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Buzzing on the Edge of Paranoia and Cant – Philip Johnson’s “Youth In Mourning”

Philip Johnson
Youth In Mourning
Superior Viaduct

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If there’s a better, more accurately named label right now than Superior Viaduct I don’t know what it is. Unearthing and reissuing sharp artifacts from the vital years of 1977-1984 then sending them down the pike to discerning collectors throughout the land, I’ve got them to thank for the likes of Noh Mercy, Glaxo Babies, and MX-80 Sound taking up fresh residence in my stacks. Their releases always on the challenging side, the forthcoming (Oct. 28th) arrival of primitive industrial auteur Philip Johnson’s only LP (among a trove of cassettes, no surprise), 1982’s Youth In Mourning, pushes the boundaries to the label’s most daunting limits yet.

With a willfully damaged aesthetic at the helm, Johnson produced a hounding electronic patchwork of urban insect-buzzed paranoia and cant. Recorded on the bedroom cheap like the low-rent cousin twice-removed of Test Dept. and Einst├╝rzende and sounding at times like John Cooper Clarke as interpreted by a serrated, John Cage-obsessed Mike Skinner (“The Karate Kicking Girl of New Invention”), this is the ‘cassette culture’ kicked in the bloody teeth and made to like it.

More ‘pieces’ than ‘songs,’ the nine tracks here nonetheless cohere to a singular unit which taken as a whole emerges as a haunted often jittery document reflexive of its era. Thus the loitering “It Meant Something Once,” crowded with disembodied voices that increasingly erode in the shadows over a ten minute length; “We Can’t Get What We Want”‘s urban tribal vibe atop a razor-thin jackhammer beat; “The Same Side” driving through a dystopian sound field on a fat and rubbery blown-synth chassis. That last finishes things much as the laconic twitch of “Heart Trouble” opened it, sounding like an abandoned digital mind left on random noise generation, which is to say perfectly capturing alienation’s inevitably grinding pulse. Between these two poles of extremity comes “C81,” a skewering, name-checking rant aimed at the artists populating the cassette comp of the same name and the publication – NME – that offered it and sounding like Mark E Smith in a particulary virulent mood spewing precise vitriol in front of a bank of angry adolescent synthesizers and is marvelous and as close, ironically enough, as this record gets to a single.

An essential, indeed, superior vinyl debut.

 

[album available here]