REVIEW: Clan of Xymox - Self-Titled

By Austin Govella

Chain Border

Scarcely a year after forming in Amsterdam in 1984, 4AD released the Clan of Xymox's classic self-titled debut. Like many of 4AD's early acts, Clan of Xymox's albums were landmarks for the alternative music scene.

Fifteen years later, Clan of Xymox can be heard in thousands of darkwave acts. If you're not familiar with their material, you'll be surprised to discover how many of their songs still get overplayed on retro nights and in gothic clubs around the world.

In 1997, Clan of Xymox returned with an excellent album on Tess Records, Hidden Faces. Two years later, they moved to Metropolis to release Creatures. In 1999, with the renewed activity from the band, 4AD re-mastered and re-released Clan of Xymox's self-titled debut, adding the sought after Muscoviet Mosquito as a bonus track.

Most will recognize the album's leadoff cut, the classic pulsing rhythms and uplifting wave keyboards of A day. The song soars along tethered to perfectly subdued guitar leads and melancholic vocals, conjuring a wind battered coast on a cold, grey day.

Stranger is the album's other classic track, still often played by DJs. The song begins with an eerie intro with distant choral voices and synth strings. The intro seems a little long when you're waiting to rock, but if you're just listening to the song for itself the intro draws you into a horror movie soundscape before the song launches into a stately 4-4 drum machine rhythm peppered with analog keyboard pulses. The song seems almost apathetic, aimless, bored, waiting… Wave keys provide more great atmospherics, keys providing a bass line and developing the distant choral voices heard in the intro. The guitar is understated, almost buried in the mix. Assorted noises and synth inflections punctuate the track, slowly becoming more and more prevalent as the song progresses. Throughout all of their material, Clan of Xymox create wonderfully dynamic music to listen to.

Stumble and Fall treads territory similar to A day, but more sedate before it picks up the pace on the chorus. Cry in the wind is the most typically gothic song on the album. The pronounced bass, synth strings, and melancholic lyrics are molded into a gothic rock arrangement. Though the remainder of the album has a more wave feel, this song doesn't feel out of place at all. 7th time switches out the album's typical male vocals for a female voice. The bass line feels more playful, and soaring, uplifting keyboards make the song almost happy, definitely not the melancholic apathy afflicting the rest of the album.

Clan of Xymox mix buzzing guitar and their familiar driving rhythms on the bonus track, Muscoviet Mosquito, to create an upbeat club-friendly track.

The album finishes with remixes of both Stranger and A day, both done by Ivo, 4AD's head honcho. Each remix brings the rhythms a bit more forward, and adds the typical 12" mix rhythmic break towards the center of each song. Good remixes, but what you would expect for remixes of the singles done in the 80's.

Some argue that Clan of Xymox's follow-up sophomore album, Medusa, out writes and out performs the debut. Though Medusa is darker, more stark, and possesses a more distinct voice, I still prefer the self-titled debut. In my collection of Xymox recordings, this album is, in my opinion, by far the best, and easily the most played. All of their work is top-notch, well-written, and performed very competently, and you should definitely look into picking up their other work, especially Medusa, and the most recent releases: Hidden Faces and Creatures.

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