I don’t need to tell TOO many Dangerous Minds readers about the Sound, do I? That exquisite London post-punk band was founded in 1978 by singer/guitarist Adrian Borland and bassist Graham Bailey—both refugees from one of the many, many bands to hit upon the idea of naming themselves the Outsiders—and they released a run of excellent albums between 1980-‘87. Though the band suffered a mid-decade decline due to the onset of mental illness in Borland (he’d succumb to depression and take his own life in 1999), but they were and remain a favorite of the critics and the cognoscenti, easily comparable in sound and in top-notch quality to the Bunnymen, Furs, Chameleons—hell, name one of that era’s greats, and seriously, the Sound were every bit as good. It’s extraordinarily baffling and regrettable that popularity eluded them.
But concurrent with the Sound’s earliest years, Bailey and Borland had an even lesser-known project, Second Layer. Using homemade drum machines and grimly minimal electronics goosed with some guitars, Second Layer were darker and creepier than the bands that spawned them, and they lurked in the crossings of the trails blazed by Suicide, Fad Gadget, and Joy Division. In their brief existence they released the EPs “Flesh as Property” and “State of Emergency,” and the album World of Rubber. (Also, a posthumous 1987 comp collected the two EPs into a 6-song mini album). All of them are quite good, but if you’re unwilling to take my word for it, that great resource for all lovers of obscure-but-awesome sounds Julian Cope’s Head Heritage has opined on the matter:
Second Layer was an experimental project inbetween Borland’s previous punk band the Outsiders and the formation of the Sound later. The debut ep “Courts Or Wars” was minimalist punk with a drum machine whereas the later “State Of Emergency” ep was pure discordant noise. World Of Rubber has to be the grimmest album Borland ever involved himself in. Heavy-metallish guitars, Suicide-style machine rhythm and ugly, grayish tones from an ARP synth sums up what you get here.
The opener “Definition Of Honor” is an incendiary anti-war song that gives you images of Goya or Hieronymus Bosch. “The definition of honor is that hole in the side of your head…” “In Bits” just makes me think that’s what the vast emptyness of extreme alienation must be like, with that devastating attack of feedback concluding it. “Save Our Souls” is the most melodic but still pretty grim even by Borland’s usual standards… Y’know it’s funny that his lyrics in the Sound did have a great sense of hope to them, which isn’t evident here.
What opens side two is a dubbish track ominously titled “Underneath The Gloss”, which is enough to make your spine squirm and wonder if you’re as sane as you think you are! “Zero” has a monolithic doomsday riff but then the whole track abruptly slows to a frightening crawl… “Japanese Headset” might be about brainwashing or torture—Borland torments like a Spanish Inquisitor while another voice screams in a background of a cheap electronic rhythm. “Black Flowers” is one of the most funereal closing tracks I’ve ever heard, with a simplistic drum pattern, detuned bass and dissonant washes of either synth or organ
As Second Layer were even more obscure than the Sound, gripping their shit has long been kind of a pain in the ass. A 2009 CD reissue made it easier to get at least some of their work, but this summer, Dark Entries has re-released World of Rubber as a 2XLP with copious bonus material—both of the EPs are included, as is a generous allotment of unreleased material. It’s Dangerous Minds’ pleasure to stream the album for you here in its entirety.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
John Lydon’s 1978 record of the year, reissued on ‘Music for Alien Ears’
Breaking into a large pharmaceutical company to steal drugs: The solo music of Yello’s Carlos Perón