Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cold War cold wave

I came across Oppenheimer Analysis by following on a lead supplied by Juan Mendez aka Silent Servant/Tropic of Cancer. The band is the UK duo of Andy Oppenheimer and Martin Lloyd who still operate to this day, although many of their releases have been re-releases of tracks from their seminal album “New Mexico” recorded and released on cassette in 1982. The sound is pure minimal wave: vintage synth pop, combining Kraftwerk’s machine music and robot sterility with new romantic’s androgenous and gothic stylings. But what sets Oppenheimer Analysis apart from their peers is a seamless and profound exploration of Cold War politics and mentality in their lyrics, like taking Kraftwerk’s themes of robots, energy synthesis, science, and technology to its dystopian conclusions in the paranoid and bleak mind set of the 80s. The whole “New Mexico” album beautifully unites like a giant fusion reaction under the threat of nuclear war and the forever distant future nuclear power and politics promises.

The track “Cold War” leaves no uncertainty when declaring:

“After all these years
Closer to disaster
It isn't very clear
Just who is the master
It's getting harder every day to keep control”

While the outstanding track “Radiance” sees the bomb as a new god, the lyrics delivered in an enthralled and sedated homage to church music:

“If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst into the sky
That would be like the splendor of the Mighty One
I am become Death
Destroyer of Worlds”

But the the album works as a greater whole by contrasting points of view. The dread on the street contrasts nicely with the shiny optimism of “Men in white coats” whos air of blind praise only serves to highlight the danger in adopting an unquestioning praise for the benefits of science.

“Men in white coats
Bring the changes
Call us fathers
Call us strangers
Men in white coats
Making white heat
Kill or cure you

We know what is best for you
Run just one more test for you
We know what we’re doing don’t we?
We know what we’re doing don’t we!”

“Modern wonder” works again from an unexpected point of view, starting as a love song, but ending as a road movie to the future with a finale that seems more like the London of recent weeks than 1982.

“And here we lie in disarray
Surrounded by the present day.
All this modern wonder
Ripped our lives asunder.
The greatest crime
Is to be out of time

[sent] to the late atomic age
Turning into rage”

Slower and more dramatic, the title track is almost pop Camus, transforming the sunless desert of the Manhattan Project’s New Mexico into an existential landscape:

“This is the place to be a stranger…
Everyone’s a stranger there
See the rednecks stop and stare”

Also on Mendez’a playlist is Snowy Red, a Belgian group with a slightly larger discography, but who neatly join the dots with Oppenheimer Analysis via their 1981 album “Snowy Red”. The group were lead by the sadly deceased Micky Mike (real name Marcel Thiel) once a member of the first Belgian punk band Chainsaw. More overtly influenced by Suicide, Snowy Reds stark electronica nonetheless also bears some of the same Cold War sentiments on tracks like “How funny are those explosions”. "Come on dance" is more abstract and its weird, mechanical angles are more industrial than hazed with the velvet sheen of commercial synth pop.

Closer in sound and generation to Mendez's Tropic of Cancer project is the German group Horrid Red. Drawing influence from synth waves and early Cure, their music is according to some better than their German lyrics. Nonetheless, their sedated and brooding update of new romantic pop is still intriguing and easily digestible since their tracks so far clock in at under three radio friendly minutes.

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