With De Stijl’s Zoned compilation sparking renewed interest in German post-punk outfit 39 Clocks earlier this year, back in the homeland Bureau B has reissued the Hanover duo’s full-length debut, Pain It Dark, made available in the States by Forced Exposure. Having evolved from playing vacuum cleaners and saws and scaring audiences with brute volume, the pair put 11 tracks to tape for an album that made hardly any impression when it was originally issued in 1981 by the No Fun label, though not for a lack of merit.
Christian Henjes (a.k.a. CH 39) and Jürgen Gleue (a.k.a. JG 39) obviously worshipped at the altar of NYC proto-punk, with a closet full of black leather and a record collection filled with the works of Messers Reed, Cale, Vega and Rev. But perhaps even more so than on Zoned, one also recognizes the influence of the band’s own Kraut heritage. Juxtaposed against Velvety riffs are icy, robotic beats and a certain cold demeanor reflecting an influence of Neu! and other Kraftwerkian sources.
On “Shake the Hippie” the Clocks blend stilted, anti–flower child sentiment with a jagged, two-guitar discourse. “78 Soldier Dead” is more stoic in tone, at once drawing a line from Suicide to Can through a maze of disconnected dots, but still managing a guitar part somewhere between “Waiting for the Man” and “Sister Ray.” “Psycho Beat,” a sort of manifesto for the band’s vision of a German new wave, pushes things further into a fog, a clutter of guitar feedback mingling with mechanical tones. This approach works better on “DMZ,” the band’s first single. Here the duo marries all the things its loves along with a skronking sax and smoky vocals. Throughout the record, the band never lifts its emotionless facade; it would seem to be a parody if everything else wasn’t done so convincingly well.
With an unreleased track, “I Love a Girl,” and a 12-page booklet with rare photos and commentary, this is probably the most definitive 39 Clocks release available now. But with the band’s five subsequent albums still needing to see the light of day, this could just be the tip of a very cool iceberg.