For those of us who are enamored with the sound of vintage synthesizers, Not Bleeding Red is a feast for the ears. Both the title of the album, and the name of the band, Nothing But Noise are ironic, for these are some of the warmest sounds I have heard in decades. The double CD (or LP if you prefer) is the culmination of a 20-year project by Front 242 founder Daniel B to revisit the analog days of the Moog, ARP, and other early electronic instruments. The results of his work are stunning.
Nothing But Noise are actually a trio. Besides Daniel B, the group includes former Front 242 member Dirk Bergen, plus Erwin Jadot. Front 242 pioneered what has come to be called Electronic Body Music. Without going into the full story, they were pioneers of what later became known as Industrial. Front 242 were one of the preeminent Wax Trax! bands whose take on “dance” music was about as brutal as possible. The music was electronic, and their choice of equipment was cutting edge.
While I completely dug the direction that they, and other like-minded outfits took, I also missed the older, obsolete synth sounds of the ’70s. For years, I always felt like a voice in the wilderness with these thoughts. Is not the very nature of electronics geared towards Moore’s Law of smaller and faster is always better? Even worse, those old-school synths were practically joined at the hip with the ’70s prog of Tangerine Dream, ELP, Yes, and Pink Floyd. How does a post-post-post-punker reconcile that?
It is easier than I thought. Now that all the generational hoopla has been erased in music, thanks to Steve Job’s dream of every song ever recorded being available in your pocket being (practically) here, we are able to look back and see what has been lost. I yell about missing the artwork of the long-playing reocrd constantly, so we’ll let that one go. But the digital synth/sampler technology that Daniel B embraced over 30 years ago represents a serious loss as well. Not Bleeding Red is the first acknowledgment of this I have heard.
The basic template is synth-driven progressive rock from approximately 1972 to 1978. The work of Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze, and Jean Michel Jarre are the most obvious antecedents. Yes, I know that sounds simplistic, but then again, what Nothing But Noise are doing is very specific. For the most part, this type of music was once called “space-rock.” It takes titanium-plated balls to release material like this in 2012. I probably would not bother reviewing the album if it were purely conceptual though. The fact is, Not Bleeding Red is an amazing piece of work in and of itself.
Yup, the old prog-review warhorse comment, “It’s a journey” is the one I’m gonna pull up. Because that is what it is. There is a definite beginning, a middle, and an end to this collection of songs, and the group obviously put a great deal of thought into the programming.
I mentioned Jean Michel Jarre earlier, and it is his 1976 album Oxygene with the very prominent ARP synthesizer that I find such a strong influence on this album. It is especially noticeable on disc one, including the CD-only tracks “Gravity,” and “Mooglish.” I would give this record five stars if it ended there, but the second disc is even more intriguing. What I would consider the “middle-section” is the nearly 19-minute song “CK,” which stands alone, and is simply magnificent.
As we move into the final three cuts, the mood of Not Bleeding Red becomes darker. But like Klaus Shulze’s Moondawn, or Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, the undercurrent is never over the top. We are not talking the good (but obvious) Goblin here. The places Nothing But Noise go in the final three cuts are very subtle, and very cool.
There is nothing subtle about the rubber-band bass-lines of “Silenzio Monofoniche.” The way Nothing But Noise present a truly incredible electronic bass-line goes back to the first time I ever heard such a thing, on Parliament’s “Flashlight.”
Daniel B’s embrace of the history of electronic music is all-encompassing. And there is a lot more going on in this record than I have even mentioned. The quote from Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” during “Gravity” is just one example. This is an absolutely brilliant album, and one that fans of this music need to hear.
I sort of want to shout “We are not alone” about it, because it is that good. There is a history to electronic music that goes back at least as far as those recordings of Robert Johnson do. But will any of the pioneers ever be nominated to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Unlikely. Nothing But Noise pay enormous tribute to them with this album though.