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V/A - Strange Passion: Explorations in Irish Post Punk DIY & Electronic Music 1980-83

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Artist: V/A

Album: Strange Passion: Explorations in Irish Post Punk DIY & Electronic Music 1980-83

Label: Cache Cache

Review date: Jul. 25, 2012

Of all the reissue/revival genres to be tomb-raided in the 2000s, post-punk has to be one of the hardest hit. Seemingly flogged within an inch of its second-life, one could be forgiven any cause for pause that might be elicited at the prospect of another post-punk comp. Beating back the odds again, Finders Keepers has managed to extract another handful of diamonds from a shaft seemingly unsafe for further exploration. Miraculously, they found another story actually worth telling.

Happening in tandem, and in close proximity, to the well-documented British post-punk movement, the Irish counterpart has been comparatively ignored, almost to exclusion. Strange Passion goes a long way toward correcting this oversight, making a case for Ireland as a relevant player in the U.K. post-punk firmament. With the sheer amount of material from this period re-surfacing, it’s easy to take for granted what a truly exciting musical era this must have been. Even more than punk itself, the post-punk years were a transformative time for underground music in the U.K., from which a few bands would emerge into international stardom (U2, New Order) and many more would dissipate back into the primordial ooze from whence they emanated.

Far more vital than the financial strides was the breadth and range of new musical frontiers being staked-out in the early-’80s. To these ears, the music being made in the era Strange Passion takes under consideration was far more vital and compelling than the vast majority of U.K. punk that preceded it. The Irish were clearly taking cues from the new crop of industrial synth agitators — the Sheffield sound (Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League) seems to have made a lasting impression, as well as the expansive funk-scape/scrape of A Certain Ratio and 23 Skidoo.

Even by the high-burnout standards of bands of this stripe, the life expectancy of the average Irish post-punk combo seems to have been exceedingly brief. Many bands barely made it into the studio before splintering, which may explain the overall obscurity of the names here. Whether this was a symptom of the country’s politically tense and economically bleak times is hard to say. Certainly, the darkness of the day is reflected in the music — which ranges from The Virgin Prunes’ (maybe the most familiar name here) tribal dissonance, a la Killing Joke, to The Peridots’ stark Joy Division updates. There are moments of unexpected beauty, too — Operating Theatre’s pastoral synth-scape "Eighties Ramp" skates frozen lakes on thin ice like Steve Reich, and SM Corporation delivers a monster synth-pop anthem in "Fire From Above," coming off something like a lo-fi "Our Lips Are Sealed," and making one lament what some of these bands could have done under more auspicious circumstances. At least we have Finders Keepers to thank for bringing this snapshot of a fleeting, but no less absorbing moment in U.K. D.I.Y. music history to light again.

By Jon Treneff

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