Tie- In typical Libra fashion, I have difficulty making up my mind, even about things like this. So we’ll start the countdown with a tie for fifth place…
Jouissance- Sunlight Penetrates the Crown (1991, Minus Habens)
I thought long and hard about whether or not to include this one. The thinking had chiefly to do with my aim to have only recordings that were influential beyond what they are given credit for and Sunlight Penetrates really can’t claim to have been an influence, even in the realm of obscuria.
For a brief period in the early 1990s, Michael Sefton, the genius behind Jouissance, looked like he was going to carve a niche for himself in the music underground. He had his new album Sunlight Penetrates out on the highly respeated Minus Habens label, he was appearing on compilations, he had word of mouth from the most reputable part of the independent music press. So what happened?
Well, nothing happened. Very precisely nothing, because shortly after launching his career, Michael Sefton fell off the planet Earth and was never heard from again. Who knows?
Whatever happened, this masterpiece of distorted sample mayhem and underplayed keyboard lines stands alone as a beacon in the forest. It’s a difficult listen, alternately harsh and pleasant, but well worth the effort. No one has produced anything truly comparable, before or since.
Novy Svet- Venezia (2002, Junges Wien)
It’s hard to explain to people who claim to love the wave of Neo-folk that’s come out in the last few years that they don’t really like Novy Svet. After all, with only a few releases under their belt, these Austrian mavericks have garnered the sort of cult following that’s normally reserved for bands with ambitions far beyond dominance of the Austrian underground. But I truly believe that most of the people who claim to like them really just get a kick of of liking something so obviously strange and original.
Novy Svet’s appeal lies in their quirkiness. They first garnered attention for their albujm Faccia a Faccia, with its drunken accordion solos and schizophrenic pace. This was furthered when underground Fuhrer of the moment Albin Julius picked up their next release for his then untouchable Hau Ruck! label. The drunken ambiance, emotiveness and originality of Novy Svet found a following. Nowadays, there are bands spending a lot of time trying to cultivate the mood that the couple behind Novy Svet seem to produce as effortlessly as they breathe.
Unfortunately, the undeniably strangeness of their early releases seems to have undercut them. Venezia should have been the album that took them beyond the perception of a gag band who combined modern and traditional in an alcohol-influenced haze. This should have been the album that turned heads. This should have been the album that made everyone aware that Novy Svet were not just funny and enjoyable, but two powerfully talented songwriters, pretty much without parallel anywhere in the musical world.
Instead, the album received a lukewarm reaction (perhaps due to its being a vinyl only release) and faded from memory. Originally intended as a release for Austria’s Hau Ruck! (originally intended as an analogue to the Allerseelen album of the same name), its eventual positioning on an almost invisible imprint without availability on CD could not have helped. Without the backing of Hau Ruck! (who, within the confines of the neo-folk scene, are a pretty powerful force), the band seemed to lose its momentum as quickly as it had come along. Very few judgments in the history of music have been so completely misguided.
Make no mistake: Novy Svet are perhaps the most talented band currently recording music. There are albums that might underline their lovable strangeness to a greater extent, but this is the album that shows them at their finest. They should have been huge.