In 1975, Ivo returned to London after a trip to Morocco. Looking for work, he sought out Steve, who had just opened the second store in the fledgling Beggars Banquet chain. The Beggars Banquet stores sold both new and used records - at the time, a radical concept. Steve told Ivo that a third store was about to open in Ealing; at his suggestion, Ivo went to see Martin Mills, Beggars Banquet’s co-founder, who offered him a job.
By 1979, Beggars Banquet had expanded from a chain of five shops into a successful independent record label, tasting early success with acts like Tubeway Army and The Lurkers. By now, Ivo was overseeing all of the shops; he was based at the Beggars offices in Hogarth Road, upstairs from the flagship Earls Court store, which was being run by a fellow music enthusiast named Peter Kent. Bands looking for deals with the label would drop their tapes off at the shop downstairs, which meant that Ivo and Peter were often the first to hear them and the started to make recommendations to Martin Mills and his partner Nick Austin about prospective signings. Ivo and Peter became particularly excited by a demo tape from a band called Moden English, and they urged Mills and Austin to sign them.
Mills and Austin eventually responded by suggesting that they give Ivo and Peter some money to start their own independent label; if anything really took off, they could switch it to the Beggars label for distribution. Ivo and Peter readily agreed, and with a £2000 investment, they proceeded to line up the initial releases for their new venture. After lengthy discussions, the label was christened (at Peter’s suggestion) Axis.
Peter and Ivo had been greatly affected by some of the prevailing indie labels of the day - companies like Fast, Factory and Postcard seemed to have as much of an identity as the artists whose records they released. In keeping with that approach, they decided that Axis should debut with four simultaneously released singles.
At the time, it seemed prudent to work with a one-stop company who’d take the lacquers and the films for the singles and press up a finished product. The somewhat unappealing look and sound of what came back—bad vinyl, dodgy sound quality (no test pressings had been made), low-grade paper used for the sleeves, crooked printing on the labels—provided an early lesson in quality control. Still, by the first week of 1980, Ivo and Peter had the records in hand and were preparing to bring them to the world.
Almost at once, they ran into a problem. They’d sent a press release to the British trade publication Music Week announcing the debut of Axis. They swiftly received a phone call from a more established music company - previously unknown to them - who were also called Axis. While granting Ivo and Peter premission to sell off that first batch of singles, the prior Axis insisted that Ivo and Peter find a new name immediately. The solution to the problem came from a promotional flyer that they had printed up to call attention to the new releases. The flyer’s designer had added a bit of typography which played on both the new year and the idea of progress:
Quickly scrambling for a new name (the old one had been arrived at only after lengthy deliberation) one of the two partners (and Ivo can’t now remember which of them it was) glanced at the flyer and suggested “4AD”. The other agreed, and, with that split-second decision, 4AD was born.
The Axis singles served largely as an education in how to put out a record. Three of the four discs quickly faded from view. They were :
Axis 1 : “Junction One” by The Fast Set
Axis 2 : “She’s My Girl” by Bearz
Axis 4 : “No Turning Back” by Shox
It was Axis 3 - “Dark Entries” by Bauhaus - that would have the greatest impact.
Ivo and Peter first met Bauhaus when the group came to meet with Beggars Banquet just after the their first single (“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, on the Small Wonder label) was released. By the time “Dark Entries” appeared, the group’s dark, theatrical sound was beginning to make an impression on British audiences. The single sold out quickly and was repressed, thereby becoming the first record to actually bear the label “4AD”. By the end of the year two further singles - “Terror Couple Kill Colonel” (AD 7) and “Telegram Sam” (AD 17) - had followed, as well as 4AD’s first album-length release, In The Flat Field (AD 13).
While the Axis singles had served an important research and development function, the arrival of the label’s next act provided Ivo with something more important: a reason for continuing. Returning to the shop one afternoon to find five people about to play Peter their demo tape, Ivo was immediately struck by the music of Rema-Rema: “it was the first point I knew that we were actually doing something serious.” Wheel In The Roses (AD 5), the group’s lone EP, served as a manifesto of sorts: 4AD’s aim as a label should be to release records of the same high quality.
Modern English were one of the bands that Ivo and Peter had originally approached Martin Mills about in 1979. After a self-released 45 (“Drowning Man”) they made their 4AD debut with the “Swans On Glass” single (AD 6) which was followed later in the year by “Gathering Dust” (AD 15).
20 years on, “Gathering Dust” remains a crucial release in 4AD’s history for reasons that have nothing to do with the music it contains. When the original art director proved unable to provide the sleeve art, Peter called a friend who recommended a young graphic designer named Vaughan Oliver. A strange coincidence ensued : Modern English had printed up some T-shirts which featured a Diane Arbus photograph of two people watching television, while Vaughan had used exactly the same image in his design portfolio. The result of this moment of synchronicity was that Vaughan landed the job, and so began a relationship with 4AD that continues to this day.
In Camera came to Ivo and Peter’s attention when they opened a show for Bauhaus. Displaying a spiky, PiL-influenced sound on their first single “Final Achievement” (AD 8) - the first 4AD release engineered by John Fryer - the group’s sound matured quickly, and a distinctive EP entitled IV Songs EP (AD 19) followed at the end of the year.
Ivo had long been a fan of Wire, the hugely innovative and highly influential post-punk band, which, by 1980, was in the process of fragmenting into several separate recording units. Wire’s Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis met Ivo at a Bauhaus show and offered him some of the new material they’d been working on. The initial results were two fascinating records of droning electronic experiments : an EP, Like This For Ages (AD 9), released under the name Cupol, and a full-length album 3R4 (AD 16) credited simply to B.C. Gilbert/G. Lewis.
Gilbert and Lewis also wound up producing “Controversial Subject” (AD 10), the debut single by The The. Although in later years The The would become simply an alias for the solo work of Matt Johnson, at this early stage - Johnson was still a teenager - The The were an actual four-piece band.
The Presage(s) EP (AD 11), was a 7-track collection of songs by artists that either Ivo or Peter had taken an interest in. Of the six artists featured, only Modern English went on to release another record on 4AD; nothing further was heard from CVO, Psychotik Tanks, Last Dance, Spasmodic Caress or the hapless Red Atkins (a 65-year old man whose warblings Peter Kent found amusing).
Ivo first saw The Birthday Party opening for D.A.F. at London’s Moonlight Club. “People hated them,” he recalls. Fascinated by the band’s performance and Mick Harvey’s Farfisa organ (an unusual choice of instrument in synth-happy 1980) he went backstage and discovered that the group had recently recorded a version of his favorite song from the set - “The Friend Catcher” - and were looking for someone to release it. It became their first single for 4AD (AD 12).
Rema-Rema had split up, but ex-members Gary Asquith, Mick Allen and Mark Cox carried on, forming Mass with the addition of Danny Briottet. Their first single “You And I” (AD 14) was a stately progression on from the primal intensity of Rema-Rema, but its quiet psychedelia was no less compelling.
Powered by the angelic vocals of Cyrus Bruton, Dance Chapter were initially seen by Peter Kent as a band who might be capable of filling the void left by the death of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Though there was little musical similarity between the two bands, Dance Chapter’s first single “Anonymity” (AD 18) was an impressively tense piece of work.
At the conclusion of 1980, having released 19 records, Ivo and Peter Kent decided to go their separate ways. Peter would leave to start another Beggars-funded label, Situation Two, while Ivo would remain as 4AD’s sole protagonist. At the same time, Ivo took the opportunity to redefine 4AD’s mission: rather than acting as a testing ground for Beggars Banquet, he wanted 4AD to stand on its own. And although Bauhaus departed for Beggars, they were the first and the last 4AD act to follow the initial plan of “graduating” to the bigger label. From here on in, 4AD would be its own entity.
After 1981’s inexpensive instrumental album Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish, Ivo managed to come up with the funds for a proper Colin Newman album. Unlike its predecessor, Not To (CAD 201) was a fully-fledged album of songs that featured contributions from fellow Wire-members Robert Gotobed and Graham Lewis. It was followed later in the year by a 7-inch single (AD 209) which brought “We Means We Starts” together with an alternate version of Not To’s title track.
The Birthday Party’s started 1982 by releasing a split 12” EP, sharing the vinyl with seminal American No Wave figure Lydia Lunch (JAD 202). Both halves of the record were recorded live at London’s The Venue, which provided valuable exposure for many of the label’s acts via a series of “4AD nights” during this period. The Birthday Party’s side, Drunk On The Pope’s Blood, was, as its subtitle promised, “16 minutes of sheer hell” : an astonishing document of the band at its most chaotically brilliant. Lunch’s side, “The Agony Is The Ecstasy”, was a lengthy, semi-improvised performance featuring backing from Siouxsie & The Banshees’ Steven Severin.
A further collaboration between the two camps was appeared later in the year : a Rowland S. Howard / Lydia Lunch single that coupled a wonderfully sinister version of the Nancy Sinatra / Lee Hazlewood classic “Some Velvet Morning” (BAD 210) with the evocative late-night original, “I Fell In Love With A Ghost.”
The major Birthday Party release of 1982 was Junkyard (CAD 207), which would turn out to be their final full-length album. Emblazoned with an original cover illustration by famed “Ratfink” cartoonist Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, it captured the band at new levels of ferocity on tracks like “Dead Joe” and “Big-Jesus-Trash-Can.” Even the more (relatively speaking) sedate moments like “She’s Hit” and “6” Gold Blade” seethed with tension, pent-up violence and cold rage.
With Bauhaus still a going concern in 1982, guitarist Daniel Ash’s first collaboration with Glenn Campling, the four-song EP “Tones On Tail” (BAD 203) began as a side project. When Bauhaus split the following year, Ash elevated Tones On Tail to full-time status, releasing a series of singles and an album on Situation Two and Beggars Banquet, before reuniting with fellow Bauhaus members David J and Kevin Haskins as Love & Rockets.
The Happy Family were the earliest vehicle for the cerebral songs of an Edinburgh university drop-out called Nicholas Currie - he was later to find his true vocation as a post-Brel, post-Gainsbourg “tender pervert” called Momus. Ivo’s attention had been attracted by a demo which also featured ex-Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross. A three-song single, “Puritans” (AD 204) - which, if truth be told, owed a rather large sonic debt to both Josef K and Orange Juice - was swiftly followed by an ambitious, complex concept album called The Man On Your Street (CAD 214). It was conceived as a sort of Brechtian musical, but 4AD lacked the resources to pay for the ambitious orchestrations that the band original envisaged.
By 1982, In Camera had disintegrated. The Fin EP (BAD 205) was their epitaph - a Peel session recorded in December, 1980 which Ivo licensed from the BBC. Despite its origins, the EP was easily the band’s strongest release, not least because of the monolithic 12-minute epic “Fatal Day.” Guitarist Andrew Grey remained associated with 4AD - he joined The Wolfgang Press in 1984.
Modern English returned with their second album, After The Snow (CAD 206). The album was produced by Hugh Jones - his work on Echo & The Bunnymen’s recently-released Heaven Up Here had been much admired - and he played an important role in shaping the songs and exposing the band’s latent abilities as pop craftsmen. Two singles were taken from the album : “Life In The Gladhouse” (BAD 208) and the classic “I Melt With You” (BAD 212). Although the group’s U.K. profile remained low, Sire Records licensed the record for the United States, where “I Melt With You” enjoyed massive success in clubs and on modern rock radio, and was featured in the movie Valley Girl.
Without a doubt, 4AD’s major new arrival in 1982 was the Cocteau Twins. Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser (bassist Will Heggie completed the lineup at this point) had given Ivo a demo while they were in London following The Birthday Party around on tour. Ivo first played it while driving back from a Dance Chapter session in Cambridge; the tape was poorly recorded, but he was immediately struck by the sound of Robin’s guitar. That he had also stumbled upon one of the most remarkable vocalists of the decade didn’t become clear until he invited the group down to London to record a single at Blackwing studios with John Fryer. Upon hearing the results - and Liz Fraser’s singing - he immediately invited the group to record a full-length release (the two tracks from that initial session - “Speak No Evil” and “Perhaps Some Other Aeon” - remained unreleased for several years). The album Garlands (CAD 211), and the Lullabies EP (BAD 213) which followed shortly afterwards, immediately found a staunch supporter in the shape of the BBC’s ever-influential John Peel, who invited the group to record a session for his show. That radio exposure, coupled with a string of live dates supporting The Birthday Party, quickly established an audience for the band.
The year ended with the debut single from Colourbox, a duo composed of brothers Martyn and Steven (“Scab”) Young, whom Ivo had met through Ray Conroy (brother of Modern English’s Mick Conroy) who was managing them. Their first single (BAD 215) featured two inviting pieces of danceable pop featuring vocals by Debian Curry - the energetic synth-grooves of “Breakdown” on the A side, and the dreamy, dub-inflected “Tarantula” on the flip. But Colourbox were creativelt restless from the beginning; within a few months, they had re-recorded “Breakdown” and remixed “Tarantula.” These twin singles were the prelude to a series of technically inventive releases; Colourbox’s music managed to anticipate musical developments still thought of as “cutting edge” fifteen years down the line.
1983 was to be an auspicious year for 4AD, with several key releases and a move to new offices in Alma Road, Wandsworth. In addition, Ivo was able to take on 4AD’s first two employees : Vaughan Oliver - whose intended duties included moving boxes of records around as well as designing their sleeves - and Deborah Edgely, who began as Ivo’s assistant, and quickly assumed the responsibility for 4AD’s press coverage.
The Birthday Party’s The Bad Seed EP (BAD 301) proved to be the the last record that they made for 4AD. Ivo had underwritten the group’s trip to Berlin to record, but 4AD was still a very small operation; and the financial burdens of supporting the group’s further efforts proved too great. The Birthday Party departed, amicably, for Daniel Miller’s Mute label, recording one final EP - Mutiny - before dissolving. Later in 1983, Ivo issued The Friend Catcher EP (BAD 307) which gathered together most of the tracks from the “Release The Bats,” “Mr. Clarinet” and “The Friend Catcher” 7-inches.
Along the same archival lines as The Friend Catcher EP was Bauhaus’s 4AD EP (BAD 312) which collected half a dozen tracks drawn from the group’s first three singles.
Xmal Deutschland - from Hamburg - impressed Ivo with an “incredibly raw” demo tape whose live power was never quite captured in the studio. Nevertheless, the spiky intensity of the four-woman, one-man band proved compelling enough on their debut album Fetisch (CAD 302) and the two subsequent, related singles (a different version of the album’s lead-off track “Qual” (BAD 305) and a re-recorded and extended version of Xmal’s pre-4AD debut “Incubus Succubus II” (BAD 311)) to capture the attention of John Peel and a substantial UK audience. Live performance proved to be the band’s real strength : Ivo recalls a particularly memorable show from this period where Xmal, opening for the Cocteau Twins at one of The Venue’s 4AD showcases, won over a crowd of aloof scenesters in a matter of moments.
For the Cocteau Twins, 1983 was a year of frantic activity, beginning with the Peppermint Pig EP (BAD 303). Although that record was ably produced by Alan Rankine of The Associates, the experience left Robin Guthrie convinced that the group no longer required an outside hand to achieve their aims in the recording studio. Another change was afoot : Peppermint Pig was also the last Cocteau Twins record to feature bassist Will Heggie. After a grueling 50-date tour with Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark, he was ousted from the band and Robin and Elizabeth recorded the Head Over Heels (CAD 313) album and its companion piece - the Sunburst And Snowblind EP (BAD 314) - as a duo. A massive leap forward from anything they had done before, Head Over Heels marked an artistic coming-of-age for the Cocteau Twins. John Peel was impressed enough to mark its release by playing both sides of the album in their entirety on successive evenings.
Swiftly developing a taste for the possibilities of the studio, Colourbox re-recorded “Breakdown” (BAD 215) from scratch. The new version of “Breakdown” (BAD 304) proved sufficiently potent to stir up interest from A&M Records in America, who licensed the single for the United States, then promptly did nothing with it. Inspired by mix tapes of early New York hip-hop DJs, Martyn Young had begun to explore the possibilities of tape manipulation and remixing. His approach to cutting up sound was meticulous, often using 30 or 40 tape splices to generate just five seconds of music (no samplers were involved) - the four-song Colourbox EP (BAD 315) that appeared at the end of the year was painstakingly edited down from over eight hours of mixes.
The Wolfgang Press was a new project from Mark Cox and Michael Allen, formerly of Mass and Rema-Rema; the band opened what was to be a lengthy and distinguished 4AD career with The Burden Of Mules (CAD 308). There was a definite creative chemistry between Mark and Mick, and the album provided the first glimpses of the powerfully original sound that would begin to flower on subsequent releases. Contributing to the album were members of Dif Juz and In Camera, one of whom - Andrew Grey - would officially join The Wolfgang Press the following year.
Throughout 1983, Modern English were still tasting American success in the wake of “I Melt With You”. The Gathering Dust EP (BAD 306) (which collected various non-LP single sides) and the remix of “Someone’s Calling” (BAD 309) were both largely intended for their burgeoning audience stateside, and the group still made little impact in the UK and Europe. After seeing the band play at the Ritz in New York, Ivo came up with a potential solution to this frustrating situation. The band had encored with powerful back-to-back versions of two of their earliest songs: “16 Days” and “Gathering Dust”. Ivo suggested that the band re-record those songs in the manner of these vibrant live interpretations.
Modern English decided against the idea, but Ivo remained intrigued by its possibilities; eventually, he went ahead and did it himself. He hired a Linn drum, enlisted Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins and Gordon Sharp from Cindytalk as vocalists, and persuaded Mick Conroy and Gary McDowell of Modern English to provide bass and guitar. The resulting reworking of “16 Days / Gathering Dust” became the A-side of the first This Mortal Coil release (BAD 310). When the time came to come up with a B-side, Ivo decided to record a version of one of his all-time favorite songs : Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren”. The original plan was for Liz Fraser to sing it a capella, but the guitar part that Robin Guthrie had laid down on tape for her to use as a guide wound up becoming an integral part of the finished recording. “Song To The Siren” was to become one of 4AD’s most beloved releases; when it was eventually issued as the A-side of a 7-inch single (AD 310) it spent several months hovering in the British Top 100.
For Ivo, “Song To The Siren” marked a turning point, a realization that This Mortal Coil could be much more than just the idea of covering a few Modern English songs. The achievement of “Song To The Siren” - successfully pairing a song of great personal import with a singer whose work was equally meaningful - became a reason do more.
1984 began with a new Modern English single, “Chapter 12” (BAD 401), which preceded the release of their final 4AD album, Ricochet Days (CAD 402). Producer Hugh Jones took a more active role in sculpting the band’s music, and the result was a period gem which coupled an almost Beatles-esque sense of melody to the band’s increasingly polished sound.
Colourbox’s 1984 output consisted of a pair of singles, both of which featured vocals by Lorita Grahame. The first was the inadvertent byproduct of Ivo having let Martyn Young borrow his collection of reggae records; a cover of U-Roy’s “Say You” (BAD 403) was the result. A few months later the supercharged electro-funk of “Punch” (BAD 406) demonstrated a group completely at ease their genre-hopping approach. Both singles deserved to be hits, and in an alternative universe would have breezed on to the radio and into the charts.
The major addition to the 4AD roster in 1984 was Dead Can Dance, who would evolve into one of the label’s flagship acts. Though the seeds of their later work were present on both their self-titled debut album (CAD 404) and the Garden Of The Arcane Delights EP (BAD 408), Dead Can Dance at this time were still a dark, post-Joy Division rock & roll band, albeit one with an eccentric lineup (guitar/bass/drums/yang t’chin) and the widely contrasting vocal styles of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry.
The Cocteau Twins lineup stabilized for good with the arrival of bassist Simon Raymonde (formerly of Drowning Craze, and the son of noted arranger Ivor Raymonde). Their first new offering in 1984 was the “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops” single (AD 405) and its expanded EP version, The Spangle Maker (BAD 405). One of their finest records, it nearly became a major hit (the group declined to appear on Top Of The Pops to promote it). Later in the year, the group released a third album, Treasure (CAD 412), a critical and commercial success.
[One accidental legacy of the album haunts Ivo to this day. Instead of conventional song titles, Liz Fraser had given all of Treasure’s songs proper names: “Amelia,” “Persephone,” etc. The album’s first track, christened “Ivo,” features Liz singing the refrain “Peep-Bo” (the song’s original title) - and many listeners naturally assumed that she was singing “Ivo.” Result: Ivo still occasionally contends with people who think his name is pronounced “ee-vo.” (For the record: it’s “eye-vo.”)]
Xmal Deutschland returned with their second and last album for the label. Tocsin (CAD 407) offered a more refined and textured approach than previous efforts, albeit one combined with a more straightforward rock sound. The group parted ways with 4AD in the months following its release, and subsequently signed to Phonogram.
The Wolfgang Press returned with the first of a trilogy of EPs produced by Robin Guthrie. With Andrew Grey completing the lineup, Scarecrow (BAD 409) marked the group’s first steps into the kind of hypnotic avant-funk they’d perfect in the coming years. Featuring musical contributions from Colourbox and guitar from Robin Guthrie, the EP’s highlight was a twisted version of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, complete with backing vocals by Liz Fraser.
By the end of 1984, Ivo had finished the first This Mortal Coil album. Working closely with engineer/co-producer John Fryer at Blackwing Studios, Ivo invited a sizeable contingent of players into the studio to work on a selection of songs by the likes of Alex Chilton, Roy Harper, Rema-Rema and Colin Newman (the already-issued “Song To The Siren” was also included on the album). Lisa Gerrard contributed two compositions; several more were written in the studio (Ivo remains particularly proud of “Fyt,” the first piece of music he ever wrote). Many of the contributors were 4AD artists - members of the Cocteau Twins, Colourbox, The Wolfgang Press, Modern English and Xmal Deutschland participated - but there were important performances by outsiders as well: Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk and Howard Devoto (Magazine) each contributed vocals, while Martin McCarrick (Marc Almond, Siouxsie & The Banshees) and Gini Ball provided the string parts. The single “Kangaroo” (AD 410) was issued just prior to the album It’ll End In Tears (CAD 411). The striking cover photographs of model Pallas Citroen were originally intended for Modern English’s Ricochet Days, but the group rejected them.
The Cocteau Twins ushered in 1985 with a burst of recording that took place on and around New Years’ Day - the four-song Aikea-Guinea EP (BAD 501) was the result. Shortly afterwards, the group set up their own 16-track studio in an apartment that was being rented by William Orbit (best known today as the producer of Madonna’s “Ray Of Light”; the Cocteaus met Orbit through Colourbox, who were then doing a lot of recording at his studio, Guerrilla). The first batch of recordings made in that new location yielded eight songs, but the material lacked the feel of an album, so the decision was made to release it as two separate EP’s - Tiny Dynamine (BAD 512) and Echoes In A Shallow Bay (BAD 513) - which came out two weeks apart. The Pink Opaque (CAD 513) was a compilation album put together for Relativity Records in America. Relativity had access to CD manufacturing facilities and so The Pink Opaque became the first 4AD title to be issued in the new digital format. Assembled by Robin Guthrie, it featured tracks taken from most of their previous releases, as well as the rare “Millemillenery.”
With Water (BAD 502) and Sweatbox (BAD 506), The Wolfgang Press completed the trilogy of EP’s they’d begun with Robin Guthrie in 1984. At the year’s end, all three EP’s were compiled together on a single album and reissued as The Legendary Wolfgang Press And Other Tall Stories (CAD 514).
Xymox were an Amsterdam-based group who had attracted Ivo’s attention with a mini-album, Subsequent Pleasures. The band were centred around a trio of songwriters (Pieter Nooten, Ronny Moorings and Anke Wolbert) who’d clearly learned a few lessons from their Cure and New Order records; Ivo flew them directly to Scotland, where he co-produced their first album Clan Of Xymox (CAD 503) [Confusingly, although “Clan Of Xymox” was the album title, the group subsequently adopted it as their name]. Released as a 12-inch single, “A Day” (BAD 504) featured Ivo and John Fryer’s bizarre, envelope-pushing, nine-minute long remix of the album’s lead track.
Dif Juz returned to 4AD (they’d released an EP on the Red Flame label in 1983) with Extractions (CAD 505), their first full-length album. Produced by Robin Guthrie, the album shows the band’s sound expanding to incorporate Ritchie Thomas’s saxophone and their first-ever vocal track - “Love Insane”, which featured a Liz Fraser guest appearance.
Later that year, Dif Juz became involved with Jamaican dub innovator Lee “Scratch” Perry, serving as his backing band for a series of shows - eventually, they attempted to make a record together. Sadly, the five tracks that were recorded (including a lengthy version of “The Mighty Quinn”) never quite gelled, despite Robin Guthrie’s attempts to mix them, and the project remains unreleased.
Colourbox’s newest single, “The Moon Is Blue” (BAD 507), was another radio-ready classic that despite 4AD’s valiant efforts went largely unheard. By now, Martyn Young had completed work on the first, self-titled Colourbox album (CAD 508), only to realize that it contained three previously released singles (“The Moon Is Blue,” “Punch” and “Say You”). To compensate fans who might already have this material, he spliced together a bonus album (MAD 509) of radical remixes, unreleased tracks and B-sides which was included with the first 10,000 copies of Colourbox.
Dead Can Dance returned late in the year with their second album, Spleen And Ideal (CAD 512). Co-produced with John Rivers (Felt), it was the first Dead Can Dance release to exploit fully the possibilities of the recording studio. And so, although they were no longer a four-piece band but simply a duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, Dead Can Dance’s sound expanded dramatically, incorporating strings and brass as well as musical influences from outside both the Western Hemisphere and the 20th Century.
Richenel’s “L’esclave Endormi” (BAD 601) was originally issued on the Belgian Megadisc label. When Ivo heard the song, he was struck by Richenel’s haunting voice and licensed the track to 4AD. Richenel’s original recording served as the B-side while an Ivo/John Fryer remix, designed to give his voice as much space as possible, was used as the A-side. Ivo subsequently met Richenel and invited him to sing on This Mortal Coil’s Filigree & Shadow album. He became the featured vocalist on covers of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s “Firebrothers” and Tim Buckley’s “I Must Have Been Blind.”
The first Cocteau Twins release of 1986 was an unusual one. Victorialand (CAD 602) was an entirely acoustic album made by Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser as a duo - the unusual frequency range of the final mix meant that the record had to be mastered at 45 r.p.m. A entirely different sonic challenge arrived later in the year with the gorgeous density of the “Love’s Easy Tears” single (BAD 610), on which Simon Raymonde and electricity both returned with a vengeance. The final Cocteaus project of a typically productive year came about as the result of a proposed television series for Britain’s Channel 4 which aimed to document collaborations between rock and jazz musicians. The programme-makers suggested that the Cocteaus team up with pianist Harold Budd - and although the TV series was never actually made, the pairing bore musical fruit in the shape of The Moon And The Melodies (BAD 611), which was credited to Budd / Fraser / Guthrie / Raymonde.
The preceding summer, Ivo had taken on his first and only non-4AD production job, working with ex-Bauhaus vocalist Peter Murphy on his album Should The World Fail To Fall Apart. While in the studio, Murphy played Ivo an unlabelled tape of a Bulgarian women’s choir that he’d been given by an acquaintance. Ivo was stunned by the unearthly power of the singing, and embarked upon a frantic quest to learn the identity of the album and acquire a copy of it. It transpired that the album in question was entitled Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares [The Mystery Of Bulgarian Voices], and that it consisted of field recordings made over a 15-year period by the Swiss archivist Marcel Cellier. Ivo decided to license the recordings from Cellier and issue them on 4AD (CAD 603). The resulting release proved massively popular and highly influential.
Colourbox returned with not one, but two new singles, both of which were released on the same day. “Baby I Love You So” (BAD 604) was a brilliantly sculpted reggae-pop gem, while the sly mock-pomposity of “The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme” (BAD 605) actually did came very close to being selected as the music for BBC television’s World Cup coverage that year. Sadly, apart from a track on the following year’s Lonely Is An Eyesore anthology, these were the last recordings Colourbox ever released.
While The Burden Of Mules had been assembled over a lengthy span of time, The Wolfgang Press’s second album Standing Up Straight (CAD 606) was the group’s first experience of making an album in a compressed period of time. It was also the first Wolfgang Press album to feature Andrew Grey, who had joined the preceding year. The band was still developing their blend of angular rhythms and Cave-like theatrics, but the album had many highlights, including the climactic “I Am The Crime,” which featured Elizabeth Fraser and strings from Martin McCarrick and Gini Ball.
Ivo was stuck in traffic on his way to the office one day when he popped in a demo tape by a band from Rhode Island. By the time he got to work, he’d played it three times. The band was Throwing Muses - frontwomen Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donnelly and the phenomenally inventive rhythm section of Leslie Langston and David Narcizo - and they became 4AD’s first American signing. Ivo sent producer Gil Norton (Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain) to the States to record an album just prior to the birth of Kristin’s first child. Throwing Muses (CAD 607) was immediately hailed as one of the major debut albums of the 80’s; it’s naive power still sounds as compelling as ever.
Ivo had begun work on the second This Mortal Coil album shortly after It’ll End In Tears was released. Filigree & Shadow (DAD 609) - the title is taken from a song by the 60’s band Fever Tree - was intended from the start as a double album, and Ivo spent a considerable amount of time structuring the music so that it would flow. The record was begun at Palladium in Scotland with Martin McCarrick and Palladium’s proprietor Jon Turner and completed with John Fryer at Blackwing. As before, Ivo drew upon a large talent pool of musicians - Simon Raymonde made important contributions, as did members of Colourbox, Dif Juz and The Wolfgang Press - but this time the bulk of the vocalists came from outside of 4AD. The selection of cover versions on the album included material by Tim Buckley, Gene Clark, Tom Rapp, Judy Collins and Colin Newman. Prior to the release of the album, a limited edition 10-inch single (BAD 608) was issued coupling striking interpretations of Van Morrison’s “Come Here My Love” and “Drugs” by Talking Heads. Model Pallas Citroen became the cover star once again - Ivo approached actress Maria Schnieder, but was rebuffed. [Trivia factoid for trainspotters : although his name is misspelled in the credits, Les McKeown of the Bay City Rollers - a friend of Palladium’s Jon Turner - is part of the choir on “Strength Of Strings”.]
Dif Juz’s Out Of The Trees (MAD 612) was a mini-album combining all of the tracks from their first EP Huremics with a re-recorded, re-mixed version of the follow-up EP Vibrating Air.
Xymox, who were now officially referring to themselves as Clan Of Xymox, returned with their second album. Recorded with John Fryer, Medusa (BAD 613) was an album of dark atmospheric songs, punctuated by occasional bursts of psychedelic electro-pop.
Throwing Muses visited the UK for the first time at the end of 1986, playing a handful of live shows. They also found time to go back into the studio with Gil Norton and record the EP Chains Changed (BAD 701), which was issued in early 1987. (“Fish”, the band’s contribution to Lonely Is An Eyesore was also recorded during these sessions). Later in the year, they released a mini-LP - The Fat Skier (MAD 706) - which featured six new compositions together with a lengthy re-working of “Soul Soldier”, a song from the first album.
The Wolfgang Press had returned to the studio following the release of Standing Up Straight and emerged with a new EP, Big Sex (BAD 702). Although the group’s music was continuing to evolve (this EP showed a pronounced Talking Heads influence) they were still struggling to find an audience.
Lonely Is An Eyesore (CAD 703) was an all-encompassing 4AD showcase that had been in the works for a year and a half by the time it was issued in mid-87. Ivo had invited each of the artists on the label to contribute a new song (Dead Can Dance also contributed a second track, a remix of an ancient demo) for which Nigel Grierson would then direct a video (the Throwing Muses and Xymox clips wound up being shot by outside hands). The result was a gorgeously packaged snapshot of 4AD’s roster of the period, featuring a number of classic tracks from the bands involved. The most extravagant package of all was a limited edition (of 100) art object : a Vaughan Oliver-designed wooden box that held a deluxe gatefold LP, a cassette, a CD, a home video and two specially-commissioned etchings. The Victoria & Albert Museum acquired one for their permanent collection.
A.R. Kane, a duo of Alex Ayuli and Rudi Tambala, had released an EP on the One Little Indian label before their brief spell with 4AD. They were among the first bands of the era to explore the intersection between harsh noise and dreamlike beauty; their EP Lollita (BAD 704) was produced by Robin Guthrie.
While the EP was being finished, Alex and Rudi mentioned to Ivo that they were interested in working with producer Adrian Sherwood. Ivo’s suggestion that they work with Colourbox instead resulted in the biggest single in 4AD’s history. The sessions with Colourbox were hardly a full-fledged collaboration. Of the two pieces that were completed, one, “Antina,” was an A.R. Kane track with drum programming by Colourbox’s Steve Young. The other, “Pump Up The Volume,” was a propulsive Martyn Young track constructed largely of samples, including one of A.R. Kane’s guitars. Released under the alias M/A/R/R/S - an acronym for the participants : Martyn, Alex, Rudi, Russell (an associate A.R. Kane member who doesn’t actually appear on either side of the record) and Steve - “Pump Up The Volume” (BAD 707) became an underground club sensation before exploding into the charts, hitting No. 1 in spite of legal action by producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman (Martyn Young had sampled a bit of their hit “Roadblock”). The single became a global hit, while its cut-and-paste sample collage technique proved enormously influential in dance and hip-hop circles.
Dead Can Dance’s third album, Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun (CAD 705), was their finest offering to date. Split into two distinct halves, with Brendan Perry’s increasingly Scott Walker-influenced vocals on Side One, and Lisa Gerrard’s regal glossolalia streaming across Side Two, its ambitious grandeur was a harbinger of things to come. More than either of its predecessors, it was this album that sowed the seeds of Dead Can Dance’s worldwide following (a good thing, as no one in the UK seemed to take much interest).
Ivo had admired a demo tape sent to him by Brighton’s Frazier Chorus and sent the group into the recording studio with Gil Norton. Although “Sloppy Heart” (BAD 708) was a delightful piece of flute-driven pastoral pop, it was their only 4AD release. The group signed to Virgin shortly afterwards.
On a trip to the United States to see Throwing Muses, Ken Goes, the band’s manager, handed Ivo a tape of a local band that Muses drummer David Narcizo thought he might be interested in. Ivo listened to the demos on his Walkman while striding around New York City. He liked what he heard, but he was uncertain about the band’s punk-rock ferocity, which had little in common with the acts he’d been working with in recent years. It took 4AD’s Deborah Edgely to set him straight. Don’t be stupid, she told him, they’re brilliant. Thus it was that The Pixies became 4AD recording artists. Seven tracks from the band’s demos were released as the mini-album Come On Pilgrim (MAD 709). The response to the band in Britain was immediate and explosive, with the press and John Peel quickly won over, and the public not far behind.
By late 1987, Pieter Nooten had left Xymox, but Ivo continued to be intrigued by the tapes Pieter periodiacally sent to him. He suggested a team-up with guitarist / producer Michael Brook, who had been working with Brian Eno as well as recording for Eno’s Opal label. The result was a quiet album of fragile songs and dreamlike soundscapes entitled Sleeps With The Fishes (CAD 710).
Xymox (who had dropped the “Clan Of” again) finished off 4AD’s 1987 with the unabashedly poppy “Blind Hearts” (BAD 711), which was produced by Peter Walsh (Simple Minds, Scott Walker). They signed to Polygram the following year and have continued making music into the late 90’s.
Although not, strictly speaking, a canonical 4AD release, the label’s Japanese licensee issued a compilation (CY-2085) which collected five of the year’s EP’s - by Throwing Muses, The Wolfgang Press, A.R. Kane, M/A/R/R/S and Frazier Chorus - on one CD.
4AD’s first release of 1988 was a second volume of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares (CAD 801) featuring a further 18 performances drawn from Marcel Cellier’s extensive archive of field recordings.
Throwing Muses delivered a second album - House Tornado (CAD 810) - which suggested a continuing refinement of apoproach, and made clearer still Kristin Hersh’s fiercely original songwriting talents. The Muses embarked on a now-legendary tour of the UK and Europe with the Pixies; both bands were in incendiary live form, and people privileged enough to witness these shows still speak in hushed tones. (A few Muses performances from this tour sneaked out the following year as B-sides).
The Pixies, meanwhile, had also released their second album, the epochal Surfer Rosa (CAD 803), which was recorded in a mere 13 days, and produced for maximum raw sonic impact by Big Black’s Steve Albini. Things were moving fast for the band - later that Spring, they went into the studio with Gil Norton to re-record two Surfer Rosa songs for an EP - “Gigantic” (the first song to spotlight the talents of Kim Deal) and “River Euphrates”. Also taped during these sessions was a version of “Here Comes Your Man”, which remains unreleased. The two studio tracks were coupled with live versions of “Vamos” and “In Heaven” (from David Lynch’s film Eraserhead) and issued as the Gigantic EP (BAD 805).
The Wolfgang Press’s “King Of Soul” (BAD 804) served as an early taster for the group’s third album, Bird Wood Cage (CAD 810), which was released at the end of the year. Recorded with up-and-coming producer Flood (whose credits at the time included Depeche Mode and Nick Cave), it was the band’s most powerful statement yet, eductive, menacing and entirely distinctive. Tracks such as “Kansas” (to be released as a single the following year) began to attract audiences in Britain, as well as in the States, where the album was licensed to Rough Trade. Subsequent tours with both Nick Cave and the Pixies (during which Black Francis came onstage each night to perform an encore of “Rema-Rema”) also helped to raise their profile.
4AD only made one signing in 1988 : Ultra Vivid Scene. This was an alias for New Yorker Kurt Ralske, a one-man band with dozens of incredible songs that successfully united the brooding darkness of the Velvet Underground and Suicide with 60’s pop-psychedelia. “She Screamed” (BAD 806) (backed with a Hank Williams cover and Ralske’s lost classic “Hit By A Truck”) was his debut single, followed shortly by a self-titled album.
Blue Bell Knoll (CAD 807) was the first full-band Cocteau Twins album since Treasure, released nearly four years previously. It was a further refinement of the the band’s unique sound, and it also became the first 4AD album since Modern English’s Ricochet Days to be issued by a major label in America (Capitol Records). Trivia fact : Blue Bell Knoll is the only 4AD album to have been released on DAT.
By now, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard had developed a pattern for their activities as Dead Can Dance. Brendan had moved to Ireland, where he subsequently built his own studio, while Lisa was spending several months a year back home in Australia. They’d reunite to make recordings and perform a few shows, and then separate to write new material. The Serpent’s Egg (CAD 808) included some of their finest work (Lisa’s majestic vocals on the opening “The Host Of Seraphim” and Brendan’s orchestrated balladry on the closing “Ullyses” are but two of the standouts here). And although John Rivers - who’d co-produced the group’s two preceding release - worked on a handful of tracks, all of Dead Can Dance’s recordings from here on in would be entirely self-produced.
The third Throwing Muses album was Hunkpapa (CAD 901); produced by Gary Smith, it offered a brighter, punchier sound than earlier releases. One of the most prominent tracks was Kristin Hersh’s “Dizzy” - perhaps the first Throwing Muses song to which the phrase “amazingly catchy” could be fairly applied. The song was released as a single not long afterwards in a variety of formats (including a “self-opening” 10-inch whose gatefold cover was too stiff to lie flat), coupled with powerful live versions of “Mania” and “Downtown” which were drawn from the previous year’s UK tour (BAD 903).
With The Wolfgang Press still touring aggressively in support of Bird Wood Cage, two further singles appeared during 1989. “Kansas” (BAD 902) - re-modelled from the album version - was the closest the group had yet come to a hit. But a similar re-invention of “Raintime” (BAD 907), despite having a great video, didn’t quite manage to keep the momentum going.
The Pixies returned with a classic album in Doolittle (CAD 905), produced by Gil Norton, sequenced by Ivo and packaged with an elaborate lyrics book featuring Simon Larbalestier’s disquieting photographs. The album was bookended by singles featuring two of its strongest songs. “Monkey Gone To Heaven” (BAD 904) was a tour de force which counterpointed the band’s incendiary power against a churning string section to memorable effect. “Here Comes Your Man” (BAD 909) had been among the songs that made up the band’s original demo tape, and it had long been earmarked as a possible single. 4AD licensed the album to Elektra in the United States, where the band were by now developing a devoted underground following.
Ultra Vivid Scene employed a similar tactic to The Wolfgang Press, releasing a newly recorded version of “Mercy Seat” - the original featured on UVS’s debut album - as a single (BAD 906). Later in the year, a promotional single, “Something To Eat” (BAD 908) - one of the very few promo-only 4AD releases ever to be assigned a regular catalog number - featured two demos from Kurt Ralske’s work-in-progress. [As it turned out, “Something To Eat” never made it onto any other UVS release.]
With Ultra Vivid Scene the only signing in over a year, Ivo had begun to actively seek out new talent. As fate would have it, interesting demo tapes from two new bands reached Ivo within a few days of one another. And by an improbable coincidence, both bands also happened to be sharing the same bill at the Falcon in Camden a few days later. Ivo went along, and wound up signing both of them shortly thereafter. The Pale Saints were a trio from Leeds, part of a new generation of British bands drawing inspiration from the work of The Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. Ivo sent them into the studio with Gil Norton and John Fryer; the result was the three-song EP Barging Into The Presence Of God (BAD 910).
4AD’s other new group, Lush, were a London quartet fronted by songwriter / vocalists Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. Although they were drawing on much the same influences as the Pale Saints, their sound had yet to gel completely. But the three tracks they recorded in a two-day studio session with John Fryer had a compelling rawness to them; another three song session followed, and, combined, the results made up Lush’s debut mini-album Scar (JAD 911).
4AD began the Nineties - and its tenth anniversary year - with the release of a unique Vaughan Oliver-designed calendar (XAD 0001). Shortly afterwards came the label’s first musical release of the new decade - The Comforts Of Madness (CAD 0002), the John Fryer / Gil Norton-produced debut album from the Pale Saints. Later in the year, the group returned with a new EP, Half Life (BAD 0015), which saw them expanding to a quartet, having added Meriel Barham to their line-up. (A Japan-only release, called Mrs. Dolphin (COCY-7096), collected Half Life and the previous year’s Barging Into The Presence Of God EP on one CD).
Lush recorded their second EP, Mad Love (BAD 0003), with Robin Guthrie, which documented the rapid sonic progress the band had made in only a few months time. Their evolution continued on Sweetness And Light, made up of three songs produced by Tim Friese-Greene (Talk Talk). The band subsequently signed a U.S. deal with Reprise, and at the end of the year they released Gala (CAD 0017), a compilation of all three of the group’s EPs (plus a bonus Abba cover and an alternative version of Scarlet) which was intended to introduce them to American audiences.
As Kurt Ralske prepared to record the second Ultra Vivid Scene album, Ivo suggested he team up with producer Hugh Jones. The result was Joy 1967-1990 (CAD 0005), a veritable encyclopedia of pop possibilities that majored on Ralske’s knack for couching lyrical misanthropy in supremely catchy hook-laden songs. The album spawned two singles : “Staring At The Sun” (BAD 0004) and “Special One” (BAD 0016) - a duet with Kim Deal (a wonderful video for the song shows Kurt and Kim crooning the song like Sonny & Cher).
That performance was one of many extra-curricular activities for Kim in 1990 - a year which also found her stepping beyond the confines of the Pixies with her own group, The Breeders. The band’s first line-up (of many) was Tanya Donelly from Throwing Muses, Josephine Wiggs of The Perfect Disaster and Slint’s Britt Walford - together they went into the studio with Steve Albini to record Pod (CAD 0006), which featured a visceral set of Kim’s own songs and a fractured cover of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.”
Dead Can Dance’s Aion (CAD 0007) was the natural culmination of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry’s growing interest in non-contemporary music. It’s unquestionably the Dead Can Dance album which owes the least to the 20th Century - or the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries, for that matter - and the music beneath its Hieronymous Bosch sleeve was shot through with ancient mystery and profound beauty. A subsequent tour of Europe, and, for the first time, the United States, helped to consolidate a steadily growing audience.
Some months previously, Ivo had received a cassette in the mail from basement auteur Warren Defever of Livonia, Michigan. It bore the hand-scrawled label: “His Name Is Alive - I Had Sex With God” Over the next few months, two more versions of the tape showed up, each loaded with strange variations on the material from previous efforts. Increasingly intrigued by the music, Ivo offered to try mixing it. He went into the studio with John Fryer and began playing around; when he heard them, Warren liked the results, and the finished product became His Name Is Alive’s first album : Livonia (CAD 0008).
The Pixies followed Doolittle with another Gil Norton-produced album - Bossanova (CAD 0010). Although it had been a difficult record to make, the record contained its fair share of classic material. It’s release was bookended by two singles - the anthemic “Velouria” (CAD 0009) and “Dig For Fire” (CAD 0014), which was accompanied by a phenomenally expensive (and rarely seen) live video clip which found the band commandeering a biker gang and a Dutch football stadium for its own nefarious purposes.
Preceded by the single “Iceblink Luck” (CAD 0011), Heaven Or Las Vegas (CAD 0012) was the Cocteau Twins’ final album for 4AD. It was an extraordinary farewell: an album of great warmth and romance featuring the most open and unguarded vocals Liz Fraser had ever committed to tape. Ivo ranks it as his own favorite Cocteau Twins record and ranks it among the very best things 4AD has ever released.
Bassist Leslie Langston had left Throwing Muses before the band went in to record their fourth album, The Real Ramona (CAD 1002). It was produced by Dennis Herring (Camper Van Beethoven), and featured some of Kristin Hersh’s most powerful songs, including the indelible “Counting Backwards” (BAD 1001) - a track which gave the band their first significant US radio exposure. Tanya Donelly’s “Not Too Soon” (BAD 1015) became the album’s second single - but not long afterwards, she left the group, re-appearing the following year with a new band of her own : Belly.
The Wolfgang Press returned from a long period of studio hibernation with the propulsive “Time” (BAD 1003). They followed it a few months later with a radio-friendly cover of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come” (BAD 1007) before unveiling Queer (CAD 1011), their finest album to date. Drawing inspiration from De La Soul’s Three Feet High And Rising, the Wolfgangs (and producer Drostan Madden) fashioned an endlessly listenable crazy-quilt of a record, built from samples, found sounds and the best batch of songs they’d ever written. Two distinct versions of Queer exist : in order to get the album released in the United States the following year, the group were obliged to remove and / or re-record many of the album’s more recognizable samples; the U.S. edition also includes three additional tracks, including “A Girl Like You”.
Spirea X was a vehicle for the 60’s pop-art visions of ex-Primal Scream member Jim Beattie. Two EPs appeared - Chlorine Dream (BAD 1004), whose lead track managed to reinvent the sound of the Byrds for the 1990s, and Speed Reaction (BAD 1006), a fiendishly catchy melding of harmonies and the Who - prior to the arrival of a full-length album, Fireblade Skies (CAD 1017), in the autumn. Jim left 4AD shortly thereafter, subsequently making records as Adventures In Stereo.
Ivo had been working on new This Mortal Coil material on and off since the release of Filigree & Shadow four years earlier. A musical reflection of a turbulent period in his life, Blood (DAD 1005) was always intended to be the final installment of a TMC trilogy. Recorded with many of the same personnel as the previous album - John Fryer, Jon Turner and Martin McCarrick all played significant roles in shaping the music - Blood also included vocals from such TMC newcomers as Caroline Crawley (Shelleyan Orphan), Heidi Berry, Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly. Cover versions this time out included songs by Chris Bell, Syd Barrett, Rain Parade, Rodney Crowell and Mary Margaret O’Hara, while Ivo’s own lyrics graced several of the album’s originals.
The Pixies heralded the arrival of a new album with the Planet Of Sound EP (BAD 1008), which included a bizarre cover - “Evil Hearted You” by The Yardbirds - sung in Spanish. The ferocious fourth and final album Trompe Le Monde (CAD 1014) saw the band bowing out in a blaze of glory. The Pixies dissolved after an string of opening dates on U2’s Zoo TV tour and a series of European dates which found the band playing to enormous audiences. Their demise came just as a new generation of bands, on whom the Pixies had been a crucial influence, were beginning to find a vast new audience.
Pale Saints, who toured with the Pixies during 1991, checked in with a new EP, Flesh Balloon (BAD 1009). It featured a dreamy version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Kinky Love” that was released - with one eye wistfully on the charts - as a separate 7-inch single (AD 1009).
Dead Can Dance’s A Passage In Time (CAD 1010) was a compilation album intended as the group’s first American release (via Rykodisc). Assembled by Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, it brought together fourteen songs from their previous four albums, as well as a brace of newly recorded tracks.
Ivo first encountered Heidi Berry when he saw her opening for Felt. Seemingly a performer out of time, her voice and songs recalled an earlier generation of visionary folk- influenced artists like Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. Heidi’s relationship with Creation Records (for whom she had made an album and an EP) had come to an end, and Ivo invited her to record for 4AD. He introduced her to producer Peter Walsh (Ivo liked his work on Scott Walker’s Climate Of Hunter), and together they recorded Love (CAD 1012).
Ivo played much the same role in His Name Is Alive’s second album, Home Is In Your Head (CAD 1013), as he had on Livonia. Beginning with a pile of tapes sent to him by Warren Defever, he edited and mixed the material - sometimes making songs out of fragments, at other times pulling songs into their component parts. The resulting 23-track album is a surrealist collage of intangible feelings that flows organically from start to finish.
The first fruits of Lush’s sessions with Robin Guthrie for their debut full-length album emerged late in 1991. The Black Spring EP included two songs from the following year’s Spooky along with a cover of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s “Fallin’ In Love”.
At the year’s end, a 10-CD boxed set, simply entitled Cocteau Twins (CT BOX 1), collected all nine of the group’s 4AD EP’s, along with a tenth disc of rarities and unreleased tracks.
1992 was a busy year, and a year of changes for 4AD - the most important of which was the signing of a distribution deal with Warner Brothers Records in the United States. Rather than license individual acts to different labels in the States - as had been the case up to this point - the deal was designed to give 4AD the continuity and label identity in America that it had everywhere else in the world. The small U.S. 4AD office that had been in New York City was closed, and 4AD’s U.S. operations moved to Los Angeles under the direction of Robin Hurley (Ivo moved to California a few years later). To celebrate the Warner Brothers deal, 4AD issued an elaborate promotional package called Lilliput, which featured two CDs - the first highlighting notable previous releases, the second providing an overview of the label’s current roster - which were housed in an illustrated hard cover book.
Lush’s much-anticipated first album, Spooky (CAD 2002), was a worldwide success. The band, coming into their own as musicians and as songwriters, worked once again with Robin Guthrie, who’d produced the Mad Love EP. The For Love EP (BAD 2001), released before the album, featured three tracks unavailable elsewhere, including a cover of Wire’s “Outdoor Miner.”
The Breeders - now joined by Kim Deal’s twin sister Kelley - returned to action with the four-song Safari EP (BAD 2003). Produced by Laika’s Guy Fixsen, it featured three new Kim Deal original compositions, and a version of “So Sad About Us” by The Who.
Pale Saints continued the collaboration with producer Hugh Jones that had begun on Flesh Balloon with their second album, In Ribbons (CAD 2004) - probably their finest release. The initial quantities of the album included an unusual 7-inch single which contained two of the group’s songs - “A Thousand Stars Burst Open” and “A Revelation” - as performed by the Tintwhistle Brass Band. The album’s powerful opening track, “Throwing Back The Apple” was issued as a single (BAD 2008). And if the album’s title hinted at internal tensions, the hint was confirmed a few months later when co-frontman Ian Masters decided to quit the band.
Warren Defever returned with a new five-song His Name Is Alive EP, The Dirt Eaters (BAD 2005). In addition to re-emphasising Defever’s gift for conjuring up spectral melodies, the record also spotlighted his eccentric taste in cover versions : its central track was a thoroughly Defeverized version of Ritchie Blackmore’s “Man On The Silver Mountain”.
After the career high of Queer, The Wolfgang Press were on a creative roll. They unleashed a new single - “A Girl Like You” (BAD 2006) - that very nearly became a hit. Bizarre proof of the song’s wide appeal arrived when Tom Jones recorded his own version the following year; he wound up performing it onstage with the group at a memorable 1994 show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
Michael Brook - inventor of the “infinite guitar” and a noted producer - had been acquainted with Ivo for several years (his first 4AD appearance had been on Sleeps With The Fishes, a 1987 collaboration with Xymox’s Pieter Nooten). Cobalt Blue (CAD 2007) was a quietly stunning collection of instrumental pieces, featuring contributions from Roger Eno, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. At a press launch for the album held at the London Aquarium, Brook played a rare solo live set, which was ultimately issued as Live At the Aquarium (TAD 2011), the first in 4AD’s occasional series of limited-edition “Temporary Releases.”
After leaving Throwing Muses, Tanya Donelly formed her own group, Belly (a name chosen simply because it was one of her favorite words) with former Muses bassist Fred Abong, guitarist Tom Gorman and drummer Chris Gorman. Their first release was the Slow Dust EP (BAD 2009), which was released in the summer of 1992. Later - with a Gil Norton-produced album waiting in the wings for a new year release - “Gepetto” (BAD 2018) was issued as a single, and offered a preview of things to come. (A limited edition, with a remix and different tracks was issued the following year as BADD 2018).
Swallow were a duo of instrumentalist Mike Mason and vocalist Louise Trehy whose music blended elements of My Bloody Valentine, the Cocteau Twins and Curve. They released one proper album, Blow (CAD 2010), and followed it up with Blowback (TAD 2015) which featured remixed, largely instrumental reworkings of most of the album’s tracks.
Throwing Muses - temporarily reduced to the duo of Kristin Hersh and David Narcizo - returned with their first post-Tanya Donelly album, Red Heaven (CAD 2013). Recorded as a three-piece with the briefly-returning bassist Leslie Langston, the album was a long-awaited showcase for Kristin’s guitar pyrotechnics. Throwing Muses were joined on tour by new bassist Bernard Georges, and a recording drawn from two shows at London’s Grand Theatre was issued as The Curse (TAD 2019). The Firepile EP (BAD 2012 and BADD 2012) featured seven non-album tracks across two discs, including covers of songs by the Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix and the Volcano Suns, as well as an Ivo / John Fryer remix of “Firepile”. This complex state of affairs was compounded by the fact that initial copies of Red Heaven came with a bonus Kristin Hersh solo acoustic album : Live At Maxwells, Hoboken (KH1).
Ivo first heard San Francisco’s Red House Painters - a vehicle for songwriter / frontman Mark Kozelek’s acute slow-motion chronicles of emotional distress - on a cassette which was given to him by the music journalist Martin Aston (Aston, in turn, got it from Mark Eitzel of American Music Club). Hugely impressed by the 90 minutes of music on the tape (Dif Juz were the only other band who’d presented such a vast quantity of demo material) Ivo flew to San Francisco to meet Mark - and those demos, unaltered, provided the source material for Red House Painters’ debut album Down Colorful Hill (CAD 2014).
In the midst of a great deal of present-day activity, 4AD addressed its past with a long-overdue 20-track retrospective of The Birthday Party, the ironically titled Hits (CAD 2016).
Kurt Ralske’s third Ultra Vivid Scene album, Rev (CAD 2017) was a far different creature than the carefully-honed three-minute songcraft of its two predecessors. Recording as part of a three-piece rock band, Ralske kicked out the jams on a series of lengthy tracks dominated by his searing guitar leads. Despite opening up what seemed like a promising new direction, Rev proved to be the final Ultra Vivid Scene album. Ralske subsequently concentrated on production work and multimedia art before developing a new project, Cathars, in 1999.
As an adjunct to the label’s other activities in 1992, Ivo also started the 4AD spin-off imprint Guernica, intended to offer a low-key, low-pressure platform for records that he enjoyed. Guernica’s first year brought three releases : a British version of Unrest’s Imperial f.f.r.r. (GU 1), a prelude to the band’s signing to 4AD proper the following year; Leaves Me Blind (GU2), an album by Australian shoegazers Underground Lovers; and the debut album from Amsterdam’s Bettie Serveert : Palomine (GU 3).
Finally, Vaughan Oliver ushered in the new year with his Anatomy Calendar 1993 (XAD 2020). Although its oblique design made it virtually useless for any conventional time-keeping purpose (not to mention its perverse inclusion of a nonexistent 13th month called “Jack”), it was nevertheless a lovely art object.
4AD’s major event as a label in 1993 was a five-night festival at London’s ICA. The 13 Year Itch featured live performances from the bulk of the label’s artists, including the first-ever solo performance by Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry. In addition, a limited edition CD, sold only at the shows, featured 13 exclusive tracks from the participants - good luck finding a copy.
Belly’s first album Star (CAD 3002) proved a major hit in the United States (although it was released by Sire, not 4AD) when the single “Feed The Tree” (BAD 3001) became a major MTV and radio hit.
Ultra Vivid Scene’s final release was the Blood And Thunder EP (CAD 3003), featuring a remix of the title song (drastically shortened from its ten-and-a-half minute running time on the Rev album) and three other tracks, including a superb reading of John Cale’s obscure “Winter Song”.
Charles Thompson, who’d fronted the Pixies under the nom du rock Black Francis, inverted his alias and launched his solo career as Frank Black. His self-titled debut (CAD 3004), produced with Eric Drew Feldman (Pere Ubu, Captain Beefheart), successfully traded the chaotic blast of the Pixies for a far more structured, Bowie-esque pop sensibility. Frank’s cover of Brian Wilson’s “Hang On To Your Ego” (CAD 3005) was the album’s single.
This Mortal Coil’s legacy was collected in a four-CD boxed set, 1983-1991 (45135), a US-only limited edition containing the three original TMC albums, plus a fourth disc featuring 21 original versions of songs that TMC had covered.
Mouth By Mouth (CAD 3006), the third His Name Is Alive album, was actually composed of pieces of two separate albums that Warren Defever had recorded : one was a His Name Is Alive set, the other was a collection of songs by The Dirt Eaters, one of Warren’s near-infinite array of other projects. Splicing the best bits together into a single unit resulted in a richly diverse - and decidedly more song-oriented - collection.
Ivo had reissued Imperial f.f.r.r. by Washington DC’s pop chameleons Unrest on Guernica the previous year. They made their 4AD debut with the Isabel Bishop EP (BAD 3007), a collection of singles and excerpts from work in progress. The full-length album that followed - Perfect Teeth (CAD 3012) - was a fascinating catalog of the band’s musical obsessions : early 80’s British indie rock and 60’s easy listening records. The sunny pop single “Cath Carroll” - an ode to the ex-NME journalist, frontwoman of C86-ers Miaow and Perfect Teeth cover star - was also issued in expanded form on an EP (BAD 3015) which paired it with the relentless droning brilliance of the 33-minute-long “Hydro”.
Dead Can Dance’s Into The Labyrinth (CAD 3013) - a beguiling album which found them retreating slightly from the medievalist stance they’d taken on Aion - sold 350,000 copies in the U.S. on the strength of Brendan Perry’s “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove”, which became an unlikely hit on modern rock radio.
With dozens of Mark Kozelek’s songs at their disposal, Red House Painters emerged from the studio with two full albums; somewhat confusingly, both were titled Red House Painters. The first of these (CAD 3008, generally referred to as the “Rollercoaster” album, after its cover image), was a 70-minute masterpiece of eloquent sadness. The second (CAD 3016, the “Bridge” album) was a shorter and edgier work which included two cover versions that frequently made their way into the group’s live set lists : Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
Heidi Berry’s self-titled second album for 4AD (CAD 3009) was a wonderfully fragile collection of late-night beauty. It was recorded with producer Hugh Jones, who assisted with the elaborate arrangements - including a full symphony orchestra on “Little Fox”. Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson, who’d worked with many of Heidi’s inspirations - Tim Buckley, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake - also made important contributions. A single - “The Moon And The Sun” - accompanied the album’s release.
Kim Deal returned to the studio with The Breeders and came out with one of the greatest singles of the 90s. “Cannonball” (CAD 3011) - with its insistent riff and infectious energy - took America by storm. The album that followed, Last Splash (CAD 3014), was just as successful, artistically and commercially; it was an engaging, powerful record on which Kim’s talents truly came into their own. A further single, “Divine Hammer” (BAD 3017), was released at the end of the year.
1993 also saw three further releases on the Guernica imprint. Formerly known as Earwig, Insides created ambient electronic pop as Steve Reich might have conceived it on the very wonderful Euphoria (GU 4; it also came out in the U.S. as a regular 4AD release). Spoonfed Hybrid (GU 5) was a new project from former Pale Saint Ian Masters, while L.A.’s That Dog (GU 6) so excited Ivo that he briefly considered managing them.
The 13 Year Itch festival that took place in London in 1993 spawned an American sequel in 1994. All Virgos Are Mad - as it was dubbed - was a multi-night 4AD extravaganza staged in Los Angeles at the Troubadour and McCabe’s Guitar Shop in late September and early October. A limited edition CD was issued for these shows as well (45789; it was also briefly available in shops).
According to Ivo, Kristin Hersh’s first solo album, Hips And Makers (CAD 4002; a limited edition CD digipak was available as CADD 4002)), is “one of the best records we’ve ever put out”. Produced by Lenny Kaye, and featuring only Kristin’s voice, her acoustic guitar and an occasional cello, the album is a breathtaking collection, by turns ravishingly beautiful and frighteningly cathartic. Its single, the hypnotic “Your Ghost”, (BAD 4001) was a duet with REM’s Michael Stipe. On the companion-piece Strings EP (BAD 4006), Kristin re-recorded four songs from Hips And Makers accompanied by a six-piece string section.
Like Kristin Hersh or Mark Kozelek, Lisa Germano was a fiercely original singer/songwriter whose songs ventured unswervingly into the darkest corners of her psyche. Ivo first encountered her when she was signed to Capitol Records in the United States. Her 4AD debut, the limited edition Inconsiderate Bitch EP (TAD 4003) - featuring several Ivo / John Fryer mixes of songs from her album Happiness - had been intended as a one-off, but Lisa’s deal with Capitol crumbled and 4AD leapt into the breach, swiftly issuing a revised version of Happiness (CAD 4005).
Later in the year, Lisa issued a second album, Geek The Girl (CAD 4017). One of the most harrowing albums of the 90s, it can take its place on the “devastating masterpiece” shelf alongside the likes of Big Star’s Third / Sister Lovers and Lou Reed’s Berlin. Most of the songs on the album were actually recorded as home demos; it was decided that the material was perfect as it was, and it was released untouched.
Mark Kozelek’s nearly unrecognizable, slow-motion arrangement of Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me” was among the most memorable of the odd array of classic rock cover versions Red House Painters were in the habit of performing live. It was immortalized for posterity on the Shock Me EP (BAD 4004), which coupled two versions of the song with two Kozelek originals.
Ivo had first taken note of vocalist Joanne Loughman and guitarist / violinist Hugh O’Carrol - the nucleus of The Glee Club - when he heard their previous band, the Swinging Swine, on a Nick Drake tribute album, and was impressed by Joanne’s voice. The Glee Club’s music ranged from folky lullabies to more straightforward electric rock songs. The Setanta label issued the group’s album Mine (45496) in the UK, while 4AD released it only in the United States.
Frank Black’s final album for 4AD was Teenager Of The Year (CAD 4009), a sprawling 22-song double album that continued to explore the territory mapped out by his debut. And if the record initial seemed to be a work of sprawling ambition perhaps lacking in focus, time has been very kind to it; connoisseurs now rate Teenager Of The Year - and the fine single “Headache” (BAD 4007) - alongside the best of the Pixies.
Lush’s second album found the band in sharp form, toughened up by their experiences on the previous year’s Lollapalooza tour. Split (CAD 4011), as its title implied, explored the dichotomies in the band’s music, finding them equally adept at concise, pop-oriented material like “Hypocrite” (BAD 4008, the album’s first single) as well as lengthy epics like “Never Never” and “Desire Lines” (BAD 4010).
To coincide with their Lollapalooza ‘94 appearances, The Breeders issued Head To Toe (BADD 4012), a limited edition 10-inch vinyl EP. Produced by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, it included covers of songs by Guided By Voices and Sebadoh.
Following the departure of Ian Masters, Pale Saints added bassist / vocalist Colleen Browne to their ranks and recorded what was to become their final album, Slow Buildings (BAD 4014), with Hugh Jones. Ivo had heard a piece of music by a band called Persian Rugs, which he suggested might be interesting for the band to record. The group rewrote the song and added lyrics; the result was the single “Fine Friend” (BAD 4013).
Dead Can Dance’s Toward The Within (CAD 4015) was an attempt to document the group’s uncanny live performances. Recorded and filmed in late 1993 at Santa Monica’s venerable Mayfair Theatre - which was largely destroyed by an earthquake less than two months afterward - the album featured mostly new material and included several Brendan Perry songs which were first debuted during his 13 Year Itch performance earlier in the year.
Throwing Muses previewed their upcoming University album - released the following year - with the new single “Bright Yellow Gun” (BAD 4018).
1994 also saw the final Guernica release : the incredible Clear Skin (TU7) by Insides - a single hypnotic track that evolved gradually over its 38 minute span into a minimalist symphony of interlocking patterns.
The Wolfgang Press began the year with the release of Funky Little Demons (CAD 4016), which built on Queer’s manifold sonic advances, and revealed an increased fascination with swampy blues and 60’s soul. The down-and-dirty single “Going South” (BAD 5001) came with an array of mixes from Michael Brook, Jah Wobble and Apollo 440. But Funky Little Demons was the last record from 4AD’s then longest-serving artists - as members of Mass and In Camera, all three members had been making records for the label since 1980.
University, by Throwing Muses (CAD 5002; a deluxe limited edition was available as CADD 5002) was actually recorded well over a year before it was released; it was delayed to make way for Hips And Makers, Kristin Hersh’s debut solo album. University was made at Daniel Lanois’ studio in New Orleans, and it was one of the group’s hardest-edged efforts - “Bright Yellow Gun”, which was released as a single the preceding year, picked up a solid amount of radio play.
Meanwhile Belly had travelled to the legendary Compass Point studios in the Bahamas to record their second album, King (CAD 5004; a limited-edition, with the CD housed in a hard cover book, was issued as CADD 5004), working with celebrated producer Glyn Johns (whose CV includes Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who). The result was a polished, tightly-coiled set of Tanya Donelly songs that included such powerful singles as “Now They’ll Sleep” (BAD 5003) and “Seal My Fate” (CAD 5007).
The fourth Red House Painters album in less than three years, and their last for 4AD, Ocean Beach (CAD 5005) was a quietly devastating record that confirmed Mark Kozelek’s status as one of the finest songwriters to emerge in the 90’s. As ever Kozelek’s songs often ran to epic lengths, and as ever, they more than justified their span - the graceful 9-minute ebb-and-flow of the concluding “Drop” being as case in point. (A double-10-inch-vinyl edition of the album (DADD 5005) also included a cover of “Long Distance Runaround” by Yes).
As a founding member of both the Dream Syndicate and Opal, Kendra Smith had participated in some of the most influential recordings of the 80s. After a lovely solo EP in the early 90s, she’d vanished into the woods of Northern California, living in a small cabin without electricity. Ivo maanaged to broach Smith’s seclusion, and persuaded her to record for 4AD. Five Ways of Disappearing (CAD 5006) was a highly individual and uniquely textured web of modern psychedelia, which climaxed with a stunning performance of Richard Fariña’s “Bold Marauder”. When the album was released, she made just two public appearances - a show in New York, and an in-store performance at a record store in Hollywood - before heading back to the forest. She hasn’t been heard from on record since.
Ivo was also a fan of Jenny Toomey, frontwoman of Tsunami and co-founder of the Simple Machines label. He invited her to make a solo album for 4AD, and the result was Liquorice’s Listening Cap (CAD 5008), a lovely, low-key record, produced by His Name Is Alive’s Warren Defever - it felt like a fresh update on the singer / songwriter albums of the 1970s.
During a hiatus from Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard recorded her first solo album, The Mirror Pool (CAD 5009). True to form, it was a richly orchestrated mixture of Western classical music, medieval chant and Middle Eastern influences, and it also featured some of her most radiant vocal performances
Using country music as a springboard, San Francisco’s Tarnation explored harrowing emotional terrain on Gentle Creatures (CAD 5010), their first record for 4AD. Frontwoman Paula Frazer’s stark vocals marked out terrain somewhere between Patsy Cline and Leonard Cohen, while the band’s plangent twangs and rumbles imbued the music with an ever-escalating sense of unease.
After the demise of Unrest, band members Mark Robinson and Bridget Cross formed Air Miami, whose lone album - me, me, me (CAD 5011) - presented a brighter, shinier, giddier take on Unrest’s brand of cryptic humor and post-everything pop music. The Fuck You, Tiger EP (BAD 5014) combined me, me, me’s punky “I Hate Milk” with a trio of non-album tracks.
Northern Ireland’s Scheer were another band making their debut for 4AD - the five-song Schism EP (CAD 5012), which demonstrated the uneasy marriage of plaintive vocals (contributed by singer Audrey Gallagher) and sledgehammer riff-rock aggression.
Sherri Hood - who had been 4AD’s first American employee back in the 80s before moving on to artist management - sent Ivo a tape of demos made by Slowdive’s Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell. Ivo was stunned by the quality of the music - a hazy swell of languid acoustic melodies threaded through by gorgeous male / female harmonies - and insisted that it deserved to be heard just as it was. These demos (augmented by a few more songs - such as the breathtaking “Mercy” - which were recorded later) became the first Mojave 3 album, Ask Me Tomorrow (CAD 5013).
After the massive success of Last Splash, Kim Deal deliberately chose to scale things back a bit when she returned to the studio. The result was Pacer (CAD 5016), released under the alias The Amps, a blast of scruffy punk rock which saw Kim bashing out 12 new tunes in just over half an hour. One of the album’s standout tracks, “Tipp City” (BAD 5015), was also issued as a single.
Kristin Hersh saw 1995 out with a limited edition holiday EP, The Holy Single (TAD 5017), featuring covers of Alex Chilton’s “Jesus Christ”, the Carter Family’s “Can The Circle Be Unbroken”, the traditional “Amazing Grace” and “Sinkhole”, which was written by her father. (This last song had been featured on Throwing Muses’ original demo tape ten years previously; it was later included on the Muses compilation In A Doghouse).
1996 saw a 4AD package tour barnstorming across the United States. Cryptically dubbed Shaving The Pavement, it brought Lush, Mojave 3 and Scheer together for a string of 25 shows.
Lush were playing in support of Lovelife (CAD 6004), their last and their most successful album. Drawing inspiration from the then-current Britpop scene -exemplified on the album by “Ciao!,” a Nancy & Lee-style duet between Miki Berenyi and Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker - Lovelife was by far the catchiest and most song-oriented record of the group’s career. The album spawned a trio of exemplary singles - “Single Girl” (BAD 6001), “Ladykillers” (BAD 6002) and “500 (Shake Baby Shake)” (BAD 6009) - all of which were Top 25 hits in the UK. The album proved a success with American audiences, as well; the band played to sold-out crowds while topping the bill on the Shaving The Pavement tour. Tragically, what should have been Lush’s finest year ended in tragedy when drummer Chris Acland committed suicide in October. Unwilling to continue after the loss of their friend, Lush chose to split up.
Scheer released their debut album Infliction (CAD 6006), matching one of Vaughan Oliver’s most in-your-face sleeve designs with equally forceful music. Two singles from the album were also issued: “Shéa” (CAD 6003) and “Wish You Were Dead” (CAD 6005).
His Name Is Alive made a triumphant return with Stars On ESP (CAD 6010), a wildly eclectic avant-pop record that found Warren Defever drawing inspiration from such diverse influences as Phil Spector, ska and early reggae, Woody Guthrie, 60s cult label ESP (hence the album title), and almost forgotten albums made by the actor David McCallum. The album’s centerpiece was the jaw-dropping single “Universal Frequencies” (BAD 6007) - which was nothing less than Defever’s amazingly successful attempt to reinvent “Good Vibrations”. In an appropriately Spectorian touch, Defever created a special mono mix of Stars On ESP, which was available only on vinyl.
Throwing Muses released Limbo (CAD 6014), which saw them in peak form. Perhaps their most fully-realized work, it perfectly captured the electric side of Kristin Hersh’s music, while proving yet again that the latter-day Muses lineup ranked as one of the great rock trios of the decade. Two singles were extracted from the album: “Shark” (BAD 6016) and “Ruthie’s Knocking” (TAD 6017), a limited edition one-song 7-inch with an etching on the B-side.
Although it wasn’t intended as such, Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser (CAD 6008) proved to be the group’s recorded swansong. Their most rhythmically-driven work, the album brought elements of African, Caribbean and Australian aboriginal music into the mix. Filled with long, mantric tracks that spiral ecstatically towards completion, Spiritchaser’s material truly came to life in the summer of 1996 on Dead Can Dance’s extraordinary final tour. Lisa and Brendan finally split up in late 1998, during the recording of what would have been their ninth album.
Heidi Berry’s Miracle (CAD 6011) was her third (and sadly, last) album for 4AD. An exquisitely folky collection of new songs (and a Jesse Colin Young cover) given life by Heidi’s voice and the masterful production of Hugh Jones, the album possesses the same timeless quality as all of her work.
Lisa Germano’s follow-up to Geek The Girl was somewhat lighter in tone. Excerpts From A Love Circus (CAD 6012) was a mesmerizing cycle of dysfunctional relationship songs, punctuated by occasional contributions from Lisa’s cats. It was followed by the “Small Heads” single (BAD 6019), which also featured the supremely ironic “Fun, Fun For Everyone”.
An important new addition to the 4AD roster was Iceland’s Gus Gus, a nine-person multi-media collective from Reykjavik whose beguiling post-trip hop sound was augmented with startling video clips and a carnival-styled live show. Their first release was the Polyesterday EP (BAD 6013), which acted as something of an appetizer for the release of their debut album the following year.
Since moving to California, Ivo had become a fan of The Paladins, a hard-charging roots-rock band who’d been one of the West Coast’s most dependably great live attractions for close to twenty years. After a particularly memorable show at the House Of Blues on New Year’s Eve 1995, he approached the band about the prospect of cutting a live album for 4AD. The ferocious Million Mile Club (CAD 6015) was the result.
Having dissolved Belly, Tanya Donelly embarked upon a solo career. She released an EP, Sliding & Diving (BAD 6018), in 1996 - her debut album would appear the next year.
Tarnation returned with a new album, Mirador (CAD 7004), which found the group’s subversive country sound moving in a more bluesy direction. “There’s Someone” (TAD 7000) previewed one of the album’s key tracks on a limited edition 7-inch. “You’ll Understand” (BAD 7001; a limited double 7-inch was issued as ADD 7001) matched two of Mirador’s songs with a pair of non-album tracks.
Gus Gus’s debut album Polydistortion (CAD 7005) was a confident demonstration that Iceland had more than Bjork to contribute to the global music scene. Mixing sinuous electronic grooves with a perverse pop sensibility, Gus Gus caused a stir in clubs around the world with tracks like “Believe” (a two-part single : BAD 7002 came with non-album tracks while BADD 7002 featured a slew of remixes).
Michael Brook first 4AD release in five years was his soundtrack to the actor Kevin Spacey’s directorial debut, Albino Alligator (CAD 7003). A set of disquieting music perfectly appropriate to the film’s portrayal of raw nerves and bungled plans. Brook’s sound palette veered from swampy blues-rock to modal keyboard ostinatos which pointed in the direction of Philip Glass. The album’s most unusual moment was a slow motion duet between REM’s Michael Stipe and peerless jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott on the standard “Ill Wind” - a track which featured Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass.
Scheer issued “Demon”, (BAD 7006), a final single drawn from the Infliction album.
Having been an integral part of Throwing Muses, The Breeders and Belly during more than a decade on the 4AD roster, Tanya Donelly’s debut as a solo artist was long overdue. Lovesongs For Underdogs (CAD 7008) was an album of quirky, evocative tunes in a variety of musical settings, unified by the force of Tanya’s personality. It featured the singles “Pretty Deep” (a 7-inch and two CD’s - AD 7007, BAD 7007 and BADD 7007 - which all featured different B-sides) and “The Bright Light” (another multi-B-side phenomenon : AD 7012, BAD 7012, BADD 7012).
As an epilogue, of sorts, to the Stars On ESP project, Warren Defever issued Nice Day, a limited edition EP (JAD 7009) featuring six new songs.
Issued to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Pixies’ first release, Death To The Pixies (DAD 7011) assembled 17 of the band’s greatest moments. Two deluxe editions - one a boxed set of four 10-inch vinyl records (DADD 7011), the other a slipcased double-CD set (DADD 7011CD) - added a complete live concert recording from 1990. The 10-inch vinyl set also included a pair of previously unreleased demos, which also showed up on a few super-limited copies of the 2CD set; these can only be identified by the initials “GT” (for “Golden Ticket”) on the matrix numbers of the CDs themselves.
Just before Death To The Pixies hit the racks, “Debaser” was issued as a single, with a variety of choice unreleased material on its various formats : three Dutch radio session tracks on BAD 7010, three live tracks from a Chicago broadcast on BADD 7010, and a demo of the otherwise unissed “Number Thirteen Baby” on the 7-inch AD7011.
The soundtrack to an American independent film that wound up going straight to video, Joyride (46825) featured a variety of tracks culled from numerous 4AD releases over the years (three non-4AD tracks came courtesy of the German label Recycle Or Die).
1998 began with the release of Anakin (TAD 8001), which was a limited edition sampler compiled and sequenced by Ivo, and intended to provide a preview of the year’s releases. As things turned out, it included several otherwise unavailable demos, as well as tracks from albums that never saw the light of day.
The first era of Gus Gus concluded with a new two-part single of “Polyesterday” (BAD 8002 and BADD 8002), which came with a host of remixes from the likes of Carl Craig, Amon Tobin and DJ Vadim. By the time the single was released, the group were back in the studio working on their second album, destined for release in 1999.
Strange Angels (CAD 8003) was Kristin Hersh’s second solo release. A largely acoustic collection of songs which carried on where Hips And Makers left off, the album was co-produced by acclaimed singer/songwriter Joe Henry. A limited-edition tour single, “Like You” (TAD 8005), featured a pair of live recordings as well as the title track. Later in 1998, Kristin issued 4AD’s first-ever mail-order-only release, an album of doom-laden traditional folksongs entitled Murder, Misery and then Goodnight (4ADM1). In a break from v23 tradition, the record’s artwork was designed by former bandmate David Narcizo.
1998 also saw a little tidying up of the Throwing Muses’ early releases : the 2CD anthology In A Doghouse (DAD 607) collected together the first Throwing Muses album, the long-unavailable Chains Changed EP, the group’s previously unreleased 1985 demo tape, and five songs written in 1983 that had finally been committed to tape thirteen years later.
Lisa Gerrard stepped outside the confines of Dead Can Dance for a second time on Duality (CAD 8004), recorded with Pieter Bourke, who’d toured and recorded with Dead Can Dance for several years. Possibly more accessible than The Mirror Pool, Duality placed a firmer emphasis upon Lisa’s uncanny singing abilities, while “Human Game” featured one of her rare English-language vocal performances. The album was later mined by the director Michael Mann, who used several of its tracks (memorably, “Sacrifice”) in the soundtrack to the Russell Crowe movie The Insider.
Rich Holtzman of 4AD’s Los Angeles office was the first person at the label to discover the music of Washington DC’s Eric Hilton and Rob Garza, better known as Thievery Corporation. One of the most musically developed exponents of the late 90s worldwide electronica explosion, the pair’s music was an open-minded fusion of dub reggae, lounge jazz and Latin music, as depicted on their debut album Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi (CAD 8006). “38:45” (BAD 8007) was a 12-inch vinyl single featuring extended versions of a track from the album, while a the non-album single, “Lebanese Blonde” (BAD 8017) was issued later in the year.
Seven years after the release of the final This Mortal Coil album, Ivo unveiled his much-anticipated new project, The Hope Blister. …smile’s ok (CAD 8008) was a haunting album composed entirely of cover versions, including songs by Brian Eno, John Cale, Neil Halstead of Mojave 3, David Sylvian and Heidi Berry. Unlike This Mortal Coil, The Hope Blister was the work of a closely-knit group of contributors; the spectral vocals of Louise Rutkowski (who appeared on the second and third TMC albums) were backed only by bassist Laurence O’Keefe (Dark Star, Levitation), a string quartet led by Audrey Riley, and, on two tracks, Dif Juz’s Ritchie Thomas. The less-is-more approach yielded an album whose emotional power lay in its sparseness.
Having by now conditioned his listeners to always expect the unexpected, Warren Defever returned with a new His Name Is Alive album. Ft. Lake (CAD 8009) was an unexpected move, even by Defever’s unpredictable standards. Teaming for the first time with an outside producer - Steve King, who’d worked with Funkadelic and Aretha Franklin - Defever managed to incorporate screaming rock & roll, cheesy electronics, gospel (courtesy of new co-vocalist Lovetta Pippen) and miscellaneous funkiness into something that was still immediately recognizable as His Name Is Alive. The “Can’t Always Be Loved” CD single (BAD 8015) contains the utterly essential 17-minute version of “Wish I Had A Wishing Ring”, and exhilarating festival of post-Hendrix excess which featured some truly over-the-top guitar heroics.
Cuba - a duo of Christopher Andrews and former Chapterhouse drummer Ashley Bates - made their 4AD debut with a trio of singles - “Urban Light” (BAD 8010), “Cross The Line” (BAD 8012) and “Havana” (BAD 8019) - which introduced their sample-crazed, genre-blurring mixture of club culture and rock energy.
Pixies At The BBC (GAD 8013) was precisely what it sounded like - a compilation of 15 of the band’s BBC radio session performances recorded between 1988 and 1991.
Although Lisa Germano’s Slide (CAD 8014) was to be her final release on 4AD, it was another outstanding set of of musical dispatches from places most songwriters wouldn’t dare to tread. Intriguingly, the album mixed Lisa’s home recordings with studio sessions that featured all-star players like Jerry Scheff (Elvis Presley), Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello) and Joe Gore (Tom Waits). Producer Tchad Blake (Latin Playboys) pulled it all together.
Mojave 3 followed up Ask Me Tomorrow with the equally impressive Out Of Tune (CAD 8018), which surrounded Neil Halstead’s warm, golden-hued songs with a rich variety of musical settings. The record blended the organic, summery simplicity of early Neil Young with a reserved melancholy which was all Halstead’s own. Two singles were released, each backed with excellent b-sides - “Who Do You Love?” (BAD 8011) and “Some Kinda Angel” (BAD 8016).
4AD’s second (and, to date, last) mail-order-only release - The Hope Blister’s Underarms (4ADM2) - was Ivo’s instrumental companion piece to …smile’s ok. Created during the …smile’s ok sessions, Underarms was a set of ultra-minimalist drone-scapes with a vast, cavernous sound and an austere beauty.
Gus Gus made their return with “Ladyshave”, a quirky, catchy pop classic (BAD 9001, BADD 9001). Their much-anticipated second album This Is Normal (CAD 9006) delivered a dizzy cocktail of sometimes danceable, sometimes dreamlike songs. Further singles included the electro-funky “Starlovers” (BAD 9004, BADD 9004) and the mutant house groove of “VIP” (BAD 9017, BADD 9017).
Warren Defever summed up the first seven years of His Name Is Alive with the release of Always Stay Sweet (CAD 9002), a 21-track greatest-hits-album-from-a-parallel-universe that served as a perfect point-of-entry for those still uninitiated into the band’s unique soundworld. For the benefit of the already-addicted, the previously unreleased “Underwater” was also included.
Cuba began the year with another single “Black Island / White Shadow” (BAD 9003), before finally making their album debut with Leap Of Faith (CAD 9014), a full-blooded showcase for the their post-Primal Scream, post-big beat brand of widescreen sound which featured guest vocals from Shara Nelson, Mojave 3’s Rachel Goswell and rapper Mau. A revised, post-album single of “Black Island” (BAD 9016) added a remix by Groove Armada.
The Birthday Party’s Live 1981-82 (CAD 9005) was, quite literally, a blast from the past. Assembled from shows in recorded in London, Bremen and Athens, it’s an unflinching document of the unstoppable juggernaut that Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Rowland S. Howard, Tracy Pew and Phill Calvert were able to summon onstage. Included were three of the four songs from the long out-of-print Drunk On The Pope’s Blood EP, as well as a climactic rendition of the Stooges’ “Funhouse”, with a guest appearance from Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell on saxophone.
After the acoustic splendor of her three previous solo records, Kristin Hersh’s Sky Motel (CAD 9008) was her first set of electric music since Throwing Muses recorded Limbo. Recorded in New Orleans (at the same studio where the Muses had made University) with producer Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow), Kristin played practically everything on the record herself. The single “Echo” (BAD 9007) featured covers of songs by Nirvana and the Beatles as b-sides.
Former Throwing Muse David Narcizo - one of the most original rock drummers of recent decades - made his solo debut under the name Lakuna. Castle Of Crime (GAD 9010) was a kaleidoscopic album built from a colourful array of samples and loops, all pinned together by Narcizo’s forceful, inventive rhythms. It was accompanied by two limited edition 12-inch singles featuring mixes of “So Happy”(TAD 9009) and “Lemongrass/The Very Next Day” (TAD 9018).
Red House Painters’ Retrospective (DAD 9011) - a two-CD anthology - offered an extensive summary of the band’s time on 4AD. Disc 1 - compiled and sequenced by Ivo - gathered together 13 of the finest songs from their back catalogue, while Disc 2 added a selection of unreleased demos, outtakes, radio performaces and live tracks, and included two previously unheard compositions.
Following the breakup of Dead Can Dance, Brendan Perry finally delivered the solo album he’d been promising since his astonishing live performance at London’s ICA back in 1993. Eye Of The Hunter (CAD 9015) proved more than equal to expectations. An album of sweeping drama and private emotion reminiscent of visionary loners like Tim Buckley and Scott Walker, its eight tracks glided on layers of quiet instrumentation, propelled by Perry’s immense vocal presence. It was utterly timeless music.
Kristin Hersh opened the 21st Century with the release of “A Cleaner Light” (BAD 2K01), an EP which combined one of the the stand-out tracks from the Sky Motel album with three acoustic versions of Throwing Muses classics : “Cry Baby Cry”, “Garoux Des Larmes”, and “Hate My Way.”
Gus Gus Vs T-World (CAD 2K02) was a curious project - it excavated music which DJ Herb Legowitz and programmer Biggi Veira had recorded (as T-World) before they joined the Gus Gus collective. A collection of reflective, downbeat grooves encased in glacial artwork, the album nonetheless attracted plenty of support in the clubs.
Although the sessions which produced Mojave 3’s third album Excuses For Travellers (CAD 2K05) had been somewhat troubled, the record was anything but. Ranging in tone from the achingly slow wintry sway of “My Life In Art” to the deceptively jaunty “Return To Sender”, the album was a third straight Mojave 3 classic which spawned a string of singles : the 7” only “In Love With A View” (TAD 2K03), the pop classicist “Any Day Will Be Fine” (AD 2K04) and the aforementioned “Return To Sender” (BAD 2K17). The American version of the album was released a little later than the UK version; to compensate, a couple of b-sides were added as bonus tracks.
Thievery Corporation returned with a polished and assured second album : The Mirror Conspiracy (CAD 2K06). Heralded by a 10” single - “Focus On Sight” (TAD 2K09) - and a memorable launch party at the band’s 18th Street Lounge in Washington DC, the album was even more of a success than its predecessor had been; it remains a benchmark in seductive, danceable lounge pop. Later in the year, a second single - “Shadows Of Ourselves” (BAD 2K24) - appeared.
2000 saw Magnetophone join the roster; the Birmingham-based duo of John Hanson and Matt Huish Saunders had attracted 4AD’s attention with singles on the Earworm and Static Caravan labels and an astonishing live performance in support of Wire at Nottingham’s Social Club. Their debut release for the label, the Come On The Phone EP (BAD 2K07), showcased the pair’s ability to combine wayward, handmade texture with subtly beguiling melodies; the album which followed - I Guess Sometimes I Need To Be Reminded Of How Much You Love Me (CAD 2K18) - expanded thrillingly on the formula, moving from the remorseless groove of “Air Methods” to the delicate beauty of “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind ?” with ease.
Stars And Topsoil (CAD 2K19) was a long-awaited Cocteau Twins retrospective; the first one-disc survey of their 4AD career. Compiled by the band and running chronologically from “Blind Dumb Deaf” to “Watchlar”, the record was a welcome reminder of their unique and timeless appeal.
Other artists given the compilation treatment in 2000 were Modern English, with Life In The Gladhouse (GAD 2K21); Heidi Berry, with Pomegranate (GAD 2K10) and Lush, with the jauntily-titled Ciao ! (GAD 2K22).
4AD brought 2000 to a close with a quasi-legal underground party held in a disused latex warehouse in East London. The event, which featured DJs, sound art, installations, and large quantities of alcohol, was christened Fwd>Motion; live appearances by Magnetophone, Minotaur Shock (who was to sign to the label a few years later) and theorist / composer Paul Schutze were commemorated by a very limited edition, hand-assembled CDR (TAD 2K23) which was given to the audience on the door.
Warn Defever had always displayed a gift for the unexpected, but the record he delivered at the beginning of 2001 offered a breathtaking stylistic shift. Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth (CAD 2101) was a record built around the vocal talents of Lovetta Pippen, who had contributed to Ft Lake, but who now took centre stage. The songs - a series of hushed, skeletal laments - took their cues from the purest blues, jazz and soul, while the immaculate, sparkling production drew inspiration - and a parade of leftfield touches - from contemporary urban R & B. The album - by turns sensuous and sorrowful - was unlike anything released by His Name Is Alive or 4AD before and it remains an unheralded gem.
Kristin Hersh was also in fine form - her fourth solo album Sunny Border Blue (CAD 2102) is one of her best, and its combination of melodic sweetness and raw emotional honesty was warmly received. Tracks like “Your Dirty Answer” and “Spain” quickly took their place alongside the most treasured moments in the Hersh repertoire, while the cover version of “Trouble” - by Cat Stevens - drew in new listeners. In a break from v23 tradition, the record’s artwork was again designed by former bandmate David Narcizo.
New signings Piano Magic - an ever-changing vehicle for the restless, chameleon talent of Glen Johnson - opened their 4AD account with the soundtrack to the film Son De Mar (MAD 2105). Directed by Bigas Luna (the Spanish auteur responsible for Jamon Jamon and The Tit And The Moon, amongst others), the film was a visually ambient tale of love found, lost, regained and lost again, set against the backdrop of a beautiful Valencian Summer. The music was equally beguiling, a warm, melodic drift in six untitled sections which worked just as well without the visual accompaniment.
4AD spent more time polishing up its catalogue in 2001. Amongst the beneficiaries this time were The Wolfgang Press, whose Everything Is Beautiful (GAD 2104) was a convincing retrospective illuminated by acerbic and perceptive sleevenotes, penned by Michael Allen. Colourbox’s simply-titled Best Of 82-87 (GAD 2107) was exactly that - and the inclusion of Pump Up The Volume by M/A/R/R/S meant that such a title was for once entirely accurate. Finally, a lavish Dead Can Dance boxed set (DCDBOX 1) offered three CDs (and 47 remastered tracks in total), a DVD of the Toward The Within concert (plus promo videos), and a 108 page book which included lyrics and extensive interviews with Brendan and Lisa.
2001 closed with a welcome return - that of Tanya Donelly, who released her first new music for nearly five years in the shape of the Sleepwalk EP (BAD 2108). The 4 songs served as an introduction to the dreamlike world of her second solo album Beautysleep, which would follow in 2002.
Tanya Donelly’s Beautysleep (CAD 2201) ranks amongst the very best of her records - a warm, richly textured and emotionally complex collection of songs, shot through with her trademark soaring melodies. The making of the album was interrupted by the birth of Tanya’s daughter Gracie, but you’d be hard pressed to tell from the confident coherence of the finished article, which was extremely well received by the critics.
2002 also saw another welcome return - this time from Kim Deal. The Breeders - now comprising Kim and Kelley Deal together with Richard Presley (guitar), Jose Medeles (drums) and Mando Lopez (bass) - completed Title TK (CAD 2205) during the winter of 2001 / 2002, working with Steve Albini, who had also recorded Surfer Rosa and Pod. The album was another release with a lengthy gestation period - it was the first new record from Kim since The Amps album of 1995. The album was preceded by a 10” single - “Off You” (TAD 2203) - a song of intense and fragile beauty which set the tone for the sometimes dark, sometimes throwaway, but always compelling album that followed. Another single - the raucous bubblegum romp “Son Of Three” (AD 2213) - appeared later in the year.
Neil Halstead took a brief sabbatical from Mojave 3 to record a solo album called Sleeping On Roads (CAD 2202). The record combined Neil’s exquisite, quasi-folk melodies with a more wide-ranging approach to production and instrumentation. Tracks like “Seasons” and “See You On Rooftops” added gentle motorik grooves to the mix, while elsewhere vibes, organ and an array of junkstore synthesizers fleshed out the songs with intriguing texture. A promo-only 12” featured remixes from Pedro, Fort Lauderdale and Broadway Project, while the Seasons EP (BAD 2212) was released to accompany a summer tour of the UK.
A new signing to 4AD was Sybarite , the recording name of Brooklyn-based composer Xian Hawkins. Xian had attracted 4AD’s attention with the fluid melodies and deft production on display in his Music For A Film album, released by the Baltimore indie label Temporary Residence, and plans for a follow-release on 4AD quickly took shape. As track titles like “Renzo Piano” and “Unica Zurn” suggested, Nonument (CAD 2207) was inspired by architecture and modern art as it was by music - the album combined live instruments - acoustic guitars, strings, trumpet - with programmed parts to conjure a free-breathing, organic whole. “Scene Of The Crime” (BAD 2206) - a companion piece single which featured songs not available on the album - also made its appearance.
Piano Magic followed 2001’s Son De Mar with Writers Without Homes (CAD 2209) - a record which, inspired by This Mortal Coil, featured an array of guest appearances. Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins), Paul Anderson (Tram), John Grant (The Czars) and Robert Johnstone (Life Without Buildings) all made contributions, but the real coup came when Glen Johnson coaxed Vashti Bunyan out of exile to make her first recording for nearly thirty years - she appears on the haunting “Crown Of The Lost”.
His Name Is Alive delivered their final album for 4AD : Last Night (CAD 2210). The album continued Warn Defever’s collaboration with Lovetta Pippen, but also offered a shift on tone, replacing the sparse, state-of-the-art production touches of Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth with a liver, earthier feel. Some of Warn’s most beloved influences - cosmic jazz, funk 45s, acoustic blues - shone through, and Lovetta’s vocals were once more evocative and delivered straight from the heart. Simply, it was timeless, soulful music.
Sweet Ride (GAD 2211) was a compilation which gathered the pick of Belly’s studio recordings together onto one CD.
Another new 4AD signing made their first appearance for the label before the year was out. The Mountain Goats - a vehicle for inspirational songwriter John Darnielle - had released a string of primitively-recorded records on various American indies, but repeated exposure to one of these (The Coroner’s Gambit, released by Absolutely Kosher) convinced 4AD that access to a proper recording budget could work wonders. It took a while for the label to track The Mountain Goats down, though, and it was only a chance encounter with Darnielle’s friend Jamie Tugwell, who worked at the Rough Trade record shop, that yielded the crucial email address. With the deal concluded, Darnielle repaired to Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York with producer Tony Doogan and a band of collaborators including Peter Hughes (bass) and Franklin Bruno (guitar and piano) to make his first proper studio album. The first single to appear was See America Right (AD 2208) a furious cyclone of a song which took its musical inspiration from The Fall and its title from the motto of the Greyhound bus company.
A label compilation - Dr Tiger’s Deathless Promise (TAD 2214) - rounded off the year by showcasing a small but perfectly formed selection of current and forthcoming projects.
Kristin Hersh opened 2003 with a double-barrelled salvo. Not content with enticing David Narcizo and Bernard Georges back into the studio to make the first Throwing Muses album since Limbo was released in 1996, she also made one of her most intimate solo records at the same time. And if the simply-titled Throwing Muses (CAD 2301) was a full-throttle blast as direct and exhilarating as anything in their catalogue, The Grotto (CAD 2302) was a complete contrast - spare, melancholy, hushed and still. Taken together, the two albums say as much about Kristin’s unique creative gifts as anything else she has recorded.
The Mountain Goats followed “See America Right” with its parent album Tallahassee (CAD 2215). The songs on the album documented the tortured, alcoholic lives of an imaginary couple permanently on the cusp of divorce - but did so with such radiant lyricism that the end result is genuinely uplifting. These characters had appeared on various previous Mountain Goats releases - they are referred to as “the Alpha couple” because the word “Alpha” appears in the titles of most of the songs about them - but never before had John detailed their lives with such vivid imaginative tenacity. The album is littered with dark humour, and illuminated by some of the best lyrics you’ll ever hear.
Dead Can Dance released Wake (DAD 2303), a hand-picked, two disc summary of their career which provided an ideal point of entry for the legions of new listeners discovering Brendan and Lisa’s music for the first time.
Lisa Gerrard spent much of the new millenium forging a career in Hollywood as a soundtrack composer - her music had featured in films such as Ali, The Insider, Mission Impossible and - most notably - the Ridley Scott epic Gladiator. When she was asked to score the soundtrack to the film Whale Rider - an independent film made in New Zealand - she was delighted, and suggested that 4AD might like to release a CD of the music (CAD 2304). The film went to to garner accolades galore and an impressive international audience, and the soundtrack CD was received equally well.
Vinny Miller had been signed by Ivo, on the strength of an intriguing cassette demo, back in 1997. But although he contributed a track (under the name Starry Smooth Hound - Ivo’s suggestion) to the Anakin compilation released at the beginning of 1998, no other recordings had surfaced since then. Behind the scenes, however, there had been a succession of abortive attempts to complete an album, and it was not until 2003 that Vinny had a clutch of songs that he was happy with. The first of these - “Pigpen” (TAD 2305) - appeared as a hand-numbered, limited edition 7” single, and it was worth the wait - a dense, grindingly rhythmic explosion whose stark emotional force was quite devastating.
Mojave 3 returned with Spoon And Rafter (CAD 2309), their most ambitious and wide-ranging album to date. The sublime opening track “Bluebird Of Happiness” - fully nine minutes long - set the tone for the rest of the record, which saw acoustic guitars, analogue synths and pedal steel overlapping in warm, affirmative layers.
The Not The Way EP (BAD 2308) by new signing Cass McCombs brought the year to a close. The six woozy, weary and poignant songs - the products of the first trip to a studio the youthful McCombs had ever made - hinted at a maverick songwriting talent, which would be explored more fully in his debut album the following year.
The Mountain Goats delivered their second album for 4AD : We Shall All Be Healed (CAD 2401). This time around, John, Peter & Co worked with indie production superstar John Vanderslice, and the result was a fuller sounding, more muscular set of songs which - for almost the first time - saw Darnielle writing veiled autobiography. An allusive account of a dark time in his early life, filled with portraits of people that he used to know - most of whom are probably either dead or in jail by now - the record nevertheless had more than its share of Mountain Goats anthems - notably the swaggering singles “Palmcorder Yajna” (AD 2306) and “Letter From Belgium” (AD 2410).
Rachel Goswell followed in Neil Halstead’s footsteps by making her own solo album, the delicately lovely, thoughtful Waves Are Universal (CAD 2414). On the album, wistful melodies combined with unusual instrumentation (uillean pipes, harmonium, vibraphone) and a serendipitous approach to production which saw Thai field recordings and Cornish birdsong straying into the mix. Rachel also released an EP called The Sleep Shelter (BAD 2402).
In Immortal Memory (CAD 2403) Lisa Gerrard made her first non-soundtrack studio album since 1998’s Duality. For this stately, emotionally dense and weighty collection, her collaborator was the Irish classical composer Patrick Cassidy, whom Lisa had met in while working in Los Angeles. Patrick’s contributions to the record included a trove of ancient Gaelic poetry, some of which Lisa sings in the original language; she also sings The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The end result is as timeless and memorable as any of Lisa’s work.
Cass McCombs’s debut album A (CAD 2405) caused a stir amongst the indie cognoscenti, delivering what the preceding Not The Way had only hinted at - the arrival of a genuinely distinctive new talent. It was an offbeat record, for sure - tracks like “I Went To The Hospital” and “AIDS In Africa” veer from the acutely personal to the univerally resonant - but a pervading aura of diffident assurance and hazy determination meant that it was also a convincing one.
Blonde Redhead’s first album for 4AD was the cinematic, otherworldly and beautiful Misery Is A Butterfly (CAD 2409). In making it, the band were returning from a 4 year hiatus (explained, in part, by the fact that singer Kazu Makino was seriously injured after being thrown from a horse in 2002) and that enforced pause for reflection resulted in a dramatically expanded sound-world - cello, violin and clavinet swirl through the mix, conjuring rich and fluid atmospheres. And if the first single “Elephant Woman” (AD 2408 - a pink vinyl 7”) was typical of the album’s impressive scope, the second, “Equus” (AD 2415), revealed the lithe rhythms at its heart. It also featured a guest vocal from David Sylvian on the b-side, “Messenger”.
Vinny Miller’s long-awaited album, On The Block (CAD 2404), was a rare treat for connoisseurs of unfettered imagination and jaw-dropping vocals. Opening with a crazy scrap of pirate radio and moving from bewitching ballads like “Breaking Out Of Your Arms” (also a single - AD 2413) to indescribably visceral blasts like “Hogbreath Busts A Move”, the record was a real one-off - a tantalising postcard from unmapped territory.
Another dose of untrammelled energy was delivered by Kristin Hersh, whose new project was an unashamedly direct power trio christened 50 Foot Wave. The band - consisting of Kristin plus drummer Rob Ahlers and bassist Bernard Georges - opened their account with a blazing mini-album, simply titled 50 Foot Wave (MAD 2411). Later - to coincide with a tour of Europe - 4AD released the download-only Live In Seattle (EAD 2419).
One of the most exciting new bands to emerge in 2004 was TV On The Radio, a five piece based in Brooklyn who created unique music from the soulful vocals of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone and the wayward soundworld of producer / guitarist David Sitek. Their blend of New York noise, gospel, dub and freewheeling inspiration caused a worldwide stir - and something of a bidding war - but the single “Staring At The Sun” (CAD 2421) was an instant classic, and the band’s debut album Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes (CAD 2420) proved that all the hype was justified by sounding like nothing else on the planet and still gathering acclaim in all quarters. The band finished a year of exhaustive touring by winning the American Shortlist Prize for the best album of the year, and releasing a brand new song called “New Health Rock” (AD 2423).
Tanya Donelly’s Whiskey Tango Ghosts (CAD 2418) was the record that many had wanted her to make for years - a stripped-down collection of intimate songs, unvarnished by tricksy production and unencumbered by complex arrangements. Sensual and hypnotic, it was also a record entirely comfortable with itself - as well as being shot through with a surfeit of Tanya’s trademark soaring melodies.
For many, the big story of 2004 was the reunion of the Pixies. After what felt like years of “would they ? wouldn’t they ?” speculation, the band announced a string of shows in the Spring and most sold out in record time. Over the course of the year, the Pixies played to more people than they ever did first time around - and, to many ears, they played better than they did first time around, too. To coincide with the shows, 4AD released a definitive, one-disc “best of” entitled Wave Of Mutilation (CAD 2406), and also an accompanying DVD (VAD 2407).
AD’s 25th anniversary year opened with a sublime single from Rachel Goswell. The Remixes EP (TAD 2501) featured gorgeous reworkings of tracks from 2004’s Waves Are Universal contributed by The Earlies (working under their Names On Record production guise) and Ulrich Schnauss. The record itself - a clear vinyl 12” - was equally gorgeous.
In PREfection, Cass McCombs delivered an album which confirmed him as one of the most intriguing songwriters of his generation. The music moved from the chiming pop of “Sacred Heart” - released as a single (AD 2424) - to dreamlike elegies like “City Of Brotherly Love” and “Equinox”, but always remained distant, oblique and fascinating.
50 Foot Wave followed up on 2004’s eponymous mini-album with Golden Ocean, an inspiring collection of bracing, high-intensity rock and roll. The band continued to tour heavily, in the process introducing a whole new generation of fans to Kristin Hersh’s visceral artistic visions.
New signing Minotaur Shock - aka Bristolian David Edwards - made his 4AD debut with Maritime (CAD 2511), a melodically inventive, playful and thoroughly engaging collection of music. Drawing inspiration from seafaring yarns and FM rock, the record was a joyfully complex celebration of electronica possibilities. It was accompanied by a brace of luxuriously-packaged 12” singles : Vigo Bay (BAD 2509) and Muesli (BAD 2515).
Magnetophone completed work on their long-awaited second album The Man Who Ate The Man (CAD 2507). Featuring collaborations with Kim and Kelley Deal, James Yorkston, King Creosote and PG Six amongst others, the album saw Matt and John expanding on their rich analogue textures by inching closer to conventional song-structure - but their ability to conjure a sense of otherworldly wonder remained undiminished. As well as the singles “Kel’s Vintage Thought” (TAD 2412) and “May Your Last Words Be A Chance To Make Things Better” (AD 2505) there was a promo-only 12” featuring a 17 minute long remix of “Benny’s Insobriety” by Spacemen 3 / EAR legend Sonic Boom.
4AD made a number of new signings during 2005 : Emma Pollock, formerly of The Delgados, joined the label, as did Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson. Celebration, a frenetic, atmospheric 3 piece from Baltimore were introduced to 4AD by David Sitek from TV On The Radio, and their debut album (CAD 2512) - released initially in the USA only - became a cult sensation across the Atlantic. And Wolf & Cub, from Adelaide, Australia released their debut 7” in the shape of the double A sided “Steal Their Gold” / “Thousand Cuts” (BAD 2510).
1980 Forward (TAD 2525) was a label compilation released to coincide with the label’s 25th Anniversary shows in November. It included 18 tracks drawn from 4AD’s quarter-century history.
Ivo Watts-Russell encountered the music of the German producer Markus Guentner and was inspired to repackage The Hope Blister’s Underarms together with a companion disc produced by Markus. The collected Underarms And Sideways (CAD 2517) was a betwitching ambient excursion.
Editado por malvespin em Jan 4 2009, 19h32
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