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Ike Yard, "Night After Night"

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cover imageSuperior Viaduct's Ike Yard reissue campaign continues (and presumably ends) with this, the band's woefully underheard debut EP.  Night After Night was recorded shortly after the band formed and was originally released on Belgium's Les Disques Du Crépuscule back in 1981.  It has never been reissued before now, which means that it was never actually available domestically (except as an import) during Ike Yard's brief initial lifespan.  That is unfortunate, as it is objectively one of the better releases to emerge from NYC's No Wave scene, even if it was completely eclipsed by Ike Yard's classic full-length a year later.  The difference between the two releases is quite an interesting and significant one, as Night After Night feels like the work of an actual human band with recognizable instruments rather than an audacious feat of stark, alienating production.  On one level, the transformation between the two releases calls to mind pre-Martin Hannett Warsaw versus the iconic post-Hannett Joy Division, but the aesthetic itself is closer to a Public Image Ltd. homage by people who thought Jah Wobble and Keith Levene's parts were the only bits worth saving.

Superior Viaduct

It is fitting that I already mentioned Joy Division, as Peter Hook once saved an Ike Yard show at the Ukrainian National Home by stepping in as a replacement soundman (the venue's own soundman was completely ruining the simmering subtlety of their sound).  According to Stuart Argabright, the soundman had made it clear that he hated their band, yet I can easily imagine that achieving Ike Yard's aesthetic of thick bass, buried vocals, hallucinatory guitar and synth textures, and austere, dub-inspired drumming in a live setting would be an exasperating challenge for anyone (particularly for someone unfamiliar with the band's vision).  Without the right balance of clarity, space, and visceral bass rumble, it is not hard to imagine Ike Yard's unconventional songs falling completely flat, as they are more of a thoughtful, precarious architecture of complementary textures than anything that would pass for conventional music (melodies and hooks were very much anathema to the Ike Yard vision).  Predictably, bassist Kenny Compton was already the star of the show even at this early stage, as his propulsive riffing is the bedrock of everything on Night After Night, though Argabright's unusual, minimalist percussion played quite a significant role in shaping these songs too.  That is especially true on the opening title piece, which is essentially just a driving bass line, a thumping kick drum groove, and a deadpan monologue from Argabright.  That said, the contributions of guitarist Michael Diekmann and Fred Szymanski (synth) are considerably more prominent on this EP than they are the full-length.  Admittedly, neither quite brings a unique voice to the opening salvo, but their playing gets significantly more compelling as the EP unfolds.

Obviously, I cannot fault Ike Yard for evolving into a considerably more distinctive and minimalist entity by the time they recorded their album for Factory, but it is worth noting that Night After Night's “Sense of Male” could easily have been the inspiration for a similarly great alternate direction.  In it, the focus is shifted away from Compton's bass line and onto snarls of guitar noise and eruptions of warped, siren-like synths.  As such, it feels significantly more colorful and explosive than the seething, monochromatic fare to come, though Argabright's austere, off-kilter percussion remains as unconventional as ever.  Similarly stellar is "Motiv," which marries a thick, biting bass groove with burbling synth tones that call to mind a hallucinatory jungle scene.  Admittedly, "Motiv" lacks vocals, so it perhaps does not qualify as a fully formed song, but it is nevertheless an extremely appealing vamp.  Argabright returns to the microphone for a strong closer though, as "Cherish" combines his bloodless, elliptical vocals with an insistent bass groove, slashes of guitar noise, and a chirping tour de force of unusual synth flourishes.  That makes for a collision of aesthetics not commonly found elsewhere, approximating some sort of deep, fragmented psychedelia equally informed by industrial music and Jamaican dub.  While I am not sure it quite scales the same impressive heights as the earlier "Sense of Male," "Cherish" is an illustrative example of Ike Yard was such a singular entity: they were obviously listening to much cooler music than most of their peers and had an uncanny knack for assimilating disparate influences in appealing new ways.  I suspect they probably had some very cool non-musical inspirations as well, given how dramatically and quickly they evolved.

Obviously, plenty of merely good or somewhat unusual releases are hailed as newly crucial "lost classics" these days, but Night After Night is the rare exception that has arguably earned such high praise.  There is an asterix though, as this EP went largely unheard upon its release, then was rendered nearly irrelevant by the full-length that followed.  If Night After Night had had been better distributed and reached more ears in the US and UK during that brief window, I suspect most post-punk fans would have been playing it in heavy rotation along with their Gang of Four, Cabaret Voltaire, and Joy Division records, as it features a strong batch of songs and the band's stark, brutalist, and post-apocalyptic broken funk was (and is) unique and visceral.  Night-era Ike Yard were still a bit ahead of their time, of course, but they nevertheless sounded more or less like a good post-punk band comfortably within the bounds of the zeitgeist (perhaps akin to a menacing, subversive mirror-world version of A Certain Ratio).  It is hard to imagine how Ike Yard's career might have unfolded if they had stayed on that track, but the exceptional thing about Ike Yard is that they almost immediately jumped onto an even more fascinating and almost post-human vision with their LP, leaving Night After Night in a strange no-man's land in which it suddenly resembled the Peel Sessions for a better album by a better band rather than a great, stand-alone debut in its own right.  It deserved a better fate than that.  At least it will now find itself in heavy rotation in my life four decades later as a somewhat Pyrrhic example of delayed cosmic justice.  Obviously, if I could only have one Ike Yard album, it would still be the self-titled LP, but it is damn nice to now be able to alternate that with its almost-as-good predecessor.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 September 2020 10:47  


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