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Tuxedomoon July 3, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Tuxedomoon: A Thousand Lives by Picture

Tuxedomoon: A Thousand Lives by Picture

Ever notice you’ve got ten albums by a band and hardly ever listen to them? Well, today I’m listening to Tuxedomoon.

I first heard of Tuxedomoon back around 1980, probably in Lou Stathis’s column for Heavy Metal. He profiled them in the September 1980 issue, and made them sound pretty interesting — a band that used electronics, horns, and strings along with the occasional more standard rock band instruments, one that went through a phase of sounding like Ultravox, one for whom art rock was not the right term because they were more art than rock… well, it took a year or three, but I eventually found a Tuxedomoon compilation album, A Thousand Lives by Picture.

Tuxedomoon, it turned out, didn’t sound quite like I expected. A lot of the songs were sparse and stripped down in an un-rock kind of way, the vocals were not exactly good conventional singing, and there was less synth than I expected… but there was a lot of atmosphere, and a few songs I loved from the beginning, while the rest took time to work their charms. The compilation was mainly made up of songs from two albums, Half Mute and Desire, and a couple of singles tracks. It was the latter two I liked best, and they’re closest to a conventional new wave sound: “Dark Companion” and “Crash.” The former is the most rocklike, with electric guitars, feedback, and vocals along with the keyboards, bass, and drum machine; it’s a driving and ominous song with nearly flat occasional vocals. The latter is also dark-sounding and propulsive, but it’s an instrumental led by a piano line and a distorted electric guitar. It’s so good that Soren “Scraps” de Selby did a great blog entry about that one song.

Anyway, given that their sound varied quite a bit and their records weren’t too easy to find, I didn’t get around to buying any others for a long, long time. Then a few years ago I found a remaindered copy of Divine, a 1990 CD of music produced in 1981 for a ballet inspired by Greta Garbo films. Again, on first listening it was a bit of a mixed bag. But then eMusic started putting up a bunch of Tuxedomoon and related albums online… and I got a bunch of them. And listened to them a couple of times each and moved on to the next thing.

Well, I’m making myself listen to them again, and I’m discovering how good The Ghost Sonata and Holy Wars, among others, are. And playing “Crash” repeatedly. I may have had to force myself to remember and rediscover this music, but I’m having a good time. The music on these albums ranges from spazzy Devo-ish blurts to sort of lo-fi Bowie/Roxy/Ultravox stuff to pretentious art rock/jazz that sounds like the soundtrack to some artsy European neo-noir film to the kind of instrumental electronically influenced neo-classical music that a lot of blogs would go crazy for it was by someone young and recording for the right label. And occasional self-indulgent twaddle. But you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get from them, which keeps them interesting.

There are several more Tuxedomoon and related albums on eMusic. I’m tempted in this little moment of enthusiasm to download more, But for now, I think it would make more sense to work on digesting all the stuff I already have…

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