Pleasure Leftists: The LPs of PL
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Post-Record Store Day Week 1, and what started off as a review of a deathrock band turns into a meditation on our appreciation of new bands, as the future’s old ones. Reviewed here by Ryan Walker.
I work an independent record store in Bolton and having worked the first of three Record Store Days and gazed into the innumerable boxes and glanced upon the countless reissues and remasters and remixes and debut albums and 7-inch singles and other batches of vast material thought of as abandoned or out of print, the importance of the publications that provided the necessary platforms for those bands to get to wherever the hell they are and whatever the hell they are (Throwing Muses, The Wake, Wolfgang Press, The Cure, Membranes) is all too clear. For in these in techno-clogged climates we almost demand as a human right that music is free and able to be acquired like running water or some other essential domestic utility.
But this is the ideology of an individual with sight too short and mind too simple to really visualize or get to grips with the bigger picture and what is really at stake here. Something at stake. Or – the lifespan of the artist. Their existence is predicated upon your entertainment. Your involvement. Your investment.
So, entertain yourself and enjoy suffering for it as they did.
For overtime, gradually, our understandings of music as being something which underpins the day rather than something to accessories our shopping trips with, have eroded.
Corrupt is the playlist. Confusing is the download. Corrupted is the laptop. And you know it. Because it’s ridiculously easy. Because it routinely bleeds you dry.
We push delicate buttons on warm screens yet the ideas of something being pressed into our palms which last more than five minutes of a quick fuck in the bathrooms of cyberspace is a fickle notion. Yet this is a supposition that seems to satiate the pitiful existence of the hypocrite species. One mood for every morning generated by swipe habits easier than breaking the skin of a freshly prescribed blister pack and swallowing small pills with cool water.
It’s easy for our attention spans to wane, wither and weaken, and as a result of such focus lost, the more important aspects of life are stripped to a fizzle of algorithms and timetables and stats and facts and eventually, kicked to the curbs of history. People purchase memories and moments, more so than records. Even if they don’t really buy into this more complex, deeper connotational analysis of plastic and graphics and the multiple sides of the mediated experience, or the meaning of something with a tactile dimension which can be bent and broken and bruised and beaten but also preserved throughout the ages, is still an idea which resonates with many. I’ve seen it.
I refuse to let such a fate of falling away to the waysides and slipstreams of musical history happen for the Pleasure Leftists from Cleveland, Ohio; who really do deserve a special place in your record collection like the thousands of other releases unveiled a few weeks ago and which, once upon a time, we just thought of as being another album. As neither here, nor there. But somehow, turned from cult to classic. And now we can’t get enough.
For now, all these years later, we just have to get our greedy, little mitts on the limited edition, one of a kind, once in a lifetime pressing of the fucking thing. A certain section dedicated to the real cream of post-punk and deathrock, or new and no wave. The faces of many records, influential and unshakeable from the archives thousands of years later, is given yet another reissue under the industry surgical scalpel (no bad things – some masterpieces are often delicately, cleverly, and conceptually handled, but the principle still applies just as much) and hordes of music lovers flock to the store’s doors with the shutters still partially closed to bag a beautiful piece of work.
A first for everybody at the door, even if they have the actual original pressing. Everyone stands at the same height and only your knowledge is the acceptable cultural currency on this occasion mate but according to the person behind, or before you in the queue, you’re just another dickhead waiting to buy the record.
This is an album, one of those albums. We will wait for it. And therefore, a collection of something is presented to us.
A collection of what?
A collection of a couple of EP’s, released by the band in 2011 and 2013, themselves called Pleasure Leftists, but as an expanded and remastered piece of work, are titled here, The EP’s of the PL. There first release since 2019’s The Gate.
Things are always hot and fast and sharp and jagged and moody and awkward and annoying and intelligent and angular and arty and that’s what post-punk should be like. And such is so because it was an attack in the aftermath, the first attempt, and therefore what we call Post-Punk came at a correct, contemplative, and quick enough time to read a couple of books and watch a couple of films, to really dig deep into something other than the dole or the queen.
Intelligence is Anarchy. Intelligence is Sexy, dear handsome yob.
So let’s be intelligent. Let’s not be rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a lie and you know it.
It should be wired and weird and on the cusp of collapse but shatters all that stands in its way like an obstacle stood in the way and unprepared to face instantaneous slaughter. Nature Of Feeling sets things alight splendidly. It’s an unstoppable stampede of drums, a seizure of beats, that shoots the ground from beneath one’s feet. A bass guitar, never letting go, never slowing down, never stopping for air climbs up and down the frets as guitars seem to crash against the walls the rhythm section is building upon each turn of verse into the chorus before being chopped to pieces again.
Morning of the Room explodes like a maniacal Siouxsie Sioux, the cold blood rushing through her turbulent body, the warm smell of electricity in the early morning atmosphere, the voice of Haley Morris soaring above everything, swooping with each athletic nosedive, and ascending again beyond the clouds like angels touching the edge of outer space, always driving things into new realms of intensity when reaching the apex of her innermost, forever primed to unleash everything it climaxes to without relent.
This is a guitar, bass, drum, vocals band – and is even stronger when playing with those elements. More powerful because of its primitive nature. Suits, therefore, twists and itches and shakes like a savage dance on a stage shared between Girls At Our Best and Gang of 4 – psychotically lacerating all that leans in too deep as the tip of one’s nose is torn from the face and slits the skin to rags. The impenetrable guitars of Kevin Jaworski rupture and sputter and hypnotize the senses which are forced to look into its dizzying headlights. One moment melodic, a skeleton soaked to the bone in reverb. The next, some atonal groan from the distance as weathered statuesque goths gyrate towards a dazzling dancefloor with their eye wires spasmodically contracting. Similar merciless, and equally, murderous moments occur on the unnerving, ethereal Animal Heart.
Kicking off what would be, if speaking about the separate Eps, the 2013 release, is For A Family. Harris’ vocal lines are a true thing of beauty. Reaching peaks and returning to earth within seconds, always at a distance but somehow up close. Mark TerVeen’s laughing drums and Steve Peffer’s volcanic bass sound conjuring up the robust toughness of The Bunnymen playing live at the peak of their powers. Every perfect roll never repeated, and each ferocious fill throwing a matchstick against a trail of gunpowder and letting the keg explode in a burst of white light.
Guitars spit and hiss and wrestle with the bass with barbed wire for strings, each interactive instrument played like making the process of plucking roots from belowground easier than snipping a piece of string they move that fast. It’s Pylon after doing a few press-ups on a bed of nails as each instrument taking an adventure together but experiencing the journey on different appreciative levels. Or it’s the angular, offbeat, rubberized no wave funk of the rough-edged Raincoats given a lovely lick of paint. Sparkling here with newly discovered angles of aggression and attack, voltage and noise, and cacophonous trajectory with each snapping accent and shock of electricity in stiff limbs. All crocodiles and porcupines.
What’s impressive is the notion of the band not being ashamed to be seen wearing the references on their sleeves.
In other words, they know what they find stimulating and inspiring. Each choice is a show of strength, a source of enlightenment. From Joy Division’s live 1980 anger to a Teenage Jesus and his Jerks in all their unholy, extravagant blitzkrieg of carnage. And to deny the choice of cranking up the cry of the Chameleon’s with its Dave Fielding anti-guitar melodies on the eruptive chug of Elephant Men, or the menacing Hunger Split, which thrashes and writhes like sharks taking to seals rather than strum like strings, would be a naïve and redundant exercise. Streetcleaner by Godflesh one second, then things shift into different gears and Boilermaker by the Jesus Lizard seems to spill its guts onto the floor and make it look enchanting.
Even more impressive is assembling a methodical, musical, muscular bulk of songs, at first, released as a couple of EPs, and then stitching them together here, as though those songs, really do, belong together. As a homologous body of work, once boiled in separate pots but now right here, together, tight as hands left and right. All sharing the same supply of oxygen, wielding the same weapons against the trails of the night with brilliant grooves, swoops of experimental surprise jerking in zigzagging patterns of attack and jubilance and driven with a punishing, punk thrust. Familiar features either from the Factory or Fire roster but wrapped in modern ideas and marvelous late 70s/early 80s artwork aesthetics.
All of which is accomplished, with nothing but an already classic, already instantly recognizable, yet wholly contemporary blast of fantastic fervor and feverish onslaught. A patchworking of pathways where Dead Boys meet Delta 5. Where the Mekons meets Mo-Dettes. Where Cramps meet Kleenex. Where Bauhaus meets Bikini Kill. Where Crime meets Chrome. And breathe new life into those lungs. In other words – we have heard this band before. In the form of other bands. But not quite like those bands. We have seen them on television screens, in magazine pages, in photographs in fanzines, and pinned to bedroom walls as posters of all shapes and sizes, all poses and positions we fantasize about falling through.
Not Over delicately grazes its lips against the side of one’s neck before sinking its teeth firmly into the vital vein. The engulfing, expansive majesty of the Cocteau Twins and the erratic, abstract, abrasive odd pop jolt of the exuberant Sugarcubes, realized here whilst imagining two boys, and looking for the third, each living in a synopsis for nothingness but the third is a median made flesh for carrying things forward, onward, outward, and ultimately, outside.
Completing the collection here is just that – Outside. The damaged, magnetic dance of a rhythm section spins and dips like somersaults and cartwheels, with its sawtooth guitar slashes partnered with the captivating trap of ruthless beauty and Eno/Ernst gloom of melodicism is sung aloud from the core of the earth or the centre of the city. The eruptive drums catch fire whilst the forceful, distorted lunge of the elated bass eventually grind to a halt and falling through a hole to the glistening, whispering synths through the forest leaves. Only to find themselves in a Peel Session in ‘78 or supporting Television at CBGSs in ’76. Postcards can always be wormholes. For Lorelei and Regina.
This group makes it okay to imagine. Imagination is sexy. Perhaps the rumor is true that at least one in three people we know in this life is imaginary. I know I am. But you don’t know me.
The two self-titled 12″s EPs from 2011 and 2013 remastered in 2020 and collected together on cassette will be shipped on September 21st, 2020.
Downloads of the album available to purchase now.
Ryan Walker is a writer from Bolton. His archive can be found online here.
Photo copyright Rosalee Bernabe.