Monday, January 11, 2010

13th Chime: Complete Discography

Get your inner Goth on and go to

It's not surprising that 13th Chime never found commercial success, remaining one of Britain's most obscure and under-appreciated bands and their hard-to-find catalog primarily of interest only to hardcore fans and collectors. With a difficult style that mixed post-punk with goth rock and made no concessions to the more accessible elements of either genre, the group self-released just three singles and recorded a handful of songs for I.R.S. Records before the suits at that label decided they weren't particularly interested in the Chime's macabre subject matter and claustrophobic, experimental arrangements. Lead singer Mick Hand would depart soon thereafter, leaving remaining members Gary O'Connor, Terry Taylor and Ricky Cook to recruit a new vocalist and attempt a few rehearsals before eventually calling it quits in 1985. With no sympathetic record label to keep the group's work readily available, the Chime's standing as a band with a cult following was assured.

Complete Discography, then, will likely be most listeners' first introduction to the band. With the exception of live performances, the release presents the group's entire known recorded output and shows the band deserves far more than just passing mention in the post-punk story. Though much of the band's theatricality (the group took its name from a line in George Orwell's 1984, dressed predominately in black and presented themselves as androgynous sub-creatures, while their live shows featured pagan images, animal bones and speakers that were stored in custom-made coffins) now seems both dated and perversely quaint, the music itself remains unnerving and entirely original. The Chime's earliest songs are conversely the group's most discordant and striking efforts. Hand's vocals on "Cuts of Love," "Coffin Maker," "Cursed" and "Dug Up" are delivered as demented, echoed chants - sometimes reminiscent of PiL-era John Lydon - Taylor's bass is oppressively up front in the mix, while O'Connor's guitar and Cook's drums alternate between precision and improvisation. The songs recorded for I.R.S. are more rock-oriented and professional but no less worthwhile. Hand's vocals are fairly straightforward and mostly audible on "Radio Man," "Fire," "Two as a Couple" and "Help Me Street," with the group's instrumentals more developed and mature, the underlying melodies more pronounced.

Though the Chime's catalog contains heavy amounts of stereotypically goth themes - doom, gloom and enough caskets and corpses to fill a cemetery - and the group itself invented a persona to match, their best songs are notable for their introspective undertones and social concerns. The tough instrumentation would never suggest it, but there is a sense of a more personal type of loss in the group's singles beyond all the deathrock images and conceits they contain; indeed, the death of friend Steven Woodgate, with whom Hand, O'Connor and Cook played in the short-lived band Anticx, possibly influenced some of these songs. At their best, the band's lyrics railed against many of the popular topics of the day with both caustic humor and a sharp critical tongue: "A woman's heart is such a small price to pay/ For the exploitations of the people's culture," Hand declares in the barroom drama "Sally Ditch." If this release confirms anything, it's that the Chime should not be typecast as a prototypical goth band.

Complete Discography might not pull 13th Chime out from obscurity, but it does finally make the band's recordings readily available to the public and is a well-produced document of the band's blink-and-you'll-miss-it career. The sound and subject matter won't appeal to everyone, and there likely will be plenty of detractors ready to dismiss the band as just another black-clad, overly theatrical collective. And while goth rock has become its own punchline, the Chime's music still sounds desperate, urgent and unique enough to clearly show that the band should be considered in the broader context of the British post-punk era.

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