, and Mr. Feedback himself, Jimi Hendrix. But one specific inspiration kept arising: “The only person we listen to is Miles Davis,” Ayuli once said. “We’re not jazz musicians, but we’ve got a jazz attitude, if you like.” Ayuli and Tambala were conduits, absorbing, filtering, reinterpreting the world through their own means.

In 1987, A.R. Kane hopped over to 4AD, which was then home to similarly ambitious groups like Pixies, This Mortal Coil, and their beloved Cocteau Twins. Working alongside Guthrie, they released the Lollita EP, whose three tracks wander further into haunted psychedelia. With song titles like “Sad-Masochism Is a Must” and artwork by fashion photographer Juergen Teller of a nude woman with a knife behind her back, the EP was unabashedly fascinated with sex, love, madness, and violence. In the final minutes of “Butterfly Collector,” the abrasive shoegaze cocktail explodes into shrapnel; at shows, the blasts of feedback sent audiences scurrying to the exits.

While signed to 4AD, A.R. Kane teamed up with their label mates Colourbox under the name M|A|R|R|S. The two groups almost immediately ran into creative differences and in the end, the partnership produced a double A-side with just the slightest hints of cross-pollination. Colourbox’s sample-heavy acid house number, “Pump Up the Volume,” quietly featured Ayuli and Tambala’s guitars while A.R. Kane’s contribution, “Anitina,” included Coulourbox’s drum programming. To the shock of everyone involved, “Pump Up the Volume” skyrocketed to the top of the UK charts, becoming 4AD’s first No. 1 song.

It was in the wake of this strange and unexpected success that A.R. Kane recorded their debut album, 69. Now signed to Rough Trade, Ayuli and Tambala decided to forgo the professional studios where they had recorded with producers like Guthrie. Instead, they built out a space in Ayuli’s mother’s basement; rather than recalibrate their ambitions to fit a predetermined system, they constructed their own playground from scratch. Left to their own devices, with occasional assistance from producer Ray Shulman, A.R. Kane had complete freedom.

They would coin a new term to loosely describe their music: dream pop. “DREAMPOP,” as they explained in an article around the release of 69, “is a whole new concept which we think of as pure hooks, pure pop tunes with a little harsh melodic accompaniment.” Dreaming, the duo agreed, was “crucial” to their work, and they aimed to emulate an ethereality that could just as easily become nightmarish. The band used tape echo to make every song on the self-produced 69 feel just out of reach, like your memory struggling to grasp the last wisp of a dream before it slips away. In the vein of dub pioneers like Lee “Scratch” Perry and King Tubby, they reimagined their equipment’s logical endpoints, bending, sampling, manipulating, stretching, filtering, distorting, and reversing every idea. The duo combined all these parts and then, drawing on their intertwined intuition—they were two halves of a whole, yin and yang, 69—skimmed away the fat until a song emerged.

A.R. Kane recognized the ecstatic potential of noise, that when they cranked their guitars all the way up until every individual element melded into a singular void of sound, new doors might open. “We want our music to be a rush of things coming at you through the speakers, so many that the mind doesn’t have time to assimilate them and manage them,” Tambala told Reynolds. “It should be like a baby being confronted with a rattle for the first time, seeing it as it is, without preconceptions.” That’s certainly the experience of “Baby Milk Snatcher,” whose title alludes to oral sex, breastfeeding, and Margaret Thatcher. Touching on glitchy trip-hop, lethargic psychedelia, and carnal post-punk, it sounds thrillingly lawless.

69 is difficult to pin down; dream pop naturally begets dream logic. After opening with the unexpectedly jangly “Crazy Blue” and “Suicide Kiss,” the album descends into the distant, lethargic caverns of “Scab” and “Sulliday.” These last two songs sound like they were recorded in a basement where two human bodies were the only sources of warmth. Meanwhile, “Dizzy” counters an elegant Arthur Russell-esque cello melody with a faraway shout that sounds like a ghoul’s last rally as it gets sucked down a drain. 

Then there’s a song like “Spermwhale Trip Over” whose trippy haze is best summarized by the central verse: “Here in my LSDream/Things are always what they seem.” All the while, the faint groove acts like a guideline leading a diver through an underwater cave. The staggering late album  centerpiece “The Sun Falls Into the Sea” seems to come from an entirely different planet. “An ambition for us would be for people to have dreams in which our music was the soundtrack,” Ayuli said to Reynolds back in 1987. Dreams are limitless realms of new realities and 69, with its ambition, fascination with flaws, and ability to embrace both darkness and bliss, aims to capture it all.

In the summer of 2020, as demonstrations against systemic racism surged throughout the United States, an infographic titled “Tracing Black Influence in Shoegaze” appeared on my Instagram feed, asserting A.R. Kane’s role as pioneers of a sound almost exclusively credited to white men (and the occasional afterthought of a willowy white gal). A.R. Kane’s music traveled far beyond the walls of shoegaze and they never quite identified with the “indie” bands, but the point was correct: A.R. Kane forged their own path and that legacy can be heard in groups like the Veldt, Slowdive, and Flying Saucer Attack. During the years that A.R. Kane were active, the pair did not speak in-depth about their racial identity or role as figureheads for those who did not see themselves reflected in an indie scene (they were, to be fair, willfully esoteric about pretty much everything). But, as Ayuli said in a 1999 interview, “We were a force of ideas. We helped to get rid of stereotypes. In the ’80s black men were doing soul, reggae or rap, not psychedelic dream rock. We opened doors for bands to be more experimental.” Similarly, in 2012, Tambala pushed back on the notion that the band’s existence might be seen as shocking: “Don’t know why they’d be surprised by our music; negroes invented rock music, dance music, and free jazz and psychedelia. At least that’s what mama says.”
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
A.R. Kane - 69 Music Album Reviews A.R. Kane - 69 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on February 21, 2021 Rating: 5


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