Thursday, December 06, 2007

Suicide - Half Alive

Suicide, "Harlem II" (YSI link)
Suicide, "Love You" (YSI link)

Suicide, "Speed Queen" (YSI link)

Walking through the Lower East Side late the other night, it felt like I was home again. It was just the streets and the cold and a few lonely souls and that seemed right. Despite the fact that I was coming from 205 Tuesdays and a night of magical disco, it was the music of Suicide that came to mind. I truly can't think of any music that more perfectly captures New York City than the stuff that Alan Vega and Martin Rev put out in the 1970s. Or as Lester Bangs wrote in the liner notes to Half Alive, "I don't know where you live, but like the Velvet Underground's, the Dolls' and damn few others, Suicide's music is truly the sound of New York City for me. Trendies can keep laughing or just refusing to comprehend, but the ten years they've given this city are just the beginning." Their music's loud, aggressive, unsettling, dark, moody, angry, everything that lurks beneath the surface here. They seem to play that role perfectly, as this was also the dark side of electronic music at the time. While disco ruled the day uptown, this stuff found its home downtown, not giving a shit if you danced or got laid, laying the foundation for industrial and most non-house music.

I finally picked up their first album, Half Alive, which was originally released in 1981 as a cassette by ROIR, the legendary NYC label. It features a handful of their earliest recorded songs from 1974-76 and 1979, plus live tracks from various concerts in NYC, Toronto and London. I've included a sample of each. "Harlem II" represents Suicide at its finest live, opening with a trademark Vega scream. From there, Rev joins the battle with a rumbling, jagged bass that feels like it's going to slice your eardrum. Vega and Rev never let up, as bursts of static-y white noise, Rev's screams and hollers and unrelenting drums confront you for nearly four minutes. This is punk music to me, far more frightening and confrontational than anything that I've heard from the hardcore kids.

"Love You" is from the latest studio session on the album, the 1979 one at the Suicide Home Studio. This one features warped Vega vocals, it sounds like he's not quite in the room with you. This one is so Suicide to me, a song called "Love You" that features Vega rapping about doing anything for her, while underneath a mechanical drum beat sucks any life out of the tune. Rev adds some horn sounds as well, which are great, but it's those death drums that are unforgettable. Finally, "Speed Queen" is one of the first things they recorded, back in 1974/75, and it doesn't sound like they had far to go to get to their released output a few years later. The whispery vocals aren't ideal, but the pacing and Rev's electronic assault are already fully formed.

Synth punk, machine music, electronic punk, I don't know what to call it, I just know that it still sounds as good and radical as anything I hear today. This one gets our highest recommendation, buy your copy here. Actually, buy a copy of their first two albums on Mute first, if you don't have those already.

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