Hydrology Plus 1 + 2

Had a bit of moolah in ye olde paypal reserves as a result of selling a few items via my Discogs page and eBay in recent months, so I repurchased Alan Wilder’s first two solo records as Recoil, 1+2 circa ’86 and Hydrology circa ’87. I used to own the CD which compiles these two records, but I believe it was one of the victims of the 2001 car thefts. At any rate, I now own it again for the first time on wax.

So who is this Alan Wilder you ask? He be the man that replaced Vince Clarke in Depeche Mode after Speak & Spell, then left in 1995, sometime around Dave Gahan’s heroin addiction by my faulty memory. To situate the music, you need first think of Black Celebration and Music For the Masses era Depeche Mode, without the singing, with a bunch of disparate vocals, from indigenous peoples to operatic shit. There are five tracks across the two records, ranging in length from 14 to almost 19 minutes, save the first track which clocks in at 7:43. Within these lengths he builds up some serious density, and roves a fair amount, often incorporating a few movements.

The result is totally coherent, and these were landmark works for their time. In my mind, nothing much approached this level of coherence, complexity and artistry in electronic music then. This was before Detroit Techno as we know it today – contemporary with its beginnings. It had little to do with it and less to do with Chicago house. It was its own electronic beast. I guess its most common style would have to be ambient stuff a la Eno and maybe Tangerine Dream, and I certainly hear some Reich in there.

That “Love on a Fast Train” track from Risky Business (which also accompanies the youngest boy in The Squid & the Whale) that I posted my surprise about a while ago is maybe fairly comparable. Maybe it sounds most like Global Communication’s 76:14 album (on which Maiden Voyage is the interpolation of Love on a Fast Train), but eight years earlier, and probably the superior work given how well it holds up 20 years down the line. I listened to this album hundreds of times in the 90s and never tired of it. I can’t recall the last time I listened to all of 76:14 straight through. Having it again now is a treat. If you’ve never heard it and love that middle era Depeche Mode like I do, definitely give it a go.

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