Archive: The Downwards Singles collects on one 12” the three original songs from Tropic of Cancer’s brace of 2009-11 releases (now both out of print and highly sought-after), with new artwork by Silent Editions.
The influence of Tropic of Cancer’s debut single, ‘The Dull Age’/’Victims’, on Blackest Ever Black cannot be overestimated. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the label existing without it, such was its impact on us. In some respects, it’s BLACKEST000, the ur-Blackest record, and together with Raime’s EP demo it sketched the outlines of a universe we still inhabit, and are still exploring.
Of course Tropic of Cancer would go on to release the The Sorrow Of Two Blooms on Blackest Ever Black two years later, and much else since (including debut album Restless Idylls), but ‘The Dull Age’/‘Victims’, and its 2011 follow-up ‘Be Brave’, retain a special place in our heart, and now, as we prepare to release a new EP from the band (Stop Suffering), we’re pleased to be able to resurrect them.
It’s obvious now, as then, what the mesmerising, mantra-like ‘The Dull Age’ owes to the saturnine ambience of 4AD and the early ‘80s goth/post-punk nexus, but we’re freshly struck by the ancient folk-like purity of Lobo’s wordless, ship-swaying vocal refrain, and to the song’s clear echoes of Spector-grade 1950s death-discs: with its bruised rock-a-bye backbeat, skeletal arrangement and deep canyons of echo, the DNA of ‘The Dull Age’ can, we’d argue, be traced right back to The Aquatones’ ‘You’ or The Paris Sisters’ ‘I Love How You Love Me’.
Lobo and Mendez’s confidence in repetition, crucial to the song’s effect, betrays not only a love of post-Velvets drone-rock but also an intimate understanding of minimal techno’s stasis-in-motion, while the wanton reverb worship invokes classic dream-pop/shoegaze, at the same time prefiguring the oceanic psychedelia of Tropic of Cancer’s own Restless Idylls and Stop Suffering.
It is, as it always was, the sound of falling: into eternal darkness or eternal light, who can say? It’s the falling that matters. ‘Victims’ comes from the same place, dialling up the atmosphere of moody jangle; Lobo’s guitar and bass sting hard, a suggestively murmuring Mendez on vocal duties this time.
If ’The Dull Age’ and ‘Victims’ were made for a small hours performance at the Roadhouse (Lynchian is an over-used descriptor these days, but these narcotic, time-warping dream-songs surely warrant it), then the void-gargling darkwaver ‘Be Brave’ is for the wired motorcycle ride home. It’s still trance-music, it’s still morbidly romantic, but this time the devil is in on its back: there’s an urgency and aggression to proceedings.
Here we’re introduced to the Suicide-al motorik rhythm that would carry on over into ‘A Color’ and other subsequent TOC cuts; Mendez’s voice leads, ricocheting with reverb and delay, channelling Mallinder and Minimal Man, but, as the pedal hits the floor, it’s Lobo’s moaned, amorphous backing part that exerts the most power – the voice of a dead lover watching over you, or perhaps beckoning you to join her.
Archive: The Downwards Singles is a record in the truest sense: an artefact and memorial of a time and a place that can never be revisited or relived. The ultimate post-punk, post-techno death-disc, and a very proud, overdue addition to the Blackest Ever Black catalogue.
1. The Dull Age
3. Be Brave