[Post Post-Punk] – ‘The Liminal’ (1985-1992)


The Liminal‘ is the long-gestating completion of a trilogy of mixes, along with ‘The Dawning‘ and ‘Evensong,’ exploring where the myriad sounds of post-punk and new wave music evolved in the years “post post-punk,’ this time focusing in on 1985-1992.  Just as post-punk was, in my opinion, less the result of Punk than the culmination of over a decade of art rock (see ‘Post Punk 1968-1977‘), that evolution didn’t end with the “golden age” of Post-Punk, circa 197919801981.  Instead, post-punk and new-wave artists (and those influenced by them) carried forward the respective attitudes of expansiveness and sophistication into the transitional solid state age of the late 80s and early 90s, and continued to make brilliant, lasting music.

Per “liminal,” the music here exists at the threshold of change, in the space between more famous new wave heyday and the coming resurgence of the dubious “back to basics” tendencies of “alternative rock” and indie rock.  These artists were creating mature, “grown-up” music, rooted in the pop aspirations of new wave but unburdened by any preoccupation with youth, able to be sonically and emotionally more nuanced and unabashedly urbane and ambitious while often feeling deeply personal. The sound of the music is also liminal: it comes mostly from the twilight, the night, and the small hours, mysterious even when beat-driven or hook-laden, often dreamlike and ethereal. (It also happens to act as the central chapter of the trilogy.)

What strikes me most is the total control these artists convey over the tools of sound-making and -recording: employing (then) cutting edge technology–sampling, solid-state synths, nascent digital manipulation–and marrying it seamlessly with the organic (piano, bass, string arrangements are prevalent, guitars often more used for accent and emphasis than as the foundation).  The result sounds to me like music unencumbered by the narrow technophilia that sometimes results in music where (new) technology is the driving force rather than simply a tool among many; and free of the technophobia that periodically asserts itself as “let’s just rock,” as the rejection of open possibilities.  In some ways this music sounds firmly of its time, sure–anything that stakes out ambitious territory will stand out in the passage of time; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also timeless in its appeal.  And it feels like the late-80s marriage of sonic and emotional sophistication heard here is finding another flourishing today (especially in music rooted in hip-hop, r&b, jazz and singer-songwriter sounds, as explored in the ‘Old Souls‘ series).

For me, the defining common thread of the music in these mixes (and the related Mark Hollis tribute mix) is that it embraced beauty wholeheartedly.  At other times in the history of recorded music, “beauty” has been viewed with suspicion by the serious: as the territory of the decadent, or the light-weight, or the sentimental, or the old-fashioned.  The artists heard here have no such hesitations.  Beauty in this music isn’t the negation of substance, but the realization of it, girding interests of the mind (stylishness, craft, references to the past and concepts of the future) with direct appeals to the heart.

I was slightly too young to know most of this music at the time it was released, and yet it feels like home to me–a central nexus connecting many strands of music I’ve spent decades exploring.  It was thrilling to me when I first started exploring it (as an escape from banally “alternative” radio music and smugly unadventurous indie music that was my teenage milieu in the mid-90s).  It remains thrilling to me now, a couple decades later, purely on its own merits.  I hope you’ll find it as enrapturing and inspiring as I do.

Various – ‘Liminal’
Part I

01 [0:00:00] The Blue Nile – “The Wires Are Down” (‘The Downtown Lights’ Single 1989)
02 [0:05:25] Haruomi Hosono – “Pleocene” (‘Omni Sight Seeing’ 1989)
03 [0:11:30] Massive Attack – “Unfinished Sympathy” (‘Blue Lines’ 1991)
04 [0:16:30] Jansen & Barbieri – “The Night Gives Birth” (‘Stories Across Borders’ 1991)
05 [0:20:00] Bryan Ferry – “Boys and Girls” (‘Boys and Girls’ 1985)
06 [0:25:10] AM 4 – “Streets and Rivers” (‘And She Answered’ 1989)
07 [0:29:20] Bill Nelson – “Contemplation” (‘Getting the Holy Ghost Across’ 1986)
08 [0:38:10] Sinead O’Connor – “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” (‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’ 1990)
09 [0:43:40] Cocteau Twins – “Blue Bell Knoll” (‘Blue Bell Knoll’ 1988)
10 [0:47:00] Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus – “Shadowlands” (‘Mirror’ 1991)
11 [0:51:15] Martin Dupont – “Inside Out” (‘Hot Paradox’ 1987)
12 [0:55:35] David Darling – “In November” (‘Cello’ 1992)
13 [0:59:40] Colin Newman – “But I…” (‘Commercial Suicide’ 1986)

Part II

14 [1:04:20] Icehouse – “Man of Colours” (‘Man of Colours’ 1987)
15 [1:09:25] Brian Eno – “Some Words” (‘My Squelchy Life’ 1991)
16 [1:13:45] Lonely Universe – “Passenger” (‘Lonely Universe’ 1990)
17 [1:18:10] Gigi Masin – “Mother Afrik” (Unreleased ‘Wind’ Track 1988)
18 [1:22:10] A Certain Ratio – “Fever 103” (‘Force’ 1986)
19 [1:27:15] Depeche Mode – “Halo” (‘Violator’ 1990)
20 [1:31:40] Ryuichi Sakamoto – “Asadoya Yunta” (‘Beauty’ 1989)
21 [1:36:10] Hector Zazou – “Tanis a Tunis” (‘Geologies’ 1989)
22 [1:40:40] Midge Ure – “Remembrance Day” (‘Answers to Nothing’ 1988)
23 [1:45:05] O Yuki Conjugate – “Out of Nothing” (‘Into Dark Water’ 1987)
24 [1:49:20] The Cure – “Fear of Ghosts” (‘Lovesong’ Single 1989)
25 [1:55:55] Bel Canto – “Picnic on the Moon” (‘Birds of Passage’ 1989)
26 [2:00:20] Xymox – “Tonight” (‘Twist of Shadows’ 1989)
27 [2:05:40] Warren Sampson – “Sweetly” (‘Traveller’ 1987)

[Total Time: 2:09:30]

Stream Here | Download ‘Liminal’ Here (300MB)

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