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Music Review: Dome – Dome 1-4+5 Box Set

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Although Wire are a relatively well known group, whose debut Pink Flag was released in 1977 – Dome remain something of an enigma to many. When Wire went on hiatus in 1980, Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis began recording as Dome. Their music was very different from the “art-punk” of Wire, but no less fascinating by any means.

Between 1980 and 1983, Dome released Dome 1, Dome 2, Dome 3, and Will You Speak This Word: Dome 4. When Wire reformed in ‘84, it was Dome’s turn to go on hiatus. Their silence was finally broken in 1998, with the release of Dome 5 -Yclept. The five albums that constitute the Dome legacy may not have set the charts on fire, but they all contain some amazing material.

One big fan is Peter Rehberg, founder of the Editions Mego label. In the five short years of the label’s existence, EM have released an impressive array of new and re-released material – but nothing quite like the Dome 1-4+5 box set. EM are known for issuing what is loosely defined as “electronic” music, but showing a remarkable eye towards symmetry, the Dome set is an old-school LP box. While there is a downloadable version available for those addicted to such nonsense – the big, beautiful vinyl package is the one that counts.

Once upon a time, cover art was a major component of an album’s appeal. In some cases, the artwork was better than the music contained inside. This is certainly not the case with Dome, but the amount of care EM put into the packaging is impressive to say the least. The set includes newly-designed artwork by David Coppenhall, reproductions of the original Atelier Koninck posters which accompanied Dome 1 and Dome 2, an insert with sleeve notes by Howard Jacques and Neil Martinson, as well as unseen photos from the era. An inspired touch is the match-box to put wooden matches in, to shake – along to the tunes of Dome.

Extravagant packaging or not though, we eventually must set it aside and consider the music, and what Gilbert and Lewis put together as Dome is a different animal than Wire to be sure. But for those who enjoyed the artier side of Wire, Dome is a must. I suppose you could call it post-punk, but in all candor – Dome sounds like nobody else I have heard.

“Cancel Your Order” is the opening track of Dome 1 (1980), and it does evoke some of the edginess of early Wire. They very quickly veer off from the familiar with “Cruel When Complete” though. This, and much of the rest of the album, is spookily meditative and suggests some strange things afoot in the studio. And the studio itself functions as the third member of Dome. Both Gilbert and Lewis have mentioned how much time they spent indoors recording. In fact, they seem to have lived there for the better part of a year. Their first three albums were all recorded during a 12-month period, leading one to wonder if they whether they ever ventured outside at all.

From the opening notes of “The Red Tent I,” which leads right into “The Red Tent II,” Dome 2 (1980) feels like a perfect continuation of the first album. Then we come to side two, which is the closest anyone had come to the icy perfection of side two of David Bowie’s Low yet. In fact, I think the Bowie homage was blatant, although Gilbert and Lewis would probably deny it.

Side two of Dome 2 opens with “Ritual View” which is as bright a tune as Dome ever wrote. It is for all intents and purposes “Rebel Rebel” as heard through a distant, extraterrestrial’s AM radio. From there we are plunged into some incredibly clear, and unforgivably cold tones via “Twist Up,” and most especially the 7:20 “Keep It.” If anyone ever wonders why there is a longing for the days of albums being programmed specifically as separate side-long entities, this one should explain it.

About Greg Barbrick